D.I.Y.

What indie artists need to know about data transformation

There is a fundamental disconnect between songwriting and the recordings that bring them to the world. That means that collecting all the money due to any creator can be a daunting task. Enter data transformation.

By Chloe Johnson, Head of Client Relations and Strategic Partnerships, Verifi Media

Data has never been a sexy topic, but like an engrossing Greek tragedy, it has layers of drama and intrigue if one examines the problem indie artists are facing more closely. Low royalty payouts from streaming, declining sync offers, struggling to be playlisted, releasing music into the void — it can feel like a plague to an indie artist to release music in the digital age. And we’ve all had enough of the plague. So, to get at the core of these problems, we must first identify the dark mass that surrounds our protagonist: and that is the disconnect between songwriting and recordings. We then must identify the weapon that can defeat the darkness: data transformation. 

Words like “transform,” “translate,” and “multiparty discrepancy resolution” are littered across Verifi Media’s website like streamers after a mid-summer parade, but we understand they can carry very little meaning to the indie artist community that we exist to serve and protect. So… we are here to demystify the data problem under our noses and start working smarter in the 21st century. 

What Do Companies Like Verifi Media Transform, and Why?

To understand why someone would even want to transform data formats in the first place, we must first remind ourselves of the two types of intellectual property inherent in every recording. 1) The underlying composition itself (think: sheet music, lyrics, chord charts, TAB), and 2) the master recording itself (think: .wav, .mp3, vinyl, wax cylinder). The underlying composition is controlled by the Publishing industry (publishers, pub admins, PROs, CMOs, mechanical licencing bodies, etc.) and the master recording by the Recorded Music industry (labels, distributors, neighboring rights societies, digital service providers/streaming services). 

Already there is complexity formed by the fact that your new release has two sets of data and at least eight bodies/organizations responsible for chasing down your royalty payments. On top of that, these two sides are more like distant cousins than they are siblings, and that’s because each side uses a different data format and standard. If you think of these standards as different languages, then what we mean here is that your publisher might be speaking French and your label speaking Japanese, leaving you caught in the middle without a translator. 

The two industry standards we talk about the most are DDEX and CWR, which can be served in a multitude of file formats (like .xml, .csv, .txt, .v21 etc.) and need expert software to open and decode the messages contained within the files without data loss. DDEX is broadly used for recorded music only (although formats like BWARM seek to marry works and recording data together), and CWR is for publishing data.

Many platforms (Verifi included) want to make it easy for indie artists to input data by using plain text, but as soon as it is shared with partners like Apple, Spotify, Deezer, ASCAP, BMI, PRS, and so on, it is transformed into standards such as DDEX and CWR. Once Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall, it takes all the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s men to put Humpty back together again, and even royalty makes mistakes. 

Piecing Works and Recordings Back Together

Often indie artists ask, “Hey, isn’t tracking this data what my [insert publisher, label, distributor, manager, mom, etc.] is for?” 

via GIPHY

  • The US Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) recently received $424 million from digital service providers (DSPs) like Spotify and Apple in “black box” royalties, meaning royalties that had been collected but not paid out to creators because the services didn’t have enough information about who created the songs to pay out. 
    • Works in the CWR standard cannot be read by the majority of DSPs, and DDEX deliveries don’t always include works. That means organizations seeking writers and publishers to pay out from the black box are fighting to speak the same data language and know who to pay.
    • Publishing data is rarely shared by a label or distributor with the DSPs  —  meaning publishers and Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) have to explicitly claim ownership on recordings in order to get songwriters paid. In itself this is not a huge problem ,  but who is telling these publishers and PROs that a recording exists for a song? If it isn’t the creator, then it’s possibly nobody. 
    • PROs (if you are registered to one) collect performance royalties for works, but not Neighboring Rights (the performance royalties for recordings paid outside the U.S.) or mechanical royalties for physical copies and digital distribution. This means you have to be registered with multiple societies and organizations around the world to make sure you are getting paid your various royalty streams. 
    • Distributors often only collect the royalties owed to you on a recording and do not handle publishing. Often creators make the mistake of not upgrading to publishing administration with providers that offer it, seeking additional publishing representation when they release a new record, or checking their international representation. 
    • The most successful tracks get the bacon. If a track performs well, it benefits from the fuzzy logic when companies “guestimate” what royalties are due to an artist based on streaming performance/radio play alone. This means smaller artists are likely not seeing the full royalties they might be due because it’s not worth the time to clean up and claim on bad data.
    • Part II on the above — if the MLC cannot match its “historical” royalties from the DSPs, they will begin to pay out the accumulated monies that are more than three years old based on market share (a.k.a. those already bringing home the bacon are about to bring home even more bacon). This may begin as soon as 2023. 

    Long story short, the people entrusted with cleaning and managing your catalog might not be incentivized, empowered, or authorized to collect from all of the various sources you are owed. Even the superstar organizations who are doing everything they can for their creators are running into problems with translating data in and out of different data standards (like CWR and DDEX), and the entire process from top to bottom as it stands today is far too complex for the average creator to dip their toe in.

    It begs the question, wouldn’t it be easier if we had a way of easily transforming data in and out of these standards, like some kind of global transformation layer, or Rosetta Stone of data? 

    This autumn, Verifi Media is launching a beta platform equipped with everything a creator, management team, label, or publisher needs to:

    1. translate data in and out of any standard and format needed
    1. link works and recordings together in a way that allows all parties to see connected participants
    1. locate and fix any known discrepancies between data users

    Although it’s important to recognize that different industry standards exist, you don’t have to speak both languages fluently to feel in control of your rights or understand where they exist in this complex and intangible new world. We’re here to transform behind the scenes! 

    Chloe Johnson is based in London as Head of Client Relations and Strategic Partnerships at Verifi Media. In addition to her role as a technologist, Chloe is also a supply-chain and direct-to-fan specialist for independent artists with 10 years of industry experience, and the founder of Extra Magic Consulting.

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