A paradigm has shifted in the music business, but most insiders are unaware. Hints and signs of it are everywhere though, from the genres on Apple Music and Tidal to a steady drumbeat of deal announcements with platforms like SoundCloud, Spotify, and Claro Musica. The shift is DJ sets, live performances, and remixes. Once the banished outcasts of the mainstream music business, they are now legit; loud, proud–and lucrative.
It’s still relatively early in the movement. However, you can find these works easily now, even on major music services. Not only are they now being enjoyed on the highest per-play royalty services, the underlying labels and publishers are receiving proper royalties. A five-year build of technology and catalog rights has enabled DJs and producers to take their amazing craft and expression from studios and venues to the world’s most important streaming platforms like Apple. All thanks to a small but feisty company called Dubset.
Led by hip-hop superfan and Gracenote veteran Stephen White, the service set out to do the impossible, to acquire the right to identify, distribute, and collect royalties for every possible track in sets, remixes, mix tapes, and the like. Despite an industry fraught with poor data and under-collaboration, the company built the requisite technology, working closely with artists, labels, composers, publishers, DJs, and producers all seeking the same goal. Together they improved the consumer experience and helped grow music revenues.
To do this, Dubset developed a system that assigns ISRCs (the unique “barcodes” for recordings) not only to the remix or mix tape as a whole, but to each individual use of tracks within that whole, allowing every element in the work to be forensically traced back to the original track, work, and set of rights holders.
The rights holders and the royalties they now receive are truly where the rubber meets the road in music licensing. Matching a recording and composition back to its proper rights holders, by territory, is no easy task. Doing that to the 23rd power (on average, twenty-three tracks per one mix) is what many believed was the impossible. To get this underway, Dubset knew the first step was to ingest as much rights data as humanly possible, but to do this, they needed the support and permission of the labels and publishers.
“This was a monumental task, one most figured was an exercise in nobility and futility,” explains Bob Barbiere, Chief Strategy Officer and SVP of Licensing at Dubset. “It’s literally taken years of dealmaking and lots of grey hair to get to where we are today over fifty million tracks, and 1.8 million artists and composers. Yes, with no shortage of perseverance we made it.”
Getting the first people on board was critical. In 2015, Universal Music got serious about its works being used as part of mixes and remixes on SoundCloud and issued a major spate of takedown notices. In the ensuing cascade, well-loved DJs libraries disappeared overnight and the DJ and mix consumer industry went into a tailspin. It was clear hundreds of millions of fans desperately wanted the content. However it was obvious safe-harbor sites were not, in rights holders’ minds, the best solution for this music.
“We had the approach ironed out, but it took us years of hard pitching to convince labels and publishers that people would actually pay for subscriptions to content like this, that people wanted mixes and remixes as part of their subscription service experience,” notes White, Dubset CEO. “Streaming matured, and labels came around, especially when they saw what we could do.”
What they did was collect almost 90% of the world’s known catalog of recordings from over 50,000 labels and publishers and incorporate them into Dubset’s MixBANK Rights Management platform. MixBANK can now identify these tracks and trace their rights holders. This lays the groundwork for clearance, distribution, and collection, a process serving rights holders and music services, and one which is now well underway.
“This has been one of the biggest challenges we have faced as DJ’s,” world famous DJ Jazzy Jeff says. “It has been impossible to distribute our mixes and remixes without having to worry about them being taken down. That is incredibly frustrating to have your art relegated to the shadows.”
This revolution is now picking up serious steam. Dubset announced a string of major deals at a rapid pace in 2018, with many more to come in 2019. From major labels and publishers to indie distributors, to associations like Merlin and NMPA, right down to mixing software platforms, Dubset is incorporating all stages of mix and remix culture into its vision. By far, the greatest evidence of how far Dubset and the content have come appeared late last year, when Apple made DJ Mixes and Live Sets a main music genre, a change Apple rarely makes.
Points out Barbiere, “The ultimate goals remain the same: empowering DJs and producers while protecting rights holders and taking away the risk for music services. Although I believe what we do is highly innovative and complex, at its core it enables the music industry to focus on hundreds of millions of mix consumers and do what they’ve proven to do best: expand the breadth and excitement of music libraries in order to touch all segments and communities of music fans.