Following her appearance at the virtual Music Week Tech Summit, PRS For Music CEO Andrea Czapary Martin shares her thoughts on the challenges and – more importantly – the opportunities that big data poses for the music industry…
Sixteen years ago this month, two entrepreneurs founded Swedish music streaming company Spotify. Just a few months later, Google would invest $1.6 billion in an emerging, but rapidly growing, video sharing platform.
The rest is, as they say, history.
The music industry’s shift to a market dominated by streaming has been swift and its impact is only now becoming fully understood. Digital has changed how we consume music, what we listen to and when, but it has also changed the entire royalty ecosystem and the way creators are paid for their work.
Last year’s DCMS Select Committee inquiry into the economics of music streaming laid bare the concerns of the creator community. We heard consistently that streaming has, at best, created confusion about the relationship between a stream and the royalties paid and, at worst, resulted in such a significant decline of income that creators’ careers are no longer sustainable. Issues relating to data were regularly raised by creators and their representatives as a barrier in the flow of online royalties.
In 2021, PRS For Music processed 27 trillion music uses, an increase of almost five trillion on the previous year, and an increase of over 500% across the last five years. By way of comparison, globally Visa processed around 232 billion transactions last year, less than 1% of the uses we processed. Volumes of data on this scale can be disconcerting – it’s almost impossible to visualise a trillion of anything, let alone tens of trillions. When considering data of this magnitude it is too easy to fixate on the challenges, at the expense of identifying the opportunities. It is my firm view there are many yet unrealised benefits in our industry.
My career has been spent leading the development and evolution of data strategies for large companies, both in the UK and internationally. It is my experience that whether you are managing 27 lines or 27 trillion lines of data, the fundamental principles, if not the costs, are constant. Bad data in, is always bad data out, and you are only as strong as the weakest link in your chain.
These phrases are so familiar to us. They sound like cliches, but they are consistently proven to be true.
In 2020, PRS For Music commenced its new data strategy which included establishing a clear data governance framework. I am determined that data should no longer be something which resides in the dark corners of our IT and distribution departments, but a properly vested business tool which drives the company’s actions. Clearly defining who owns and controls what data is the bedrock of good data management. It is a crucial element to innovation. Empowering the right people to make decisions is essential to maximising the value of data and unlocking its potential.
Think how the data responsibilities differ within our own industry. The data chain from creation to payment is complex and one which relies upon multiple independent entities and individuals whose activities are, conversely, interdependent on each other.
Songwriters and composers, often in partnership with their publishers, are responsible for registering the musical works and the shares within them. Most often, it will be the labels who register the sound recording and catalogue the performers within it. Platforms control the usage data, the ‘what, where and when’ music is used. Then collecting societies, publishers and labels, ingest all this information in order to match usage to works, to collect royalties and pay creators.
Unlike the physical world, the digital market has minimal limitations between the creation and release of music. New music can be released mere moments after the mastering has finished. This freedom gives greater control to music creators than ever before, but it also presents data challenges. The key identifiers and copyright data from which all online royalties flow, are too often playing catch-up. For the performing and mechanical rights, this means having to identify and attach themselves to sound recordings well after they have begun being consumed. Addressing this is fundamental to ensuring creators are paid correctly and quickly from streaming.
Empowering the right people to make decisions is essential to maximising the value of data
Andrea Czapary Martin
In ICE, our joint venture with STIM and GEMA, the ICE Cube programme is creating the world’s most authoritative and innovative multi-territory copyright database, integrating and validating copyright from multiple societies into one place. Once completed, this will provide a fundamental pillar in the data framework. However, for it to have maximum impact, it is essential to enhance both the quality and speed with which works are registered.
With this in mind, PRS For Music is undertaking a fundamental review of its own works registration, to simplify the process for members as well as provide seamless interfaces with new and emerging technologies and data systems. This is about creating not only new tools and functionality, but a flexible infrastructure for the future.
Of course, even the best copyright databases and registration systems are only ever as good as the information they receive. As I have said, bad data in is bad data out. There is much more the whole music industry can do to educate and support creators to understand the importance of registering their works at the earliest opportunity, and why formally agreeing shares in works is of paramount importance. In the coming months, PRS for Music will work with bodies and institutions across the music industry to ensure creators understand their vital role at the beginning of the data workflow.
There must also be better collaboration between the data owners on all sides, breaking down historic barriers and giving greater accessibility and visibility to all parties. The sound recording and publishing identifiers – the ISRC and ISWC codes – should not be created or exist in isolation. They must operate as a combined registration of all those rights-holders and creators with an interest in a song or composition.
As the Credits Due campaign, launched last year by Björn Ulvaeus, has rightly identified, the current systems are acting against the interests of DSPs, creators and fans. Everyone must come together to redesign the current flow of identifiers and take responsibility for finding solutions which work for everyone in the music ecosystem.
Finally, we must improve the quality and speed of information from those services and businesses which use music. This will require a greater adoption of industry standards and closer working relationships, but more fundamentally it requires an acknowledgement by all online services that work-by-work information is essential, and not a ‘nice-to have’.
For user upload services, this will inevitably require the use of music recognition technology (MRT) to identify works as they are uploaded. The explosion in take-up and development of online MRT anticipated with Article 17 of the EU’s 2019 Copyright Directive has unfortunately yet to materialise. The music sector and online services must revisit this critical issue, to set clear minimum standards of reporting, transparency in how and when MRT is used, and work together on the further development of new technologies focussed on identifying the composition.
A strong streaming industry needs a strong music industry, so it is in all our interests for solutions to be found.