Music Recognition Technology - The Hidden Superpower Behind The World’s Leading Music Companies

"The importance of the role of Music Recognition Technology (MRT) in the music industry today and in the future cannot be overstated. There are a growing number of MRT services which facilitate accurate music reporting for DJ events, TV / radio broadcasts and UGC streaming, which then enable more accurate royalty and music usage payments to be made to the creators and rights holders of the music played."
 - Greg Marshall, General Manager AFEM (Association for Electronic Music)

As the music industry evolves, we are constantly innovating to adapt. Such innovations have revolutionised almost every aspect of the music industry- for both the consumer and creator experience. Now musicians can create, share and market their music faster than ever before. Not only this but streaming services have granted listeners instant - and constant - access to almost any music they can imagine at their fingertips. Or, indeed, with emerging voice interfaces like Alexa, at the utterance of a few words.

Despite rapid developments in the industry over the last two decades, accurate royalty distribution is an area that is still trailing behind. In the current climate of cancelled tours and subsequent loss of income, now is the time to properly look at the transparency and efficiency of royalty payouts. The fact that there are millions stuck in a black box of unaccounted royalties, has begged the question- if a song is played, is it actually recognised, processed, and paid? Thankfully we already have a technological solution to this: MRT (Music Recognition Technology).

In this article the rightsHUB team takes a deep dive into the world of MRT, looking at:
- What MRT is and how it works
- The key players in MRT
- How MRT ensures people are getting paid better
- What it’s benefits are and why it matters
- Why rights holders can’t deliver data to MRT themselves, and why distributors normally do How labels and other rights holders should be dealing with MRT data
- Why it’s important not to solely rely on your distributor when it comes to MRT
- What the future looks like
- What this all means

What is MRT?

Defined by Joel Stoner, Soundmouse, “MRT is traditionally a matching algorithm whereby the audio in a programme / performance is compared to a database of source recordings”. As it stands the core recognition technology is already well integrated and understood, and has been quietly revolutionising the music industry’s royalty payment processes for quite some time.

When a song is ingested into an MRT database, it’s audio fingerprint is generated. This works by chopping a digital SAMPLE into tiny fragments, analysing them separately, giving each fragment a signature and then combining those signatures into a unique fingerprint. Audio from live sets, television, radio and online music services globally is then scanned for the audio fingerprints in their database, identified and reported back to their partners.

Whilst this is no longer a new technology, MRT still isn’t being harnessed to its full potential. In fact, MRT companies have been around for over 15 years and many rights holders have only discovered them quite recently. We reached out to key players at the forefront of MRT advocacy and implementation to gain a better understanding of the significance of the technology, how it’s currently being utilised, and what it could mean for the music industry in the long term.

A Selection of Key Companies & Partners

"MRT doesn’t just help PRS for Music identify the repertoire of our own members, it also helps the members of any other PRO when their music is used by our licensees. We’ve also taken a very collaborative approach by working with PPL on MRT projects, so that recording artists and labels benefit as well as creators of music and music publishers."
 - Ashley Howard, PRS Relationship Manager - Dance

"Mixcloud is the only platform which has granular track level reporting for the music within radio shows, DJ mixes, podcasts, etc. With our unique label licensing agreements and 'Mixcloud Select' monetization program, we make sure that not only a channel owner, but the underlying artists and tracks who get played, get paid."
 - Nico Perez, Mixcloud Cofounder & CEO

"DJ Monitor distinguishes itself by offering an end-to-end service that ranges from the installation of the equipment to the delivery of the report. With this we take the entire process out of the hands of the client, such as a festival organizer or copyright organization. In addition, we are innovating with new products that will soon be on the market, such as the DJM GO !, a handheld MRT device or the new MRT app for DJs, which we are developing as we speak."
 - Yuri Dokter, DJ Monitor CEO

"Soundmouse provides music reporting services for many of the world’s leading media organisations and leading collecting societies. We don’t sell data to rights owners, who then need to somehow use this data to make claims. At Soundmouse there is a direct relationship between the data that is provided by the rights owner, the music report in which that data is contained and the royalty payments made by the collecting societies."
 - Joel Stoner, Soundmouse Label Partnerships Manager

"Our music recognition technology allows us to provide music monitoring and reporting services for all players of the music industry and keep the data flowing. We offer guidance and tailored solutions for anyone involved in the value cycle – PROs, Right Holders and Users."
 - Kelly Abel, BMAT Communications Manager

"Adoption of MRT in the music industry is rapidly increasing the accuracy and value of royalties we collect and distribute to our writers, artists and producers."
 - Mark Lawrence, Sentric

"For the past 5 years AFEM has advocated for the use of MRT by Collection Societies to gain accurate setlist information from DJ Events and we have since seen a growing pattern of deployment of a number of effective solutions for this purpose globally."
 - Greg Marshall, Association for Electronic Music General Manager

"We at seeqnc believe that everyone producing music has a right to know, when and where this music is being played. That’s why we built our music recognition and notification platform to notify artists, labels and rights organisations everytime their music is played on a live event, a broadcast or live stream - in real-time. We have developed the first MRT solution for the smartphone, enabling any performing artist to notify rights owners in real-time and ultimately report setlists at the spot."
 - Bernhard Famler, seeqnc CEO & Co-founder

"ACRCloud is a cloud MRT service provider with worldwide coverage. With a 72 Million global music fingerprint library, we offer a very cost-efficient solution for companies in all sizes to use MRT services in their production at a very affordable price."
 - Peng Dong, ACRCloud Co-founder & Business Development

"In an effort to not only protect sites from substantial liability but to ensure rights holders every use of their catalog is identified and properly attributed to them, PEX is offering Attribution Engine, a six-module complete copyright solution best described by many as "ContentID on steroids". Pex's MRT is so accurate (down to 1/2 second of use) and scalable (22,000 hours of content per minute processing speed) that any UGC and social platforms utilizing Attribution Engine is indemnified by Pex against missing a protected piece of audio (or video) in the content identification process."
 - Bob Barbiere, PEX Senior Vice President Digital Rights

YACAST provides bar and club venue monitoring services for PROs in Germany, France and Switzerland.

How does MRT ensure people are getting paid better?

It assists rightsholders no matter how big or small and it can provide granular music usage information that has the potential to help those whose music may go unreported otherwise. In some situations (particularly for synchronisation rights), it can help rightsholders to trace where their music is being used so they can issue a licence”, Ashley Howard, PRS for Music.

By offering clarity to music usage reporting the percentage of music that goes unreported minimises, which in turn maximises the percentage of rightfully attributed royalties. For example “In some cases, music usage reports for distribution have multiplied the number of unique works that were distributed for 5 fold, meaning more artists/composers/producers receive the money that’s rightfully theirs. ”, Kelly Abel, BMAT.

Statistics from PEX also illustrate the necessity of quality MRT implementation when it comes to receiving 100% of what you are owed. Bob (PEX) highlights that “many rights holders believe YouTube's ContentID finds all (or nearly all) uses of their catalog. While ContentID performs well in some situations, it leaves some gaps at the expense of artists. Pex's advanced fingerprinting will find 10%, 20%, sometimes as much as 30% in additional videos containing their catalog(s) which they can then claim for proper royalty payments”.

Why does it matter?

"A large group (around 500) of electronic music writers who were not on the distribution radar in previous years, are now making a minimum of 50% of their livelihoods through DJ Monitor data."
 - Yuri Dokter, DJ Monitor.

The electronic music scene, particularly live DJ sets, exemplifies the value of MRT. Prior to music recognition technology, PRO staff would either have to physically visit the club, take samples of the tracks played and try to manually work out payments from that, or rely on the DJ or club to provide their full setlist. Not only are these methods not time or cost effective, but they also disregarded the inherently spontaneous nature of DJ sets. Such processes were a detriment to music rights holders, as poor reporting meant they weren't receiving the royalties they deserved.

The trope ‘it’s unpaid but it’s great exposure’ shouldn’t be applicable when it comes to artist’s songs getting played out in clubs. Even decades after music recognition technology has been invented, a startling proportion of clubs and festivals worldwide aren’t equipped with MRT.

The not-for-profit trade organisation AFEM (The Association for Electronic Music) launched their ‘Get Paid, Get Played’ initiative as a direct response to this. “For the past 5 years AFEM has advocated for the use of MRT by Collection Societies to gain accurate setlist information from DJ Events and we have since seen a growing pattern of deployment of a number of effective solutions for this purpose globally”, Greg Marshall, AFEM.

Whilst the current level of in-venue integration is still not optimal, there has still been real progress on this front. Campaigns like ‘Get Paid, Get Played’ and PPL & PRS for Music’s working relationship with DJ Monitor have increased both the awareness and installation of in venue MRT. From a venue perspective, welcoming music recognition technology comes with little to no disadvantage as they are already paying a set licence fee.

Venue incentives for MRT Integration (as outlined by PRS for Music):

MRT costs venues nothing
MRT ensures licence fees go to the right people
MRT has no effect on a venue’s customers or DJs
MRT is only used for identifying tracks
MRT is installed and fully serviced

“We are wholly supportive of music recognition technology going into bars and clubs so that the right people can get paid.”
 - Lohan Presencer, Ministry of Sound Chairman.

But MRT isn’t just an effective tool for the electronic music sector. Unallocated royalties are an industry wide problem, especially at the moment. Greg continues, “The recent shift of focus to live streaming events due to the COVID lockdowns presents a new focus of attention on where and how MRT is being deployed across the key UGC live stream platforms to identify the music and ensure the creators and owners receive what is due.” When DJs play their records on various livestream platforms, the producers of those records aren’t necessarily being compensated properly, if at all. If the streaming service doesn’t have integrated MRT, or the rightsholder hasn’t registered the track, then the royalties can’t be distributed. Proper MRT integration onto these platforms means that when the temporary stretches into the indefinite, music creators can access alternative revenue streams like remote live streams.

Mixcloud is a shining example of how MRT can be utilised in this way.

“With our unique label licensing agreements and 'Mixcloud Select' monetisation program, we make sure that not only a channel owner, but the underlying artists and tracks who get played, get paid”
 - Nico, Mixcloud.

What benefits are there from MRT integration?

“From improving the accuracy of distributions to getting an insight into how a song is being consumed and where in the world it’s happening, there is a lot to be gained from ensuring that you work with the right (MRT) partner.”
 - Phil Rose, Sentric.

MRT systems- venue, broadcast and online music monitoring- can paint a global picture of which music has been played, where and when. This rich data not only optimises accurate and fair royalty distribution, but it also offers comprehensive consumer analytics. These consumer insights can help to better inform your whole release strategy from marketing campaigns to EP selection.

Transparency and auditability
MRT is able to increase transparency in royalty payouts, reduce friction amongst rights holders and ultimately promote fairness in the music industry. The infamous ‘black box’ is where large pools of royalty revenue flow to when the rightful owners of the royalties cannot be accurately identified.

”Our MRT helps all parties to be transparent with the artists they represent. It can be openly audited and proven that the identifications are correct.”
 - Kelly, BMAT.

Nico (Mixcloud) draws attention to the importance of smaller rights owners sending their tracks/repertoire to MRT companies, ”to ensure they are getting their fair share of any subscription revenue pools, and it’s not over-indexing towards major rights owners”.

A fairer distribution mode
“Given the tight margins and lean setup of most SMEs in music, they are often unable to be ahead of the game in ensuring early adoption of technological advances in their own metadata efforts. This is where tools that integrate metadata which links to new developments, such as for MRT, at an early stage in the process and in a cost-effective way, can help level the playing field for SMEs.”
 - Gee Davy, Head of Legal & Business Affairs, The Association of Independent Music (‘AIM’)

MRT is an equaliser. Providing granular music usage data empowers smaller rights owners to take control of how their music is reported. In the case of Soundmouse, users can upload their music and metadata directly to Soundmouse’s portal and in the event of any usage, the data they provide will end up in a cue sheet. That cue sheet will be reported electronically and automatically to their collecting society, which bases the rights owners royalty payments on this data. This means the rights owner has direct control over the reporting process in a way people could only dream of five to ten years ago.

Comprehensive Listener Data
Music consumption’s shift from ownership to access, means there is now a magnitude of global listening data. With over 100 million monthly active users and presence on more than 500 million mobile devices, it’s no surprise that Shazam is arguably the most notable form of music recognition technology. Shazam offers predictive analytics, by giving insight to what songs users are hearing around them, what the gateway songs are to an artist, ect.

Future Proofing
“Rights holders at any level benefit from MRT integration and getting the metadata in place early means that they can maximise the advantages that the technology brings'', Phil Rose, Sentric. In the wake of COVID-19, the ‘quaranstream’ is now the norm. There are now even virtual clubs, like Club Quarantäne, where DJ’s have digital residencies. There is a plethora of digital revenue streams for artists, with new platforms emerging constantly. If there is no music recognition technology integrated onto these platforms, or your repertoire is not known to the MRT’s database, then it’s highly unlikely that you will be properly compensated for your music’s usage on these platforms (if at all!).

“Over the last couple of months, live-streamed performances directly to fans in their homes have gained momentum. MRT creates new opportunities for artists, not only from a royalty perspective, but also in terms of additional revenue streams. We provide live track and setlist data to all our artists and partners to display song information in live streams in real-time. These use cases generate music sales on top of income from royalties and help the artist community especially in these uncertain times.”
 - Bernhard, seeqnc

Copyright Protection
Music Recognition Technology is also utilised to enhance the protection of song copyright for artists and labels to digital media providers (DSPs). ACRCloud is a great example of how MRT can be deployed on the copyright front. ACRCloud use their global music fingerprint database and audio fingerprinting technology to verify the ownership of music before distribution. Many leading music distributors, are then able to protect their content and avoid copyright infringement issues.

“From our experience at ACRCloud, music distributors use our service as the content filter in the same way as YouTube's Content ID to verify the copyright of new releases before they distribute to DSPs. Also, for the historical data, asset managers run MRT against their song library to retrieve the missing pieces of metadata.”
 - Peng Dong, ACR Cloud.

Why can’t rightsholders deliver data to MRT themselves? Why do distributors normally do this?

It’s fair to say that the vast majority of those in the music business got into it to create music and work with artists, not with an intention to grapple with metadata. Musicians shouldn’t have to struggle with balancing their passion for music with the need to be knowledgeable and vigilant about the financial rewards for their talents. The issue in rights holders bypassing their other partners and sending content directly to an MRT company, is that they’re often not technically equipped. This also rings true for labels. A label often cannot arrange a DDEX feed, hence why distributors traditionally do it.

How should labels and other rightsholders be dealing with MRT data?
It boils down to taking ownership of your rights and making sure that MRT databases are populated with your tracks. This will not only optimise your royalty revenue streams, but the data reported back can allow managers, artists and labels to focus their marketing campaigns in a much more cohesive way.

“In any case, it’s important to register a new track with your collecting society as soon as it’s created and deliver the music and metadata to Soundmouse so it gets fingerprinted the moment it is released.”
 - Joel Stoner, Soundmouse.

The earlier the MRT companies have your data, the better their ability to identify your music. The clear advantage of having MRT integrated into the first stages of the metadata delivery chain is the assurance that songwriters and artists are being paid from the first uses of their tracks. Not only this, but Phil Rose, Head of Rights Management at Sentric highlights the added potential for artists and their teams to “spot trends in where their music is being consumed, which they can use as leads to build upon”.

One of the issues sometimes voiced within the industry is criticism of the “closed shop” when it comes to data sharing by MRT companies - they will share data with official partners, but this is often on a pay-to-play basis. However, it must be recognised that MRT companies are commercial businesses and the data they collect, manage and hold is a core part of their business, and their competitive advantage. With the proliferation of many different MRT companies with different purposes and different data sets, this becomes a structural issue for music rights holders, knowing who to send data to, and how to access the data created by MRT partners - or, even, whether that data is accessible in the first place.

rightsHUB CEO & Founder Lee Morrison expands on this, saying “In an ideal scenario rights holders will have a view of this data in order to make more informed decisions around the marketing of their releases and where to concentrate live efforts.”

Why is it important not to solely rely on the distributor to do this?

“Anybody that is registering for neighbouring rights should be registering and ensuring that the MRT companies are populated with their rights. This is so that they can do their job, and the rightsholder can get paid correctly.”
 - Lee Morrison, rightsHUB.

DJ Monitor CEO Yuri Dokter highlights the ‘quality, completeness and timeliness of reporting’ when it comes to the benefits of having MRT integrated into the first stages of the metadata delivery chain. He continues, “The sooner we receive metadata and audio from a reliable source, the faster usages of works/recordings will be reported. Due to the quality metadata attached, the bigger the chance that these can be matched to the correct rights holders by the CMOs”.

Joel Stoner, Label Partnerships Manager, Soundmouse continues “In our experience data errors tend to get introduced when data travels through supply chains that involve manual interaction with the data. Manual data entry tends to lead to the introduction of mistakes, so less manual interaction with the data is positive from this perspective”.

What is the future of MRT?
“To partially quote a Daft Punk lyric "...better, faster, stronger"!!!”
 - Nico, Mixcloud.

From a technological perspective, MRT has the scope to be even further developed. Joel (Soundmouse) hints at the further incorporation of AI: “artificial intelligence will become more important to make matching algorithms more efficient. This could also mean that the technology will be applied more and more in areas outside of media production”.

New platforms and an increased focus on revenue streams that exclude live, means MRT has both the space and the purpose to grow. As live streaming grows in popularity, we are seeing increasing instances of content being “blacklisted” by various platforms because they do not hold or are not able to determine the relevant rightsholder or PRO to process licencing payments. Lee (rightsHUB) points out that, “this is only going to increase over time. MRT is the obvious answer for platforms who want to avoid licensing and attribution issues, so really MRT has the potential to evolve into a necessity for a performance license”.

Wider spread industry awareness is likely to ensue, with Kelly (BMAT) stating that MRT may become “more accessible and eventually a commodity”. In this scenario all companies will understand the full picture of the copyright industry and the casuistics and processes of the music industry, therefore greater industry collaboration will occur. Ashley (PRS for Music) expresses that “with more scale will come more cost-effectiveness”, and an “adoption of standards around the workflow for supporting MRT adoption”.

The standardisation of processes incorporating MRT across the industry, will inevitably replace a lot of the manual matching that currently occurs. Phil (Sentric) highlights that as a result of this, “ensuring that catalogue is registered with the companies who have these (MRT) contracts will be crucial to any rights owners”. He continues, “greater monitoring of new platforms will give such rights holders the insights they need to fully realise their popularity”.

Bob (PEX) suggests that The European Copyright Directive (Article 17, formerly Article 13) will have a profound impact on the future of MRT. He explains that “with the removal of Safe Harbor provisions and the placement of copyright-use liability on distribution platforms, accurate, fast and highly scalable audio (and video) copyright use recognition will become a foundation on which user generated content business models must reside”.

One distinct possibility as music recognition technology advances is that rights holders themselves may have access to better technology than platforms. Bob from PEX points out that there is already some evidence in this today, as across all 40 UCG and social media sites, “PEX identifies substantially more uses of copyright than the sites themselves”.

What does this all mean?

MRT has the power to create greater efficiency in the attribution of content, to help eliminate wasted revenues and reduce black box money. By creating a more transparent royalty payout landscape, rough estimates can be replaced with accurate payments. And with more precise and accurate data, comes better informed business decisions.
From supplementing marketing strategies to safeguarding their income, MRT creates a fairer distribution model for all music rights holders. It’s hard to imagine what music services we might see in the near future, let alone the distant future, but with the help of MRT we can help ensure our industry is sustainable.

How rightsHUB is working with rightsholders and MRT companies…
At rightsHUB we are always looking for ways to make managing music rights data and assets seamless. We see MRT as a key part of the infrastructure of today’s music industry, and something that is going to become even more important as new services launch and existing services become more efficient. Being able to manage and deliver data to MRT companies at the right time is of huge importance, and rights holders should not be relying on partners to do this; it should be something that they control directly. Holding, managing, delivering and adapting this data to meet current and future requirements is essential to future proofing your business. Rightsholders who get on top of this now will be at the forefront of technology-driven change. If you register with a PRO / CMO, you should be registering the same information with the MRT’s.

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