Musical ‘Big Data’ Problem Could Be Depriving Artists of Significant Revenue‏

From Evolver

For nearly 100 years, performing rights organizations have tracked the music played on the radio, then the television, and now the internet. Their goal: to figure out who should get paid.

These organizations — ASCAP and BMI are the big ones — have traditionally relied on the radio, television, and internet music companies they monitor to report what they played, and to how many people, then they cross-reference that with random sampling.

In 2012, there is no longer a need for either of those ancient approaches. Back when I did college radio, we used to write down each song we played to submit them to these PROs, and to a great extent, that is still how they work. To borrow a phrase from the old Six Million Dollar Man television show, “we have the technology” to fix this: audio fingerprinting, which can identify every song and snippet of a song that plays on every radio station, television channel, and streaming radio company. Why guess when you can know?

This is why we’ve been intrigued by TuneSat, which actually sets up televisions and computers, and feeds them into other computers. The computers actually identify what is being played, rather than counting on broadcasters and webcasters to report things accurately.

“Where do we start?”

I saw TuneSat’s Chris Woods explain what his company does at a MusicTech Meetup in Brooklyn last month, after which I posed a question: “Why don’t ASCAP and BMI use this technology, or simply buy TuneSat outright?” My question was met with knowing guffaws. Someone else in the audience piped up, “Where do we start?”

Woods went on to explain that those organizations are too slow, too mired in the past, and “not nimble enough.”

I’ve heard startups lob similar accusations at the establishment for years, and not always with merit, so I checked with BMI and ASCAP to see how they felt about these accusations — one reason we’ve been sitting on this story for so long. (We’re also quite busy.)

BMI, which apparently uses technology created by Shazam to find its clients music in broadcasts, declined to comment on the record. A spokesman sent a lengthy email citing the fact that Information Week called it the 74th most innovative user of business technology and that it delivered $796 million to its clients out of the $931 million it collected last year.

ASCAP senior vice president of marketing Lauren Iossa was more forthcoming:

We were genuinely surprised to see those comments as ASCAP has been utilizing audio fingerprinting technology for over 15 years, as well as pursuing and utilizing technology solutions from various sources to track performances of our members’ works.

ASCAP has always sought the most advanced methods to monitor performances and we are constantly evaluating different technologies and solutions to enhance the service we provide to our members. ASCAP processes over 250 billion performances annually and we set a high bar in terms of the standards of accuracy and cost effectiveness before choosing a technology solution. This path has allowed us to distribute royalties exceeding $800 million annually to our songwriter, composer and publisher members, which we have done for the past four years, delivering a total of over $3.3 billion to our members.

There’s one big problem with both responses.

Continue reading the rest of the story at Evolver.