At the start of November, PRS for Music launched its data dashboard for music creators. It had been in development for some time and was being beta tested earlier in the year by a select number of users.
It is accessible to all the body’s members via their PRS for Music account online and lets them see where their compositions are earning money across TV and radio broadcast, from live, in businesses and on digital services around the world. The idea is to give writers and publishers a more holistic view on where their compositions are being commercially exploited and where royalties are flowing from.
For now, the DSPs are mainly focusing their data tools on the recorded music side of the streaming business – notably Apple Music For Artists and Spotify for Artists – although Spotify has created the Spotify Publishing Analytics tool, but it remains in closed beta.
The PRS dashboard joins other publisher- and writer-centric tools from companies including Kobalt (with its dedicated app and the Kobalt Portal), ASCAP (which launched its ASCAP Mobile app back in 2010) and SOCAN (with Royalty Guru). It is an important new addition in a world where both the volume and the importance of data are shooting up exponentially for writers and publishers and therefore the need for tools that make sense of all of this has never been greater.
Synchtank spoke to Tim Arber, the head of member insight & policy at PRS, about the development of the dashboard, how it works, where it fits into the wider marketplace and how it will expand next.
How did the data dashboard come about?
We’re in an environment where the volume of data that we’re collecting and ultimately making available to members on statements is ever-increasing. There are challenges which that can bring if you’re using the kind of legacy systems that we would have had. When you’re largely sending PDF format statements or CSV format statements, there’s an incredible amount of data being made available. That can then be quite difficult to understand and analyse.
Two things we identified as key for giving our members real transparency into that data are being able to give them access but also being able to present it in a self-service way so they can actually understand it and gain some insight from it. That was really a driver for us.
“Two things we identified as key for giving our members real transparency into that data are being able to give them access but also being able to present it in a self-service way so they can actually understand it and gain some insight from it.”
We were also able to run a limited beta trial earlier this year with a group of particularly interested members who’d raised their hands. We got them to road test the core of the product, give us their feedback, understand how it was working, and then we were able to make some final tweaks [to it]. That kind of thinking has been at the heart of what we’ve been trying to do with this online statement tool.
At the beta testing stage, what necessary changes came to light?
What we actually put out at that stage was very close to the final version, except it was lacking the file download functionality that’s included in the final version. It was also missing the analytics product which is included in the final version. Thankfully an awful lot of the feedback that we got was people validating those two key features which were used in the launch version.
It was [drawing on] lots of little details from people in how they work with statement data in their own professional lives – some of which were able to reflect in the launch version, some of which has gone onto the product backlog and will be part of the roadmap that we will work through as we continue to enhance and grow the tool.
With products like this, to an extent you need people to start using it in the wild with live data in their working lives. That’s when we’ll really start to capture even richer insight and feedback. It is exciting that it is live and we are now into that part of the process.
What are the main functions and features?
On the member homepage [of our site], there are a number of buttons for the key tools. One of those buttons now is View My Statements. When users click that, they will land on their statements homepage where they can see all the distributions that they’ve had, with the ability to search and filter as well as the opportunity to either download or to click into any one of those royalty statements.
On the homepage for the statement for that distribution, they’ll see headline summary information – such as the total value [generated]. The first of our breakout boxes gives you some high-level interactive information where you can click through to a list of top five works and then the next five works, or click through into top five usage streams or top five territories.
If they were interested in, say, TV and the BBC, they can see what happened against that stream. Then there is the same concept for territory. Whatever angle you’re interested in – whether that is about specific works, specific areas of earnings or specific locations – you can drill from the top all the way down to the lowest level of data, which could be looking at a single line against a single work for a single usage for single value that makes up your terms of payment.
“Whatever angle you’re interested in – whether that is about specific works, specific areas of earnings or specific locations – you can drill from the top all the way down to the lowest level of data.”
We have added in an analytics function where members can go in and compare any combination of works, usage streams and territories over time in a simple charting function. So if a user wanted to see how a work has performed in two different territories over the last three years, they could get those results out in a simple charting format and also get some visualisation around how their repertoire is performing. That’s where it jumps off into a really exciting new territory for us.
Previously in any of the services or the way we have delivered statement data, there was no way within our systems for members to compare across periods and across times. That was something they would have to do on their own. That is an exciting bit of extra functionality we’ve been able to provide.
Having access to data tools is one thing, but making sense of all that data is another thing entirely. How will users be guided through it to make the best sense they can out of their data?
It’s up to you how far you dive down into the underlying data. That’s something that wasn’t necessarily possible if you were working in a traditional fixed statement format. To some extent, the design that’s built in automatically gives you an easier way of working with some of those data volumes.
I think it is potentially going to create some interesting opportunities for us to then work with our members to say, “Now we have this online statements space, what else can we do in how the data is labeled and managed to try and optimise this?”
I think that’s part of the natural process of dialogue that we will go through with our members as they get more accustomed to the tool and spark off more ideas about how it would work even better for them.
Are data tools for publishers and writers finally catching up with data tools for recording artists?
What we hear from our members is the desire for access to, and transparency around, data and information. We’ve been very much trying to meet that need. I don’t think we’re unique in the industry in hearing that desire.
Our view is if that’s what our composer members and publisher members are demanding, then it is important that we try and meet that. I am sure there are other organisations who will be hearing similar things from whatever their respective groups are.
Metadata gaps are still dogging the digital music space. How will data tools fix this?
We’re involved in some really important cross-industry work on that specific topic. Our director of innovation and partnerships is heavily involved in some leading edge work specifically around leveraging emerging technologies to try to build on and improve a consistent works and recordings database.
“Our director of innovation and partnerships is heavily involved in some leading edge work specifically around leveraging emerging technologies to try to build on and improve a consistent works and recordings database.”
We have constantly got to be striving to ensure that both our data and our data links are as good as they can be. What we put out in our online statements all reflect exactly what it is that we’re distributing to our members on the basis of the data that we’ve got – both in terms of usage and works. We work very hard to try and ensure the completeness and quality of that.
We’re absolutely mindful that, as an industry, we need to make sure that we keep pace of the data challenges that are coming up. The collaborative work that we’re doing is specifically set out to try and ensure that we have the best possible set of musical work and recorded music links.
How will this dashboard evolve in the near future?
On the one hand, we have to remain open to what may happen in terms of emerging technologies, new tools and new opportunities that haven’t yet been seen and that we may need to understand and adopt. But right now, our primary view is that the most important thing to develop that is the direction that we get from our members when they’ve had yet more opportunity to use it and understand it.
We have to be quite user-centric about where we might go next with it. The most important thing for us to do in terms of next steps is to give our members time to use it, understand it and let us know how we can improve it for them and to support them as their businesses grow and change.