Jeff Price, the co-founder of TuneCore, which revolutionized the way recording artists distribute their music to iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Rdio, and so on, has a new idea. His latest venture, Audiam, aims to democratize the monetization of YouTube videos for artists, songwriters, labels, and publishers of all sizes, the same way TuneCore did for digital distribution.
“There are about 30 billion views of videos per month on YouTube that have music,” explained Price by phone. “Of those 30 billion — about half of them, 15 billion — have been authorized to have advertising… And the 30 billion a month generates annually about 1.2 billion for the major music publishers and labels. So in terms of the opportunity, it’s about a billion dollars a year that’s being left on the table. I want to authorize YouTube to put ads on all of them.”
Granted, the “second” half of that 30 billion might not generate as much money as the “first” half, but still, that is a lot of money being left on the table by a music industry that needs all the help it can get in compensating artists and other copyright holders.
The problem, he says, is that tech people are in charge.
“Let me give you the background on YouTube. Part of the challenge that we have now is that the music industry is being run by people who aren’t from the music industry,” said Price. “And because of that, they don’t understand copyright, they don’t understand the needs of artists, they don’t understand the market, and so their execution is technological as opposed to – I don’t even know what the word is. They’re just not executing properly.”
YouTube recently made it so that any uploader can monetize their video with a click or two, something that used to be available only to directly-licensed YouTube partners. When the uploader owns all the copyrights to that video, this works about as well as could be expected. But the thing about videos with music in them is that they involve multiple copyrights owned by multiple people — and that someone without any of those can upload or try to claim a video containing a song.
At least three copyrights are involved with a YouTube music video: the sound recording, the song composition, and the synchronization right (putting the song to video). The situation gets more complicated when you consider how many cover songs are on YouTube, in which case the publisher still owns the songwriting rights but the uploader owns the song recording.
Copyright intricacies are notoriously repetitive, Byzantine, and boring, but basically, Price’s stance boils down to this: There’s a lot of un-monetized music on YouTube, and fixing that requires many, many one-off transactions, automatic monitoring, and human intervention. That’s precisely the mix that Audiam is trying to serve up.
Audiam is not alone in its quest to help musicians get paid, or paid more, when their music is played on YouTube. Other companies, including Onerpm, which denounced Audiam’s launch earlier this year, also promise to help musicians — in that company’s case, by making them part of larger “multichannel network” in return for a piece of the action.
Part of their difference of opinion is about where the most significant money is coming from, with regards to YouTube videos. Onerpm wants artists to put music on their own personal channels, then join a larger multichannel network in the hope of getting some extra promotion. Audiam focuses instead more on finding “claims” – instances where someone else has used the song, and claiming monetization rights for those, just the way YouTube’s larger partners can. In those cases, it gets 25 percent of whatever unclaimed money it finds. However, unlike Onerpm and other multichannel networks, it leaves money generated by the artist’s own channel alone.
“There’s a Chinese wall between ‘channels’ and ‘claims,’” said Price. “They’re very, very, very different –- completely segregated. And I happen to believe that the power of YouTube isn’t in the uploading of your videos of your own music; I think the power of YouTube is in getting millions of other people to use your music in their videos.”
YouTube’s direct licensing partners have access to a special tool that allows them to submit master recordings so that YouTube’s Content ID audio recognition system can find and claim those tracks. According to him, this grants YouTube’s relatively small number of direct licensing partners “godlike powers,” which often results in them claiming more songs and/or videos than they have the right to, sometimes at the expense of smaller rightsholders who lack such access.
On the other hand, YouTube can’t just give Content ID access to everyone, or fraud would multiply – cats and mice chasing each other into oblivion.
It’s also just really, really hard to figure out who owns what on such a large scale as YouTube’s, especially when so many rightsholders are potentially involved, videos are mislabeled, music sometimes takes place in the backround or for a short period, and so on. Price showed us instances of multiple parties claiming the same video, or nobody claiming it. In either case, the artist doesn’t get paid – and in many cases, someone who has nothing at all to do with the song does get paid. The amounts are not always large, but all those trickles can add up to a river.
YouTube’s Content ID, available to direct licensing partners, requires 30 second match, and the music must be in foreground, according to Price. Audiam uses acoustic identification technology from TuneSat (itself created by a musician to find unauthorized uses of his music on radio and television) to identify music in as little as three seconds, including when it plays in the background, and sometimes find cover songs, too, using Audiam’s own technique for using YouTube’s own search function.
We saw evidence during the demonstration that Audiam can find an artist’s music on YouTube and claim, or reclaim, the sound recording and/or publishing rights for the artist or whatever mix of entities owns it.
“I take this whole process [of finding, claiming or reclaiming videos, and monetizing them] and boil it down to a button,” said Price. “You come to Audiam.com, click a button, and we’ll go do all of this stuff for you.”
Without getting into this spat between Audiam and Onerpm, one thing is clear: YouTube is a music service, and a big one, with real money involved. One way or another, artists, songwriters, publishers, and labels need a way to make all the music on there, rather than just half of it, pay.