Music & Data: It’s Time to Join the 21st Century
Let’s face it — we’re dependent on the machines. Humanity’s never-ending quest for automation and shiny toys has created both a really important digital revolution in fields like medicine and energy efficiency, but also made the way we operate much more complex. Still, I don’t see us wanting to go back to “the hard way” any time soon. Not convinced? If I asked you to graph a complicated function in algebra class, which tool would you rather use on the test?
Chloe, why are you talking about calculators — I thought this article was about music and data?
I’m glad you asked, Fictional Interviewer. Well, it’s because I’d rather use the most up-to-date tools to solve problems (wouldn’t you?) and the blockchain is a modern tool available to help the music industry - but it is not yet widely adopted or understood.
For the music industry, the digital revolution of 1990 and the rise of streaming was another example of technology coming in to solve a problem (people wanting music on demand) while also creating more complexity (too much data to track and pay people efficiently).
It’s not just streaming either. Technology in instruments and the studio also make life more complex because Electronic Dance Music and modern pop now tend to have twice as many writers and three times as many publishers than songs from the 1960s had. What was once fairly simple (locating a few songwriters and performers), has now become more complex. We now have to locate and pay shares out to sometimes hundreds of writers and collaborators just for one track. Multiply that by 500+ streaming services streaming 2+ trillion songs a year, and you can start to imagine the scope of the problem.
Because it is difficult to keep track of so much data, especially when it changes, digital music files and drama continue to be music industry bedfellows, as lawsuits pile up and artists complain of low streaming income despite what should be a boom for digital music across all parties.
Additionally, The historic practice of music distribution and monetization has three key flaws within traditional audio formats: the metadata can be removed, copyright splits can change but information is not synced across all platforms (so lengthy takedown periods still exist), and sync licensing today has no central point of contact. This leads to unclaimed royalties, unpaid content owners, and unhappy artists.
So how come the music industry isn’t already using a modern solution to track this data?
Well, some precursors have come along (such as the failed GRD project, and the widely criticized DRM movement as a response to the torrent-scare at the turn of the new millenium) but were unsuccessful at solving the real problem. To do this right in the digital economy, all stakeholders and rights owners must collaborate in a multi-party system, but sharing data can sound like a scary concept when your business is built on proprietary information. So, unlike previous models, our blockchain-backed solution allows for private data to remain proprietary. It’s time to enter the 21st century and leverage the machines to help content creators. This time the music industry cannot fail, we need to get this right.
So, where does Dot Blockchain Media come in?
We advocate for a dynamic multiparty communication layer (like a massive chat room where we can all read data on a shared surface) for every work or recording asset. Publisher and label information gets stitched together and all parties (songwriters and performers) can create a collective truth about the music they created together. Furthermore, because the blockchain can only be amended and never deleted, there is also a history of changes available for parties to view should there be a disagreement down the line.
But how does it work? (Show me the geeky stuff!)
The current music supply chain does not easily allow both sides of a song (the work and the recording stakeholders) to track the performance of a song on digital services throughout its life cycle. This is an unfortunate result of the digital age not thinking through how best to insert traditional recording and works data into digital files themselves as they travel through the net.
DotBC marries these two halves of a song back together . Allowing labels, publishers, DSPs and PROs to communicate through the song itself greatly reduces operational costs of cleaning and adding data for everyone in the supply chain.
How do we do it? Dot Blockchain Media first creates a bundle we call a dotBC (or .bc) which ties together:
- the audio file (such as a .wav, FLAC etc)
- the works data (publisher and writer)
- the recording data (performer and label)
- PRO affiliations
- territory information
- release information
If you are a stakeholder in the master recording or the work, you’ll be tagged and can see the information that is relevant to you, and because .bc is a dynamic bundle, it can constantly update in near-real-time. Meaning, no more long-distance calls, emails, faxes (yes faxes!) and letters need to be sent around the globe to update information on everyone’s database. Adele will be happy she won’t need to keep calling “a thousand times…”
Data changes, it’s a fact of life. So our system allows amendments to be suggested by trusted parties and approved by owners. When information is updated, these changes can be reflected in the distributed .bc files across all digital service providers (Spotify, Apple, etc) globally and simultaneously, ensuring the data is accurate so the right people get paid — and quickly!
So, who will benefit from multi-party communication and why would the industry adopt it?
Honestly, I think everyone will benefit from transparency and ease of communication — but we’ve asked some of our partners to tell us why they chose to work with our solution and the benefits they see for their areas of business.
Tracy Maddux, CEO of our distribution and aggregation partner CDBaby, sees our technology working for distributors by “establishing definitive asset ownership and ensuring accurate flow of monetization to the appropriate rights holders.” For an organization like CDBaby, where artists can submit their own works data directly through a dashboard, Maddux has seen a trend that shows “most of the artists we work with don’t have all the information, or metadata, about the actual ownership of a piece of music, whether it is attributing authorship to all those in the studio that made the recording or making sure that all writers, publishers and other contributors to a work are identified.”
Pieter van Rijn, CEO of our partner FUGA, adds: “We chose to work with Dot Blockchain Media because of the powerful data parsing that can happen on-chain in a way that ensures all changes to metadata are transparent and normalised across parties. There is no current effective and automated solution for creators, publishers, and labels to normalise their related DDEX and CWR together in one place.”
Jeff King, the Chief Operating Officer of our partner SOCAN sees transparency of data working for PROs as well. “The multi-party data contribution and communication layer allows ownership changes or amendments to happen in near-real time between works owners (publishers and writers) and their representative PROs,” says King.
Eric Jordi, from our partner Unison rights in Spain added, “as a rights management entity based in Spain, a large part of our business is the collection and distribution of performance royalties across territories. For example, a US writer might have a sub-publishing and distribution deal in Europe accompanied by a complex web of ownership in Spain vs. France vs. the UK and so on. When one piece of metadata changes, it can be difficult for the rightsholder to ensure changes have updated across all PROs that manage their rights — and in turn, it can be difficult for PROs to trace the rightful owners of each song if it isn’t yet registered. It is costly in both time and resources to clean internal databases when ownership changes — but dotBC is creating a multi-party “truth” within the song file itself — which will vastly increase the speed at which Unison can manage rights, and relieve the burden on important departments that can focus on accelerating in other areas.”
And what about the creators?
I saved the best for last! Creators are the most important reason we as a music industry need to get this right and they will benefit the most. Over the last few years, many reports have sought to determine the true income of an average artist making money solely from music. Many have reported that only the top 1% of megastars are making 75% of all industry income — and in 2017, that share of the pie was only 12% of all revenue generated by the music industry. I would hedge my bets that most independent musicians and writers are making less per year than the average salary of their fans — and yet we fans couldn’t live without them. Creators fuel our society, culture, and everyday lives. Even the United Nations agrees that music is the voice of change and growth. Music helps young minds develop, and old minds remember. So, if music is digital gold — then we must not treat it like digital plastic.
Dot Blockchain Media’s dynamic structure ensures that the creators of digital gold are always identifiable — and therefore correct royalty payments and easier licensing is made possible. In our vision for the future, creators can establish control over their material right from the point of creation. Visibility and transparency is key for creators to control their income in the future. We all will benefit from speaking together and creating a collective truth about the data we share. The future is possible, and the future is already here.
Chloe Johnson is the Client and QA associate for Dot Blockchain Media — working directly with major industry partners to find solutions for the music industry by applying dotBC technology. In addition to her role as a technologist, Chloe is also an independent artist marketing specialist with 8 years of industry experience and the founder of Extra Magic Consulting.