Introducing the Open Music Initiative

The best way to easily and properly divvy up royalties is to embrace technology and utilize new tools to ensure artists are paid what’s due them. Of course, that’s not what’s happening today.

In an effort to move the needle forward, a new coalition, calling itself the Open Music Initiative, was launched on Monday, bringing together representatives of the music industry, artists, activist organizations and publisher groups in the hopes of making the process of matching royalties with recipients easier and more streamlined.

Spearheaded by the Berklee College of Music’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE), the Open Music is an initiative to “collaborate, build open source and secure digital ledger platform to solve longstanding digital music distribution and rights issues,” according to a statement released by the organization.

Teaming up with the MIT Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative and more than 50 music industry-based organizations and other academic bodies wants to “dramatically simplify the way that music creators and rights owners are identified and compensated—a thorny issue that has challenged the music industry and stifled creator incomes and industry revenues since the dawn of the digital era.” By building and adopting a decentralized platform using an open source framework, the idea is that royalties will be directly administered to rights holders and artists without having to jump through hoops (undoubtedly some of which are on fire to some degree) to ensure pay equity.

“Though initiatives like this have been attempted in the past, this is the first time that the effort is led by a broad coalition that includes academic institutions, entrepreneurs, technologists, non-profits and, most importantly, enjoys representation from all facets of the music industry unifying around the issue,” Open Music says.

Among the initial supporters: Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, BMG, Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, SoundCloud, Netflix, SiriusXM, CD Baby, the French collective rights management group SACEM and trade groups including Featured Artist Coalition, Music Managers Forum, Future of Music Coalition and other music-centered startups.

“We want to use the brainpower, neutrality and convening ability of our collective academic institutions, along with broad industry collaboration, to create a shared digital architecture for the modern music business,” says Panos Panay, Open Music’s co-founder and founding managing director at BerkleeICE. “We believe an open sourced platform around creative rights can yield an innovation dividend for creators and rights holders alike.”

Representatives from labels like Sony and BMG welcomed the opportunity to create a new system that would provide some clarity to the royalties process, while internet-based enterprises like Spotify, YouTube and Pandora—long the targets of complaints from musicians for the low payment rates received per song stream—applaud the importance of a new way of conducting business.

“This is a very important effort and we’re deeply committed to bringing more transparency and simplicity to this industry,” says Tim Westergren, Pandora’s founder and CEO. Adds Jonathan Price, Spotify global head of communications, “We think transparency across the entire music economy is essential to rewarding artists, songwriters and everyone involved in the creation of music fairly and rapidly. We’re really happy to be part of an effort that is exploring innovative ways to do that with new technologies.”

Open Music has announced an inaugural meeting on June 22 in New York with all current members participating, followed by a three-week innovation lab in Boston next month to explore innovation models and use cases.

For more information on Open Music and Monday’s announcement, go here and here.


Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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