We sit down with Adrian Morris and Mark Vermaat of Soundmouse to talk about their work in music reporting for broadcasters, collecting societies, and other media companies.
First of all, what is a cue sheet?
A cue sheet is a document created by a production company which lists all the music used within an audio visual programme (TV, film, or video). Cue sheets require a wide variety of information, from details of the programme or film, to composer and publisher details. You can find an example of a cue sheet in this handy document from PRS.
Why are they important?
Cue sheets are the primary way in which performing rights organizations such as PRS and ASCAP can track the use of music in film and TV, and therefore compensate composers and publishers for their work. With sync fees becoming smaller, performance royalties are more important than ever to rights holders, and these payments are heavily reliant on accurate cue sheets.
Though the process sounds simple enough, misinformation and confusion regarding cue sheets is sadly far too common, and can prove a daunting task for producers and broadcasters to manage. This is where Soundmouse steps in…
Can you tell us a bit about what you do at Soundmouse?
Mark: Soundmouse is a music reporting company, so our clients are typically broadcasters or networks, and we help them with the daunting task of reporting cue sheets to collecting societies so that the right composers and publishers can be paid.
Cue sheets, for programmes that are on air across many broadcasters, come from all sorts of different sources. They can come from external studios and external production companies, they can come from in-house production units, they can come from freelance promo producers, they can come from distribution companies – there’s a wide variety of cue sheet sources, so just the task of managing that for a broadcaster and to get a cue sheet for every single programme that they need to report to collecting societies is truly a daunting task. And that’s the idea of Soundmouse – it’s really to help the broadcaster to collate all these different cue sheets across all these different sources.
We developed a platform that connects the broadcasters with all these different producers of programming. So a broadcaster has an account on the system, and we integrate very tightly with their broadcast management systems and their scheduling systems, and based on that information, we send out what we call cue sheet headers or production headers to all the external production companies and internal production units that they work with. And all of these units and companies have their own accounts on Soundmouse, and that allows them to receive those empty cue sheet headers and fill them out according to the music that is used. And then they submit them back through the system, and the broadcaster effectively gets a complete set of cue sheets across all these different transmissions, and we can then report them to the collecting society on their behalf.
So in a nutshell that’s the original concept of Soundmouse. We work for most of the broadcasters in the UK, and a lot of broadcasters in the US, we work across Scandinavia, we work in Germany, across the rest of Europe and are now branching out in Australia, Latin America and even Africa, so it’s really taken off. It’s kind of a success story because broadcasters now do their reporting much better than they ever did before, which means that the music copyright owners get paid by PRS, PPL, and all the sister organisations all across the world.
How are you helping to improve the accuracy of cue sheets?
Mark: One of the big problems that you have with cue sheets is that the person that’s actually completing them doesn’t necessarily really understand what they’re doing. It’s often the most junior person in a production, and not all of them realise that what they’re actually putting together is a composer’s pay check. That’s how we look at the cue sheet – it’s a composer’s pay check. So if they make a mistake and put down the wrong track, the wrong person will be paid. If they’re putting 10 seconds instead of a minute, that person will be paid 1/6th of what he/she should be paid, so accuracy of cue sheets is essential.
As a result we’ve developed a fingerprinting audio recognition technology that takes away a lot of the work that individuals would be doing. It recognizes which music is playing in a production, and automatically completes the cue sheet. Then the producer can just look at the cue sheet and review it. So instead of having to type in all that information they can simply review it.
For audio recognition and fingerprinting to work, we need to have a database of music, because it’s a matching principle. Over time we’ve built up a huge database of over 25 million recordings, and it gets updated all the time. We get about 20,000 – 25,000 recordings every day of the week, it’s extraordinary. We run our clients’ programmes against this source database of tracks, and the technology can then distinguish which piece of audio is used in a programme. So that means if a track is not in our source database, there’s nothing for us to recognize. So a big part of our focus is to communicate with the music community at large to tell them if they want to be in these cue sheets, they need to start providing us with their music, otherwise they might rely on the most junior person in a production.
That has always been the biggest frustration for a lot of music rights owners, that whether they appear in a cue sheet or not is often up to chance. So now they actually have a level of control over what is going into cue sheet and that’s something they’ve never had before. If they supply us with their music and information (e.g. IPI/CAE number, ISWC code, ASCAP / PRS id) we can make sure it all goes in and the cue sheet becomes a lot more accurate.
How can rights holders submit their music to Soundmouse?
Adrian: We have an online musical portal where we can create accounts for music owners and rights holders (labels, publishers, composers, libraries etc). It’s a free, online account, and via that account users can upload their sound recordings that might be broadcast, and the rights and publishing information that relate to the recordings. We’ve spent a number of years developing it and it’s been designed with a variety of users in mind, from bedroom composers to large production libraries.
A lot of people in the music rights community don’t necessarily know the key identifiers and sets of information that they need to be providing for each performance territory; so the online system actually prompts people to provide this information, as well as basic levels of information like who the composer is, who the publisher is, who the artist is, who the label is. So it gives visual feedback to people so that they know they’re on the right track.
For the larger companies we have more integrated plugins via a standard such as DDEX, and we also have an API where the bigger companies can also just plug into us. So we can cover a wide variety of content providers and methods with which to accept deliveries of information.
How will Synchtank users be able to benefit from Soundmouse?
Mark: Having the API available means that if you’re using another system that you’re happy with where you manage all your recordings in an organized way, you can automatically deliver your music and metadata to Soundmouse without ever really having to log into Soundmouse. From Soundmouse’s perspective that’s great. We want to enable those people to use those systems and deliver it to us. That’s what we’ve been working on with Synchtank, getting the API up and running so that your users can deliver their music and information to Soundmouse in an automated way. We’re trying to create an open platform that anyone can tap into.
Would you advise musicians to be proactive and ask to see cue sheets themselves?
Mark: I think the more information you have as a composer is great, as it allows you to predict what you income is going to be and it’s a controlling mechanism. The truth is, it’s not necessarily up to us to share cue sheets – it’s not really our cue sheet to give to somebody. You need to get that from whoever you work with – the production company or the broadcaster. In the UK, and increasingly I think in the US as well, societies are actually making cue sheets public so if you’re a member of PRS I believe you can log in to their website and find a cue sheet. So UK composers are actually in a pretty good spot as long as they’re a PRS member.
How can we educate producers in the importance of cue sheets?
Mark: I think the first thing is to really tell it like it is. Somebody’s mortgage depends on this, it’s as simple as that. We have a lot of sessions with producers and broadcasters where we train them on our system and tell them of the importance. A lot of people just don’t realize, and when they get it they feel a lot more responsible. And the other thing is involving people less and less in the cue sheet creation process and using recognition tools. Give it some time and I’ll be very surprised if people are still making cue sheets manually.
So the focus is shifting from the producer to the music owner, and saying to them, you’ve got a way to interact with cue sheets now, you’ve got influence if you get your music and data on Soundmouse. Take control of your income. That’s truly our message for music owners right now – you’ve got a level of control that you’ve never had before – take that opportunity.
What’s the cue sheet timeline, from submission to royalty payment?
Adrian: That’s a difficult question as it varies from society to society and what their distribution schedule would be for that particular type of programming. Some provide quarterly accounting, but you need to check that information with your local society/PRO.
Mark: Usually it’s after the transmission date, even if the cue sheet is made months beforehand. In a few other countries it can be up to a year, so if your music is on air in November 2015, you won’t be paid till June 2017, so there’s a huge gap there. But it really depends from one society to the other. A lot of societies are trying to speed up their payment process, and as a result a lot of societies are jumping on that bandwagon. But it’s really something you need to check with your societies.
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