Behind any piece of music you have ever heard there is a person, its author. That much is obvious, yet we rarely stop to think about the obstacles songwriters pass through just to do their job and make another song. Organisations that support musicians and their rights are an essential part of the industry, representing superstars as well as those at the start of their career.
Meet Anna Lidell, the chairwoman of the DJBFA / Composers and Songwriters Association and vice-chair of Koda, Danish collective rights management society. A musician herself, Anna is on the forefront of the fight for gender equality in the music industry and fair treatment of all singers, songwriters and composers in Denmark.
What are DJBFA / Composers and Songwriters association and Koda? What do you do?
I’m the chairwoman of the DJBFA, which aims to give composers and songwriters a stronger voice politically and ensure that the conditions are right for creating songs in the future. The association has around 1,600 songwriters in Denmark.
We facilitate a community to share information about music and the music business. We also distribute some funds from Koda [Danish collecting society for songwriters, composers and music publishers] and decide how to spend them, so they work in a diverse and qualified way in the music business.
It’s important that the DJBFA speaks on behalf of the songwriters because some musicians have busy lives and might not always know exactly what’s happening. I’m pretty new, it’s been less than two years, but it’s interesting to talk on behalf of the songwriters. I experience that people start listening when you speak up for others with a strong voice.
Community is the heart of DJBFA. Normally, we have so-called seminars in a bar once a month where members learn about relevant subjects and work together. That has been challenging with the corona situation, so we’ve been doing webinars instead. They actually reached more people, like those who live abroad or would otherwise be touring.
I’m also the vice-chair of Koda, which is more about the rights and collecting the money. It’s a huge business with 120 employees and a turnover of a billion Danish kroner every year. It represents the Danish songwriters but also the international ones. Most music that’s being played in Denmark is licensed through Koda. What’s unique about Koda is that it’s a ‘collection of rights’ society. If you write just one song, you can become a member. Some global collection societies cherry-pick and just take the top, but Koda collects on behalf of everyone. I think this collective thing is very important. When I was 18, I played live on television, and suddenly I had a huge Koda share. I would have never been able to negotiate that on behalf of myself. Koda negotiates where a single person can’t. There’s also a lot of collaboration with other countries and their collecting societies. They give the collected money to Koda, and Koda gives it to its members.
How do you interact with the members?
The DJBFA is mostly member-driven. Project leaders organise these one-week camps where members go and write songs and get inspired. We have everything from jazz to pop to classical music. For me, the seminar & bar is a great way to find out what the members need because I can meet them in person. Some 70 people gather every time (pre-corona), and I get to talk to them about what’s important.
How did you become a part of this organisation? What made you want to go in this direction of the music industry?
I didn’t plan any of it, I just couldn’t help raising my voice. I became a member early on because of that live session on TV. I had a band, but when it stopped, I didn’t know if I was still a musician or a songwriter. I started going to some of these camps that DJBFA arrange and networking events, and I realised: I am a musician, I am a composer, I am a songwriter. It doesn’t matter if I have a band or not, because all my colleagues are potential future music partners. Thanks to the association, I started doing music for films, radio, and theatre.
There was a general assembly one year, and I decided to run for the board because I wanted other musicians to have the good experiences I’ve had. On the board, I was very interested in stuff and voiced my opinion a lot. A year before the former chairwoman left, she tried to see if anyone was interested in becoming the new chair. I told her that I thought I was a bit too young, and I hadn’t been on the board for long enough, but at some point I might be interested. She called me back later and said, “the board believes that you can be the right candidate. If you want to, you should do it.” I’m happy about how it was organised – it was not at all about power and was very much about trust. I feel very supported by the whole board in my work.
The music industry was hit hard over the past year. How do Koda and DJBFA deal with it? How do you support the members?
We have never seen anything like this situation before. Even the baseline of income has been ripped away. Not only because of the cancellation of concerts; the entire society closed down, every club and restaurant which usually play music. There is now a lot less money for the musicians, so our job is to direct them to the income streams that are available and speak out to politicians.
Some of our members may not feel the damage now, but they might discover it next year. For example, if you write music for cinema, a movie can take a couple more years to be released since a lot of production has stopped. The losses will come later. I think we’ve been transparent about how little money one sometimes makes creating music. Most of the income comes from live events. The crisis put a spotlight on that. At the same time, a lot of musicians are used to being in a crisis, so they always find ways to make money, like playing small shows in backyards or making podcasts. I’m very impressed by the creativity of our members.
Koda was recently involved in a big case with YouTube, where all Danish music was briefly taken down from the platform over a royalty dispute. Were you a part of those negotiations? How does it work?
I personally was not involved in those negotiations. But we are a big part of telling people what it means, what happened, and why Koda wouldn’t accept a 70% decrease in income at the time. We demand that songwriting be recognised as a profession, and songwriters should be paid fairly. When people see a band performing on stage, they don’t always realise what went into that performance, what’s behind the stage, behind the music.
Do you find it challenging to discuss money in music? After all, we look at the arts as something free-spirited and creative, but for many people it’s a full-time job. Do you educate artists about conducting negotiations?
We do have some consultations, but I think the younger generation understands that you have to make it a business somehow. The structure is important because, for example, if it’s more profitable to make covers and put them on YouTube, we will simply not have a lot of new songs in the future. We need people to have the motivation for creating content and writing new music. What you listen to is a big part of who you are and who you become, so it’s necessary to keep having new music. But we need the conditions where artists can afford to create it. I know a lot of talented people who live for music without earning a dime. If they received money for it, they could have made even more music, practised more! If you have a job outside of music that takes too much of your time, you may never realise your full potential as an artist.
How do you combine your job with your music career?
My political work gives a lot of purpose in my everyday life and definitely gives me a better overview of the industry but it also consumes a lot of time. I have to say no to a lot of stuff. I try to balance it, though. It’s very important for me to keep making music. To be a good voice for the songwriters, I have to be a part of the songwriters’ community continuously. If you work at an organisation like this but don’t do any music yourself for a long time, you become detached from the realities of the members. In this case, the company might as well just hire someone who is a good leader. Music is the reason why I’m here, so I want to keep doing it.
What projects at Koda or DJBFA have been particularly memorable for you and made you proud?
A few years ago, there was a big debate about P6 Beat and P8 Jazz radio stations. P6 Beat plays alternative and indie music, and P8 plays jazz. The former culture minister wanted to cut the funding to DR [Danish Radio] and close those stations. We’ve been very outspoken against this. It’s vital to have a platform with a diversity of music. If the radio plays only one type of music, it’s very narrow, people can’t identify with it and feel represented. A lot of people identify with P3 and P4, but a lot also identify heavily with P6 and P8. We worked hard to protect those stations, and their presence has been prolonged so far.
I have also been outspoken about the gender balance in the music business. When 100 kroner is paid to Koda, 87 goes to men and only 13 goes to women. It’s very unbalanced and only getting worse. I’m very proud to be an active part of this debate, and I feel like now stuff is happening. We’re going from “is there a problem?” to “there’s a problem, what can we do about it?”
Another thing I’m proud of is just being able to unite people. Nowadays, it’s not that common among youth to be members of associations. In the 70s, it was normal to be a part of 20 different associations. I think it’s important that musicians know that they’re not out on their own, and we’re here to support, represent them and make sure they meet each other in fruitful networks.