Producers of electronic music can expect to earn more money through copyright organizations in the near future. The Amsterdam-based company DJ Monitor is rolling out software in dozens of nightclubs in the city, the rest of the Netherlands, and across Europe in the coming weeks. 'New music is essential for the dance scene.'
A rugged guy from a black-and-white world looks into the meeting room at DJ Monitor, on the first floor of a building on Keizersgracht. Leather jacket, dark hair slicked back, he casually leans on his arm and smiles modestly, coolly.
It's a photo of Yuri Dokter, in the early '90s when he made waves as a dance artist under the name Da Juice. He even had a record contract with an American label and suddenly a deal for a movie: Cool World (1992), starring Brad Pitt and Kim Basinger. However, the money he was supposed to receive for it never came through. "It got stuck somewhere," says Dokter. Even then, the first seed was planted for what would later become DJ Monitor in 2005 – a company that laid the foundation for a revolution in the dance industry.
The distribution of copyright royalties has been a sore point in the electronic music and underground club scene since its inception. Money is collected through licensing fees for all songs played, which eventually ends up with the creators through copyright organizations like Buma/Stemra. However, this system didn't work for the dance industry.
At pop concerts, it's simple: artists provide a setlist of the songs they've played. The same goes for radio stations, which can easily share the played songs with copyright organizations. But in nightclubs and at dance events, it's more complicated. DJs play a lot more records during a set – and to make it even more challenging: the tracklist is not fixed in advance, as dance artists adapt their performances to the audience.
Long story short: dance events and clubs paid for music use, but the money never reached the producers of the music played there. Dokter says, "We always say that money ended up in the hands of people like John Ewbanks and Marco Borsato in the Netherlands."
So, in 2005, Dokter developed specialized equipment and software with DJ Monitor, called Music Recognition Technology (MRT), to automatically record which songs DJs are playing. An algorithm analyzes the music, looking at things like timbres and amplitudes. Based on a few seconds, an "audio fingerprint," it can determine which track is being played. Over 90 percent of the tracks in monitored DJ sets are now recognized by the technology.
The underlying database now includes 110 million songs. It keeps expanding because a tremendous amount of electronic music is released. "We collaborate with music labels, record companies, distributors, and rights organizations for this," says Director of Growth & Strategy Dick Leijen. "And you have to build a high-quality system to verify whether an artist really made such a track."
Since 2007, DJ Monitor's system has been used at festivals like Lowlands, DGTL, and Awakenings. Worldwide, rights organizations, just like Buma/Stemra in the Netherlands, use the data to compensate the right artists for their music used at those festivals.
But MRT had not yet been integrated into Dutch nightclubs – even though electronic music is played there week after week. The problem was that its use was too expensive for clubs.
DJ Monitor has now found a solution by partnering with the Japanese company behind the popular Pioneer DJ equipment. Amsterdam's company's MRT is integrated into the equipment and combined with the data already collected by Pioneer DJ. The combination of this data requires less computing power and improves quality. Nearly all nightclubs and festivals already use Pioneer equipment, making the technology much more accessible.
In the coming weeks, DJ Monitor will roll out the technology in various Amsterdam clubs so that during the Amsterdam Dance Event in mid-October, a large portion of the events can be recorded. The pilot project includes venues like Melkweg, Paradiso, Shelter, Lofi, Club Air, and Radio Radio. By the end of this year, fifty Dutch clubs are expected to use MRT. The technology is currently being expanded in the United Kingdom and Australia, with other countries following "soon."
Producers can expect to earn more money with the widespread use of MRT technology when their music is played in monitored clubs. Dokter says, "In England, where the technology has been used for a while, this has already made a big difference. According to the copyright organization PRS for Music, about five hundred producers now receive a monthly amount they can live on, which they didn't receive before. They can now make a living from their music, which is pretty cool. Hopefully, the same will happen on a larger scale for Dutch artists."
The rollout in clubs is particularly good news for niche music creators because their records are played there. These tracks are less frequently heard at festivals, where monitoring has been in place for longer. "It's essential that even these niche creators now fall within the reach of copyright organizations and receive compensation for the use of their music," says Co-Director Leijen. "Without their tracks, without that new music, the dance scene wouldn't exist."
According to the two pioneers, securing and improving this "whole ecosystem" is crucial. Most electronic music producers do this as a hobby alongside another job. Leijen says, "While it applies to every profession: you get better at it the longer you do it. With financial compensation, producers have more room to make music, which will hopefully keep them doing it longer."
Dokter has some advice for these producers: officially register your music and join a copyright organization. "If you don't do that, you won't see a dime."
In the past, collected copyright royalties were divided among publishers based on market share. This meant that large publishers like Universal and Sony received large sums in their accounts. Since 2007, the focus has shifted to the actual music that is played and used. "Get played, get paid," as DJ Monitor's motto goes.
Organizations contribute a portion of their earnings at each event. In the Netherlands, Buma/Stemra works with three margins: 3, 5, or 7 percent. The percentage an event must pay depends on the number of registered tracks played with Buma/Stemra. Dance events almost never fall into the lowest category.
For example, if a festival sells 20,000 tickets at 60 euros each and pays 5 percent, they would contribute about 60,000 euros. There are six stages where a total of 1200 songs are played throughout the day. In this scenario, each played track would yield 50 euros. In clubs, the compensation per track will generally be lower, but there are dozens of clubs in each country where music is played all night every week.