Björn Ulvaeus addresses 2023 CISAC General Assembly

2023 CISAC General Assembly Bjorn

CISAC President Björn Ulvaeus addressed the 2023 CISAC General Assembly in Mexico City with a compelling speech to creators and societies from around the world. Below is his address:

Good morning, everyone. I am delighted to be here today at the CISAC general assembly in Mexico. It has taken a long time to get here. Three years of pandemic confined us to a grey life of zoom calls and virtual meetings.

But finally, colour has returned to the CISAC world, in the form of human and social interaction. And yes, it is really me in flesh and blood standing here, I assure you, not my avatar. It is good to be back! Thank you to the Mexican society SACM for hosting and organising this event. And thanks to all of you, for joining us today.

I have been CISAC President for three years now, but I have not yet managed to become very presidential. It may come with age. And although this is the first time that I am attending a physical General Assembly, I have worked very closely with Gadi and the team and, over the last three years, I have learned a lot about the Confederation. I have come to appreciate the extraordinary devotion and dedication of the people who work in CISAC, and I have learned a lot about the societies’ efforts to serve creators.

Even before I came into this role, I was always aware of the unique importance of the collective management system. I was also impatient to make positive changes. I still am impatient. From the many virtual and physical meetings, I have had, I understand more about just why CISAC and its societies are and can be even more vital to the individual creator.

The creative industries are full of member and trade organisations. But CISAC is one which uniquely and exclusively looks after the interests of the creator, and at a global level.

No other organisation has the back of the creator like CISAC.

That is why, despite the immense challenges we are facing as a community that defends creators, I remain so passionate about the mission we are pursuing together.

But we must never forget that our sole purpose, our sole raison d’etre is to be of service and to support the creator at all times. We must always be approachable and transparent and never become bureaucratic and turn inwards, creating sub-cultures where rules, regulations and careers become more important than our primary task.

The creator is, and must be, at the centre of all that we are working for.

And as the traditional physical revenue streams diminish, it is in the streaming world where our services are most needed and where we must focus.

When I started my career with ABBA, we faced none of the challenges experienced by young creators today. We worked hard but then we had a hit and overnight stardom. That gave us the most precious luxury – time.

Time not to worry about the next paycheck; time to spend days and weeks in the studio writing songs; and time to become educated and learn how to make the right choices for our career.

The vast majority of today’s young creators do not have the luxury of time.

They cannot afford to take the time to build their careers and craft their talent.

In the streaming world, it is a desperate struggle to monetise and market your work. Hundreds of thousands of works are uploaded on streaming platforms daily. Few generate any significant income. The vast majority of creators need to struggle to find other sources of income to support their careers – and to continue chasing their dreams.

I’m not talking about the Billboard top 100 artists or the award-winning film directors. I am talking about the majority of the five million creators across the world represented by the CISAC network. They are not being served fairly by streaming.  They are barely making enough to get by.

So many talented artists are unable to pursue their work as creators. So, what do they do? They look for other jobs. Maybe they flip hamburgers and drive taxis and nothing wrong with that, but we may lose the next Paul McCartney that way. We, as a community, must have as our mission to help those talents fulfil their potential.  They need us to fight for good legislation that protects their rights. They need us to help get fair pay.

And they need us to work to put an end, once and for all, to the problem of poor data that is costing many creators their right to a career.

There are so many challenges.

But I would like here to concentrate on three areas of priority. 

The first issue, and something I feel very strongly about, is data.

In the streaming world, we have to get a new deal for the creators. It was only a decade and half ago that the subscription model came to the rescue of the music industry when illegal downloading threatened the very existence of it. But sadly today, the streaming world is full of problems, injustices and imbalances which need fixing.

First, we must fix the metadata.

Pop music, pop musicians and pop song writers have always been very quick to adapt to new tech, to creatively use whatever new interesting tech that comes out on the market. Pop music has evolved alongside technology. Always with creative curiosity from both sides and willingness to learn and to listen to each other. To inspire each other. That's the world our members are used to when they are in their creative world. It’s the artistic side of things in the music industry.

Now I wish that was the case in the part of the industry that handles registrations and payments etc. as well. I’ve heard people say many times that in the CMO world lots of tech has been built in silos costing a lot of money, tech that in many cases later has proved more or less useless. Ever since I became president, I’ve wondered why it seems to be so difficult for some of us to collaborate openly, transparently not only between ourselves but also with those third parties out there who can deliver appropriate and less expensive tech. That is clearly in the interest of the creator.

Whatever it takes we have to make sure all works are properly identified, and all the relevant codes are matched to each other, so that creators can get accurately identified and efficiently paid.

Currently poor data is responsible for tens of millions – if not hundreds of millions - of dollars that are not going to the creators who have earned them.

And when songwriters and composers don’t get paid, they lose their careers and livelihoods.

If all that money is not going to creators, where is it going? Can we allow poor data to profit commercial entities and take away from the individual creator?

This must stop. We simply cannot let that continue. and I do see some progress happening to address this issue. For instance:

CISAC’s own ISWC is being increasingly adopted by societies and publishers and now there is further momentum for its use by digital platforms.

In Japan last month, I saw the launch of GDSDX, a new collaboration by CISAC’s Asian members to improve data exchange in that region.

This is an excellent initiative that should be followed in other regions.

The Credits Due campaign, which I have championed, is advancing in its mission to ensure the five key identifiers are present when songs are ingested by streaming services.

Currently as you know the record labels very often do not include the ISWC at the release of a recording. Including the ISWC at the point of release of the song would lead to much more money in the hands of individual creators.

I believe CISAC and the societies have a vital role to play to achieve this.

Poor data is simply eating up creators’ income and it is a blight on the creative industries. It is not, and must never be allowed to be, a business model that’s profiting the big corporations.

My second priority is to get the creator proper recognition in the streaming world. From recognition flows respect. And from respect, follows fair remuneration. In my three years as President, I have spoken a lot about the Song Economy. Songs are where it all starts.

Yet, let us face it: that is not reflected in reality – not while the creator’s share of the revenues is ridiculously small by comparison with record labels and platforms.  And not while there remains such a lack of transparency on how the money is divided up and when algorithms can dictate the listening choices of fans.

Some CISAC societies have launched studies on the remuneration of creators and the digital pie. This is an area where both lobbying and education efforts are needed. This is where we can make a difference. We need governments to help improve creators’ share of the digital pie, and we need creators to understand their rights.

Finally, the third issue I wanted to raise is one that is on everyone’s agenda these days. This is the issue of AI. AI is a tool with vast implications that brings opportunities and threats. We know it is coming and there is nothing we can do to stop it. It raises huge existential questions and for us more specifically it raises questions about copyright. How do we deal with it? Let me give you an example to illustrate one aspect of the challenge:

An AI model can now train on the ABBA song catalogue and generate a recording with our voices and ABBA-like arrangements. Let’s say that a talented and musical producer runs the AI. She can hear the potential in the recording but also hear the weaknesses in arrangement, lyric and melody. She tweaks those weaknesses until she has a great new ABBA-like song.

Our producer knows instinctively that using the original voices is unethical, so she blends Frida’s voice with Karen Carpenter and Julie Andrews and others until she has a very attractive untraceable new voice. So, it doesn’t sound quite like ABBA but almost. And if she feels it’s unethical to only train the AI on ABBA she can put Queen and Elton John in the mix as well? The end result is great. What do we think about that?

During my most receptive years growing up I listened to music on the radio and to the records I bought. I’ve listened to music ever since, of course, but between, say, when I was 3 and 25 years old the input with the most impact was stored in my inner database. You could say that my neural system trained on that set of data and when I started writing songs, I used that unconsciously. Sometimes I feel that an initial idea kind of lands on me seemingly from nowhere, but from then on it unconsciously feeds off and is combined with melodies and idioms and stuff in my brain from God knows when. And do you know what - that stuff was under copyright.

In 1966 I met Benny Andersson and started writing songs with him. He had the same story. He had gone through the same input process. We still work together, but now we could conceivably add another writer. One that hasn’t had the haphazard, often erratic input process, but could be made to use a more precise database. Its neural system could train on whatever Benny, and I decide at the moment. An AI. If we wanted to write a tango, we’d tell it to train on the 100 best tangos in the world.

As you would have gathered, I’m not entirely sure if our producer has done something that’s ethically wrong. It’s a very fine line. The very nature of pop music is that it imitates, evolves, gets impulses from, and repeats what has gone before.

If AI had been developed as far as it is today back in 1962 and you had asked it to generate truly original music with a truly original sound it wouldn’t have generated the Beatles. It would have been an average mix of what already was out there. But there will come a day when an AI model on its own can generate music and sounds that humans didn’t know they wanted and that they will be emotionally touched by. It’s probably far off, but it will happen. What then?

Well, instinctively we feel we want to know, don’t we. We need to know it’s AI generated, not music or art that’s coming from one human to another. The thought of loving a piece of music or art that hasn’t been touched by a human hand is scary, isn’t it? And what will generally happen to human creations that are digitally consumed?  We will have live performances, of course. That is, if the performers aren’t avatars.  The future is upon us, ladies, and gentlemen.

AI will radically change the lives of creators.

It has huge implications for the business of creativity, and we are just starting to understand that.

My message to you here is: we can’t afford to sit on our hands and wait to see what happens.

We need to be the leaders in finding the solutions in matters concerning our creators.

There will be intense legal, ethical and policy issues, and I know that some CISAC members are already looking into them.

But the solutions must be global because AI knows no borders.

These issues need to be discussed at the highest level and it is urgent.

We must find solutions to respond to the challenges, while at the same time not hindering the advances that the technology will bring.

So, to conclude – this is the most exciting time to be in the creative sector.

A time of unprecedented technological advancement, opportunity, and innovation. There are huge challenges facing creators and the creative industries. And these are challenges that the CISAC global network is uniquely placed to address. Bad data is penalising creators.

The lack of fairness in the streaming world is a real threat to the future generation of creators. And AI will no doubt shape our business in the future.

All of these are global issues needing help from organisations with global reach, expertise, and leadership. I believe this CISAC community has immense potential to guide and bring positive changes. We are a diverse community which makes agreement on action difficult. But diversity is also the source of our authority and influence. We must stay committed to being united and working together. We need to be the leaders in finding solutions.

Thank you.