Back in the day, stores like Sam the Record Man would have a giant catalog on a stand somewhere in the store. The yellow/orange loose-leaf pages featured all the titles and catalogue numbers (in 4 point font) of what seemed to be every known record in the universe. It was magically impressive
Later, I learned that this wasn’t the case. That catalogue was almost always out of date for domestic releases and didn’t contain information on records from other territories. If you wanted to move into that realm, you need multiple catalogs that were as big or bigger.
Then as more of our music became digital, the need for a global database of music became increasingly important. Accurate tracking of who was listening to what, when, how and where is essential to making sure artists, composers, publishers, and labels get paid.
In theory, creating such a database it should have been easy in the digital era. Data could be updated dynamically and instantly worldwide. All that was required was a central database and ID system.
How hard could that be? Very hard.
For accurate tracking and reporting, every single piece of recorded music–every album, EP, song, digital file, remix, cover, promo releases, radio edits, special editions, and reissue in every format in every languagte from every country in the world, both for major labels and every indie–needs to be branded with some kind of separate and unique ID.
Take something like the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” the most-covered song of all time with at least 2,200 different versions. Each one needs a number for this database. And not just physical product, either (think how many times that song has been released on vinyl and various CDs!), but also digital files and versions that might be streamed through services like Spotify.
If the numbering system isn’t accurate, the wrong people might get paid–or not get paid at all.
Back to our Beatles example. When streaming services report on what songs were played each month, they submit logs to performing rights organizations of what their customers streamed, where, how and when. Royalties are collected and then paid out to the rights holders.
However, let’s say that an Arabic singer in the UAE has a local hit with a song that also happens to be called “Yesterday” (which will show up as “في الامس”) that was streamed 50,000 times in a month. If it wasn’t properly tagged, the streamer and/or the performing rights organization will just default to identifying it as the most popular version, which is from the Beatles. Lennon & McCartney then get paid the full amount due while the Arabic performer gets nothing. Same thing for the Chinese singer with a song called “Yesterday” (“昨天”).
See the problem?
It’s a start, but there’s a long way to go.
Now, though, BMG, Warner Music Group, and others are beta-testing a new global database called KORD. From Hypebot:
KORD, built by JAAK using Ethereum blockchain technology, gathers and connects metadata from record labels, music publishers, performing rights organizations and others to create a global music rights database. Ultimately KORD hopes to function as an open protocol to record, assign, and monetize intellectual property rights.
It’s a problem that has vexed the music industry for years, and several previous attempts to solve it have not gained traction or failed outright. The solution, according to the founders of JAAK, can be found utilizing blockchain technology.