For nearly 100 years, performing rights organizations have tracked the music played on the radio, then the television, and now the internet. Their goal: to figure out who should get paid.
These organizations - ASCAP and BMI are the big ones - have traditionally relied on the radio, television, and internet music companies they monitor to report what they played, and to how many people, then they cross-reference that with random sampling.
In 2012, there is no longer a need for either of those ancient approaches. Back when I did college radio, we used to write down each song we played to submit them to these PROs, and to a great extent, that is still how they work. To borrow a phrase from the old Six Million Dollar Man television show, “we have the technology” to fix this: audio fingerprinting, which can identify every song and snippet of a song that plays on every radio station, television channel, and streaming radio company. Why guess when you can know?
This is why we’ve been intrigued by TuneSat, which actually sets up televisions and computers, and feeds them into other computers. The computers actually identify what is being played, rather than counting on broadcasters and webcasters to report things accurately.
I saw TuneSat’s Chris Woods explain what his company does at a MusicTech Meetup in Brooklyn last month, after which I posed a question: “Why don’t ASCAP and BMI use this technology, or simply buy TuneSat outright?” My question was met with knowing guffaws. Someone else in the audience piped up, “Where do we start?”
Woods went on to explain that those organizations are too slow, too mired in the past, and “not nimble enough.”
Identifying music on broadcasts would seem to be a perfect application of “big data” — analyzing all media to find the songs and pay the pipers. But to Woods, it clearly wasn’t being used properly.
“I can tell you for a fact that they have never used technology to report the use of my music on any of the broadcasts,” he said. “They have had the technology to do so since 2005, and it’s now 2012, so something’s not right here. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. I don’t know what the real issue is — maybe they’re too big, or slow to adapt to new technology, or maybe it represents exposing their formulas or how they collect and distribute royalties…