MediaNet Blog

4 Reasons to Use MediaNet for Developing Your Digital Music Product

Posted by Glen Sears | May 4, 2016 3:58 pm | No Comments

(Additional contribution by Dan Charlson)

Many people ask us, “Why should I use MediaNet? Building a digital music product can’t be that difficult or expensive.” After 15 years in the digital music industry, there’s one thing we know for sure—building a digital music product alone is that difficult and expensive.

Music licensing is deeply complex. Multi-format file distribution requires massive server resources. Most importantly, paying royalties accurately to the law requires a content library that intelligently tracks ownership information for labels and publishers. Only MediaNet has a library like that, available through our MN Open API or Enterprise solutions.

There are four major areas MediaNet offers product teams and developers the tools they need:

  1. Catalog and Label Relationships (Majors, Indies, Aggregators)
  2. Content Fulfillment and Delivery (API, Download/Streaming Servers, CDN)
  3. Rights & Royalty Reporting and Administration (Labels, Publishers, PROs)
  4. Data Access & Management (XML Feeds, Metadata, Trending, Analytics)

Complications in digital music arise when data must be sent between providers for different services. Some companies offer APIs for catalog and metadata, others can administer royalty payments. MediaNet is the company can do it all under one roof, with full transparency at a time when the music industry is turning against the black box.

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Beyond accountability and convenience, the MediaNet Platform is dependable and up-to-date, with rock-solid servers. MediaNet has powered the world’s best-loved music apps. Diverse services like Beats Music, MOG, Google Play, Songza, Yahoo! Music, AOL Music, MTV Urge, Turntable.fm, and so many more. Those services have enjoyed deployment in nine territories—US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Ireland, India, Australia, and South Africa.

In short, startups and enterprise clients use MediaNet because we:

  • Manage the most complicated digital music installations in the world. If it’s complicated, we get the call.
  • Are pure B2B; we have no consumer-facing product.
  • Are the only company with the tools to ensure all rights holders are paid for every play.
  • Are prepared for the scale of any start-up’s growth; if you go viral, our system won’t even hiccup.

Think of your music service like an iceberg. The visible parts of your service are your focus: user interface, client applications, marketing, ecommerce, and customer support. Everything else? MediaNet does the invisible work, operating out of sight to power your service. We’ve built the tools, systems, and processes to power these services simultaneously, at scale and with maximum availability.

Our music catalog is always growing. MediaNet processes 200,000 new tracks, and 1-2 million updates to our library, per week. We add an average of 5M tracks every year to our catalog. We manage over 2 petabytes of physical storage for these files in 11 formats. Despite the availability of scalable cloud storage, our methodology is more stable and costs less over the long term than using a cloud service.

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Growth at this level requires a dizzying amount of data management. Content deliveries (assets, art, XML feeds addressing metadata, rights, and pricing) in multiple formats being delivered from 1000’s of sources that cover over 50 territories and currencies—all while maintaining proper ownership chains for every track so rights owners can be paid.

Additionally, we work with global Content Distribution Network (CDN) partners to deliver an optimal streaming experience to end users everywhere. Akamai, Level3, Verizon-EdgeCast, and Limelight CDN technology ensure that our massive library of groomed content is delivered at better speeds and lower cost than individual services can achieve. We pass 100% of those savings onto our partners (that’s you).

MediaNet is a unique company. We’re the only B2B digital music platform on the planet with a digital content library that intelligently understands the entire ownership structure of each track. We process data at levels only search giants like Google and Facebook can. We have one foot in technology, and the other foot in the music industry.

MediaNet offers the only available digital music platform that can license, distribute, report, and pay under one roof. Call or email us to find out exactly what we can do for you.

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The Top 146 Songs of 2015 in the U.S. & Canada

Posted by Glen Sears | January 26, 2016 12:15 pm | No Comments

top songs 2015 digital radio streaming
Every year billions of digital music streams are played through our partner services and served up by the MediaNet platform. These diverse services encompass on-demand streaming, paid downloads, online radio, and more. MediaNet’s 49M track catalog gives the users of these services unprecedented access to digital music—but which songs are the most popular?
(more…)

Why XML (and XML Accuracy) Is Critical for Digital Music

Posted by Glen Sears | November 4, 2015 1:12 pm | No Comments

(Additional contribution by Dan Charlson & Amy Vandergon)

XML b2b digital music

Structuring data so it can be easily interpreted and transported is critical for modern digital music infrastructures. The most common structured data solutions are called Markup Languages, which take an exceptionally simple approach to structure.

Markup languages simply mark sections of a document (hence “markup”) with a descriptive label called a “tag.” These tags are then used by other software to properly display or ingest that data.

Markup languages typically consist of regular words rather than code syntax and symbols. This makes them more user-friendly, often possible to interpret by eye alone. The two most popular markup languages are HTML and XML. XML is also known by its long-form name: eXtensible Markup Language.

What is XML?

Markup languages don’t actually perform operations. Their job is to describe and organize data for software that understands those descriptions, and can execute the data. HTML is made up of tags (<head>, <body>, <div>, <p>, etc) that were agreed upon when the language was built. Every HTML developer must use only these tags to categorize data, or the software built to interpret and display the data (web browsers) will not render the elements correctly.

XML differs in that it allows a developer to create any tag they like. This is why it is known as extensible. XML developers are not limited to a predefined set of tags to describe elements of data. Data can be organized with any tag imaginable. While XML resembles HTML, its data structuring potential is far greater. In a sense, XML is a framework that allows you to create your own language for describing and transporting data.

Computer systems often contain data in incompatible formats. To move data between these systems, large amounts must be converted and incompatible data is often lost. Industries, organizations, and developer communities agree on XML specifications or standards for this reason. This makes the creation of compatible software programs easy, regardless of how they’re built or where they’re situated.

XML is a common choice for exporting structured data and for sharing data between programs or companies.

How does XML service digital music?

Let’s say Company A wants to send Company B information about a new music album. If they were using email, Company A would simply write the information down in an easy-to-understand human format. Company B could then take that information and enter it properly into their system.

Title – Album Title
Artist – Album Artist
Track 1 – Track Name
Track 2 – Track Name
Track 3 – 

But—what if Company A wanted to send the information from their system directly into Company B’s system? Since the systems are almost certainly not compatible, there must be an intermediary step where the data is re-written in a common language. This is where XML comes in. The two companies agree on a set of XML tags and their hierarchy (referred to as a “schema”), then map those values to their own systems. It may look something like this:

<title>Album Title</title>
<artist>Album Artist</artist>
<metadata>
<type>Track</type>
<number>
1</number>
<name>
Track Name</name>
</metadata>
<metadata>
<type>
Track</type>
<number>
2</number>
<name>
Track Name</name>
</metadata>

<metadata>
<type>
Track</type>
<number>
3</number>
<name>
……</name>
</metadata>

While to a human the data looks virtually identical, digital systems can process data written in a common tongue much more easily. XML allows digital music services to transmit and synchronize massive amounts of content information between incompatible systems easily and accurately.

How does MediaNet use XML?

As shown above, XML is a critical part of digital music data delivery to MediaNet. Without XML feeds, content data being added to or updated in our library would require large databases or spreadsheets. Each addition (or batch of additions) would require a human to package it and send it to us, where another human would then integrate it into our system.

Thanks to XML, this is not necessary. Every time a new piece of data needs to be added to the MediaNet catalog by our Content Partners, it is simply added to the feed and picked up by our system.

MediaNet maintains its own sophisticated XML content ingestion schema. It consists of over 30 top-level elements, expanded into 100s of metadata sub-values indicating data points such as rights, territory, currency, and usage for every track, album, artist, and composer. All told, a typical album can consist of more than 3,000 lines of XML markup—information that ensures data is ingested into our systems accurately and completely.

What challenges does XML pose?

While the beauty of XML is its dead-simple nature, that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges in using it. Beyond the inherent possibility of coding errors, the most common XML challenge is also one of its most useful features: automation.

Using XML with custom software platforms means the schema must be agreed upon at both ends of the feed. Both tags and the acceptable values inside these tags are built into the automated software that receives them. This automation can easily be tripped up if the XML schema or acceptable values are improperly entered.

Most systems require XML information to be two things:

  • Well-formed – meaning that it adheres to the XML spec itself
  • Valid – that it properly follows the schema

Errors in either of these categories can cause XML data transfers to stutter or fail entirely.

How does MediaNet help solve those challenges?

Such automation and data input errors can, but don’t have to, halt or destroy XML data transport. MediaNet uses a 3-part system to resolve feed errors, enhance data, and keep transports running smoothly:

  1. Erroneous data is identified and filtered from the feed into a separate error queue, leaving the rest of the feed free to ingest into our system.
  2. Our Content Operations Team prioritizes and manages our error queue daily to avoid long-stay metadata errors, and resolves many in the process.
  3. Our Rights Management Team manually uncovers and verifies additional information and data to ensure rich, accurate entries.

While our systems are automated by using the most effective language for collaborative data exchange, ensuring the highest possible quality of data still requires a human touch.

MediaNet’s data is the cleanest, most accurate data in the music industry because our database is built on an unbeatable combination of enterprise technology and human intuition. We are almost always able to resolve XML feed errors without any need for Content Partner involvement.


XML is the humble technology that drives many of the most successful digital music technologies. Digital music infrastructure costs would rise dramatically without it. The degree of difficulty for integrating systems would increase.

Most importantly, the extensibility of digital music systems to flex and change with need would disappear.

The (Somewhat Screwy) State of Music Copyright Law Right Now, From The Perspective of Congress

Posted by Glen Sears | October 12, 2015 2:46 pm | No Comments

copyright law congress 2
It doesn’t take a law professor to understand that musical copyright is a complex beast. Just look at all the artists up in arms about Soundcloud takedowns, or MediaNet’s own exploration of the dizzying spiral of music ownership. Copyright laws are always passed with the intention of protecting rights owners, but as time passes and new technologies arise these protections can have counterproductive consequences.

The Library of Congress’ own Congressional Research Service has identified these protection gaps in a 37-page report called “Copyright Licensing in Music Distribution, Reproduction, and Public Performance.” The report, authored by attorney Brian Yeh, outlines the basics of musical copyright law then identifies 4 major areas where copyright law needs to be updated to support the current musical ecosystem.

Any reader interested in the history of how copyright law came to be should take the time to read the first 16 pages of the report. Yeh does a masterful job of explaining how various facets of musical copyright work together, as well as providing the context under which various protections were instituted. The real meat of the report, however, starts at page 18. Here The CRS outlines the 4 major areas it believes copyright law should be updated for 2015 and beyond.

Federal Protection for Pre-1972 Sound Recordings

As recent news may have informed you, digital radio services are required to license sound recordings, but due to a loophole only those sound recordings produced after 1972. According to the report “such pre-1972 sound recordings constitute approximately 15% of all digital radio transmissions and would have provided about $60 billion in music royalties for recording artists in 2013, according to one industry estimate.”

While some states have taken it upon themselves to pass legislation to close this gap, there still exists no federal protection for the rights holders of these sound recordings. Two pieces of legislation, The Fair Play Fair Pay Act and the RESPECT Act, have been offered up to bolster protection for pre-1972 recordings, but both lack total protections for rights owners. In addition, the report states these measures could “have the effect of dissuading digital music services from including the ‘golden oldies’ in their music catalogs.”

Extending the Performance Right in Sound Recordings to AM/FM Radio Broadcasts

Despite extending public performance copyright protections to sound recording owners in 1995, these protections did not include AM/FM radio transmissions. “Thus, public performance of sound recordings through non-digital audio transmissions does not trigger any obligation on the part of the radio broadcaster to pay royalties to the sound recording copyright holder.”

In 2013 the Register of Copyrights testified to a House Judiciary Committee that Congress should extend “full” public performance rights to sound recordings in all types of transmissions. While the Fair Play Fair Pay Act would extend copyright protections to all types of broadcast, an opposing piece of legislation called the Supporting the Local Radio Freedom Act would direct Congress not to impose any new performance fees or royalties for over-the-air broadcasts of sound recordings by local radio stations.

Standards for Setting Royalty Rates for Public Performance of Sound Recordings

An entity called the Copyright Royalty Board calculates the royalty rate applicable to “compulsory” licenses by applying a standard that is specified in the Copyright Act. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act established different standards for the compulsory license depending on the type of digital service and whether the service existed at the time of the DMCA’s enactment.

“The Fair Play Fair Pay Act of 2015 (H.R. 1733) would require the Copyright Royalty Board to set performance royalty rates for satellite radio and cable music providers by applying the same ‘willing buyer/willing seller’ standard that the CRB currently uses in determining Internet radio webcasters’ royalty rates, instead of using the 801(b) standard.”

The Internet Radio Fairness Act was introduced in order to “level[] the playing field for Internet radio services” and reform the current royalty rate calculation system. However, organizations like SoundExchange oppose such legislation as they suspect it would cause services like Pandora to pay less in royalties than they do now.

Modification of Consent Decrees Governing Songwriter Performance Royalties

In 1976 performing rights organizations such as ASCAP and BMI were legislated to be subject to “consent decrees,” for fear that they would monopolize the royalty collection process. As such, all agreements with PROs must be submitted to the Circuit Court of New York to verify their veracity.

In June 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division announced that it would initiate a review process to examine the operation and effectiveness of these consent decrees, after ASCAP, BMI, and other parties in the music industry raised concerns that the consent decrees have been unable “to account for changes in how music is delivered to and experienced by listeners.”

The Songwriter Equity Act, with support from a consortium of hospitality companies, seeks to help increase the performance royalty payments from PROs, which includes keeping consent decrees on the books.

What Does It All Mean?

Copyright law is a complex beast. The deeper you dive, the more complex it becomes. At the end of the day, the changes proposed by the CRS will only help so long as the technologies we use support these regulations, rather than circumvent them.

MediaNet believes that all rights holders should be paid for every play. We have created an end-to-end licensing, distribution, fulfillment, reporting, and payment system that ensures all payments are delivered to the letter of the law.

Like many large pieces of legislation, U.S. copyright law will never be “complete.” All we can do in the mean time is ensure that all rights holders are getting their fair share of payment for creative works.

MediaNet features the only digital music catalog that internally matches sound recordings directly to rights holders, ensuring maximum accuracy and industry-leading reporting. Want to talk about how MediaNet can power your music experience? Let’s chat!

How Important Is Music Metadata? A Case Study Through Genre

Posted by Amy Vandergon | September 16, 2015 1:34 pm | No Comments

digital music metadata medianet

Here at MediaNet’s Content department, we spend a lot of time staring at metadata tags. We have become metadata whisperers, noticing genre-wide trends, peculiarities, and common mistakes. We nurture any problem data, and once it’s fixed we release it into our catalog. Over time we have noticed three genres in particular that often need data intervention: Classical, hip hop, and electronic dance music (EDM).

Beyond the metadata similarities, these three genres are all quite different. However, they do share some additional common characteristics, including a heavy reliance on patterns, multi-movement works, and the integration of dance.

Patterns are important in every genre, but perhaps more so for these three. Classical music laid the groundwork of tonality, or the patterns of pitches our ears expect. Baroque fugues, for example, contain tightly-repeated harmonic and melodic sequences. In both hip hop and EDM, patterns manifest through repetitive samples and beat structures.

All three genres have many multi-movement works. Just as any classical symphony should be listened to in its entirety, so too should Kanye West’s The College Dropout or Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories (or any live DJ set, for that matter).

Unique styles of dance, such as the minuet and waltz, were popularized through the classical music tradition. Hip hop has spawned a wide variety of dance styles, including breaking and krumping. An entire subculture of dance has been created through the popularization of EDM. Even more important than the musical similarities of these genres is the ability of each to enact social change, becoming a voice and distraction for the oppressed.

Olivier Messiaen wrote and premiered his Quatuor pour la fin du temps, inspired by the Book of Revelation, while imprisoned in a German POW camp. N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton highlighted the poverty, drug abuse, and police brutality that continue to run rampant in that city. EDM is a direct descendant of disco, which began in jazz halls in Occupied France that were only allowed to play recorded music. Disco and early EDM developed largely through the work of homosexual, black, female, and Latino communities – groups which have a history of devalued cultural contributions.

Now let’s look at the practical problems they pose when it comes to metadata tags.

  • There are several contributor options (composer, conductor, performer, etc.) and multiple accepted spellings of composers’ names (like Stravinsky/Strawinski/Strawinsky or Schoenberg/Schönberg).
  • Artists in hip-hop and EDM often change spellings or have multiple variants (like Jay Z/Jay-Z or Puffy/P. Diddy/Puff Daddy).
  • EDM artists often get credited on their own or as part of collaborations (e.g. Axwell, Sebastian Ingrosso, and Axwell Λ Ingrosso).

When it comes to artist names, accuracy is important in all genres. Should the album be attributed to “Drake” or “Nick Drake?” Should the artist name be “Sammy” or “DJ Sammy?” For classical music, the preferred format is typically “First Last.” “André Previn” is correct, rather than “A. Previn,” “Previn, André,” or “Previn”. In some cases, special characters are necessary (e.g. “Béla Bartók” instead of “Bela Bartok”).

What would happen if we didn’t intervene? Every time an album is submitted with a mistake in the artist name, that album will not show in a search for the correct artist name. Let’s use the example of André Previn. Here are some of the name variations that have made their way into our system:

medianet metadata screenshot 1

To fix this issue, we look at which spelling has the highest amount of data in our system and compare it with additional research. Our research confirmed that the proper, accepted spelling is “André Previn.” The other records were automatically created by incorrect metadata. As you can see, using the proper é character is important here, as are spelling, formatting, and spacing (poor “AndréPrevin” is afflicted with a missing space).

If a label were to submit an André Previn album under the name “Andri Previn,” it would prove difficult for a listener to find. The album would not show up under the accepted “André Previn” name. We merge these entries so the associated albums show up under “André Previn.” After we correct and merge this metadata, our database automatically reassigns anything further submitted under the names above to “André Previn.”

Our Content Operations Team repairs these inconsistencies every day. With more than 25,000 new artists submitted to our catalog each month, you can see how valuable proper submission is to database integrity. Every incorrectly submitted new artist must be repaired by hand. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Accurate data is paramount to good systems and great user experience. We know how much work goes into preparing, recording, and distributing an album. We all care greatly that it is represented accurately in our system. Accurate metadata submission means users will find the albums they want to hear, and that means more earnings for rights holders. Data submitted to us without the need for intervention makes this process go much more quickly. In short, proper submission = better, faster returns.

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Music Nerd? Here’s What You Need to Know From Apple’s “Hey Siri” Keynote

Posted by Glen Sears | September 9, 2015 12:11 pm | No Comments

keynote_iphone6s_siri
In typical Apple fashion, we’ve been waiting for months after the cryptic announcement of “Hey Siri, give us a hint” made its way onto the net. Apple’s September keynotes reliably announce a new version of the iPhone, iOS, and other mobile products. This time around, announcements were expected for iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Apple Watch. The keynote also promised updates about iOS 9 and watchOS 2.

For music junkies there were a number of big announcements. We’ve detailed the most notable below.

iPad Pro

One of the many expected announcements was a larger iPad aimed at the portables market. Apple delivered with the iPad Pro, sporting a whopping 12.9 inch screen which includes a full-size virtual keyboard…or keyboard. With CPU and graphics performance better than 80% of portable PCs, this new iPad will likely able to power full-on audio applications—or act as a studio-grade, touch enabled software synthesizer.

apple ipad pro moogapple-iphone-6s-live-_0721

For consumers, movie watching should be a pleasure with 5.6 million pixels on screen. Four speakers power the iPad Pro audio experience, with auto-balanced stereo and frequency information depending on how the iPad is held. “We thought this display deserves a great sound system.” In addition, the iPad Pro can now be controlled using Apple’s new stylus, Apple Pencil. Funny enough, the new Apple Pencil flies firmly in the face of the late Steve Jobs, who notably was once quoted as saying “God gave us 10 styluses, let’s not invent another…nobody wants a stylus.”

Apple TV

Apple TV has always been the red-headed stepchild of the Apple line. All of that changed today as Apple announced the new Apple TV. Rengineered to be based on iOS, the new system revolves around apps just like your favorite mobile devices. These apps can be controlled by touchscreen remote, or by an updated Siri who can be asked things like “Show me that Modern Family episode with Edward Norton.”

apple-iphone-6s-live-_1498apple-iphone-6s-live-_1439

For music lovers, the new Apple TV has a full Apple Music interface that can be controlled using the remote, as well as using Siri. You can even ask for sports and weather updates while watching or listening. The Apple TV remote can also be turned sideways to be used as a gaming controller. Guitar Hero is on board.

iPhone 6S and 6S Plus

It wouldn’t be a September keynote without a new iPhone. One of the primary new features is 3D Touch, a combination of the Macbook’s Force Touch capability and taptic feedback. Whether this technology will have implications for music has yet to be seen, but there are a number of possible scenarios in which pressure-sensitive touch could be useful.

4K video recording could help the iPhone continue its entrance into music video and festival production.

apple-iphone-6s-live-_1939apple-iphone-6s-live-_2225

Worth mentioning, Apple also announced a new iPhone Upgrade Program. This program allows you to pay a monthly fee rather than purchasing your unit, much like carrier installment plans. The program will allow you to choose your carrier, provides unlocked yearly phone upgrades, and includes the Applecare+ warranty plan. Plans start at $32/month.

OneRepublic

Yep. OneRepublic played the “Hey, Siri” event. Music is still clearly an integral part of Apple’s DNA. If you’re into that kind of thing.

apple-iphone-6s-live-_2442 apple-iphone-6s-live-_2489 apple-iphone-6s-live-_2485

Siri

Notably missing from the “Hey, Siri” event? Any formal updates about Siri. Here is the link to the not-yet-updated Siri page.

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Have questions about how Medianet can help your digital music business? Ask us here. Want a topic or insight published on this blog? Ask us here. Other questions or comments? Let us know!

Surprising Takeaways From The Billboard Music Industry Executive Survey

Posted by Glen Sears | August 27, 2015 11:53 am | No Comments

billboard music industry executive survey
People often think of music, label, and technology executives as disconnected and greedy, but a report out yesterday from Billboard shows they might not think as differently as consumers.

The survey, given to 50-something anonymous music industry executives, had a few unexpected bits of information inside. We don’t know which executives were polled and what their industry position is. They might be from labels, publishers, distributors, techs, PROs, or others. Let’s assume they’re evenly distributed, being totally honest, and let’s have some fun.

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Even A-List Execs Don’t Think Artists Are Treated Fairly.

In a 3:2 ratio, industry executives stated clearly that the industry isn’t favorable to artists. While it’s a fairly ambiguous question, it does highlight the shifting landscape of opinions on artist treatment. We’ve said recently ourselves that artists aren’t the only ones that “being left behind” by the music industry, but they are certainly one of the many. Everyone deserves to get paid for the music they helped create, and the belief that artists aren’t given proper fairness is a good step forward.

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Everyone Continues to Hate on EDM, but Also on Rap.

It’s no secret that EDM has a tough time gaining legitimacy in the broader music industry. Despite its massive revenue-generating power, EDM behemoth SFX Entertainment is poised for bankruptcy in just a few short weeks. What’s more surprising is that hip-hop, currently enjoying yet another pop culture resurgence thanks to the movie Straight Outta Compton, is the music industry’s least favorite genre. What would Drake think of that?

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Boomers and Gen X’ers Think They Understand Technology Better Than Millennials.

In another 3:2 ratio, music industry executives claim they understand technology better than their teenager. On the one hand that makes sense. No average teen knows how to deploy a global music catalog in 13 formats across more than 50 services. On the other hand, until we see more major brands using GroupMe and participating in hack weeks maybe some 14 year olds might be more familiar with emergent technologies and social platforms.

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Wherever You Work, You Might Wish It Was Apple or Spotify.

This one isn’t a huge surprise. In the music technology world, it doesn’t get much loftier than Apple or Spotify. Even so, it’s still a little surprising that over half of music industry executives (not associates) might leave their current posts to work at a different company. Even after the very public denigration of Apple Music. Good thing these surveys were totally anonymous, huh?

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Nobody Believes In Tidal.

Poor Tidal. The Jay-Z owned high-definition music streaming service has had a really rough go. First their launch is a PR nightmare. Then multiple CEOs are fired or jump ship. Additionally, we’ve covered in great detail how difficult and expensive it can be to run a high-definition music service. It turns out, most music industry execs don’t believe Tidal has more than a year left in it. Whether or not this is true (analysts regularly predict the fall of Apple Music, too) it does prove that Tidal still has a major public opinion mountain to climb.

What Does It All Mean?

Public opinion is generally shaped by trends in ideas, money, and current events. In many ways these surveys are only surprising because we expect music industry executives to be pretty stalwart and seemingly less susceptible to trends and flashes in the pan.

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Everybody loves Taylor Swift, but will they always? Does she have another 10 years in her? Are we all just jumping from ship-to-ship, hoping the tide will rise long enough to make the next musical leap? It’s worth noting that one music executive thought it possible.

“I’m sure everybody will answer Taylor [Swift], but the big question I ask myself is can she sustain this for more than another album or two? I lean towards betting on her, but I’m sure the cost that comes with it becomes exponential over the next few campaigns.”

Billboard seems to have proven that music industry executives are more like us in many ways than we might think. Is that a recent trend? Is that good or bad? We believe music industry executives are key influencers, critical to renewed growth and revenue for the entire musical supply chain. We encourage everyone, from executives all the way to consumers, to think about the future of music, instead of reacting to the present.

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Have questions about how Medianet can help your digital music business? Ask us here. Want a topic or insight published on this blog? Ask us here. Other questions or comments? Let us know!

5 Important Lessons From Next Big Sound’s “Data To Date” Report

Posted by Glen Sears | August 19, 2015 2:34 pm | No Comments

Next Big Sound Music Industry Data
Next Big Sound, a digital music analytics firm recently acquired by Pandora, made headlines last week with the release of its report “Data To Date: The Rapid Rise of Social and Streaming.” This in-depth report examines how digital music is streamed and how it is shared.

The report, which analyzed over one trillion plays across 7 major services, put real data to many of the suspicions held about digital music. It’s growing rapidly, videos carry huge weight, and being a huge pop star all but ensures you continue to be a huge pop star.

While the report is easy-to-read and well-formatted, it is also long. We decided to pull what we feel are the most important parts of the report and compile them here.

You can read the entire Data To Date report here.

1. More digital music was streamed in the 1st half of 2015 than in all of 2014.

Anyone with a Spotify or Apple Music account knows just how prevalent streaming music has become. What’s surprising is the almost unbelievable speed at which it is growing. The 1,032,225,905,640 plays dwarfs 2014’s 434,695,663,626, with 4.5 months still left in the year.

Part of this play data can likely be attributed to the inclusion of Pandora’s venerable streaming radio service, but even so the numbers show just how fast digital music streaming is skyrocketing.

2. If you’re an artist building your brand, you need to use Instagram daily.

When considering social media for musicians, no platform showed the massive growth of Instagram. Monthly new follows for artists were up an astounding 455%, from 51m in June 2014 to 283m in May 2015.

Next Big Sound Instagram

Artists can use the platform to give listeners and fans a glimpse into their lives. Fetty Wap (known for his breakout hit “Trap Queen”), is a prime example of this phenomenon, adding 1.1m new followers since the beginning of 2015.

3. Latin artists are disproportionately popular on Facebook.

A strange anomaly in the NBS data, Latin artists provided a social media surprise. With most Latin artists making up around 2% of activity across social media channels, Facebook activity for the genre is more than double at 5%.

Additionally, of the 10 artists that attracted the highest number of page likes, 50% were in the Latin genre. Nicky Jam added more than 14m Likes in just six months.

4. Soundcloud is still a major player and growing — even with the controversy.

With recent news that Soundcloud struck a deal with Universal Music Group, its days as a copyright Wild West may be coming to an end. But that didn’t stop the streaming service from tallying an explosion in plays, growing from 2.5b in June 2014 to 4.9b in May 2015.

Next Big Sound Soundcloud

This would seem to suggest that hesitant rights owners like Sony may find themselves reluctantly striking Soundcloud deals in order to get their share of the action. These deals, however, could also cannibalize a user base accustomed to receiving the service for free.

5. Undiscovered artists are gaining notoriety not from their own videos, but from videos using their songs.

Liv Buli, the public report’s author, calls YouTube song-in-video detection “one of the more telling metrics” about fan engagement. In theory, using an artist’s track in your own content is considered “next-level” engagement.

To this end, undiscovered artists like Halsey are finding major success on the platform even without doing the work directly. Three of their songs breached the Top 10 list of unsigned artists whose music is being used widely on the network.

 

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Why Aren’t All Streaming Music Services “High-Definition?”

Posted by Glen Sears | July 30, 2015 10:31 am | No Comments

high definition lossless music streaming
Historically, the most successful music streaming services have operated using two key formats: MP3 and AAC. Both formats take audio data and compress it by removing parts of the information deemed irrelevant to the listening experience.

This type of compression is referred to as “lossy,” and comes in a variety of bit rates. These bit rates determine how much audio data is removed, and the size of the file itself following compression.

Standard File Sizes (3-minute song):

  • CD-Quality WAV file (uncompressed): 31.7 MB
  • CD-Quality FLAC file (compressed): 15.85 MB
  • 320 kbps MP3: 7.2 MB
  • 256 kbps AAC: 5.76 MB
  • 192 kbps MP3: 4.32 MB
  • 128 kbps MP3: 2.88 MB

Even the highest bit rate (320 kbps) lossy compression reduces a song to 1/4 of its original size. This opens a world of possibilities for on-demand music services to deliver “near-CD” quality at tremendously faster speeds. Apple’s iTunes has sold (and now streamed via Apple Music) 256 kbps AAC files since 2011, and Spotify has offered 320 kbps mobile streaming since 2012.

What changed? Why did people suddenly start craving mobile high-definition music?

Lossless audio encoding like FLAC and Apple Lossless have existed for a long time. Lossless compression is a class of data compression algorithmsthat allows the original data to be perfectly represented by compressed data. Sophisticated algorithms create a file that sounds mathematically identical, at 50–60% the original size.

Pretty cool, right? Get original master recording sound quality at half the size. On hi-fi audio equipment, there is no doubt that lossless audio is fuller, richer, and more faithful than MP3 or AAC. It seems like anyone would want lossless audio, but as with all data — the devil is in the details. Size really does matter, and so do the people on the other end of the stream.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

The MediaNet catalog contains 42 million tracks in 12 different formats.Let’s pretend for a moment that we only carry 320 kbps MP3, and every track is 3 minutes long. Storing this imaginary catalog would require 298,200,000 megabytes, or 298.2 terabytes, of usable server space.

Compare that with a 42 million track library of FLAC files, which would require 665,700,000 megabytes, or 665.7 terabytes, of usable server space. That’s 223% more space than the highest-quality MP3 library to store, and it isn’t taking into account the metadata contained in the files (ISRC, track name, artist, album, release year, etc).

Lossless audio requires 223% more storage space than high-quality MP3

Even today, server space isn’t particularly cheap. Using Amazon Web Services’ S3 Enterprise Cloud Storage solution, our FLAC library would cost $20,900 each month. Simply to store the files. Compare this with the relatively low cost of MP3 at $9,500, and you can begin to see the problem.

Then add the cost of delivering those files to users. A standard streaming service can easily log over 500,000,000 plays in one month. That means our FLAC catalog would deliver 7.9 petabytes of data to users vs 3.6 petabytes for MP3, every single month. $426,900 vs. $204,300, respectively. That’s 209% more per month to deliver FLAC audio instead of MP3.

In reality, the cost of delivering digital audio could be slightly higher or lower, but can generally be accepted as increasing proportionally with file size. At over double the cost, lossless audio files are a huge strain on storage and bandwidth, as well as existing server architecture.

Many streaming services, especially those just launching, can’t afford that huge infrastructure cost without massive investment.

Your iPhone Will Hate You

So what? Lossless streaming services like TIDAL, Qobuz, and Deezer Elite have found a way to afford the massive infrastructure costs. Why can’t everyone else? The next sticking point is how a service’s music is consumed.

52% of Spotify users consume their music on a mobile device such as a phone or tablet. This means that data throughput is subject to an individual’s mobile data plan.

Verizon’s “More Everything” plan offers users 10 GB of data per month.According to Pew Research, half of all cell phone users listen to mobile music. Let’s assume 50% of their data (5 GB) is available for music streaming.

“Few people really want to pay more to wireless carriers for any data overage charges associated with streaming high-quality music.” — Venture Beat

Using a FLAC streaming service, a user could listen to roughly 315 songs per month, or 10 songs per day. Using an MP3 streaming service, a user could listen to roughly 694 songs per month, or 22 songs per day. That huge discrepancy could cost consumers tens or hundreds of dollars in data overage charges. That’s bad PR.

These numbers don’t take into account the elements of the user interface (album art, UI elements, etc) that are loaded each play. Existing apps must also be re-built with enhanced delivery APIs required to stream lossless audio. All these factors equal a huge strain on a user’s data bandwidth.

Even More Technology Costs

Did you know that codecs like MP3, AAC, and others cost money to use? Every streaming service has to pay a license fee (either one-time or per-play) to the technology company that created the codec. While FLAC is truly free, many other lossless codecs are not.

This problem is compounded when attempting to get permission from a record label to offer music in a lossless format. Labels are understandably protective of their 24-bit masters, as they are a great way to establish copyright. As the gatekeepers of high-definition content, labels are choosy with who they allow to stream content beyond 320 kbps MP3.

Additionally, finding the studio-quality digital masters for every single track you want in your catalog can be difficult when you’re dealing with over 370,000 labels and 500,000 new tracks released each month. (That’s what we handle at MediaNet for our catalog.)

Labels don’t offer a “better than CD” experience to just anyone, and if a service is deemed worthy of lossless audio, it may be required to use certain codecs, licensors, and B2B partners approved by the label. These may not be the same for each label. Each of those partnerships can require additional license fees.

You Probably Won’t Hear The Difference Anyway

When it’s all said and done, is high-definition audio really any better than high-quality MP3? It depends on who you are and how you’re listening.

NPR and The Verge both put that question to the test: Can you tell the difference between AAC, MP3, and FLAC? NPR claims “many listeners cannot hear the difference,” and The Verge found that in “29 percent of the tests, subjects couldn’t tell any notable difference at all.”

29% of people can’t tell any difference between lossless and MP3 audio

While lossless audio might seem like the next frontier in digital audio, it faces an uphill battle: it’s too expensive to do at the same price as MP3. Until server and bandwidth costs decrease significantly, high-definition streaming audio will always be a boutique market.

All things being equal, lossless audio sounds better than lossy audio. It’s simple mathematics. But imagine you’re on the train, at rush hour, listening to music on non-isolated earbuds while conversations are happening 2 feet from your ears. Without a dedicated hi-fi like SONOS or Cambridge Audio, will you really be able to hear the subtle differences in Coltrane’s tenor sax?

Most streaming services aren’t going to invest 223% more to find out.

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In Streaming, Licensing Means Far More Than A Huge Music Catalog

Posted by Glen Sears | July 9, 2015 10:08 am | No Comments

music licensing streaming

Key Takeaways

  1. For every song in a digital music catalog, there is a huge rights and licensing stack that is far more complicated to fulfill.
  2. Without a digital music platform that understands these relationships, potential for lost and escrow revenue increases dramatically.

 
At MediaNet we regularly see and hear music services touting the sheer size of their music catalog. On one hand, it’s the easiest number for regular folks to get their head around. A service has “this” many songs, and more is better. But where music streaming starts getting interesting (and difficult) is in paying for each song to get played.

The Problem

If you’re a music service, broadcaster, bar, venue, or other licensee of music, managing the process of calculating payments seems almost impossible. The large volume of digital usage, limited availability of ownership data, and the generally byzantine royalty structure all add up to one thing: lost payments.

Billions of dollars of digital payments are administered each year, $6.9 billion in 2014 according to the IFPI.

Rights holder losses are due frequently to old systems, unmatched pay, slow processing, poor ownership data, paper processing, and lack of open markets. We estimate these losses exceed hundreds of millions of dollars.

Content owners and legacy middle men (Labels, publishers, PROs, Societies) that license copyrights have a difficult time tracking, monitoring, and receiving payments from the 1,000’s of licensees in the U.S. and around the world. In addition, it can take up to 18 months for rights holders to get paid through these legacy systems.

These problems are a result of the transformation of music from a physical distribution and licensing framework to a digital distribution and licensing framework. Specifically there are two critically transformative changes: Volume, and License Laws and business models.

The volume of individual music transactions has increased massively. Not by factors of 5, 10 or even 100, but by an order of magnitude in the billions (yes, billions). Billions of lines of usage each month, compared to millions of sales of CDs each year.

License laws and business models are also very different in digital streaming and subscription models, requiring complex calculations and access to ownership data covering millions of content owners. The play of one song can require tracking and paying over 10 different entities, with royalty calculations of a single play monitored down to 6 decimal points (e.g. $.000003).

Incumbent services that have supported the music industry for almost 100 years, services that powered the entire royalty payments supply chain, simply were not designed to handle these volumes. They have managed to “get by” using older analog legacy systems (e.g. spreadsheets) and processes that are cumbersome and have numerous gaps in the workflows. These gaps cause loss of data resulting in loss of ability to properly account and completely pay all rights holders.

The Solution

When licensing, delivering, reporting, and paying on a world-class digital music library, it is imperative that the foundation be built with these things in mind. Any service that isn’t aware of plays and licensing isn’t built for the future.

Many companies are spending their time trying to consolidate and simplify licensing. Some are tracking down any number of the 900,000 revenue streams worldwide.Others are working toward combining mechanical and performance license servicing.

This is all great news. I fully support anyone who is working to make digital music licensing simpler and more efficient. But the question still exists: who will handle the digital fulfillment supply chain? Can they also get rights holders paid?

The answer? Here at MediaNet we’ve built and host a database of rights holdersspecifically matched and linked to Sound Recordings. Every time a song is delivered, we know who needs to get paid and how. Without any need for third parties. No third parties means less translation, better accuracy, and payments accounted for.

This is the way all future digital music platforms need to be built. From the ground up to be ready for any changes in licensing or publishing. A platform custom built to ensure that no matter what the contract says, everyone is getting paid.

-Frank
If you’re interested in learning more about how MediaNet can help power your service, I’d love to chat! Email me at fjohnson@mndigital.com or follow me on Twitter: @francjohnson

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