Music Business Worldwide’s audience doesn’t need much tutoring about how big a problem the global industry’s so-called ‘black box’ has become.
For the few in need of a reminder: the ‘black box’ refers to the pile of performance and mechanical royalties from around the world that, due to industry failings, don’t get paid out to their rightful owners each year.
Instead, as these royalties remain unclaimed, collection societies have little option but to distribute this money on the basis of industry market share.
How big is this black box problem across music publishing and the recorded music industry? We… don’t really know. No-one does.
It’s definitely a nine-figure problem. Some say it’s even a ten-figure problem.
What we can be certain of: a mountain of money out there is not getting to the right people.
Now, a new technology, born from the brain of a Grammy-winning producer/engineer isn’t just looking to solve the ‘black box’ – it’s looking to blow it up entirely.
SonicData’s SonicKey enables all recordings in the world to be identifiable via a unique tracking code implanted via audio watermarking. The company makes the bold claim that it’s “the world’s first 100 percent accurate, completely inaudible music identification technology”.
Audio “watermarking”, rather than “fingerprinting”, of course, doesn’t have the most stellar history in the music industry. This was the technique, after all, that was used during the music biz’s noughties DRM years, when record labels risked compromising audio quality in an ill-fated attempt to halt piracy in its tracks.
“My motivation was creating full transparency and empowering the rights holder following a long history of not being paid myself and seeing too many artists, producers and other creators being paid incorrectly or not at all as well as incredibly slowly.”
Simon Gogerly, SonicData
SonicKey is very different to all that malarkey, according to its makers – because it’s completely undetectable to the human ear. If that’s true, it really does suggest SonicKey could turn today’s standard music business practice on its head. No longer will the global music business be reliant on its ability to identify performed songs and match them up with unreliable metadata. Instead, a master version of that metadata – uniquely identifiable and trackable – will literally live in the recording, at source, via SonicKey.
What’s more, UK-born SonicData says that SonicKey integrates seamlessly with industry-standard Single Version Of The Truth (SVOT) metadata.
Simon Gogerly, who won a Grammy for his work with U2, is the creator of the core tech behind SonicKey. He says his motivation to invent the tech was “creating full transparency and empowering the rights-holder” following “a long history of not being paid myself and seeing too many artists, producers and other creators being paid incorrectly or not at all as well as incredibly slowly”.
Gogerly adds: “This situation has only been exacerbated by the emergence and power of social media and video sharing platforms.”
From the start, Gogerly was determined to ensure that SonicKey didn’t degenerate the audio quality of recordings in any way. “I created SonicKey in a professional studio environment in order that we created a solution for the music industry by the music industry,” he says.
SonicKey has some powerful figures from the world of future-looking technology in its corner.
Kelly Sumner is the former CEO of video games giant Take Two – parent of Rockstar Games – where he oversaw the record-smashing Grand Theft Auto series. He’s also the former CEO of RedOctane, where he launched the groundbreaking Guitar Hero series. (Sumner sold RedOctane to Activision in 2006 for $160 million.)
Sumner has signed up as Chairman of SonicData, which has been testing the SonicKey tech for the past year across Europe. Having investigated the music industry’s metadata problems – and that creaking ‘black box’ – Sumner is convinced he’s found yet another technology that will revolutionize an industry.
“SonicKey changes the royalty and reporting landscape for every artist and rights holder as current technology is not fit for purpose.”
Kelly Sumner, SonicData
SonicKey, he says, adopts lessons from the $180 billion video games industry, applying them to some of the largest obstacles facing free-flowing data in the music industry.
“SonicKey changes the royalty and reporting landscape for every artist and rights holder as current technology is not fit for purpose,” says Sumner. “SonicKey can enable an end to unpaid royalties, late payments, no payments, poor reporting, the use of incorrect metadata and a reliance on platform owners’ limited reporting.
“By understanding the information, you can begin to create a better relationship with the platform, the consumer and the value chain, much like the video games industry is able to do.”
Via SonicKey, any artist or rights-holder can implant a unique 11-digit sonic key in any of their recordings for free.
SonicData then makes its money via a suite of code-reading services on offer to rights-holders, venues, digital platforms and PROs alike. (The company has already been in advanced discussions with an array of CMOs around the globe, MBW is told.)
SonicData’s reading technology includes its StreamReader tech – which can detect and process any SonicKey in existence. As the firm puts it: “For collection agencies and the reporting channel, a digital system based on tracking a SonicKey directly through the Sonic StreamReader changes the model for PROs and CMOs, enabling efficiencies and a transition to an automated collection model.”
The company says that, at the white-glove end of its services offering for labels and publishers, it can monitor tens of thousands of radio stations around the world.
The jewel in SonicData’s crown, though, may well prove to be its physical SonicVenue device – an in-venue tool able to detect the SonicKey of any music played in the establishment.
“Technology has changed the way music is accessed, used and shared. It has changed music’s availability on so many platforms. But with this has come a myriad of problems.”
Kelly Sumner, SonicData
Unlike other music-monitoring devices, SonicVenue only detects SonicKeys, rather than background noise, eliminating privacy concerns surrounding the recording of background noise and conversation.
Sumner says that the combination of SonicKey and SonicVenue could feasibly create a scenario whereby venues are paying for the itemised use of recorded music in the same way they pay for other facilities such as water and electricity.
Promising a “friction-free integration” of the platform into existing music industry accounting and royalty systems, Sumner adds: “Technology has changed the way music is accessed, used and shared. It has changed music’s availability on so many platforms. But with this has come a myriad of problems.
“SonicKey makes music identifiable, referenceable and trackable… globally, 24 hours a day, delivering real-time live data to a collection agency – and the rights holder – which is 100% accurate.
“This delivers the speed and efficiencies that the music industry demands.”Music Business Worldwide