Digital Discourse: The big data challenge and establishing an industry standard

Digital Discourse: The big data challenge and establishing an industry standard

Firstly, I want to take a moment to thank you all for your messages in response to my digital burnout column. I have heard on the grapevine from friends working at various social platforms that many of you reached out to them, directly after reading it, to find out the best ways to stop your artists and teams burning out. I sincerely hope some of this will lead to a healthier balance for everyone.

Today, though, I want to look at another industry headache: big data. I recently hosted some brilliant panels for Music Week’s Tech Summit series Women Making Waves, including one on big data, and I thought this column would be a good place to explore it. It’s arguably one of the most important parts of the business: getting played and getting paid. Regular readers will know I’ve been ranting about the poor state of music industry data for some time now.

Previously, I co-owned a data and analytics company to help try and solve some of the issues but, alas, all these years on, it’s still as big a clusterfuck as it ever was – only with even more data flowing, and with even more data leaking.

It’s widely known across the business that we have quite a serious ‘leaky pipe’ issue, in terms of our data. Anyone that says we don’t likely has an agenda geared towards not stemming the flow. Song registration, metadata consistency, song recognition technology and the responsibilities of DSPs to accept only fully registered tracks, all have an impact on unlicensed material usage and slow payment (and non-payment) of tracks.

Then, of course, there’s the big old elephant in the room: ‘black box’ unallocated royalties. I have worked directly in record labels, and as a third party, with hundreds of label and distributor clients and partners for acts I have managed or marketed and, while there are some notable exceptions, the quality of label copy submissions is still utterly dismal. Equally, for acts I have managed, I have had to chase major publisher partners for months for registrations.

But to lay the blame firmly at the doors of distributors, labels and publishers, would be unfair. The song data issue is industry wide, and to solve it would require thorough, widespread collaboration. The issues that need addressing are writer splits and ISWC (International Standard Musical Work Code) registration at source, easy writer and performer access to registration tools within relevant platforms, a public record of all works, registrations accessible by relevant parties, and the ability to sort conflicts swiftly and effectively. So too do updates to CMO and PRO tech infrastructure to process the vast volumes of data, and DSPs using tracks that are unlicensed, or lacking the correct metadata.

It’s widely known across the business that we have quite a serious ‘leaky pipe’ issue, in terms of our data

Sammy Andrews

There are, of course, some interesting new initiatives that aim to tackle this issue at the source. The most exciting of these for me is the Credits Due campaign, an open initiative, established by the Ivors Academy and the Music Rights Awareness Foundation, that was launched at the 2021 Ivor Novello Awards by ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus. Credits Due is timely and, in my opinion, has the potential to not only rally the appropriate parties to the table, but also to provide the education around registration that is required at source. Credits Due has already received backing from the likes of PRS, PPL, MMF, FAC, BMG, ERA, Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music and many others.

The initiative makes the metadata requirements plainly clear: creator identifiers and role codes (IPI, IPN and ISNI); the musical work identifier (ISWC); the recording identifier (ISRC); the song title and alternative song titles; and the writer, performer, producer and contributor names. If all new recordings and songs moving forward have this metadata linked, all creators and contributors will be correctly identified and credited. But for this to work, I truly believe that wider industry standards must be adhered to – including distributors and DSPs making key minimum data requirements compulsory for ingestion.

What’s vital is the ability for registrations to be made quickly and easily at source, following both writing and recording. Crucial, too, is the ability to generate codes and register works from within distribution platforms – if they have not been previously registered. I also believe that labels, distributors and DSPs have a responsibility, in cooperation with CMOs and PROs, to educate new writers and artists on the registration process.

Some of you will remember the (very expensive) failed attempt at the GRD (Global Repertoire Database) some years ago. Now, PRS is building out ICE, a joint venture with STIM and GEMA. The ICE Cube programme claims to be creating the world’s most authoritative and innovative multi-territory copyright database, integrating and validating copyright from multiple societies into one place. This feels like a big step in the right direction if they pull it off, but again, every stakeholder in the chain needs to do their part for this puzzle to be completed.

If anyone reading this wants to learn more about the issues more broadly, I would wholeheartedly suggest reading the MMF’s brilliant book, Dissecting The Digital Dollar. I’ve always felt that our business is so needlessly fractured when it comes to making all of this work. In this day and age, there is no excuse for the level of incompetence we see across the business. That said, I am, for the first time in many years, excited by the prospect of solutions and collaboration getting us where we need to be.

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