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What is HitRecord, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s creator organization partnering with Ubisoft?

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And why are some people so skeptical of the idea?

HitRecord is an artist collective that actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt founded in 2004, with one key goal in mind: let everyone contribute to a project, and help everyone get paid.

Gordon-Levitt and HitRecord are partnering with Ubisoft for Beyond Good & Evil 2, allowing artists and musicians to contribute their own pieces that will be used in the game. Most importantly, each contributor who works on a piece used by Ubisoft will earn some kind of compensation. Gordon-Levitt stressed the importance of creators being paid for their work — HitRecord’s core philosophy — in a followup tweet addressing concerns raised over vague details surrounding the initiative.

HitRecord lives and dies on edits and remixes. People submit an original piece of art and, in doing so, gives anyone else the ability to remix their work. That remixed work can than later be edited and so on and so forth until the final product hardly resembles the original piece. Anyone whose contributions are used in the final product receives a cut of the pay if that item is sold. Think writers contributing poems to collections, musicians working on CDs or, in Ubisoft’s case, artists’ work used as promotional material for a major AAA video game.

It sounds great, but HitRecord isn’t immune to skepticism, especially when it comes to the pay breakdown for contributing HitRecord members. Some people can walk away from a project with a $1,000 check while others are sent just $2. Gordon-Levitt addressed some of these concerns in past interviews, but doesn’t ever get into the nitty gritty of payment details. People infatuated with HitRecord don’t necessarily see it as a problem, but critics have called the crowdsource-like method of working with artists concerning.

Now, as Gordon-Levitt and HitRecord team up with one of their biggest clients, more questions about what exactly HitRecord does are being asked. Here’s what you need to know:

A brief history

Gordon-Levitt launched HitRecord in 2005 with his late brother Daniel as a way to ask fans and viewers for feedback over videos they were working on. Both brothers slowly realized that as interest in the site grew, it became more apparent that people wanted to collaborate with the two. Time referred to Gordon-Levitt’s decision to open the collaborative process to other creators as “a production company where an online community comes together to submit ‘hit records’ (as in, an artistic work that becomes popular) not only for review, but as an invitation to ‘remix’ the record.”

Ideally, people would collaborate on a project and, if that project sold, they could split the profits. It’s a concept easier thought up than executed. Gordon-Levitt and his team came up with a “HitRecord Accord,” which is an extremely comprehensive terms of use guide for HitRecord users to reference when it comes to artists getting their fair share. The guide was introduced to help explore the impenetrable world of Fair Use.

HitRecord built up a dedicated community over the years, and eager customers ready to buy whatever book, record or movie they released. In 2010, Gordon-Levitt announced his new series, HitRecord on TV, a sketch variety show written, starring and created by HitRecord contributors. The show ran for a couple of seasons, but Gordon-Levitt stepped away from the project during the second season.

HitRecord on TV marked a new period for the organization as more attention poured in from mainstream press and Hollywood insiders. HitRecord has produced a number of stage shows, books, albums and even embarked on a live tour since its inception in 2004, but the organization’s partnership with Ubisoft is arguably one of the most prominent moments in the platform’s history.

So why are people dubious of the announcement?

No one knows how people are paid

This is the biggest question that people have regarding HitRecord.

As one HitRecord member said on Reddit, “Do not use hit record as a way to support yourself.”

Gordon-Levitt has addressed people’s concerns multiple times in the past, but there are two prevalent interviews where he divulges some interesting information. Back in 2013, around the time Don Jon, a movie that was co-produced by HitRecord, came out, Gordon-Levitt went on BBC Radio 1 to talk about the payment breakdown, stating that creators get half the profit from any product that’s sold.

“In the 20th century, media was something that was very much one-sided,” Levitt said. “A small clique of an industry made everything and then everybody else had to watch or listen, passively. Now with the internet people can participate and raise their own voice and be a part of it. It’s becomes more conversational and communal and that’s great.”

That still didn’t illuminate too much. There are more than 100,000 creators on HitRecord, all working in tangent to build upon each other’s creations. How does that number break down for individual artists?

Well, it’s still not really clear. He told Fast Company in June 2015 that even he wasn’t sure how a $50,000 per episode pot used to pay creators for HitRecord on TV! broke down, but said there were some artists who netted more than $1,000 in revenue while others received $5.

First of all, [creator IamEmma] gets paid. I don’t know the exact amount, but we have a pot of $50,000 per episode that goes to the different community contributors, and she’ll get a real piece of that. As far as her ability to parlay it into a music career in Hollywood? Hard to say. First of all, what the fuck is a music career in Hollywood? I don’t know if those exist anymore. But there are examples of artists who, based on work on HitRecord, have gone on to do other things. A talented young lady from Finland named Peppina wrote and sang the last song of the last season. We flew her to Sundance, because we premiered the first season at Sundance last year, and she met a record producer there who produced an EP of hers. You can hear it on Spotify.

It wasn’t until last week in an interview with AdWeek that Gordon-Levitt really got into how people are paid, and how those decisions are made. The two points that Gordon-Levitt reiterated over and over again was that machines (algorithms) weren’t in control of deciding how people get paid, and the company aims to be transparent with its creators. The term “crowdsourcing,” which is sometimes used to attack the payment model HitRecord is based on, is something that Gordon-Levitt also gets into, explaining why he detests critics associating that term with HitRecord.

Gordon-Levitt said:

Our payment process, for one thing, is extremely transparent. It’s also, I should say, done by human beings. There’s not a single algorithm going through our productions determining by computer or by mathematical equation what someone deserves to be paid.

I never like to use the word “crowdsourcing.” I don’t think it’s accurate. I also think it’s sort of dehumanizing, like, ‘The crowd did that.’ There’s no such thing. It’s always individual people. The talent and the work contributed by those individual people is exactly what makes our company what it is.

So, when we pay people, there are human beings in our office in our community department who go through lists of every single person whose contribution is included in the final production that was monetized. They assign percentages of how much of the community payment pool goes to each person. … We get all this feedback and we make sure that a human being in our office responds to every single comment about payment. We want to make sure that conversation is comprehensive and exhaustive.

The big question now, however, is how this applies to Ubisoft’s Beyond Good & Evil 2 campaign. This isn’t a HitRecord project being sold directly to consumers; it’s a partnership with a company to produce commercial content. Gordon-Levitt addressed those concerns in a thread on HitRecord’s website, essentially saying that because there’s no direct profit to choose from, the team will use the aforementioned ways of determining who gets a specific percentage of a $50,000 pool. The answer states:

For this partnership with BGE2, HITRECORD is only working on certain elements and parts of the full game, so ‘profit’ as we’d usually define it doesn’t apply. Instead HITRECORD has set aside the community payment sum of $50,000 as an item in our budget. That amount will be spread across all the finished songs and visual assets that we deliver to Ubisoft Montpellier for inclusion in the game.

If at some point down the line we expand the scope of what we’re making, we’ll earmark additional dollars to pay the community, and of course, we’ll keep everyone in the loop.

More information about HitRecord’s collaboration with Ubisoft and Beyond Good & Evil 2 is expected to be released in the coming weeks and months.