By Isaac Assor, Songtrust Publishing Operations Coordinator
Over the past week, sources around the internet have been buzzing about Spotify’s acquisition of UK-based audio detection technology startup Sonalytic. There are many theories circulating about Spotify’s plans to use this new technology to compete with services ranging from Shazam to SoundCloud. However, while not the most exciting possibility from the consumer-facing perspective, Spotify’s announcement that it will incorporate Sonalytic in its efforts to “improve [its] publishing data system” is a significant step forward for songwriters. Arguably one of Sonalytic’s most significant breakthroughs is its ability to identify the musical stems of not just a recording, but its underlying composition. While Shazam relies on recording fingerprints, TechCrunch reports that the technology can accurately identify live performances. Taken a step further, Spotify may be able to use Sonalytic to link a recording to its composers and publishers using the key musical features of the composition.
Falling exactly a year after the $30 million settlement between Spotify and the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) over unpaid royalties due to tracks with unidentified songwriters, the acquisition demonstrates Spotify’s commitment to accurately matching recordings with their composers. At the very least, the move is certainly an interesting development that could improve Spotify’s standing in the NMPA’s ongoing proceeding before the Copyright Royalty Board, which will determine the mechanical royalty rate paid out by digital streaming services for the next five years.
Taken together, Sonalytic’s audio detection innovations and efforts to use blockchain technology to create a global, decentralized metadata library represent converging approaches to solving one of the most frustrating challenges in managing copyright in the streaming music age: incorrect and incomplete metadata.
While these developments are necessary steps forward in the effort to properly document the music world’s ever-growing song catalog, songwriters and publishers must take active steps to make the most of these innovations. After all, databases are only as useful as their entries. Songwriters must keep accurate records of titles, writer shares, dates and terms of publishing deals, and recording information (ISRCs, performing artists, album titles, release years, and record labels). By the same token, publishers must keep track of effective and termination dates, pre- and post-term collection periods, controlled percentages, and controlled territories.
With myriad revenue streams already on the books and new ones constantly emerging, the industry is full of new opportunities for independent musicians. However, the globalization of music usage has also made artist and writer compensation more complicated than ever before. This is where publishers come in. At Songtrust, we are working every day to stay ahead of the changing industry and track down these fragmented royalties. We encourage writers to play an active role in their publishing deals; global song usage can only be effectively tracked when interested parties provide clean, accurate, and up-to-date metadata.