Berklee’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE) announced today a groundbreaking initiative called the Open Music Initiative (OMI) to dramatically simplify the way music creators and rights owners are identified and compensated—a thorny issue that has challenged the music industry and stifled creator incomes and industry revenues since the dawn of the digital era. The effort will combine BerkleeICE’s expertise in the music industry with the MIT Media Lab’s expertise in decentralized platforms to help advance the development of open source frameworks and innovation related to music rights and their associated uses in all media forms.
In addition to BerkleeICE and researchers from the MIT Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative, the OMI working group also includes researchers and faculty from University College London and other leading academic institutions. Operational and strategic guidance will be provided by IDEO, the global design and innovation company, and Context Labs, a media tech company that is leading and coordinating the technical platform for the project.
Though initiatives like this have been attempted in the past, this is the first time that the effort is led by a broad coalition that includes academic institutions, entrepreneurs, technologists, nonprofits and, most importantly, enjoys representation from all facets of the music industry unifying around the issue.
The effort has garnered broad support, with more than 50 leading founding entities, organizations, and startups across the music industry ecosystem having signed agreements to participate, including, among others: Universal Music Group; Sony Music Entertainment; Warner Music Group; BMG; Spotify; YouTube; Pandora; SoundCloud; Netflix; SiriusXM; WBUR (Boston’s NPR news station); CD Baby; Tunecore; Downtown Music Publishing; SACEM, the French collective rights management organization; mechanical licensing service provider HFA and its rights management affiliate, Rumblefish; Righsshare; the trade groups Featured Artist Coalition; Music Managers Forum; Future of Music Coalition; and a wide variety of startups in the developing area of music rights licensing.
Academic Institutions Lead the Charge for OMI
“It’s not a secret that the infrastructure of the music industry, especially the one around creative rights, has not evolved to accommodate for the ways that music is being created and consumed today,” said Panos Panay, cofounder of OMI and founding managing director of BerkleeICE. “We want to use the brainpower, neutrality, and convening ability of our collective academic institutions, along with broad industry collaboration, to create a shared digital architecture for the modern music business. We believe an open sourced platform around creative rights can yield an innovation dividend for creators and rights holders alike.”
“The internet led to an explosion of innovation precisely because of its open architecture. We now have the tools to build an open architecture for music rights, using a decentralized platform,” said Neha Narula, director of research, Digital Currency Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. “We’re excited to work with BerkleeICE and the Open Music Initiative to create a foundation for innovation, not only in rights management but in music itself.”
“As with the early days of media streaming and Voice over IP (VoIP), and their convergence toward interoperability, a coordinated effort is required today to produce a deeply interoperable distributed ledger to support this effort at-scale. OMI, with its multi-stakeholder emphasis, will provide a solid foundation for these efforts to succeed,” said Dan Harple, cofounder of OMI, CEO of Context Labs, MIT Sloan Fellow, Berklee Trustee, and an internet pioneer in web streaming and VoIP.
Broad, Cross-Industry Participation
Ty Roberts, chief technology officer for Universal Music Group, said, “Innovation is critically needed to address the myriad opportunities and challenges facing artists as technological change transforms every aspect of the digital music ecosystem. We are excited about the prospects of collaborating with this diverse and distinguished group of key players to promote development of comprehensive, fair, and efficient compensation structures to capture the value generated by music and music-related content, and properly reward the creative talent responsible for it.”
Dennis Kooker, president, global digital business and U.S. sales, Sony Music Entertainment, added, “Sony Music is pleased to be collaborating with leading companies from across the music industry to explore new shared solutions for exchanging data in a streaming-driven business. We support efforts to enhance the efficiency of the marketplace for rights holders, and we are committed to serving our artists through a number of transparency-related initiatives. This also includes our policies on equity sharing and breakage, as well as our recently relaunched royalty portal, which gives Sony Music artists quick and easy access to robust analytics around their sales and streaming activity.”
Howie Singer, SVP, chief strategic technologist at Warner Music Group (WMG), added, “Every advance in music delivery technology has simultaneously expanded the avenues through which the music of artists and songwriters reaches its audience, and presented challenges to ensuring that creators are properly compensated. At WMG, we have long believed that our artists are our partners, and that what is good for them is good for us and for the entire industry. We look forward to working with the members of the OMI to help foster a media rights infrastructure that serves creators and music fans alike.”
Laurent Hubert, president, creative and marketing at BMG U.S., said, “Unnecessary complexity and outdated processes ultimately cost songwriters and artists money and damage the credibility of the music industry. That’s why BMG is delighted to support this initiative. We look forward to a really collaborative approach to resolve these issues and commend Berklee for leading the way.”
“This is a very important effort and we’re deeply committed to bringing more transparency and simplicity into the industry,” said Tim Westergren, founder and CEO at Pandora. “We look forward to working with such a great group and building something that is truly impactful.”
Jonathan Price, Spotify’s global head of communications, added, “We think transparency across the entire music economy is essential to rewarding artists, songwriters and everyone involved in the creation of music fairly and rapidly. We’re really happy to be part of an effort that is exploring innovative ways to do that with new technologies.”
According to Christophe Muller, head of YouTube International Music Partnerships, “The Open Music Initiative is an important cross-industry effort that addresses the complicated challenges impacting rights management in the digital age. We look forward to working with everyone involved towards solutions that benefit creators and rightsholders, and ensure they are paid transparently, accurately and quickly.”
“Creators are at the forefront of everything we do at SoundCloud, as we continue to build a place where all forms of musical creativity can live. As an open platform ourselves, OMI addresses issues that are fundamental to how SoundCloud operates,” said Matt Fenby Taylor, vice president, creator product and content operations, SoundCloud. “We look forward to working together with OMI, their partners, and our peers to solve this important issue facing the industry, and further enable the open and transparent sharing of data around music, its ownership, and usage.”
“Music is an important ingredient of any film or TV experience,” said Bryony Gagan, vice president, business and legal Affairs at Netflix.” As the world’s leading internet television network, Netflix has a strong interest in informing any initiative that has, at its core, the aim of reliable, efficient, and transparent administration of the rights of content creators.
The initiative has also garnered support from music publishers, managers, and artists looking to increase transparency within the industry. According to Joe Conyers III, VP tech, Downtown and GM, Songtrust, “Music’s standards, notably music publishing, is largely outdated and has not caught up with the digital era. Today’s industry needs open source standards to create time and cost efficiencies, grow the pie, and increase transparency for music rights owners. Downtown is excited to collaborate on this forward-thinking initiative.”
“Music distribution innovation must be coupled with equal innovation to identify music creators and their business partners. HFA & Rumblefish look forward to robust dialogue with the OMI group,” said Michael Simon, president, Rumblefish.
The Société des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs de Musique (SACEM), a French collective rights management organization that is part of the Armonia licensing hub of nine collective music societies, is also a founding member of OMI representing artists in the ecosystem. “As a collective non-profit organization of songwriters, composers, and publishers, we are dedicated to protecting artist and their rights. Facilitating metadata exchange within the music industry by using new technologies is a key point which SACEM has been focused on for a while to provide more transparency, efficiency, fair return, and innovative services to its members all over the world. OMI is clearly a step forward in this direction,” said Chirstophe Waignier, resources and strategy director at SACEM.
Cellist, composer and performer Zoë Keating added, “The issues we face across the music industry are complex but what we want is simple: a thriving creative economy that benefits everyone, from creators to companies to consumers. Open Music presents an opportunity to solve some intractable problems and to change the narrative between music and tech.”
When a piece of work is created or performed, the digital rights to that piece are oftentimes complex and spread across many different organizations and entities. This makes it difficult for artists to get paid for their work and many large platforms, like Spotify, suffer from lawsuits because they don’t do a good enough job of navigating the labyrinth. How might you build a system to help artists get paid for their work? In partnership with the Berklee College of Music, Harvard Berkman Center, and several industry partners in the Open Music Initiative, MIT is investigating the design of a blockchain-inspired open and interoperable digital rights management platform.
Charting a Course for the Future
Digital adoption has changed both the way creators create music and the way music lovers consume it, yet compensation structures and contracts have not advanced in the way they should. To solve the challenges today’s music industry currently faces, OMI aims to establish a global, open source platform, providing technology for a shared ledger of music creators and rights owners. OMI will provide advocacy for all members in its operating model, promoting entrepreneurialism, innovation, transparency, and expediency for all creators, performers, and rights holders of music around the world. OMI’s mission includes elements of technology, advocacy, education, and policy, all aimed at aligning industry participants around an inclusive stakeholder framework.
OMI will leverage technology to enable and support the creation of standards for data collection, data reconciliation, and file formats. As part of launching the initiative, OMI will host its inaugural gathering on June 22 in New York City with all OMI participants. The initiative will also include a three-week innovation lab in Boston, July 11–29, run by BerkleeICE in association with IDEO, which will explore use cases and innovation models.
Michael Hendrix, cofounder of OMI and IDEO partner, said, “The lab will bring together entrepreneurs, developers, student fellows, and OMI’s open source project participants to focus on developing prototypes of applications based on key stakeholder use cases identified by OMI.”
OMI is currently accepting new members. To learn more about the initiative, how to join, the inaugural event, or the innovation lab, visit berklee.edu/ice/omi.
About the Open Music Initiative
Open Music Initiative (OMI) is a nonprofit collective of musicians, entrepreneurs, industry professionals, academics, technologists, and policy experts who love and value music. Its mission is to promote and advance the development of open source standards and innovation related to music rights and all their associated uses. Utilizing today’s technologies and open source mindset, OMI believes the way music rights owners are identified and compensated can be radically improved for digital era sustainability. Additional information on OMI is available at open-music.org.