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Posted February 14, 2020

by P. Gills




I have worked in the Music Publishing business for over 30 years, I lived and worked through the “Golden Years”, during which many of us replaced our vinyl collection with CD’s.

Music and technology have been tied at the hip from the days of the cassette and our need to listen and consume on the move and to do it easily. From the portable cassette player, Sony Walkman, Compact Disc player, MP3 player to the smart phones and devices we use today that allow us to stream music as if it is a utility like gas and electric to be consumed on demand.

The impact technology has had in the last 20 years on the music industry has been seismic and the continued development of digital and streaming technology has undermined the value of music.

When we have businesses whose sole purpose is to sell music, and the rate per stream is in the majority derisory, how does that compute logically to the creators?

Nothing new I hear you say, well it is not going to go away as people look back on the rates of the past. Others say forget the past, look to the here and now, look to the future. I agree we need to look to the future and at the same time learn from the past.

The effect on the creative community should not be underestimated and the ability to live well enough and continue to contribute creatively has changed forever for many songwriters.

In the last 3 years the industry has undergone significant growth and we wait to see if the streaming bubble will plateau or burst.

We are starting to see improvements in this area in the USA with the signing of the MMA (Music Modernization Act) and the creation of The Mechanical Licensing Collective born of that legislation, but we still have work to do in order to deliver a common and consistent approach to rights management and the output from DSPs, both for music publishers and most importantly for songwriters and creators.

Outside of the USA music publishers are using hub licensing services provided by licensing societies that as a part of the CMO (Collective Management Organizations) network. These services license the Anglo-American repertoire on behalf of the music publishers, whilst non-Anglo-American repertoire licensing remains exclusively within the CMO network. 

Music publishers need to be better at managing our rights “in” and the rights “out” and be able to utilize technology to link those rights across the music value chain and thus provide a clearer picture to music users.

During my time at EMI Music Publishing, we led the drive to create a central licensing agency in Europe (Celas) it was the first of its kind. There were many challenges, including identifying our rights, internally and within the collective management organizations. We had our data and they had theirs, we agreed that the publisher data was authoritative for Anglo-American repertoire. By taking this approach we were able to be validate and create an accurate picture of EMI Music Publishing’s rights.  Of course, it didn’t fix every instance, it didn’t fix conflicts between each of our own databases, however it did bring the anomalies to the surface and allow us to manage them.

Of course, this take time, as we say, “the devil is in the detail”, over the period of several months we navigated through the issues – with a lot of face time and communication the world became a lot clearer.

This was the first time a music publisher was validating their data and that of a CMO to enable the licensing of music publishing rights across the pan-European territories for digital music services.

Another significant consideration is the back end, the output of distribution data from digital usage, it’s content and the detail the data provides. This is vital to how music publishers report to their writers and clients, vital to how deals are analyzed, how to ensure all parties are being paid accurately and that nothing falls between the cracks.

Typically, the digital services engage with a third party that aggregates the distribution data to rights owners. Here you will find good data and bad data; information missing; inconsistencies; incorrect links between works and sound recordings - this is the challenge.

This has always been an issue, particularly as models change – whether it’s family plan subscriptions, premium service etc. – When new services launch the distribution data will not to be available, it takes time for the music services to catch up. It is during this period of flux that the detail of the reporting requirements is being captured and both music service and music publisher play catch up on the prior usage.

In many cases it can take services many months or longer to get their act together as they come to terms with the size of the challenge of identifying rights owners and providing accurate distribution data.

In an ideal world a music publisher is looking consistency in the reporting, whilst common standards are available, they are receiving multiple formats. Whilst not ideal music publishers need to be pragmatic and problem solve to work through these issues with the music services and their partners in order to account accurately.

Through this music publishing operations teams are constantly engaging with the music users to keep the lines of communication open between our businesses, DSPs, PROs, agencies, etc. The communication and operational relationships are key to the success of administering our rights.

As a Music Publisher , we are protecting rights and monetizing and collecting royalties, however we need to look at the future and understand how music is consumed by looking at all available insight data – what music, how and where music is being consumed by different demographics and populations. We need to be better at this, from a songwriter and music publishing perspective.

Music publishers have adapted to the way in which their songwriters’ music is used.  The days of  building deal models from physical or download products are gone; modelling is now based upon digital exploitation across the various models.

We are in a world where an artist becomes popular on YouTube, Tik Tok etc. This is their entry point to the market and thus the driver for creating a deal model that allows us to value, participate and protect the rights of the songwriter.

The music publishing industry needs to stop being reactive to new licensing models and get closer to the influencers and technology that is creating new services, it needs to be at the forefront of these developments and ready to make available and license rights. To do this we need to look at how we currently learn of new services, we need to be close to existing and new initiatives and develop the relationships prior to the launch of new services. We need be in the same marketplace at the same time.

We see music companies, predominately independents develop strategies that involve the creation of full stack, end to end services. These companies have models that include and not limited to label, music publishing, A&R, production music, licensing and distribution. Many of these full stack services are exploring the music tech space and acquiring companies. A recent example of this is Downtown’s acquisition of FUGA whose products and services include royalty accounting, distribution, neighboring rights and analytics. 

As music and technology continue to be tied at the hip, music publishers must carry on the work on improving the value of music to songwriters and rights owners. This improvement can only come by being close to the technology and the use of legislation.  

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