Hitmaker Max Martin, ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus Form 'Music Rights Awareness' Organization

Billboard

The international debate over creators' rights will soon have a new player, run by songwriters who understand it from the inside.

Swedish hitmaker Max Martin, ABBA member Björn Ulvaeus and pop songwriter Niclas Molinder are forming Music Rights Awareness, an organization that will work to educate musicians about their rights. Each will serve on the board of directors. Music Rights Awareness will work internationally, and its first project, Music Rights In Africa, will aim to educate songwriters in Rwanda, Malawi and Tanzania.

"It's so important to spread this knowledge about what rights creators have," Ulvaeus tells Billboard. Although many organizations advocate for songwriters and publishers, Music Rights Awareness will focus more on education, with a grassroots approach. "It's so important that this is creator to creator," adds Molinder.

Also important: The imprimatur of Max Martin, easily the most successful songwriter of the past 20 years. "I believe in the cause and I believe in the people," Martin says via email, "and by supporting Music Rights Awareness I very much hope, and believe, we can make a difference."

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The three Swedish songwriters already work together as investors in Auddly, a Stockholm start-up also run by Molinder that makes software to track song authorship and publishing rights. That company came out of Molinder's experience running a music-publishing company with his songwriting partner, Joacim Persson, with whom he writes and produces songs for  pop acts like Ashley Tisdale, The Cheetah Girls, and Willow Smith under the name TWIN.

Music Rights Awareness decided to start off with a project in Africa after Molinder met with Sonia Mutesi-Hakuziyaremye, a coordinator at The Pan-African Composers' and Songwriters' Alliance (PACSA). "There are problems in Europe and America but in Africa songwriters see companies stealing their music," Molinder says. "Phone companies use music for ring-back tones and they only pay to use recordings -- which means the writers get nothing."


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Adds Ulvaeus: "Which makes it so important to spread this knowledge that these are the rights people have! A lot of people don't even know about them."

Music Rights Awareness chose Rwanda, Malawi and Tanzania for the Music Rights In Africa project since all three countries have public performance collection societies, local equivalents of ASCAP and BMI. In June, Molinder and Mutesi-Hakuziyaremye visited all three countries and met about 80 songwriters as well as some politicians, including officials from the culture ministries in Malawi and Rwanda. Music Rights In Africa will present other events in those countries later this year, and it's talking to the Swedish government about expanding the program.

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"African writers should be on par with Americans in terms of having the same knowledge," Ulvaeus says. "In many areas of the world, the concept of copyright is relatively new and MRA can do something really important."

Music Rights Awareness isn't focused on Africa, though. The organization's next project, which will be undertaken in partnership with a Swedish organization, will try to encourage more women to become producers. Molinder is also considering creating a "Music Industry Map" for smartphones that would explain how label and publishing deals work. "When I was starting out, I would hear all of these terms in meetings with labels and publishers and I didn't know what they meant -- all the abbreviations!" Molinder says. "So we want to create an app so creators can easily access that information."

Music Rights Awareness defines itself as an educational organization, not an advocacy group. But its focus on making creators aware of their rights implies that those rights are important.

"I know from personal experience what copyright means," Ulvaeus says. "It wasn't until Benny [Andersson, Ulvaeus' writing partner in ABBA] and I started making money that we had the time to get good at what we were doing. I can guarantee that a lot of the talent out there will get wasted because there was never the possibility to make something out of it."