By Emmanuel Legrand
In a growing digital world, the ability for the music industry to deal with data will be crucial to ensure that rights holders are properly compensated for the use of music works and recordings, according to panelists at the Global Music Publishing Summit organised by AIMP, the Association of Independent Music Publishers in the USA. Key stakeholders in this process are Collective Management Organisations (CMOs) alongside songwriters and music publishers.
To give an idea of the scale of the challenges ahead, Andrea Martin, CEO of British performance rights society PRS for Music, noted that in April 2020, the year-on-year growth in data processing at PRS for Music went up 42% over the previous year, from 11 trillion to 19 trillion data sets. “We have to invest in big data,” said Martin. “I am not sure that as an industry we have invested enough in technology and capital expenditure. The better the infrastructure, the more money goes to our members.”
Gaetano Blandini, Director General of Italy's rights society SIAE, agreed that the growth of the digital market is forcing societies to adapt quickly to new market condition. He also believes that all societies should be “investing in terms of managing data and on quality in managing this data,” but he also warned that the scale of investments makes it difficult for each individual CMO to invest in it alone. “Having every CMO to invest is not the solution,” he said, “so hubs are the solution.”
The role of hubs
SIAE is part of Armonia, the hub set up around France's SACEM, while PRS for Music is part of ICE, the joint venture with Germany's GEMA and Sweden's STIM to manage and administer pan-European online licenses. “Hubs are going to be important,” said Blandini, not least for small societies that do not have the financial capacity to invest is large systems.
Paul Clements, CEO of the UK's MCPS, a mechanical right society owned by music publishers, agreed that hubs are the way forward, noting that MCPS is a customer of ICE. “MCPS is a stand-alone society,” he said, “and we are not investing in developing our own systems but we are partnering with hubs because it makes sense. These investments are money from songwriters and publishers and the more we invest, the more we deprive them from money, so to maximise our member's return, it makes sense to invest with other partners.”
Clements explained that the digital context has forced societies to be cooperating more, but lamented the lack of Global Repertoire Database (GRD), in reference to a project that consumed time and money between 2008-2014 but ultimately failed to deliver meaningful progress in data collection. “Societies are speaking together for first time and that is encouraging, but we should be talking collectively around the globe of the GRD,” he quipped.
Getting the right metadata
Such database is even more important to Clements that PROs “have moved from their domestic markets to a global administration [framework] where so many digital platforms operate. They have to share that data accurately with PROs in the world and there lies the challenge. There is no global repertoire database and so we are reliant on platforms to provide data to us and none of that is particularly consistent. It is a fast moving world in which there is not as much consistency as we would like it to operate.”
Caroline Champarnaud, Director of International Development at SACEM, concurred with Clements that “every investment is money that does not go to our members, so we decided to invest together with other partners.” Societies have reciprocal agreements and as part of CISAC, they also have access to FastTrack, through which they can to share information on work ownership. SACEM also has partnerships with ASCAP and other societies to develop specific programmes.
But for Champarnaud, the “biggest challenge is getting the metadata from creators and publishers. When they write a song, [songwriters] need to tell us the information, and the shares so we can load metadata in system. But it is not enough: data used by platforms may be different. Spotify and Apple Music report usages, they report the song but not necessarily the name of songwriters.”
Importance of matching data
Champarnaud said that SACEM, like other CMOs “has invested a lot in a cloud system to inject as much metadata as possible and in order to match the titles reported with what we have in database. The source of metadata is important and matching data is important.”
For Kris Ahrend, CEO of The MLC, the Mechanical Licensing Collective that will from January 1, 2021 license and administer mechanical rights in the USA, good quality data will be the key ingredient to make the system work. “For decades the industry was hit driven, and now, in the streaming world, every song ever written and recorded can continue to generate revenue,” said Ahrend. “So we are looking at what has been written in past 50 or 60 years and none of that was prevalent in the past.”
The MLC has started to build infrastructure around the existing database of the Harry Fox Agency and will soon put online a portal that will allow publishers and songwriters to upload data or check the quality of available data. “For us the scale is massive, but for one writer or publisher, that's more manageable,” said Ahrend, who added that accuracy of the data should be a concern for all stakeholders.
“Technology is a key part of it but is only part of it,” he explained, “because no technology can tell you who were the writers in the room and what split they agreed to.”