‘If the music industry wants to continue its exponential growth, its data backbone needs to become significantly more efficient.’

Allen Bargfrede

Verifi Media recently announced the launch of the Verifi Rights Data Alliance (“VRDA”), with partnerships in place with Warner Music Group, Warner Chappell, FUGA, Unison Rights and Deezer.

Together, these inaugural members have committed to using Verifi’s services to enhance, collaborate and share music rights data, with the cumulative aim of improving each of their businesses.

Verifi Media claims this is the “first time that global enterprise companies representing the entire value chain of the recorded music business have concretely committed to a communal data sharing framework that benefits all companies”.

Here, MBW presents a Q&A with Verifi Media’s Chief Business Office (CBO) and co-founder, Allen Bargfrede, who in addition to his role at Verifi also heads up Avance, a music investment advisory firm.

We ask Bargfrede – a former leader of Berklee’s Rethink Music think tank – about the aims of Verifi’s VRDA, its patent-pending technology, and the company’s vision for a true global database of music rights information…

In a nutshell, what is Verifi Media’s VRDA and why does the industry need it?

The VRDA is a series of modern shared-data services for the entire value chain of recorded music.

Music rights are inherently multi-party since there are two copyrights in every recording, and often multiple collaborators on each song and recording. Global parties ranging from creators to labels, publishers, CMO/PROs, administrators and financial investors all share the ownership or representation of a music asset.

The music business also continues to become more global and more collaborative, and with catalogs changing hands more frequently than ever before, businesses need not just a rights registry database but a dynamic data engine that incorporates comprehensive change management and communication of changes to the community.

“Shared data has already proven its immense value in industries such as financial services and healthcare. doctors and patients benefit from data shared around patient outcomes. If the music industry wants to continue its exponential growth, our data backbone needs to become significantly more efficient, enabling us to move away from spreadsheets and paper processes.”

However, the music business has been reluctant to embrace global rights databases in the past and a new approach is needed. That’s where shared data and permissioned access come in. Shared data has already proven its immense value in industries such as financial services and healthcare. Banks and traders, while competitive, have benefited greatly from industry initiatives that allow them to share data in order to process transactions more efficiently.

Meanwhile, doctors and patients benefit from data shared around patient outcomes. If the music industry wants to continue its exponential growth, our data backbone needs to become significantly more efficient, enabling us to move away from spreadsheets and paper processes.

In order to solve the data dilemma that magnifies frictions in our marketplace, we need a systematic, cross-vertical approach to answering the question “who owns the rights to this song today?”

Verifi was founded on the belief that answering this question with modern technology and business buy-in is the key to enabling innovation, increased revenues, operational efficiencies, and data transparency that will support a much more robust creator economy.

And solving the data dilemma facing the recorded music business is even more important today, as the problem is being amplified further as the industry grows and the digital economy becomes a more distributed market. Rapidly increasing data complexity in a rapidly growing business, magnifying frictions in the “best practices” at many music companies, is the reality of what we collectively face today.

Fortunately, Verifi’s perhaps idealistic vision is on its way to fruition. Warner Music Group (label), Warner Chappell (publisher), Unison Rights (CMO), FUGA (distributor) and Deezer (streaming service) have all committed to using Verifi’s services. Each company independently benefits from our patented shared-data registry services, while simultaneously providing a much better aggregated understanding of rights, owners and changes to music data over time.

Various projects — such as the Global Repertoire Database (GRD) and the Open Music Initiative (OMI) — have attempted over the years to create a more collaborative data culture across the business, but most have not been able to get enough buy-in from enterprise-level companies to fulfill that vision.

The VRDA is a great start to making this a concrete reality: real companies, real data, real technology, real commitment across the value chain of recorded music, for the first time.

How does this all work?

“Separate, but together.”

We have worked for numerous years with our clients to create the right set of tools and services to systematically manage media rights data needs. In essence, we have found that there are 6 definitive elements of making a shared-data engine work well for rights data in media:

  • Connect disparate datasets: Verifi creates a systematic way to connect recordings and works data, along with their corresponding creators and owners. In the case of recorded music, we provide a data translation layer (“ETL” in tech speak) to allow for these connections to be made. This involves decomposing disparate data standards, such as DDEX and CWR. We also provide a data services layer in our service, which uses robust algorithms to match and identify discrepancies across data provided by multiple parties. One simple output of this is a much more robust ISWC<>ISRC matched dataset that improves over time.
  • Shared data portal: We provide a data sharing surface that allows multiple parties to collaborate on a composite representation (or “best known truth”) of rights and metadata. This will have a tremendous impact in a world where various interested parties have only a partial understanding of the complete picture of rights ownership.
  • Change management: Knowing there’s a “life-cycle” to both a music asset and creator careers, Verifi’s service is built around the notion of managing changes over time, and making the changes to both (i) music assets (e.g. change in ownership due to a sale of a catalog) and (ii) rights interests in the music assets (e.g. songwriter signs a publishing deal). One use of blockchain technology in our service is to create a record of these changes, with a historical “audit trail” of how things got to where they are.
  • Move the data at the “speed of digital”: Verifi is not “just another database.” We built our data services with the belief that the data should “go places,” and quickly, to align with the speed in which digital media is created and consumed. We enable the communication and sharing of that ever-changing data to the community in a machine-literate way. We have created direct API connections to some of our clients’ internal data systems; a public searchable database site, where a subset of our dataset is available to anyone; and are working on the ability to subscribe to the feed via API. We also allow our clients to extract data in standard formats such as DDEX and CWR. This setup provides a way to communicate the rights dataset to the appropriate organizations, in a manner fit for the data needs of the digital media business.
  • Assessing data quality: It is critical to evaluate on an ongoing basis the quality, completeness and reputation of the data source so that individual clients can make decisions about whether and how to use the data from Verifi’s service. Our patent-pending proprietary data scoring algorithm provides a set of scores for both the data and the sources of the data. This allows our users to establish rules around which data to take in automatically versus intervene. It also allows users to hone in on which data is most relevant to improve, or fix, given the importance of any song in a catalog. It’s a bit of a crude analogy, but we sometimes refer to our scoring algorithm as the “FICO score” for music rights. A dynamic score that allows better decisions to happen more quickly.
  • Data control and integrity: Individual participants’ data integrity must be addressed. Proprietary data owned by individual businesses must be balanced with what is communicated and shared with others. At Verifi, clients individually benefit from a structured communal data engine, while maintaining control of their own data. Our technology architecture has layers of control built into our stack:

  • Private Verifi Repository: Each client (or aggregator of client data, like FUGA), has its own unique private data repository. They can then decide whether its data can be shared to specific parties and Verifi’s composite dataset, or if it can be posted to Verifi’s public database. Even though this private repository is not shared, it still allows each client’s data to benefit from our proprietary data schema, which is built to connect and collaborate across asset types (composition vs recordings, for instance). This establishes the ability for clients to access the better dataset derived from the community and our data engine.
  • The Verifi Composite: The data a client chooses to share with others in our data service is then aggregated across parties to create the Verifi composite dataset. This dataset is still “private” in the sense that it is only accessible to the shared data community (e.g. the VRDA companies). This is where, for example, a publisher or PRO/CMO can access the ISRC codes related to a composition they partially control, or where a streaming service can get a feed of publishing information. It is also where data that is typically not publicly available (such as songwriting splits and territory representation) can be collaboratively improved across parties who have an interest in the music asset.
  • Verifi Public Database: We also provide the general public with a searchable database that connects works, recordings and product metadata together, which will improve over time as more rights-holders collaborate. We sometimes refer to this as the “yellow pages” of music rights data. (You can see how we surface that linked data by looking at “Queen of The Night” by Anya Marina, for example). The goal is to allow for more people to identify the comprehensive rights-holders of a particular music asset, which can lead to much more efficient licensing clearance, as well as provide a “best known truth” to allow people to proactively improve and complete the datasets on an ongoing basis.

This is why we call our solution “separate, but together”.

This is not sharing data for sharing data’s sake: it is strategically sharing data with specific parties, in a controlled manner, that allows the benefits (more revenues, faster royalty collections, operational efficiencies, opening new revenue sources) to accrue to each Verifi client for their unique business needs.

Why should we care?

Shared data leads to better business, which leads to a better creator economy.

We believe that for inherently multiparty data to be accurate and useful, the data needs to be collaborated upon by all the authoritative owners and representatives of that data. This enables organizations to make better business decisions, leading to greater revenues, more efficiency and better data transparency, strengthening the creator economy that digital media businesses have enabled. But don’t take our word for it, our VRDA clients believe this as well, and that’s why they’ve entrusted us with their data:

We are committed to being great caretakers of our clients’ data, while steadfast in the belief that significant rights data improvement has massive economic value collectively for the music business around the globe. Just as importantly, each organization and creator that joins will benefit from greater mobility and transparency of rights data.

This allows the many aspects of the continually evolving digital media worlds that are both exciting and often painful (e.g. global royalty collection and distribution, catalog transfers, sync licensing clearance, metaverse music use cases) to be streamlined. If you would like more information regarding Verifi Media, or the VRDA, please reach out to us at allen@verifi.media.Music Business Worldwide