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Indie Publishing Is Heating Up. What Does That Mean for the Music Business? 

Indie Publishing Is Heating Up. What Does That Mean for the Music Business?

Songwriters have more options than ever — as recent awards, hirings, and data points hint to a new explosion in independent music publishing 

Guest Post by: SAMANTHA HISSONG of ROLLING STONE

Last week, the ASCAP Pop Awards — a major songwriting awards show, closely watched by the entire music business — awarded Publisher of the Year to independently owned music company Kobalt. Considering that Kobalt’s songwriters helped write smash hits of 2019 like Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” and Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road” remix, its win isn’t exactly a surprise. 

But Kobalt beat out the behemoth publishing arms of the three global music majors Universal, Warner, and Sony. In his 20 years of attending the awards, Kobalt founder and chairman Willard Ahdritz says, he’s never seen any other independent publisher take that crown, which honors songwriting in major pop hits. 

When Ahdritz founded Kobalt two decades ago in London, he didn’t want it to just be a publisher: Kobalt is a “service company aligned with creators that used technology to deliver transparency and data,” he tells Rolling Stone. Ahdritz saw the transition to a streaming-based world as a “win-win-win” for publishers, because they could work with tech companies and create new value for fans and rights-holders alike. To that end, Kobalt’s first-of-its-kind app provides creators with real-time data at their income, sync activity, and music activity, and the company strives to establish trust and fairness with its songwriters.

“When streaming becomes a larger and larger share of your income, it’s more transparent because it is what it is,” adds Kobalt’s CEO Laurent Hubert. “You can see it, you can monitor it… There are more opportunities, and frankly, there are more choices today as a creator.” Team Kobalt also allows songwriters to get royalty advances from an online portal — a feature it launched 10 years ago that has proven more valuable than ever in COVID lockdown. “With five clicks, you could take out money if you needed to,” says Ahdritz. “Historically, it would take me three to six months to renegotiate your contract.”

While Kobalt’s coup at the ASCAP awards show is a milestone for the company, it’s also one of several recent triumphs for independent music companies in general. Executives across music publishing tell Rolling Stone that the idea of “going independent” has clearly gained steam in the last several years — in tandem with the rise of streaming — and that the trend is visible in hirings patterns, awards, and chart positions. Writers’ publishing contracts have also gotten shorter in time length, allowing for an “entry point” for indie companies to swoop in, one source says. And a recent MIDiA analysis and a report released earlier in 2020 show that independent music is growing at four times the rate of the music industry, with indie artists possibly generating more than $2 billion in records and publishing by the year’s end.

“We’ve had seven Number Ones in four or five months,” says Scott Cutler, co-CEO of indie music publisher Pulse. “They span genres… Top 40, Country… And we have five more right behind them that are going up.” Pulse, he says, just witnessed the best six months in its 10-year history. 

“Independent companies are attractive to writers because we are able to be more scrappy and hands-on, which is due to keeping our roster lean in size,” says Prescription Songs’ head of West Coast A&R Rhea Pasricha. (Prescription, which has had a hand in some of Dua Lipa’s biggest hits, lives under the Kobalt umbrella.) “We always say ‘we have an independent hustle, but with major muscle.’ That hustle comes from our in-house team of A&R and sync creatives, backed by the muscle of our partnership with Kobalt and their global reach and resources.” 

Execs also say the very definition of the word “independent” suggests a willingness to embrace change — and that in an ever-changing marketplace, smaller-scale operations have an easier time roll with the punches than major corporations, which is attractive to talent. 

Cutler believes that the differences of “indie vs. major” don’t really matter anymore, and that this destigmatization alone shows the growth of indie work. He adds that distinctions often seem arbitrary and at times unfair — pointing to the fact that Kobalt won the Publisher of the Year award but BMG won the Independent Publisher of the Year Award, even though the latter has millions of songs under its belt. 

ASCAP did not respond to request for comment on whether any indie companies have won its tentpole award in the show’s 37-year history. BMI, whose yearly publishing award rivals ASCAP’s, only offers one award but expanded the eligibility rules in 2017 to take various new kinds of publishing deals into account. The organization “previously calculated Publisher of the Year based on the number of songs owned by a publisher, with a few independent publishers winning,” but now has a more level playing field, a rep tells Rolling Stone.

Indie publishers’ flexibility have become one of their biggest selling points. Kobalt in particular prides itself on the personalization of its contracts. Ahdritz says he has no interest in locking a client into a long-term, binding contract like a major might: “I’ve always said, ‘If you don’t want to be here, you don’t need to.’ And our retention rate has been 98%. People say, ‘I have freedom but I want to be here.” Ahdritz adds that 40% of signings come from Kobalt writers recommending the team to other writers. “I think they need all the trust, support, and security they can get, because their operational business is usually the opposite,” he says. 

Hubert also points to Kobalt’s love for administration deals, which tend to offer writers less money up front but give them more control, because they focus more on royalty collection and copyright registration than creative and marketing services.”We represent about 600 smaller music publishing companies — and we do a lot of the work for them, especially on the administration side. So, in some ways we are also an incubator for that independent sector to continue to grow and diversify,” Hubert says. 

A Downtown Music Publishing rep tells Rolling Stone: “The whole construct of ‘indies versus majors’ feels like such an antiquated way of thinking about the industry. What does that even mean in a world where creators can retain the rights to their work, in addition to being able to record, distribute, and promote their music themselves?” This week, Downtown welcomed former Warner/Chappell U.K. managing director Mike Smith as its new global president — muddying the divide between major and indie at the executive tier as well. 

Downtown has seen more and more “indie” songwriters working with major artists, such as Cautious Clay having three songs on John Legend’s new record, Anthony Rossamando writing with Lady Gaga for “Shallow,” and Tee Romano writing Chris Brown and Young Thug’s recent release. “It begs the question, what constitutes an indie songwriter?” says the rep. “Is Ryan Tedder an indie songwriter? He penned the Jonas Brothers’ ‘Sucker,’ ‘XO’ and ‘Halo’ for Beyonce, ‘Rumor Has It’ by Adele, among other massive hits. He also happens to be repped by Downtown Music Publishing.”

“I would argue that the ‘major versus indie’ framework models other shifts we’ve seen in recent years — digital-first streaming platforms like Netflix versus cable and traditional TV, or social media versus. traditional media,” the rep continues. “In these cases, the challenger has managed to become more directly competitive.”

Kobalt Founder Willard Ahdritz on the New State of the Music Industry 

Kobalt Founder Willard Ahdritz on the New State of the Music Industry

Guest post from the Midem 2020 Digital Edition Keynote. Kobalt founder Willard Ahdritz looks at the radical but not altogether negative effects the pandemic will have on musicians and the music industry. 

Willard Ahdritz: 

There is definitely a lot of passion at Kobalt for our mission to change the industry and make it better for everyone, from fans to rights owners to creators, so when I came up with the idea for Kobalt in 2000, I saw three clear themes. First, I strongly believed in the digital transformation and the opportunities that came with it. As you know, it was doom and gloom up until 2015 – people said streaming was death. But already in 2000, I thought that having access to music on a global scale was a huge opportunity. I also understood that there would be a problem of high volume, low transaction values that could be solved with technology and a centralized global platform. 

Second, I feel for creators and musicians and, having been in the industry both as an artist and having run an independent record and publishing company using the major’s systems, I wanted to introduce transparency into the industry. Technology needs transparency, and I thought transparency drives liquidity, drives volume. And in this, I also saw a huge opportunity for creators to improve their relationship with fans and be able to go directly to them and actually for the first time in music industry history, have the upper hand in being the content creators. I always wanted to be a service provider in order to be aligned with creators. 

And lastly, I also thought it was very important that, to be successful in this environment, Kobalt should be both a music company and a tech company. I wanted to have respect both in Hollywood and in San Francisco to work with creators, understand their needs, take care of their copyrights, and at the same time speak the language of tech people and create tools that would allow everyone to benefit from the opportunities I saw. 

Kobalt Founder Willard Ahdritz 

How the pandemic has changed the way Kobalt works 

So as you know, we take care of 40,000 creators. Every week, we represent 50 – 70% of the Top 100 on the charts. We have 14 offices around the world so we have an organization to take care of and I think we all feel sad for all the suffering we see everywhere. Not just in the music industry but physical suffering, so it is a tough time for a lot of people. At Kobalt, we closed our offices around the world on March 10th. Being a tech company, all employees have a laptop and we are all used to working remotely, globally, across borders. Within 24 hours we were all up and running remotely and after a week, our productivity actually went up. I think that shows Kobalt’s great spirit and we realize that supporting our creators and making sure they receive their distributions is even more important during these tough times. 

How the business has changed during the pandemic 

If we talk revenue side first, there are some financial reports out in the market that say publishing will be up 3% this year and 3.5% next year. We see a bigger impact in areas like synch, given that major film and TV productions have stopped. We know that live, which in certain territories in Europe is a good income for publishers, is lost for the time being. Performance fees from restaurants and bars have suffered but having said that, 

PROs are delayed and only very few societies pay out directly what they have. Most pay out six months, twelve months after they have collected. So we see this being drawn out but overall, I think we can say that if we are -10% this year, we believe that we will be at +20% next year, that people will bounce back, and we see certain productions starting again around the world. There is talk about production hubs where people work and live to start TV production again. 

We are lucky in publishing and in recording. At AWAL, our recording arm, it’s very much business as usual. It’s a digital streaming label and we are working marketing remotely so overall, we are doing very well. What is exciting is that we do get a lot of songs. Creatives have continued to create even more today so I believe later in the year or next year we are going to see some fantastic songs, fantastic music that is just now being written. 

Reports on the global music economy 

Don’t worry, the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to music and streaming. My comment on Goldman’s report, which is a very detailed report and has a lot of good data, is that overall I believe that short-term publishing will be negative this year rather than the 3% growth they mentioned just because of the impact on synch, live, and the restaurants and bars I mentioned. Having said that, I think we are going to bounce back and have 20% growth next year in publishing overall. I agree on the longer term growth they see in the coming ten years. In recordings, I’m actually more bullish than the Goldman report this year; I think they are too conservative as the business has moved so much to online or streaming, so I think we are going to see bigger growth than they are seeing on that point. And one very interesting take-away from the IFPI report that came out a couple of weeks ago is that independents have grown 38% last year and artists direct 42%. And if you include that 12% of what the majors do is distribute independents, it was really a fundamental shift for independents and access, which I thought could happen when I started Kobalt. I think there is a huge opportunity now for the middle tier artists that I have pushed for and believed in to live on their music. We can see now hundreds of thousands of artists that can live on their art. On average, we saw that at AWAL, artists are getting twice as much from recording royalties than from their touring income. So that is a fundamental change in artist economics, and that was pre-pandemic. And obviously that is even more important today. We have artists that you have never heard of – even if you’re a huge fan of live music and cool bands. We have hundreds and hundreds of bands that you have never heard about making $100,000 or more per annum in royalties. And for me, that is a great success in itself for fans, for culture, and for the artists and creators. 

How AWAL artists are making more from recording royalties than steaming 

It is about what kind of contracts you have entered into and how you are making sure that your money is reaching you. We have full transparency at Kobalt so for example in publishing, within our management, we have our own global digital society called AMRA. AMRA has deals with the 30 biggest DSPs in the world. We take in the global usage files, we match, and we send one invoice to Spotify for the global consumption and claim. I have audit rights on my society, our clients have audit rights on the society, and 

as you maybe know, that is not the case in the traditional society environments. We have control of the cost, control over the information, as do our clients. That obviously drives more. On the AWAL side, we are a service provider and we deliver a different kind of deal. Having said that, there are also great record labels who put in big risk money upfront to do that so obviously the deals are different in a way but I have always said that breaking online globally is very different today. Today, you can be #1 without having one video. You have to know how to navigate, how to promote, to work gradually cross border in one go instead of working in one territory and trying to replicate that in a different territory. 

Why independents had so much growth in 2019 

I think it is the access to music that people can see today. You know yourself how you explore music, how you access music, how artists are recommending other artists they like or fans are recommending. And the latest data suggests that half the people in the UK listen to music through Facebook today. There’s more interesting access to music coming. Think about Tik Tok, where were they on the map two years ago? And in this pandemic, I see people are investing in how they can enjoy live streaming, how they can use new tools and new services. I think the pandemic will fast forward the transformation. I believe that the music industry will be even bigger than what we thought it would be pre-pandemic. Fundamentally, 85% of people think that music is essential or very important. Fundamental human behavior has not changed, so I am positive. 

How Paul McCartney came to Kobalt 

I can only say what I believe myself, that I met his advisor and lawyer, Lee Eastman, who followed me over the course of 5/6 years where I told them what we do, how we work. They did their due diligence, saw us delivering. In the end, they came on board and they were very happy that we delivered what we had told them we would. I like to say that Kobalt is the smart people’s platform, and clients recommend clients. 

I think up to half of our clients have been recommended by someone they trust or they work with and they see on our apps or portal what we have delivered for them. It is very humbling that Max Martin and Paul McCartney are competing for who has the most #1s on the Billboard charts, and they are both clients. 

What I find exciting is that technology treats everyone the same. I am pleased to say that whether you are Paul McCartney or the new young band, you keep your copyrights and get the same great service. We learn something new, we develop something, and we roll it out to every client. 

That is how I think we create a great industry, how we create value for everyone in the industry.

Licensed to Stream? Clearing Rights Can Be Tricky In the 'Wild West' Livestream Age 

Licensed to Stream? Clearing Rights Can Be Tricky In the 'Wild West' Livestream Age

Many of us are, or have musician friends who are, performing cover tunes live on social media platforms as a means to generate income, bring some joy, and stave off cabin fever! Our world needs our live music right now! It keeps us connected, it helps us to feel, to express, to remain in touch with our hearts and humanity. But performing copyrighted material can also be risky because copyright law clearly states that permission from copyright owners must be secured in advance through a variety of licenses. Further complicating the matter is that not all the powers that be can even agree on which licenses must be secured for which purposes! But wait! There's more! Some social media platforms already have licenses in place, while others do not, or have only partial permissions from publishers and copyright owners. The bottom line is that a musician's live online show can get shut down or worse, fines might be imparted!

Clear as mud? 

So how can we keep the music playing while also avoiding copyright infringement issues? This article orginally published in Billboard Magazine can help guide.

With venues closed, more artists are turning to livestream performances — some without the proper licenses. "There's probably a lot of infringement going on." 

To make sure acts like Elton John, Lady Gaga and Billie Eilish could perform the songs they wanted during Global Citizen's April 18 "One World: Together at Home" concert, Julie Wadley and her team worked 12-hour days for over a week. "I woke up early, I worked late," says the owner of Say Yes! Music, who cleared the rights for 130 songs so the event could be streamed live and shown on demand all over the world. 

Over a month into the pandemic shutdown, livestream music performances have evolved from cool curiosities into an essential way for artists to reach fans, and sometimes even make money. Besides the Global Citizen event, which raised $127 million from mostly corporate sponsors for food banks and coronavirus-related causes, Diplo and Major Lazer have performed over a dozen "Corona World Tours" on YouTube for between 17,000 and 88,000 viewers each. A Bandsintown survey showed that almost three-quarters of fans say they'll continue to watch such performances once real-world venues reopen. But as Wadley's workload shows, clearing the necessary rights can be complicated. 

Live performances online, like those at traditional clubs, need public performance licenses from collecting societies like ASCAP and BMI, which platforms like YouTube and Twitch have. Making those same performances available on demand on a continual basis also requires mechanical licenses from publishers — as well as synch licenses if video is involved. (DJs also have to get similar rights to recordings.) 

Mechanical licenses vary in cost: "A couple hundred bucks to a couple thousand bucks, depending on the nature of their use," says Barry Slotnick, a Loeb & Loeb attorney who represents artists, songwriters, labels and publishers. But they require the performer to track down the publisher, which isn't always easy. 

The law isn't always entirely clear, either. Some rights holders believe that all livestream performances involve making a copy, and thus require mechanical rights, or synch rights in the case of video. "It's like the Wild West out there, and some of this is evolving," adds Ben McLane, a music attorney who has represented numerous artists and labels. "You don't always know which of these licenses are applicable or necessary." 

Some of the big platforms, including YouTube and Facebook (which owns Instagram), have the necessary licenses with almost all publishers, so artists don't have to worry about what songs they perform. Other platforms don't. "You've got companies like YouTube and Facebook checking all the boxes, and there are some that say, 'What boxes?' " says a label source. Twitch, which focuses on livestreaming, although not only with music, said in a statement that it "requires users to stream content they have the necessary rights to stream — for example, music they've written or licensed." If that's not the case, rights holders can issue takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 

The complexity of the issues can be intimidating. If an online live performance requires a public performance license, and an on-demand stream involves both a public performance license and a mechanical license, what licenses do time-delayed live performances require? "It can be a thicket," says Eleanor Lackman, who handles music litigation for Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. "There's probably a lot of infringement going on. We've had this flood of use with the stay-at-home orders, and there has to be a lot out there that isn't licensed." 

So far, there haven't been many legal threats — because livestreaming isn't yet a big business and labels and publishers don't want to interfere with their artists trying to make money during a crisis. A representative for a well-known singer who recently performed a livestream says the team didn't bother to clear rights. "We just did it and no one has come after us," says the representative. "No one has contacted us about clearing anything, either." 

Clearing rights can be even more complicated when DJs incorporate snippets of existing recordings into performances. For a recent livestream, Diplo played parts of recordings like Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up," in addition to his own compositions. Since those performances are available on demand, his team has to clear the relevant rights with both publishers (of the compositions) and labels (which own most recordings). In this case, Diplo's manager, Andrew McInnes of TMWRK, managed to pull it off. "The big companies have been helpful and supportive of what we've been doing," says McInnes. "Pre-coronavirus, it was complicated to do things like this, but everyone's working together to keep some positive music experience out in the world right now." 

Publishers say they're doing their best to streamline their licensing processes during the anxious period of no concert revenue. "We're trying to clear as quickly as possible and be as accommodating as possible because of the status of the world," says Kelly Baden, vp worldwide licensing operations at Concord, which administers the publishing for the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization and Leonard Bernstein's catalog. "We have definitely had discussions about, 'How do we take this out of our normal process and expedite this?' " 

As livestreaming grows, however, rights holders will probably balance this kind of goodwill with their desire to get a piece of a promising new business. "If I'm Beyoncé and I say, 'Everybody show up,' and we're going to see her and Jay-Z and the kids playing in their living room, if I were a [label or publishing] executive, would I call them and say, 'I know you had to cancel your tour, and I know that's a loss of income for you, but I want a piece of this'? That's a tough call," says a publishing source. "I'm guessing the executives would say, 'Wait a second, this could be the future.'" 

This article originally appeared in the April 25, 2020 issue of Billboard.

Tell @Spotify and @AmazonMusic to #StopFightingSongwriters 

Tell @Spotify and @AmazonMusic to #StopFightingSongwriters

Songwriters - You must develop and flex your music business muscles or you’ll continue to be pinned down by those who do not have your best interests at heart. On Instagram tell @Spotify and @AmazonMusic to #StopFightingSongwriters

50 Income Streams Music Creatives Should Know About - And Where to Find Them 

50 Income Streams Music Creatives Should Know About...And Where To Find Them 

Music royalties, licensing fees and the numerous other streams of revenue available to songwriters, performers and producers can be difficult to navigate. The good news is, the rapid growth of technology has produced more opportunities for distribution, new forms of music royalties and more ways than ever to track and collect monies due to you. The challenge is in knowing what types of royalties and fees are out there. 

In the world of music royalties, it all starts with the song. Each song is protected by copyrights in two categories: 

A copyright for the songwriting, or “composition”, categorized as the Composition 

A copyright for the performance, categorized as the Sound Recording. 

Depending on your role in the writing, production or recording of any given song, you may earn royalties in one copyright category or both. 

Beyond copyright royalties, there are a wide range of fees and profit centers that can encompass the earnings of a music professional. It is critical for creatives to be familiar with these revenue sources and have expert help whenever possible to track and collect the royalties, fees and income to which you are entitled. There is much to know, but there is also a wealth of information online, whether through sources like Wikipedia, official websites for Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, or right here, in this royalty income guide that Sound Royalties has put together for you. 

In the new digital music economy the creator is king. As an artist-friendly company, Sound Royalties is dedicated to the empowerment of creative talent. To help you flourish and sustain your career, here is our guide to royalty and revenue streams all music creatives should know about. 

Click here for a fantastic Income Stream resource from Sound Royalties!

Show Business is a Lot More Business Than Show - I Can Help 

Show Business is a Lot More Business Than Show - I Can Help

For most of us, making a full-time living making music is the goal. But in order to achieve this, it is essential to identify whether or not you're on the right track. 

As an exercise, think for a moment about why you're not currently making a full-time living making music... 

  • Do you know how to make a full-time living making music? 
  • Do you have a strategy for getting started and building a sustainable music career? 
  • Do you understand the different income streams available to you? 
  • Do you have a strategy for growing and nurturing a community of fans and followers? 
  • Do you have a strategy for monetizing your community? 
  • Are you marketing effectively? 
  • Do you have clarity about to whom you should be marketing and how? 

I would love to talk with you, hear your story, and help you move your career forward. If this sounds interesting to you, contact me today and let's create a plan to help you make a living making music.

Contact me today for a free no-obligation consultation.

Michael Pickering, M.A., Music Business, ACUE 

BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC 

Michael Pickering, President and Chief Creative Officer of Lionsong Entertainment, Inc., and former Director and founder of the Music and Entertainment Entrepreneurship program at the Community College of Aurora, is a creative leader, entrepreneur, educator, and musician. He holds a Master of Arts in Music Business Degree and a B.P.S. in Interdisciplinary Music Studies Degree from the Berklee College of Music. He has served on the boards of local arts and entertainment organizations, authored post-secondary music curricula, and spoken at many local and national music industry events. He also provides music and entertainment business and performance consulting services (www.mpickeringmusic.com). Michael and his wife, Amy Pickering, remain active as national headline music and clean comedy performing artists for corporate, theatrical, educational, outreach, cruise, and private clients worldwide — www.michaelandamy.com.

Could a Scalable Curation System be a Way Out of Our Industry’s Data Mess?  

Could a Scalable Curation System be a Way Out of Our Industry’s Data Mess?

It seems almost unimaginable that the problem of matching copyrights to copyright owners in order to enable accurate, streamlined, expedient, and reliable royalty payments to those to whom they are due is one of the largest problems facing the music industry in our current technologically advanced global community... until one begins to peel back the complex layers of historical lack of music industry record-keeping, incongruent global laws surrounding royalty issues, and the avarice-fueled corruption so prevalent in an industry that generates billions of dollars worldwide. Add to these issues the fact that there is little motivation from some organizations around the world that benefit financially by opposing solutions to the problem!

While many theories have been floated about how artificial intelligence and blockchain could be the cure for rights holders’ and creatives' financial woes, neither of these would untangle the industry’s rats nest of data, but a scalable curation system might. 

Could a scalable system offer a solution out of the music industry's data rat's nest? Could it be put in place in spite of those who would stand to lose ill-gotten gain so easily gleaned and hidden within the current mess? Check at this article by Vasja Veber, Co-Founder and Business Development Director for Viberate and let me know your thoughts.

Scalable Curation System Is Possible And A Way Out Of Our Industry’s Data Mess 

If you’ve talked to anyone in the music or entertainment space over the last ten years, you’re likely to have heard complaints and laments about the state of data in the industry. Though recording and composition metadata are often at the center of these woes in music–they are, after all, how creatives and rights holders get paid–other slices of the music business are faring even worse when it comes to data. 

There’s lots of gushing about everything from AI to blockchain, technologies that many of us take very seriously, but at the bottom of the problem is just one big, tough-to-untangle data mess. 

The nature of the mess may sound familiar to many outside of music and live entertainment. The data tend to be of very poor quality; you don’t actually know who came into your club or event, as ticketing information is appallingly inaccurate, for example. Data are very dispersed, scattered across socials, retail sites, streaming platforms, and other proprietary services. Worst of all for this machine learning-powered era, some of the early indicators of what’s going to be big–in the live music case, what’s taking off at certain small clubs, smaller tastemaker festivals, or key parties–may not be part of the mainstream data that’s easy to integrate via existing APIs. 

These issues find specific form in the music and entertainment industry, but have relevance to a wide range of businesses, from hospitality and event organizing to DTC and other data-reliant retail. And in live music, as in many other realms of commerce and marketing, addressing them demands a serious look at how to build a team to cultivate accurate information globally, which in turn requires a scalable approach that empowers individual data curators. 

To do anything with data, you have to find and refine the necessary sources for input, the data points that actually say something about the business, community, or scene. There are so many options out there in most cases that it’s tempting to rely on scraping plus a few APIs from relevant platforms. Another common approach is to simply set things up for crowdsourcing, and let the communities or customers fill in the data, yet that can quickly turn from exciting approach into moderation hell. Ideally, you want to combine a few firehose-like streams of data with important input from users who are incentivized to do a better-than-shoddy job at contributing information. In short, you need to tame what’s out there in the wild. 

Only humans can tame this wilderness and make it productive, people specially trained to weed out poor or irrelevant data. There’s too much complexity, nuance, and regional variation at this point to find automated solutions. That’s why we knew, as we tackled the data mess in our business, that we needed curators, real humans who knew what looked reasonable and what seemed off. Because we’re growing a large network of profiles, crossing the million mark recently, we also knew we needed enough humans to do the work well, and needed them to have certain knowledge and skills. 

These skills were determined by the focus we adopted early on. We knew that aiming to become something vague yet all-encompassing (“the Facebook for music,” as many startups liked to bandy around at some point) would make our site useless. Furthermore, we saw a massive gap in the live event realm. So we focused on live music and how other platforms and data points speak to live music scenes. There’s a lot to be said for niche approaches, and when you want to create industry-leading data, being a generalist isn’t necessarily a logical choice. 

In fact, our industry, like many others, has seen a proliferation of vanity metrics in the digital era, as well as metric fraud like purchasing, follows and streams. To counteract these forces, we homed in on unexpected metrics and data points that tell stories helpful to our clients and users, who range from fans to festival organizers and booking agents. For example, we surface which artists of note are following one another, something hard to figure out when scanning an artists’ thousands or millions of Twitter followers. This can show unanticipated connections and suggests potential collaborations and partnerships. 

We also made sure to solve one of the industry’s toughest data problems, by following one simple rule. One artist = one profile. It sounds ridiculously obvious, but even the world’s leading streaming platform doesn’t follow that rule. The only way to achieve that level of precision is by adding a human touch. A lot of times we have to defend our claim that we have one of the largest artist databases in the world, currently just shy of 500,000 profiles. We hear things like, “yeah, but I know this service that has 2 million.” They might claim this, but if you go to that particular service and type in “Tiesto”, you’ll get 10 or even more profiles for the same artist. From a data perspective, this renders such service useless, because having data scattered through multiple profiles for the same artist doesn’t let you engage in any kind of data-related analysis. It’s like one person having multiple social security numbers. 

Along with finding these simple, but hard-to-solve data pain points, we also looked for benchmarks and metrics that made sense to our community. For example, we realized that the price of a standard-sized beer was a great benchmark for the overall cost of a festival or venue, guiding music fans to find the right experience for their budgets and helping event operators see how they measure up to the competition. People note the cost of a pint, our curators validate it, and we can then show a meaningful data point to our users. Other industries may find other quirky yet extremely telling metrics that can only be revealed by well-cultivated data. 

On top of right-scaled humans and data that actually matters, you need a large dose of flexibility. To find enough skilled people with a broad grounding in pop culture and strong local knowledge, we had to get creative. We found lots of talented and qualified people in our home region of Eastern Europe. We recruited people from around the world and used crypto to pay those in unstable regions who had the skills we needed. For example, we found a good group of curators in Venezuela, where inflation almost instantly destroys fiat currency values and where banking is chaotic, to say the least. By keeping our focus reasonable, we can make their jobs reasonable, reducing curation or moderation burnout. 

These approaches need to be tailored to your industry, but the human-machine balance in cultivating quality, actionable data should be your goal. It’s allowed us to raise the bar on insights into the live music business, insights we expect to continue to grow richer as time passes. A scalable curation system is possible, with the right mix of openmindedness, tech tools, and smart people.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE MADE A SONG IN THE STYLE OF TRAVIS SCOTT. IT SOUNDS UNNERVINGLY LIKE TRAVIS SCOTT 

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE MADE A SONG IN THE STYLE OF TRAVIS SCOTT. IT SOUNDS UNNERVINGLY LIKE TRAVIS SCOTT

My friend and copyright expert, E. Michael Harrington recently sat on the panel to address, "How is AI enabling authors to explore new market possibilities in music?" presented by the US Copyright Office and the World Intellectual Property Organization. AI is raising some very interesting questions with respect to music creation, ownership, royalties, and lawsuits. I suspect Michael would have an interesting take on the following article posted by Music Business Worldwide. Enjoy!

Originally Posted  TIM INGHAM of Music Business Worldwide

This. Is. Wild. 

A US-based digital agency, Space150, recently thought it would conduct a fun experiment: model Travis Scott’s sonic and vocal style via Artificial Intelligence, and see what original production AI might subsequently invent. 

Every lyric and melody you hear in the below, says Space150, is entirely created by AI. 

The track is called Jack Park Canny Dope Man. 

Executive creative director at Space150, Ned Lampert, told AdWeek: “We were sort of fascinated with like, ‘What if we tried to make a song – like an actual good song – by using AI and basically creative directing AI?’” 

Lampert said the agency chose Travis Scott because “he is just such a unique artist”. (He’s not that unique anymore, though, is he – because he’s basically been cloned by a robot.) 

Granted, the lyrics from TravisBott (yes, that’s literally what they call him) meander into the realm of the absurd. For example, as annotated by Genius

“She got the crew on top of my chain (It’s lit); Wasted in the street like a pain (Straight up); You see the diamonds in the light of chain; They say I fucked the bad bitch like I’m rain; I was the bitch on the plane (Straight up).” 

Abject nonsense. 

But on first listen, with those trademark Travis-ism’s (“It’s lit”; “Straight up”) thrown in there, your fair-weather fan might have to do a double, triple, quadruple take. 

And then they might just assume that a human being had skilfully ripped off Travis Scott… and that Jack Park Canny Dope Man deserves a spot on next week’s Rap Caviar. 

Apparently, Space150 started out feeding real-life Travis Scott lyrics into a ‘text generator model’ for two weeks until it began creating its own rhymes. (These rhymes were initially food-obsessed, but got smarter as time went on.) 

Then, according to AdWeek, the agency “used additional neural network programs to create melodies and percussion arrangements to accompany them”. 

What plays below is the result of this experiment. 

It’s kind of jaw-dropping. 

But – in a music industry where barely a week seems to go by without a plagiarism lawsuit landing in the headlines – perhaps not completely in a good way. 

Earlier this month, a new Los-Angeles based, “AI-enabled” indie label called SNAFU Records has launched with $2.9 million in seed funding. 

The company claims to be “the first full-service record label built on AI-music discovery” and is operated by “technologists, A&Rs, producers, and creatives” including those previously employed by Universal, Sony/ATV, BMG, and Capitol, and who worked with the likes of Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes, and David Guetta.

Does Your Music Qualify For YouTube’s Content ID System?  

Does Your Music Qualify For YouTube’s Content ID System? 

The YouTube content ID fingerprinting system can enable content owners like artists and labels to identify and track the material that they own on the platform – provided, that is, that their music qualifies. 

Guest post by Randi Zimmerman of the Symphonic Blog 

YouTube’s Content ID is a digital fingerprinting system that content creators (like record labels and artists) can use to easily identify and manage their copyrighted content on YouTube. However, whether or not your music qualifies for YouTube’s ContentID is up to many different factors. Not sure if your music qualifies? Here’s what you need to know. 

Does Your Music Qualify for YouTube’s ContentID? 

Luckily for you, we have an additional post that dives deep into what YouTube’s Content ID is and how it works. If you need to refresh your memory, check out “What is YouTube’s Content ID”. 

How to qualify 

To qualify, copyright owners must have the exclusive rights to the material. Some examples of items that may not be exclusive include: 

mashups, “best of”s, compilations, and remixes of other works 
video gameplay, software visuals, trailers 
unlicensed music and video 
music or video that was licensed, but without exclusivity 
recordings of performances (including concerts, events, speeches, shows) 

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Learn more: 

Everything You Need to Know About YouTube Premieres 

YouTube Release Checklist 

Top 5 Tips for Boosting YouTube Views 

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YouTube Content ID through Symphonic 

Signing up for YouTube Content ID through Symphonic has several benefits: 

Percentage in payout is often superior to that of others monetization services 
We have a dedicated staff that will not only monetize your videos, but place fingerprints and look for other videos that YouTube’s fingerprinting program does not pick up 
As a distributed client of ours, we will scan each and every song in your catalogue to ensure that we either monetize or takedown any other videos uploaded by third party individuals 

If you’re not already signed up for YouTube Content ID, check out our FAQs and Sign Up process to get started!

Taylor Swift Signs Global Agreement With Universal Music Publishing Group  

Taylor Swift Signs Global Agreement With Universal Music Publishing Group 

Guest post by Tatiana Cirisano 

TAS Rights Management 

L-R: Troy Tomlinson, Jody Gerson, Taylor Swift and Sir Lucian Grainge. 

Taylor Swift has signed an exclusive global publishing deal with Universal Music Publishing Group, broadening her partnership with the Universal Music Group, where Republic Records currently serves as her U.S. label partner. 

“I’m proud to extend my partnership with Lucian Grainge and the Universal Music family by signing with UMPG, and for the opportunity to work with Jody Gerson, the first woman to run a major music publishing company,” Swift said in a press release. “Jody is an advocate for women’s empowerment and one of the most-respected and accomplished industry leaders.” 

She added that Universal Music Publishing Group Nashville chairman/CEO "Troy Tomlinson has been an amazing part of my team for over half my life and a passionate torchbearer for songwriters. It’s an honor to get to work with such an incredible team, especially when it comes to my favorite thing in the world: songwriting.” 

Added Gerson, UMPG chairman/CEO: “We are honored to welcome Taylor Swift to UMPG. Using her power and voice to create a better world, Taylor’s honest and brave songwriting continues to be an inspiration to countless fans. We look forward to further amplifying Taylor's voice and songs across the globe.” 

While a press release describes the deal simply as a multi-year, multi-album agreement, a source familiar with the matter tells Billboard that UMPG will eventually represent her entire catalog. That includes all of the songs on her seven studio albums, her most recent being last year's Billboard 200 chart-topping Lover, and countless hits including "Shake It Off," "Blank Space," "Look What You Made Me Do" and "You Need To Calm Down."