Let’s Get Digital: Tech X Music

Catie Wilber

April 15, 2020

We take a look at the ever-increasing symbiosis within today’s tech and music industries.

This just in: the ink is now dry on deals signed by Apple with Universal Music, Sony Music, and Warner Music. Apple services (encompassing Music, TV+, and iCloud) made over 46 billion in 2019, a 16 billion increase from 2017, per Financial Times.  From doom to boom, it’s increasingly clear that the digitalization of the music industry has created countless opportunities for artists and labels to grow audience and revenue.  And, given the current climate and huge increase in professionals working from home, access to digital tools is unmistakably vital.

It was just 2 years ago for example, that ex-Interscope pres Steve Stoute joined forces with Alphabet (yes, the Google Alphabet), 20th Century Fox, and backers Andreessen Horowitz & Flodgate to form UnitedMasters, a proposed alternative to the record label deal.  Promising itself to be an alternative for musicians seeking distribution, UnitedMasters would ensure music reached the ear-scape by way of Soundcloud, YouTube, and Spotify, absorbing and utilizing analytics in the process.  In their model, artists hold onto precious masters’ rights while royalties are shared.  And, the newly amassed data provides paths to captive audiences, ripe for pinpoint targeting and additional revenue streams (think t-shirts and tickets).  According to the RIAA,   traditional record companies signed a total of 658 artists in 2017, a 12% increase from 2014.

So, it’s a given that digital’s impact and hand-in-hand role within the music industry is both colossal and perpetually evolving.  The digital resources mountain is one we aim to climb, spotlighting some of the players along the way. 

There’s the end product itself, of course– be it a single, EP, or album release.  Play MPE obvs has you covered in terms of getting that masterpiece to the masses, ensuring digital promotional distribution to all manner of decision makers across the landscape. With the Play MPE Player, radio programmers and other content gurus like music supervisors and bloggers can access thousands of pre-release promotional content from major labels including Universal Music Group, Warner Records and Sony Music, as well as independents and emerging artists. With a Play MPE account you can stream and download hundreds of releases from around the world.  It’s both mobile and turnkey, allowing users to download and export broadcast quality audio directly into music scheduling software including Selector and MusicMaster.  

Play MPE’s Caster streamlines how promoters and content creators get releases from the studios to the tastemakers themselves. Complete with custom templates and reporting tools, Caster has all promotional needs covered, allowing global teams to efficiently create and deliver content across multiple teams in different territories, without the need to duplicate the work.  With Caster, users can build multi or single track releases in minutes, using simple drag-and-drop tools to add custom artwork, video links, tour dates, artist bios, etc. To boot, Caster includes a full suite of metrics, allowing users to see who’s opened, streamed, and downloaded releases.  

Alongside the actual distribution of the music, there are a myriad of ways in which digital tools serve as cogs in that music business machine. Take for example digital rights management. Services can encompass registering rights and collecting royalties for radio, television, streaming broadcasts and public performances. A great option we like is Symphonic which offers full-service “distribution, marketing, royalty collection, and more for record labels, artists, managers, and distributors.”

Just as there are different types of royalties, so too are there rights types: neighbouring rights (covering music played on television and radio or played in public places) dictate that royalties be distributed to the performing artist and the owner of the master recording. In addition, there are synchronization licenses which allow for licensing of music to be used in visual media such as commercials, studio films and streaming ads, as well as the master license covering full ownership of the song.  A mechanical license is required for the physical reproduction of an artists work (CD manufacturing, etc).

Asserting itself as a vital member in the digital space is blockchain technology, a phrase which we’ve come to associate mostly with cryptocurrency. (The Simpsons recently treated us to a quick tutorial by way of America’s trusted fictional nerd, Sheldon Cooper a.k.a Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons.)  As his lesson explained, separate transactions within consensus-based cryptocurrencies are recorded on a distributed ledger.  Essentially, blockchain is the digital ledger technology that gives Bitcoin its wings. 

Thankfully, a number of companies have stepped forward to help industry folks navigate and capitalize on blockchain’s capacities.  Mediachain categorizes open-source info and creates “smart contracts” for royalties. Mycellia has launched their “Creative Passport,” which gathers song information including ID’s, payment mechanisms, and credits, with the goal of equitable treatment of contributing parties.  Musicoin meanwhile, is a blockchain-based streaming platform allowing listeners to stream content from independent artists free of commercials, with the goal of compensating creators fairly.  Ujo’s Ethereum platform also offers up “smart contracts,” designed as “tamper-proof solutions” allowing for smoothly transferred assets and automated payments for artists. 

In addition to distribution and payment technologies, digital marketing tools have fast become benchmarks of a successful artist or record launch. Those tools include Hubspot, Buzzstream, Soundcharts, ReverbNation, and others offering umbrella services managing social media, “direct-to-fan” communication, advertising, and publicity, across platforms including the biggies: YouTube, Spotify, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and of course radio.  

Fret not–while The Buggles’ ominous prediction is catchy as all get out, the once victimized radio star has long-since been resurrected. 

Photo by Pengye Chen on Unsplash

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