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How the cloud helps reward artists and record labels

The evolution of music

From vinyl records to cassette tapes, CDs, MP3 players and streaming services, the way we listen to music has rapidly evolved over the years.

As more and more people turn to the conveniences of streaming music, it’s easy to forget the challenges faced when making sure that artists and labels are fairly compensated.

Everyone talks about digital transformation providing companies with a competitive edge. For music rights organisations, however, adopting a digital culture isn’t a choice. It’s a matter of survival.

This was the situation facing the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA), a music licensing organisation which represents the majority of music publishers and music copyright owners in Canada.

In 2011, the CMRRA along with the rest of the music copyright industry faced drastic changes to its business model. Streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music were dramatically increasing the number of transactions from tens of thousands to hundreds of millions, while the revenue per transaction decreased to small fractions of a cent.

In this new digital-first world, a file containing hundreds of millions of transactions can generate royalty payments of €100,000. In the pre-digital world, for comparison, this would have generated millions of Euros instead.

To help its transformation, CMRRA needed a robust and secure solution which would help with the increased number of transactions in a cost-effective way, while allowing it to continue to distribute royalties to artists and other rights holders. The company began its journey by turning to Spanish Point – a Microsoft Gold Partner in Ireland.

Hitting play on transformation
Spanish Point had already digitised the process for the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO), but it wasn’t just a case of dealing with increased transaction volumes, as Spanish Point CEO Donal Cullen explains: “There is also the problem of matching millions of music streaming transactions with poor metadata against a database of millions of songs,” he states.

“Many copyright organisations have failed to cope with this increase in data volumes, meaning the songs and recordings have not been licensed or correctly identified. The license income that should have been paid to songwriters and music publishers has remained with streaming companies. The streaming services and other entertainment platforms do want to pay the artists, it’s just a question of finding a practical way of doing it.”

The solution developed by Spanish Point saw CMRRA move its operations to the cloud, enabling it to successfully cope with these challenges and generate more income for its members. Using Microsoft’s advanced features, Spanish Point provided a more agile and responsive service at a lower cost than a traditional on-premise or hosted provider.

“In the past, if a song was played on a radio station it was broadcast to thousands of listeners,” Cullen explains. “Now you have people using their smartphone in cars to stream music. Services like Spotify and YouTube are sending data to rights organisations on each individual stream. That has increased the volume of data by three or four orders of magnitude.”

“It is not unusual for files to contain 200 million transactions. The rights organisations now must identify each song from quite poor metadata and find the artists to pay royalties to. There is simply no way they could do that without a cloud solution. Even four or five years ago it would have been beyond our reach. It has enabled us to help customers like CMRRA improve their data processing performance by a factor of 40.”

Moving to the cloud solved the problems of scale, flexibility and financial viability. “Before the cloud, organisations would invest in computing power to meet peak demand,” Cullen notes. “That meant the payroll system had to be able to meet very high demand on one or two days each month while it would be barely used for the rest of the time. In the cloud you pay for what you use as you need it. Also, Microsoft’s cloud autoscales to meet the size of files and that’s directly related to how much we and our customers are going to get paid.”

Microsoft Ireland commercial director Aisling Curtis believes the challenge faced by the music rights industry demonstrates the enormous power of digital culture. “This is a great example of digital disruption and how a digital transformation approach can be used to solve issues across an entire industry”, she says.

“It’s not just something for large companies or enterprise-sized organisations to be concerned about. Organisations of every size can adopt a digital culture to innovate and gain competitive advantage. Spanish Point has done a fantastic job for CMRRA using the Microsoft platform and has created a new solution which is applicable to the whole music rights industry.”

Cloud with benefits
As a result of its transformation, CMRRA has dramatically increased its revenue and reduced its members’ annual subscription fees from 10.5 per cent to six per cent. It has also opened up new numerous new opportunities for the company.

“They are now going to licence mechanical works in the US,” says Cullen. “They were restricted to Canada up until now, but they have become a lot cheaper than their US competitors because of the Microsoft cloud solution.”

For the future, Spanish Point is planning to use Microsoft’s AI technology to further enhance its solution. Currently, the company is moving into the US market and is also working with customers in Spain and Turkey with this solution.

“Microsoft has worked closely with Spanish Point on a number of digital transformation projects over the years,” says Aisling Curtis. “Spanish Point is a very innovative firm. It explores new frontiers with Microsoft products and platforms which enables its customers to access new business opportunities and gain competitive advantage. This is a very tangible example of how digital culture and transformation is allowing an Irish company to solve a worldwide issue for customers. It is a defining example of the impact of digital culture.”