From poor management to a lack of standardization and system interoperability, the music industry is plagued by data issues. At our recent Data, Rights & Royalties Summit, a panel of experts discussed the barriers to better data hygiene as well as effective solutions and new initiatives.
Watch the panel in full now or check out our key takeaways below:
- Niels Rump – DDEX Secretariat
- Debbie Rose – President, Kokopelli Creative Music Publishing
- Richard Thompson – CIO, The MLC
- Jarrett Hines – Founder, Music Tech Works
- Moderator: Vickie Nauman – Founder and CEO, CrossBorderWorks
Standards need to be more widely adopted
Moderated by Vickie Nauman, Founder and CEO of music tech consultancy firm CrossBorderWorks, the panel kicked off by addressing the importance of – and lack of adherence to – standards.
“The sound recording side of the business went through a major evolution 10, 15 years ago, cleaning up their data and adhering to DDEX standards. Now we’re getting some of this in publishing,” Nauman explained.
For Niels Rump, Secretariat at standards-setting organization DDEX, conformity is a big issue. “The music industry is really great at developing standards and really crap at actually adhering to those standards,” he said, adding that they need to be used more on the publishing side in particular.
“The music industry is really great at developing standards and really crap at actually adhering to those standards.”
– Niels Rump, DDEX
Richard Thompson, CIO of the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC), explained that part of the problem is a lack of accessibility. “IPI and ISWC are not anywhere near as freely available or resolvable as any of us on the technology side would like. Unless you are a certain category of entity within the industry, you have no access to them other than perhaps to go to The MLC or ASCAP or BMI and try to look them up one at a time. That clearly isn’t scalable.”
ISWCs are also allocated well after a song has been written and recorded, added Rump, which creates a lag as a permanent work identifier is not available from the start.
The publisher’s dream, according to Kokopelli Music Publishing President Debbie Rose, is to get the registrations in, get the ISWCs assigned, attach those to the ISRCs, and get it all done ahead of time. But when it comes to managing data, she explained, the very nature of music publishing complicates things. “Publishing is all contract based, and contracts are not standardized. That leads to having a million different layers of what things could be. We all want the data to be cleaner. We all want it to be easier to change rights, assert rights, relinquish rights, even.”
Strict allocation rules for standards and a lack of access to identifiers makes the job on the publishing side much more difficult, explained Thompson. “It is challenging to do rights management without identity management.”
“Publishing is all contract based, and contracts are not standardized. That leads to having a million different layers of what things could be. We all want the data to be cleaner.”
– Debbie Rose, Kokopelli Music Publishing
The panel also pointed to improvements being made in this area. According to Thompson, ISNI shows real promise with its open database, while Nauman referred to CISAC’s work in speeding up the allocation of ISWCs.
Rump, however, feels more needs to be done with regards to work identifiers. “There is a gap there, and I think we need to find something to fill that gap, whether that’s ISWC or whether that’s a preliminary identifier.” He also called for more progress to be made on the recording side. “We don’t have a proper identifier for a stem, and those things are becoming more and more productized.”
Rose, who has worked for years on various CISAC committees, believes real progress is being made with the cue sheet harmonization and ad sheet coming out.
We need need to accommodate creators and how they are creating
The panel also discussed the complications associated with the way that artists create today.
“Songwriters used to get into a room together and write a song,” explained Rose. “Now I have writers writing a beat on an airplane and sending it to another group of people they don’t even know. Just trying to figure out who did what is a really complicated issue.”
With anywhere from 6 to 8 (or more) writers on a hit song, rights are becoming more and more fragmented and it is vital to get data correct from the start. “If you don’t have the right data, right from the start, you have no chance,” said Rump. “The best database, the best standards will not help you to sort things out.”
“If you don’t have the right data, right from the start, you have no chance. The best database, the best standards will not help you to sort things out.”
– Niels Rump, DDEX
Publishers, added Rose, believe that the data they’re delivering is accurate – until they discover otherwise. “Then we find out they gave 5% to the guy who delivered the pizza and no one knows his name.”
There is pressure throughout the value chain to get music out to DSPs as quickly as possible, explained Nauman, meaning that the publishing is often left to be figured out at a later date. “I had a conversation a year ago with a group of artists and I was asking them how they figure out splits. One of them said, ‘I don’t do any of that, I just wait to see if the song is a hit and if it is, I’ll figure it out later,’” she recalled.
“A lot of independent artists don’t know what that means,” said Jarrett Hines, Founder of Music Tech Works. “Some have a publishing company or are registered with a society and some, frankly, aren’t really concerned with it. They want to do it later or they say, ‘I’m going to make money (pre-pandemic) on touring. So I’m not even worried about streaming.’”
“There’s education that needs to happen, from the creators to the publishers, publishing administrators, PROs, the societies, that there’s revenues that are lost when we don’t have identifiers.” said
– Vickie Nauman, CrossBorderWorks
The panel agreed that more education is required across the publishing value chain. “There’s education that needs to happen, from the creators to the publishers, publishing administrators, PROs, the societies, that there’s revenues that are lost when we don’t have identifiers,” said Nauman.
It is particularly difficult for songwriters who are not the artists, explained Rose, because a song they wrote months ago could be recorded and released without their knowledge. “You’re finding out after the fact, and you’re rushing to play catch up.”
Nauman hopes that the MLC’s recently announced black box royalties fund will be a motivating factor here. “For people who say there’s not enough money to be an incentive, I think $424 million is not too bad.”
Technology is improving the process for rights holders – and licensees
The session also discussed how new technology platforms and initiatives are helping to clean up data and make it more accessible.
Richard Thompson, CIO of The MLC, explained that it’s still early days for the organization and continuous improvements are being made to its portal, public search interface and the data that’s being made publicly available. “People interact with them and tell us how they can be improved, so there is so much more to come in terms of the tools and facilities we intend to offer,” he said.
“There is so much more to come in terms of the tools and facilities we intend to offer.”
– Richard Thompson, The MLC
As part of Music Techstars’ class of 2021, Hines is in the process of building rightsholder.io, a music rights search engine designed with licensing and sync professionals in mind. “We are numbering in the dozens of sources that we pull rights ownership information together on the master, publisher and past use data,” he explained. “We run a number of different algorithms in the background to match that, to know that Kayne West is the same as K West is the same as West Kayne. We’ve automated a lot of that translation and verifying it against a number of different data points in scoring it and ranking it.”
The end goal, he explains, is not just better data, but a faster and more simplified licensing process. “Instead of spending an hour researching five or ten songs and going through a number of sites trying to figure out who owns what, if I can spend five minutes doing that, I can make a licensing decision a lot faster.”
“Instead of spending an hour researching five or ten songs, if I can spend five minutes doing that, I can make a licensing decision a lot faster.”
– Jarrett Hines, Music Tech Works
Nauman, who works with many licensees interested in working with music, explained that they are often put off because of the potential risks and uncertainty. This is something that Hines is hoping to address. “We’ve talked to a number of tech companies and they’ve looked to see if we could provide them data so they can license catalogs and unlock parts of their product roadmap that before were sitting stalled because they didn’t know who to talk to.”
Like the previous panel, a number questions were also raised about the role of blockchain technology in managing data and rights.
“You need to see what is your requirement and then you look for the technology that fits,” said Rump. While he acknowledged that there may be a role for blockchain here, he also pointed to the risk of incorrect information staying in the blockchain forever. “To be honest, I think blockchain is a bit of a red herring,” he added.
Hines is also skeptical about blockchain’s role in this area. “We have to figure out the people problem, and how we get the data correct as close to the source and as early on as possible, and then how we store it moving forward and transact on it – there may be opportunity there. But right now I’m not sure it’s the best solution for this problem.”
“There may very well be a use case or use cases to which blockchain is the best solution. Time will tell,” added Thompson.
We are getting better at sharing data
The panelists unanimously agreed that while the music industry has historically been reluctant to share data, improvements are on the horizon.
The MLC’s publicly accessible database could be a catalyst for further change and opportunities here, explained Thompson. “The really exciting thing is how we’re starting to see people use that data already. It is a fantastic opportunity for people to create new businesses, new services and new opportunities on the back of that data.”
“The really exciting thing is how we’re starting to see people use that [The MLC’s] data already. It is a fantastic opportunity for people to create new businesses, new services and new opportunities on the back of that data.”
– Richard Thompson, The MLC
Hines has also noticed a shift in willingness to share data across rights holders, both large and small. “Before, they thought that information was competitive – if I tell you how much I own, then for some reason that may give you some advantage. But now they’re seeing that there is more value in working together and getting that information out there to make sure that it’s correct.”
Thompson also explained that the ability to start fixing some of this data is only possible now that it’s publicly available in the MLC database. “We see people looking at that data for the first time. They contact us and say, ‘Can you fix it?’ and we say, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ It’s only been possible because they’ve been able to look at it for the first time. That is a very positive trend and one I am certain will continue as we move forward.”
“We can all work together if we collect the data as early as possible and we share it with other people that have a legitimate interest in it,” said Rump. “And sharing means using standards of course. DDEX standards, naturally.”