24 Aug 2016

Music Publishing: Traditional vs Dance Music

I'm pleased to see more and more DJ/Producers signing up with music publishers. For a DJ/Producer who produces original tracks, publishing income can be a valuable addition to the money their tracks already generate from sales, streaming, airplay and club play.

But there are many different publishers, and many different types of publishers, but only few of them are appropriate for DJ/Producers. Most traditional publishers view the music world in a very specific way, that is very much at odds with how DJ/Producers in the club world operate, especially in the underground house and techno scenes. Most of the work done by traditional publishers is not relevant for DJ/Producers, whilst they consider some of the tasks that are vital for DJ/Producers to be of secondary importance.

In this post I will look at the various aspects of what publishers do, and the relevance of each for DJ/Producers.

Pitching Songs to Artists

Traditionally, music publishers are companies that work with composers and songwriters who write music that is to be performed by other people. Those composers and songwriters write their songs, and pass them over to their publisher, who then pitches the songs to labels and artists, with the aim of getting someone (preferably someone very famous) to record those songs, and commercially release those resulting recordings.

In this business model, the publisher plays a pivotal role, because it is the publisher who "makes things happen". An individual songwriter is unlikely to have the connections to get his songs recorded by famous artists. A good publisher does have those connections, so it is vital for a songwriter to get signed by a well-connected publisher.

But DJ/Producers compose music on their computer using Digital Audio Workstation software (Logic, Cubase, Ableton Live, Reason, etc.), and obtain a recording simply by clicking a button in the DAW. They have no need for anyone to find artists to record their music, nor to find a label willing to fund a costly recording process.

When a publisher says that they will "work your songs really hard", they are usually talking about getting other artists to record your music, because that is what a traditional publisher's primary job is. But that is completely irrelevant for DJ/Producers. These are therefore not the kind of publisher that a DJ/Producer should be signing with.

Label Relations

But the tracks do need to get released. In the traditional world this usually involves an artist signing to a label, exclusively for a number of singles or albums, and often exclusively for a number of years. Getting such a recording deal is not the responsibility of the publisher. It is usually the artist's manager that will look for and negotiate such a recording deal.

DJ/Producers work differently. Most often they only sign a single track (or perhaps an EP) to a particular label. They may return to that label later on with another track, but will in the meantime be looking to release tracks on other labels. Many DJ/Producers also run their own label, on which they can release their tracks themselves. And they have many mates who also run labels.

Releasing on a variety of labels is good for DJ/Producers, because it will get their music heard by a much wider audience, which can then result in more bookings for DJ gigs. Exclusive label deals are not what DJ/Producers should be looking for.

Some traditional publishers may offer to assist a composer or songwriter with getting a label deal, but this will be about those longer-term exclusive recording contracts for singer/songwriters and indie bands.

Specialist dance music publishers are more useful in this field, because they deal with many DJ/Producers (some of whom will run labels), and often also administer publishing rights for various dance labels. Through these connections, a publisher can be an additional way to get tracks pitched to labels. But signing tracks is by no means the exclusive responsibility of a publisher. Nor is it the most important aspect to look for in a publishing deal.


Most commercial pop hits are written by teams of songwriters, which are put together by their publishers. Various big publishers also organise "songwriting camps", where they put a number of their songwriters in a nice remote retreat for a few days, and get them to work in small teams to write songs.

This may be useful for DJ/Producers who want to cross-over into the commercial pop world, but working with someone who writes songs for One Direction or Britney Spears is not going to help a tech house producer write a better dancefloor track.

For this too, specialist dance music publishers are more useful, because they should be working with many other producers in the same genre, and can introduce some of them to others for the purpose of collaborating on a few tracks. But DJ/Producers will already know many other DJ/Producers, as does their manager, so whilst this is useful, it should not be the overriding factor in choosing a publisher.


Synchronisation (a.k.a. "a sync") is the placement of music into TV shows, movies, adverts, and so on.

Publishers are often the key players in this field, although labels also play a role. Getting a track into a worldwide car or fragrance advert will often involve a five-digit sum of money. That's nice. But there aren't all that many such adverts, and the competition for them is heavy.

Getting a big sync is therefore like a lottery, with very low odds. It is definitely worth checking whether a publisher is active in the sync world, but one should not choose a particular publisher just because they placed some track in some big advert. For every track they place, they have thousands of tracks they couldn't place anywhere.

Registrations and Collections

Last but by no means least, publishers register musical works with performance rights organisations and mechanical licensing agencies. These "societies" license those works collectively to radio stations, clubs, download stores, streaming services and many other organisations that "use" music. They then get usage reports from those licensees, and divide the received license fees between all reported and identified usages.

Registering titles and writers with societies probably sounds like a simple task, but many publishers are surprisingly bad at it. Many of them simpy register each title and the writers, and expect the societies to somehow work it all out. But "working it out" involves a lot of manual activity in matching and researching, which is labour-intensive and therefore costly. Societies will only do this for usages above certain value thresholds.

For DJ/Producers, their publishing income is likely to be highly fragmented into large quantities of small amounts, with most of them below those value thresholds for manual processing. They need to rely on the various automated "bulk processing" systems at the societies. For that to work, their publisher needs to provide those societies highly accurate information, with additional details such as IPI numbers, artist names and ISRCs. A specialist dance music publisher will understand this principle, and act accordingly.

For DJ/Producers, registrations and collections are the most important aspect of publishing.

How to Tell the Difference

Publishing is important for DJ/Producers, but picking an appropriate publisher is crucial for actually getting paid any publishing income.

Here is a secret hint to tell the difference: Ask a prospective publisher how big they are. The clues will be in the terminology they use in their reply: A traditional publisher's answer will be about how many thousands of copyrights they own, and perhaps how many writers are on their roster. But a  DJ/Producer-focussed publisher will tell you how many artists they represent, how many label/publishers they administer, and perhaps how many titles they currently control.

The underlined words are clear indications of the publisher's mindset and priorities. A DJ/Producer will end up very disappointed with a publisher that will "work their songs hard". Instead, they need a publisher to represent them in the wild and wonderful global jungle of music publishing.

10 Apr 2016

The Brave New World of the EU CRM Directive

Today, 10 April 2016, is an important day for the music industry. Today the European Union's Directive on Collective Rights Management comes into effect in all EU member countries.

Better known as the "EU CRM Directive", it has been in the works for over four years. It started with a Consultation on Copyright Rules back in 2012, to which the EU received more than 9,500 formal replies, plus more than 11,000 messages with questions and comments. It clearly was a topic that many people and organisations care about.

The CRM Directive itself came into force on 10 April 2014, and (as with all EU Directives) had to be implemented in each EU member's national laws within two years. Today is the day that all these laws come into effect, and today is the day that all collective management organisations ("CMOs") must abide by these new laws. Today should be the start of a Brave New World for Europe's music publishing sector.

There are many CMOs across Europe: More than 250. In the UK alone, there are two dozen of them. Collective management of copyrights is common practice across the whole creative sector, because collective management has many benefits for those who own copyrights. But in this article, I will only look at music-related CMOs, and in particular those on the music publishing side, because that is the sector in which I work.

I will be using the term "rightsholders" a lot, because that is the term used in the Directive. A righsholder is defined as any person (or company) that owns a copyright, or is entitled to a share of the rights revenue under an agreement for the exploitation of rights. On the music publishing side, that means that the rightsholders are: composers, lyricists, arrangers, publishers, administrators, as well as anyone who has acquired copyrights, for example through an inheritance.

Rightsholders Are Now in Charge

The CRM Directive's main objective is to ensure that CMOs act in the best interest of all rightsholders. Its primary aim is to "modernise and improve standards of governance, financial management, and transparency of all EU CMOs, thereby ensuring that rightsholders have more say in the decision making process, and receive accurate and timely royalty payments". That sounds pretty useful to me, especially those accurate timely payments.

The Directive applies to CMOs in all creative sectors, but there is a special section for CMOs engaged in the multi-territorial licensing of musical works for online use. Following the EU's consultation, the commission correctly concluded that that particular market was not working very well, and that additional specific legislation was needed to improve it. There are not many such CMOs. In the UK, that section of the law applies only to PRS and IMPEL, and partly to PRS for Music because they do much of the actual work for those two organisations. They must be thrilled that there are now five-and-half pages of UK Law that exclusively apply to the companies based on the top four floors of 2 Pancras Square!

Membership and Representation

The first big point of the EU Directive is that rightsholders must be able to choose which CMOs they want to mandate to collectively manage their rights. For each CMO that a rightsholder wishes to mandate, they must be able to select the categories of rights, the types of works, and the territories they wish to mandate that CMO for. Thus, a rightsholder can divide his rights into a number of "baskets", and mandate a different CMO for each of those.

CMOs must accept any such mandate, as long as the selected rights and territories fall within the scope of what that CMO manages. Or, to refuse management, they must provide objectively justified reasons for that.

It is important to note that this is not equivalent to "membership", although membership is currently the only way for a rightsholder to mandate a CMO. But there are alternatives: For example, with SIMIM in Belgium, a recordings rightsholder has the option to become a member of SIMIM by purchasing a share in the cooperative at the cost of 1,250 euros. Or... they can simply mandate SIMIM to manage their rights, which does not incur any entry fee. Such "mandated rightsholders" have the same rights and obligations as members, and get paid on the exact same basis, but only members can actively participate in the governance of the organisation.

For composers, lyricists and arrangers, this new rule may require changes at many of the music publishing CMOs, because most of them only allow writers to join for all their works, all categories of rights, and for the whole world. That is not compliant with the Directive.

There already is a bit more flexibility for publishers, but probably not enough. For example, it is often unclear how to select which categories of rights to include or exclude. But more objectionable are the membership requirements of some CMOs. I am referring to a handful of societies that require a publisher to provide commercial-grade sheet music with their membership application (to prove one is a "proper publisher"). I work primarily with electronic music, where sheet music is totally irrelevant, and this requirement causes problems for publishers in that genre. More generally, sheet music is not used in the process of collectively license performing rights and mechanical rights, and should therefore not be a requirement for mandating a CMO.

But from today, those CMOs are no longer allowed to refuse management of a publisher's rights for the inability to produce sheet music. CMOs will need to change their membership requirements, or introduce options for non-member mandated rightsholders along the lines of SIMIM's model. As publishers, we don't necessarily need to be "members" of all CMOs we wish to deal with, but we do need to be able to mandate any CMO of our choice to manage some of our rights.

Voting Rights

Under the new rules, all members of a CMO must have the right to participate the governance of the CMO. That primarily means that all members must be allowed to vote for the board, and vote at the annual general members meeting.

Many publishing-side CMOs have multiple classes of membership, with each member's class based on earnings from that CMO. Most of them include a lowest class of "provisional member" for those who have just started out and not yet earned above a certain set threshold. Those provisional members are not allowed to vote. They become eligible to vote only after earning a certain amount of royalties.

The Directive does allow for some voting restrictions based on the duration of membership and/or the amounts paid or due to the member, but only if those restrictions are "fair and proportionate". The current voting restrictions at PRS are such that 80% (!!) of the members are excluded from voting. I do not believe that that is "fair", and it is certainly not "proportionate".

Data Management

This topic only applies to CMOs "engaged in the multi-territorial licensing of musical works for online use". That is a very narrow scope, but does cover most of the music publishing CMOs across Europe.

They now must ensure to have sufficient capacity to electronically process all data needed for the administration of multi-territorial licenses. In particular, they must be able to identify accurately which works they represent, in which territories they represent those, which rights they represent for each work, and who the current rightsholders are for all works. This is needed to accurately and efficiently process all the usage data they receive from the licensees.

But many of the CMOs have processes in place whereby the processing of amendments to works information (or in some cases the intial registrations of works) are delayed until there is a certain amount of money for the work. These thresholds vary wildly between CMOs, from 50 cents at one of them, to 50 euros at the other extreme.

An update to a work registration can involve a correction to writer details and/or changes to publisher details. When such an update has not yet been applied, the CMO will not know for certain whether they represent a certain right in a certain work in a certain territory, nor will they be able to accurately identify the rightsholder(s).

I have heard complaints from a number of digital service providers (ie. "licensees") about overlaps and gaps between the charges from the various CMOs. These happen because the CMOs cannot accurately identify the repertoire they represent, which is partly caused by these delayed processing of updates. I guess these DSPs have also mentioned these issues in their responses to the various consultations, with the result that the EU has now mandated that all multi-territorial CMOs must significantly improve their data management processes, in order to streamline the multi-territorial licensing of musical works.

Excuses such as "There's too much data" and "It would cost too much" have been outlawed as of today.

A Brave New World?

The EU Directive has been in force since 10 April 2014, and all CMOs have had two years to prepare for the implementation. I am looking forward to the barrrage of announcements of changes that all CMOs will be making tomorrow. It's the start of a Brave New World for Europe's music publishing sector.

But somehow I can't escape this horrible feeling that my expectations may be to optimistic...

9 Dec 2015

Are the PROs fairly remunerating struggling songwriters?

Back in June of this year, at the UK's Music Publisher Association's AGM, the keynote interview was the Financial Times' pop critic Ludovic Hunter-Tilney interviewing Wayne Hector. "Wayne Who?" you say? Well, I had no idea either, but apparently he is a songwriter who has (co-)written more than 30 Number One hits for artists such as One Direction and Westlife.

The MPA interview (and the whole AGM) was all about "celebrating British songwriting", and Ludovic was doing his best to help celebrate.

Then, in yesterday's FT, Ludovic wrote a column entitled "From Adele to Coldplay, ‘Hello’ to bland British pop" (Click here to read it). It's behind a paywall, but a key quote from the article is:
British pop is not only phenomenally successful - it is also dispiritingly bland.
I agree. I find commercial pop even worse than "bland". I find most of it extremely boring and highly irritating. I own a few thousand CDs, but none by One Direction or Westlife, nor any by Whitney Houston, Chris De Burgh, or even Adele.

Commercial pop may be a great export product for the UK, and it may generate a large chuck of the revenue of the global music industry, but people-wise it is only a tiny fraction of that industry. For every successful commerical-pop songwriter, there are thousands of artists who write and perform their own music. They don't write music to sell millions of copies. They write music as their way of expressing themselves artistically, and it is that kind of music that appeals to me much more.

A pure songwriter like Wayne Hector needs a publisher to get his music recorded by famous artists. Artists who write and perform their own music don't need a publisher for that purpose. But those artists still have their music played on radio and in clubs, and their music is being sold on download stores, and streamed on streaming services. Therefore, artists who write their own music still need to participate in the music publishing ecosystems to get the writer-part of the earnings generated by their music. The one and only way to do that successfully is to sign a publishing deal with a music publisher.

But their needs are very different from what traditional publishers offer. The main requirement from artists who write their own music, is for the publisher to accurately register their repertoire with all PROs worldwide, and collect all the royalties due to them for the use of their music. (Synchronisation licensing is another important function of a publisher, but any artist who sign a publishing deal solely for the purose of getting his music into big TV commercials, is highly likely to end up extremely disappointed)

Fortunately, there are many different publishing companies in the world, including ones such as my company Musiqware, whose primary focus is on getting the artist/writer his performance royalties and mechanical licensing fees out of the existing ecosystems. But none of them can guarantee to get every last penny out of the system, because the PROs passively discriminate against everything that is not commercial pop.

Over the past year, I have been getting increasingly annoyed with the MPA, and the NMPA, and ICMP, and most of the PROs. They seem to be stuck in the traditional songwriting model. They "celebrate the art of songwriting", and appear to believe that publishing is only about writing songs for others.

This attitude is reflected in the rules and regulations of the PROs, and the processes and procedures that implement those. PROs wish to collectively license as much music as possible, in order to maximise the collective revenue. But they then severely limit the spending on the administration of that revenue. When talking with PROs, I constantly hear phrases such as "activity-driven priorities", "threshold values", "manual processing", "black boxes" and "minor sums". The net effect of all these together is that the small number of big players who produce commercial pop get roughly the right amounts of money, whilst the vast majority of other PRO members do not receive all that they are entitled to.

Despite all their rhetoric about the need for "fair remuneration for struggling songwriters", the PROs themselves still have a long way to go in building a fairer ecosystem that caters for ALL people who create music.

21 Nov 2015

Let's Face It: The Ad-Funded On-Demand Music Experiment Has Failed

It's been another interesting week on The Net with regards to the music industry's income from streaming services. Or more to the point: The lack thereof. Many different accusations are being made about numerous different parties in the various streaming ecosystems. It is hard to find common threads between all of these, except for "We're not being paid enough".

That lack of common complaints is no surprise, because it is a set of extremely complex interlinked ecosystems, and there are multiple failures happening in parallel. The only way to gain some understanding of all this, is to look at each of the issues separately, one by one.

This post is about YouTube's ad-funded model. YouTube has the largest user base of all the streaming services, but the music industry is increasingly unhappy with the YouTube deal. But are YouTube the "bad guys"? Are they really intentionally screwing the entire music industry? Or is it just an experiment that didn't quite work out? Let's look at how we got to where we are now with Google and YouTube.

Google started off as a search engine, offered for free to the world. To fund the search engine, Google started to experiment with displaying advertisements next to their search results. Advertisers were willing to pay small amounts of money for those displays, and Google was happy with the combined total revenue from that, so everybody was happy. The experiment was a success.

Google then expanded into offering advertising to third parties, by "partnering" with bloggers and website owners. Most of these had been offering their content for free, and welcomed the opportunity to earn some money from their free-to-the-user content. Everybody happy again. Another successful experiment.

Then Google bought YouTube, and expanded the partnering options to makers of videos. This resulted in another type of free-to-the-user content being monetised, with everybody happy all round. But it also got them into trouble with the rightsholders in music, movies and TV shows, because they had by accident also created the opportunity to monetise pirated copyright content. Intially YouTube dealt with this through the US DCMA and EU Safe Harbour provisions, allowing rightsholders to issue takedowns for content they owned.

Then Google decided to expand the YouTube partnering options to the music industry. By doing this, they believed they were doing the rightsholders a big favour by enabling them to monetise their content on YouTube, in the same wasy as they had done bloggers a big favour by offering monetisation.

But here Google missed one very important point: On-demand access to music was not free to the user before YouTube came along. Music had value. Music was being paid for by those that listened to it. People were paying for CDs and downloads. Some people had just starting to pay for on-demand streaming services. The content that Google offered to monetise was already being monetised in various other formats and on various other platforms.

The goal of Google's partnering option was for advertising revenue to replace the users' spending on on-demand access to music. That's all good and well, and noble, and positive, (and "not evil"), and was for many rightsholders an interesting avenue to experiment with.

For Google the move was doubly positive, because it also legalised the vast amounts of music uploaded to YouTube by its users, by offering the rightsholders a share of its advertising revenue in return for a license.

Unfortunately, the advertising revenue turned out to be way below market value. The value of a free-to-the-user view on YouTube is miniscule when compared to the value of a subscription play on Spotify, Deezer or Rhapsody (and many people already deem those subscription per-play values to be much too low).

The people at Google appear to still honestly believe that they are doing the music industry a big favour with the YouTube partnering program. They recently proudly announced that they have generated 3 billion dollars of revenue for the music industry. That's a big sum of money.

But hang on...: YouTube has one billion users. So they have generated $3 per user. Three dollars... for six years of unlimited on-demand access to all the music in the world. Is that really fair value?

Let's compare this to Spotify: Spotify has also recently announced that they have paid 3 billion dollars to the music industry. That equals YouTube's big sum of money. But Spotify's $3bln came from just 75 million users, which equates to $40 per user. What's more... More than 90% of Spotify revenue (ie. $2.7b) comes from its 20 million paying subscribers. That equates to $135 per user. That is 45 times as much as YouTube's per-user revenue.

Google/YouTube's intention was/is to replace rightsholder revenue from music consumers with revenue from advertising. This is clearly not working. The revenue generated from advertising is a tiny fraction of what consumers are willing to pay for music.

From this we can draw only one conclusion: The experiment with ad-funded unlimited access to on-demand music has failed. Badly.

18 Oct 2015

How Much is a Stream Actually Worth?

Last week, the UK's Music Managers Forum published a report "Dissecting The Digital Dollar", which "set out to explain [...] how digital income is shared between each stakeholder in the wider music industry". It is a good report, in which they outline seven key issues and raised 15 questions for the industry to think about.

But they failed to include the most important issue: The value of a single stream. Without that point, all further discussion is rather meaningless. Whatever percentage is applied to nothing, it'll still be nothing.

The music industry will need to consider the per-stream value that any percentages are going to be applied to. The MMF report totally fails to address that point, and puts the "Division of streaming revenue" at the top of their list of issues.

So let's look at a number of different price points that are currently floating around the industry:

1) Same as a download?

On the one extreme, we still have people who compare per-stream rates to download prices. But streams are to downloads as rental is to purchase. The monthly rental value of a house is only a fraction of the purchase price of that same house. The daily rental value of a car is only a fraction of the purchase price of that same car. But property owners make ends meet, because they can rent the property month after month. Car rental companies make ends meet, because they can rent the car out day after day.

A stream is a short-term rental of a track, whereby the rental term equates to the duration of that track. When that user wants to listen to that track for a second time, it counts as another stream which results in another payment to the rightsholders of that track.

The value of a single stream ("rental") is therefore only a fraction of the price of a download ("purchase"). Basing expectation on 79p/99c per stream is unrealistic.

2) As much as advertisers are willing to pay?

On the other extreme are the providers of ad-funded services. I have no issue with the idea of ad-funding. Ad-funded models can work. Ad-funding works fine with commerical radio, because advertisers on commerical radio are willing to pay enough to fund the radio stations' costs for the music they play.

But it appears that in the streaming world, advertisers are not willing to pay enough to satisfy the rightsholders, artists and writers. Should non-music companies such as Coca-Cola, Ford and McDonalds determine the value of music? No! It is up to the music industry to decide that value, and if an ad-funded business model's advertisers are not willing to pay enough to cover that value, then that business model is not going to work. Such a model is simply broken.

A lot of ad-funded streams earn absolutely zero. This happens when an ad-funded service has no "advertising inventory" available to sell against a particular stream for a particular user at a particular time. But that should not mean that the stream has no value. Somebody is listening to the track, and (hopefully) getting some enjoyment out of that. Rightsholders should get an amount of money for that, irrespective of "available advertising inventory".

The music industry can enforce that by setting an absolute minimum rate for an individual stream. To make ad-funded models viable, the services may need to sell more advertising and/or rise their advertising rates. If they then can't afford the minimum rate, then they don't have a viable business model.

They are supposed to be "ad-funded music services", but some behave more like "music-funded advertising networks".

3) A penny per track?

Somebody recently pointed me in the direction of streaming service with an alternative model. That service follows a "metered" approach: The user buys an amount of credit, and then each stream uses 1p of that credit. When somebody buys £5 credit, he can listen to 500 streams, and then needs to buy more credit to keep on listening to more music.

This is a much more reasonable approach, as it takes into account how much a consumer is willing to pay for the product.

Whether it is enough for the rightsholder is a different question. The 1p includes VAT, and (under the current 55/15/30 split) a label would thus get 55% of 0.83p per stream, which is 0.46p. That is probably not quite enough for many people in the industry, but it is already significantly better than the current rates from ad-funded models.

4) As much as the subscribers are willing to pay?

In the early days of mobile phones, users would get charged on a per call basis. Then, about a decade ago, the mobile phone companies worked out that consumers are willing to pay more for subscriptions, bundles and unlimited plans. They found that users on a subscription will make far more and longer calls, and are willing to pay a higher price for that, often to the level of a higher per-unit price.

The same principle has already been proven in the world of streaming music. Users on a subscription end up paying more than the 1p per track from the previous metered service. There is sufficient data floating around to show that an average premium subscriber to a streaming service listens to around 500 to 600 streams per month. Do the maths and you will see that such a premium subscriber pays more than 1p per stream. (Don't forget the VAT in the calculation).

Is it enough? That is still open for discussion, but at least this price point is purely based on what consumers are willing to pay for music.


There is a big variation in the value people put on a single stream. For me, the per-stream values from paid-for subscription services are acceptable. But the per-stream values from purely ad-funded services (and from ad-funded tiers in freemium models) are much much lower, often to a ridiculously low level.

Sorting out that discrepancy should be the music industry's top "Key Issue".

25 Jun 2015

Open Letter to Robert Ashcroft (CEO of PRS)

Dear Robert,

I read your letter in today's Financial Times with interest.

You wrote:
[...] the vast majority [of the 111,000 PRS members] neither perform live on stage nor sell sound recordings - indeed most do not even have a record label.
Is that so? Really?!?

I find it hard to believe that there are 100,000 people in the UK who write music, but do not perform or record that music.

You are probably going wrong by assuming that everybody who joins PRS is a dedicated songwriter. But that is not the case. PRS for Music doesn't actually know how many of their members are more than just composers or songwriters, because it's not something PRS asks their members about.

I run a global music rights management company. We do many things, but above all we publish artists who write their own music, and we administer labels who publish the music they release. Many of those artists are members of PRS, but they are not dedicated songwriters. Many of those PRS-member artists also own the labels whose publishing rights we administer. They are artist, composer, label and publisher, all in one.

To us, "publishing" is about licensing the compositions embedded in the music from those artists and labels. The largest part of that involves plugging in to the existing frameworks for licensing musical compositions, either through collective licensing bodies such as PRS for Music, or through direct blanket licenses with companies that use music.

We continually run into all sorts of problems with this, because the PROs and MROs have rules, regulations, processes and procedures that are designed around the traditional model of dedicated songwriters, who engage with publishers, who in turn find artists and labels to record and release those compositions. But the needs of our artists are very different, and many aspects of the rules, regulations, processes and procedures are incompatible with what those people need from collective licensing bodies such as PRS for Music.

I am not alone in experiencing these problems. I meet a lot of fellow publishers at PRS, MPA and AFEM events, many of whom are complaining about the same problems.

So why do those artists-who-write-their-own-music actually bother to join PRS?

When their music is played in clubs, PRS charges those clubs "on behalf of the songwriters". When their music is sold as downloads, the download stores have to withhold money from the sales revenue, to hand that money over to PRS and MCPS "for the songwriters". Similar situations exist when their music is streamed online, or used on YouTube, or played on radio, and so on. This is all money taken away from the artists to "pay the songwriters".

But these artists are the songwriters of their music. The only way to recover those withholdings is to join PRS (and possibly MCPS, and/or get a publisher involved). But when we enquire with PRS for Music about why these people are not receiving the money they are entitled to, we get comments about being "insignificant", or even "irrelevant", and that "PRS does not deal with artists, but only works on behalf of the songwriters".

I really believe in the principle of collective licensing for musical works. For a small company such as us, it would be impossible to direct-license every company in the world that uses music. But the collective licensing agencies need to adjust their rules, regulations, processes and procedures to suit ALL people who write music, and not focus solely on the select few that earn a living from writing music for others to perform and record.

If the societies do not change, then large chunks of the music industry will need to find (or create) alternative ways to collectively license their compositions. We would prefer not to do this, because doing so is likely to undermine the existing collective licensing ecosystems, and may well do damage to the businesses of dedicated songwriters and their publishers.

It is time for PRS for Music to adapt to the realities of the 21st Century. You run that organisation. Please ensure fair treatment for ALL people who write music.

Herman Verkade
CEO of Musiqware Ltd

21 Jun 2015

SoundCloud Introduces API Limits to Fight Piracy

SoundCloud are getting a lot of bad press coverage again. This time it's around an announcement they made last week, which certain journalists have totally mis-interpreted. It's time again to de-bunk some myths...

As many artists and labels are aware, SoundCloud has been growing as a source for piracy. There are some dodgy people out there, who rip tracks from SoundCloud, and make those rips available on various pirate sites. This problem has increased to the level where more and more artists and labels are no longer putting full tracks on SoundCloud, but uploading short low-quality clips instead. This defeats the purpose of SoundCloud, and is not good for the artists and labels, but also not good for SoundCloud.

The pirates who abuse SoundCloud this way, are getting increasingly sophisticated. You may think of guys sitting behind their screens all day to find and rip tracks, and then uploading those rips one by one to pirate sites. Unfortunately they are much cleverer than that. They have written little applications that use the SoundCloud API (Application Programming Interface) to browse and search SoundCloud to find new tracks. Those applications then use a different part of the SoundCloud API to play those newly found tracks, hooking the output thereof into another piece of software that rips the audio to an MP3, after which a final bit of code then automatically post all those illegal rips to numerous pirate sites. These little applications run 24 hours a day. seven days a week, and just suck everything new out of SoundCloud into their piracy sites, without any human intervention whatsoever.

SoundCloud are now trying to stop this abuse by limiting the number of tracks an API-based application can request, thus limiting the number of tracks these pirates can steal. The limit is still high, because it still allows an application to grab a new track every six seconds. I can only guess that the problem has gotten so bad that this limit will actually have some negative effect on those rogue applications, and I would not be surprised if this limit is going to be reduced some time later on.

Despite what the various press reports have been saying, this change has no effect on the number of plays a track can get on the SoundCloud site, from the official SoundCloud apps, and/or from the standard SoundCloud widgets for embedding tracks on websites and social media.

Rate-limiting APIs is not unusual. Here at Musiqware, we make extensive use of the APIs from numerous sites and services, mostly to verify that our new releases appear on all the legitimate services correctly. Most of these APIs have rate limits to avoid various types of abuse. None of those limits cause a problem for our legitimate use of the APIs. Now SoundCloud have also imposed a limit on their API to avoid abuse. They should be applauded for doing something to reduce the pirates' abuse of their service...!