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Can I livestream it? Yes, you can

Jakue López, VP of digital at music monitoring firm BMAT, writes on the copyright and licensing hurdles that need to be cleared before artists go live

06 May 2020

Jakue López, BMAT

Livestreaming has soared. Artists and managers are on the look-out for innovative ways to fill the gap left by real-life live performances in an age of social distancing and strict public health measures. This includes keeping up fan engagement, ensuring the equipment and technical resources are available to put on a high-quality show, and being able to generate new revenue streams that could compensate for the cancellation of their shows.

Different platforms vary in what they offer in terms of interactivity, monetisation and quality, but no matter where they stream, artists face the same questions. A lot of them have to do with licences and revenues, two key aspects that challenge the music industry every time it embraces a new technology, service or business model.

In some ways, live streams are a lot like any other piece of content uploaded to social or video platforms. For example, as we monitor live streams at BMAT, we often see content being blocked or partially muted in the section where copyrighted tracks are identified in a live stream and post-stream upload. The copyright protection algorithms of the platforms, which use audio fingerprinting to find and flag content, are kicking in – the same way they do when a user uploads content with someone’s track in it. This system is in place for when masters or sound recordings are being streamed.

Live streams, as live performances, are subject to royalties

But that’s only half of the equation: For tracks in a live stream to be properly cleared, publishing rights for the musical compositions also need to be taken into account. That requires knowledge of content ownership and licensing entities on top of just audio fingerprinting. Here’s where livestreaming licences get really complicated.

To better understand what livestreaming entails from a licensing perspective, it’s worth noting the similarities to real-life concerts and general performances in clubs. Both licenses cover the performances of any music in public spaces or concerts by the local collecting societies. When artists play concerts with their own repertoire only, there are certain cases where big acts have licensed this directly with publishers and tour agencies. This means artists should feel fairly confident they can stream a performance of their own work, if they own both sides of it (masters and composition). This may be helpful as you plan your setlist for your next virtual show.

Just as with licences, there are revenue streams in place for more established types of performance spaces and events. For online streaming, the revenue picture looks very different. It’s a large colour palette, with some brighter than others.

The vast majority of platforms creators are using these days could help by having a straightforward way to enable direct monetisation of their performance. Donation-based models, virtual tickets or paywalls, sponcon, gifts or tips and other digital odds and ends don’t add up to a clear path for estimating potential return on an artist’s live stream. They vary by platform – as do the revenue share and other fees behind them – and they are more complex to predict and calculate than butts-in-seats formulas. These monetisation approaches are changing quickly, as platforms roll out new products and features at a prestissimo tempo.

The copyright protection algorithms are kicking in, the same way they do when a user uploads content with someone’s track in it

Along with how much live streams might make, it’s also not fully clear whether platforms’ existing licensing agreements and music-usage data processes are allowing royalties and data to flow to the right hands. These data ensure creators also get compensated for the royalties that are generated as a consequence of these live streams, which as live performances, are subject to royalties. To be fair to all music creators, this information loop needs to flow accurately and be closed as quickly as possible.

Online live music streaming emerged suddenly as a quick solution to fill the void that comes from social distancing in the physical world and as an alternative to the shutdown of bars, clubs, concerts and festivals. It’s like one big experiment, and as with all experiments, there are plenty of unknowns. It’s still unknown how many of these attempts to reach audiences and keep the music playing will evolve to suit artists and promoters. We also still wonder what the licensing schemas that need to be in place may bring in terms of possibilities and limitations.

What is for certain is that the boom in live streaming will have an impact and is changing the future of live music. Many of the initiatives we are seeing today, the ones that work from an artistic and business perspective, will be here to stay. At BMAT, we are already collecting, analysing and reporting as much data as we can in order to help anyone who needs it in the coming future.

 


Jakue López is vice-president of digital at BMAT, a music innovation company with a mission to index all music usage and ownership data. BMAT monitors and reports music globally across TVs, radios, venues and digital to help artists get paid for their plays.

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