When it comes to royalties and getting paid, one of the most promising aspects of digital and streaming music is the fact that technology can be used to process data more quickly and accurately. But that only works if the proper information is available. This is where companies like BMAT come in.
Founded in Barcelona in 2006, BMAT exists in the space between rights holders—publishers, performance rights organizations, songwriters—and Spotify. BMAT’s technology helps to more accurately identify how many times a song is played and where royalties should be paid. More specifically, they use the metadata provided by artists and songwriters on every track to make that process as efficient as possible.
In this interview, Jakue López, BMAT’s VP of Digital, and Dani Balcells, BMAT’s Regional Manager for North America discuss the importance of providing accurate metadata, how they’d like to continue improving the process, and the surprising ways songwriter names can impact royalty checks.
Can you tell us a little bit about how BMAT’s technology works?
Dani: BMAT started with a technology that you can think of as Shazam, but at an industrial scale. It's capable of analyzing an audio stream in near real-time and identifying which of the songs in a database is currently being played. When we started, we were simply helping PROs identify which music was being played on TV and radio in their region. But eventually that put us in a position to work with rights holders.
One of the key things we do now is build and operate platforms that handle digital sales reports from companies such as Spotify on behalf of CMOs and rights holders, which is a process that is based entirely on metadata and not on audio identification. What became obvious as we focused more on this was that BMAT was increasingly at the center of the table. There were these many-sided markets: the rights holders in one corner; the people who do admin—the CMOs, and PROs of the world— in another; the various types of what we call users—companies that use music in their day to day business (like streaming platforms, video games, TV broadcasters or even restaurants and clubs)—in another corner.
We eventually saw ourselves as the operating system for the music industry, functioning as a common data layer that connects any two dots that need to be connected. In more literal terms, we’re helping make all the transactions as smooth and transparent as possible, which ultimately helps songwriters get paid more efficiently and more accurately.
Are there things songwriters and artists can be doing to ensure that your technology works as well as it possibly can?
Dani: The first thing that I would say is it’s important for songwriters to nail their metadata game; it's top of the value chain. If you don't get that right, whatever information is missing at the very top is gonna propagate all the way to the bottom and that's where the leaky pipes start.
We started this series at the beginning of the pandemic called Get Your Hit Together, which is a guide to what songwriters can do to improve their data game. It’s nothing too data intensive or behind the scenes, but it’s crucial.
Why is metadata so important to this process?
Jakue: Imagine you order wine in a restaurant and you get a bottle with no label. So when you go and have to pay they might tell you it’s $150 or $1.50…but they don’t know what they actually served because it has no label. It's not that you don't get details of the receipt— but you may not know which wine you're drinking, how much you need to pay for it, or even who needs to get paid for it.
Dani: And in this example, the customer is the DSP (digital streaming platform), the restaurant is the rights holder, and the wine label is the metadata. For each one of these tracks, who owns the copyright? How is that split up amongst writers and publishers? If DSPs don't have that information, they won’t know how much actually needs to be paid. The best way that you can make sure that you get paid fairly and accurately is by having as much metadata and as up to date as possible.
Are there any common mistakes you’ve noticed when it comes to songwriters and rights holders entering metadata?
Jakue: I wouldn't say it's a mistake, but artists tend to get creative when choosing band names. Especially when it comes to choosing characters that use what are not handled well by the systems we use in the industry. Not to brag about BMAT, but if you use Kanji (Japanese characters), a dollar sign, hyphens—whatever—that would be fine. But the entire industry is not used to this. They come from computers that mostly only understand the Latin alphabet and characters.
Something we joke about is how many thousands of dollars A$AP Rocky may have lost because of choosing to use a dollar sign instead of a regular S. I mean, he's big enough to probably have people deal with that and make sure that he's properly identified. But if a smaller songwriter decides to release something and they use funky characters, it actually may play against them. So, not to say that you shouldn't use a dollar sign in your name, or that you shouldn't use funky characters, but if you want to make the process as easy as possible in terms of getting compensated properly, simpler is better when it comes to your artist name.
Are there any changes to policies, laws, or protocols that you’d like to see the industry improve or change?
Jakue: I will put my creator hat on now, because I'm also a frustrated musician. As a data geek, I would love to see the same level of governability and information of my compositions being handled as my masters or the same way that I can access my bank account and see things move as close to real-time as possible. With music, there are cycles of six to twelve months from the moment your music is used until you eventually get compensated.
Dani: I agree with this idea, and I like to imagine it being similar to automated tax software, except for musicians. Like, it would pull information from all the right places and understand how the royalty chains work so that it can give songwriters and musicians a high-level snapshot in order to help maximize how much money you’re making without having to understand how all the moving parts work. I just imagine all of an artist’s music, finances and music intelligence together so that they can relate to what their fans are doing, how their music is being used, how much money they're making all in one place.