LOS ANGELES, CA—SourceAudio cofounders Dan Korobkin and Geoffrey Grotz, veterans of the entertainment and media industry, are helping to streamline the discovery, distribution, licensing and tracking of production music with their company’s platform, which launched in 2010. Having seen the business evolve from a CD-based to web-based paradigm, the pair saw an opportunity to take it a step further, connecting composers, music publishers and rights holders with content creators via the cloud.
Once upon a time, production music was distributed on CDs, then on hard drives and, ultimately, via the web. But those methods were costly, says Grotz, SourceAudio’s CEO.
“If you were a music publisher and you wanted to build a website to digitally distribute your music, you had to hire developers. It was a major expense, so we created a solution: You just sign up, enter a URL and boom—the system creates it for you.”
For broadcasters seeking music, the process was similarly time-consuming and expensive. With offline solutions, users had to go through the process of setting up blanket licensing deals with each publisher, then upload the assets to their internal systems. “There was a lot of overhead involved,” says Grotz.
So SourceAudio introduced a white label B2B digital asset management platform that enables clients such as Viacom and Turner to organize their music assets while also reflecting any changes made by the publisher, such as metadata edits, in real-time. “It’s a truly cloud-connected ecosystem,” he says.
The company then turned its attention to tracking and reporting the use of those assets to ensure that publishers and composers can collect their royalties, introducing SourceAudio Detect in early 2016. After evaluating several alternatives, Source-Audio partnered with Digimark’s watermarking solution.
“The watermark is seamlessly embedded. You need the music in the clear, but all it needs is 0.2 seconds and we can get a detection. We’ve put it through its paces, because it needed to be durable and inaudible,” he says.
“Fingerprinting has been around as a method for tracking performances; it’s what powers YouTube. But we realized that it’s inadequate for short duration synchronized performances. We saw a need for something more precise, that doesn’t throw false positives or false negatives.”
For the moment, the technology is aimed at television, says Grotz. “We’re also looking at radio, and obviously digital, OTT and all these things are a huge part of the media landscape.”
Broadcasters are being less generous with up-front sync fees, he observes. “Everything is shifting to rely on those royalties, and there are a lot of missed performances out there. We want to be there solving these big problems for the industry.”
The watermark is woven into the fabric of the song. The system not only detects the use but reports the context—programming, commercial, promo—and generates a reference clip.
“It fundamentally does alter the song, but it’s done in an inaudible way. We got ‘golden ear’ engineers to listen and try to find the differences,” says Grotz, who discovered that many preferred the watermarked version. “That was a surprise to us.”
There are limitations to watermarking, he admits, especially integrating it into the workflow; ideally it should be applied at source. “So we think the future is a combination of fingerprinting and watermarking.”
Indeed, fingerprinting is integral to SourceAudio’s Get Pitch feature, an alternative to a standard music search. “You take an mp3 of the song and drag and drop. It finds other tracks that have similar signals and gives you those search results. That’s baked into the platform,” says Grotz.
The company’s most recent announcement was an e-commerce solution. “We looked at Shopify and other store fronts as models. You can create your own rate card, your own terms. It’s a fully DIY solution.”
Initial take-up for the e-commerce service was with the smaller, independent music publishers, Grotz reports. Its flexibility makes it applicable for everything from royalty-free catalogs to broadcast television sync licenses, and not just music but sound effects, too, he says.
“Larger production music publishers are looking for ways to integrate e-commerce into the current model, spinning off smaller catalogs and targeting mostly the micro-licensing clientele for that,” adds Korobkin, who is president of sales for SourceAudio. “So it doesn’t conflict with what they offer for their bigger clients.”
The platform can be tailored and branded for specific clients. For example, for Premiere Networks, a subsidiary of iHeartRadio, SourceAudio created Alpha Libraries for Radio. “We said, why don’t we aggregate the best of the production libraries, stuff that works for radio, curate it and create a true replication of all the great advantages that television gets with being able to do blanket licenses. We just hit one-million usable tracks,” Grotz reports.
Many professional music libraries are created with television in mind, says Korobkin, and may not be appropriate for radio, especially radio stations playing specific genres of music. “If you hear a disparity between the programing and the commercial advertising, you tune out,” he says, but a seamless transition between program and promo can be fully engaging. “You’ll absorb the dialog on top of it without even knowing it.”
Ultimately, the sky—or the cloud, anyway—is the limit for the platform. “There are infinite possibilities,” says Grotz. “We just create the sandbox and let people come to us with their different, unique requirements.”