Sep 4, 2010, 17:24

In an interview last month with the New York Times, the President of BMI said the first assortment of data generated by their new digital rights management tracking system revealed a higher usage of library music than they previously realized:

“Debusk pulled up a screen detailing a list of nonsongs with generic names like “Graceful Power” and “Happy Days”. Such compositions, he said, are known as ‘production music’, written for ads and station identifications or for TV documentaries, and then sold to music libraries.”

This is great news for musicians who, while not famous enough to be on the radar of BMI’s accounting executives, are involved enough to have their music included in this Blue Arrow tracking system. I once asked a radio station owner how often he filled out cue sheets for library music and he replied, “Only if I actually know the guy and he’s a friend of mine.” At last, hard data is available to help PROs become less reliant on such shoddy or non-existent cue sheet reporting.

Watermarking technology has now reached the point where it is both affordable and effective. Providers such as Tunesat, GoDigital and Blue Arrow can tag recordings with an inaudible signature and automatically monitor the airwaves for usage of that content. I once saw a demo video for one of these products that showed a car full of teenage girls talking VERY loudly over a car stereo I could barely hear. At the bottom of the screen, I watched the digital tracking system successfully identify the background song as a Smash mouth tune and correctly log the information into a database. Big Brother will happily watch the airwaves for you.

But there’s a rub for the entrepreneurial composer of royalty-free stock music:

Production music artists in the 21st century increasingly work with music libraries on a non-exclusive basis. Understandably, they distribute their content through as many channels as possible to ensure the highest possible revenue per track.

But what happens when library A watermarks a track with a DRM service and detects a usage from a user they don’t know? And what if that usage was actually legitimately licensed through library B who carries the same track?

Library A will likely send a cease and desist letter to that user, who will then call library B and say, “I bought a license for this!”. Library B may then consider that musician’s tracks not worth the hassle.

The best short-term strategy for production music artists is to learn exactly what their distribution channels are doing in regards to DRM and ensure no conflicts exist. 10 years ago, this responsibility would have fallen to the label, or even the publisher. But those days have passed.

This can lead creators of stock music to face touch choices regarding which distributors NOT to use. Does your agreement allow you pull your tracks? Is it possible that library A is only tracking a particular type of usage that won’t bump into efforts by library B?

It’s important to consider the economics. If library A’s revenue model is mostly synchronization fees, then a DRM encoded library will function mainly as a piracy control for that company. It will help them keep your music from being used outside of the scope of licenses that have already been purchased.

It’s always good to know your music is safe, but is that security worth the friction that may occur between two competing libraries that carry your music? A very successful stock media entrepreneur once told me his philosophy on piracy was to never “ruin the experience for the honest customers because of a handful of shoplifters.”

With PROs such as ASCAP and BMI the rewards become potentially more interesting. A digitally-detected usage of your music in that case could lead to an allocation of funds that have already have collected from the client. The money was there the whole time, ASCAP just wasn’t aware you were owed a portion.

But long-term, will the PROs stop at TV/radio broadcasters? Will they send an unwelcome bill to, for example, clients with whom you’ve signed direct deals?

Public performance, by definition, includes internet usage. Until now, the PROs surely knew that collecting royalties from every website in the world would be every bit as difficult as personally visiting every bar & restaurant in America.

But wait, they already do that.

And why do PROs take on that painful task? The easy answer is that it’s profitable. But the larger answer and perhaps the reason why BMI has already contacted website owners about copyright infringement is best stated by the NY Times article:

“…in the end [a BMI licensing executive] knows it’s a game, a game she’s going to win. Because after all the phone calls, letters and visits, she possesses a secret weapon: the law. Whether or not a music user believes copyright infringement is a big deal, violators face fines of anywhere from $750 to $150,000 per song.”


Mike Bielenberg is a professional musician and co-founder of, a production music marketplace where media producers and business owners can license high-quality, affordable music from a online community of musicians.

Leave a Reply