“Will computers control the future of music?” is typically a question that refers to the way that music is composed, outlining the increasing presence of technology in sculpting studio tracks and in live performance.

We ask this question today for a different reason. Artists are finding it more and more difficult to get paid for their work. There are large investments being made in marketing and publicity, but with little return. As the music industry continues to grow, it is integral that the available systems of payment that we have continue to function and that, more importantly, the right people are getting paid for their hard work.

Computers are going to have a major impact on the way that the music industry functions from a payment perspective. Today, the existing system is somewhat dated. From a legal standpoint, the music industry does not demonstrate the efficiency and reliability that one might expect when it comes to payments. The music business and the people working within it are not being supported by technology in a way that helps people get paid. As the industry has expanded globally in so many different ways, a centralized computer-driven database will be key to the future of artists getting paid.

Metadata and Why an International, Centralized Database is Needed

To get paid, this relies upon ensuring that the tech data related to music is accurate. When digital music is used, there is underlying data embedded into the file, known as ‘metadata’. Metadata contains information such as the copyright owners of the composition, the ISRC code for the master recording, the ISWC code to identify the composition, and other information.

Currently, the problem with this is that there is no system in which compositions are accurately matched to the appropriate metadata, meaning potentially rights’ holders that are not getting paid for works that they own. If the metadata is unclear and it is not stated explicitly who to pay, sometimes the wrong people get paid and other times, no one gets paid.

Why errors are made with metadata varies from an employee incorrectly inputting data, to rights’ owners not being clear on their share of ownership in a composition, to companies who are sold or who have been disbanded without a plan in place to update metadata, to people who claim ownership of a composition when they knowingly or unknowingly do not have a right to do so.

It has been years since the argument was first made for a centralized database containing all relevant ownership information for all songs.

The Global Repertoire Database was an attempt but failed due to companies refusing to provide data. Many similar projects since this attempt have lacked funding and/or publicity.

As it becomes more difficult to get paid in the music industry, a centralized database is going to be required in order to ensure that the right people get paid. There is no way around this as this has an effect from a legal standpoint, from a tech standpoint, and from a payment accountability standpoint.