Music-Identifying Software Could Solve Underground Artists' Royalty Problem

Geo Track Identifier tracks DJ plays to help artists that get played get paid.

Michael Byrne

Michael Byrne

Image: sad444/Shutterstock

If you're not a mainstream musician and someone plays one of your tracks in a clubor really any other business paying to license music from a performing rights organization (PRO), like ASCAP in the US or GEMA in Germany—you might not see a dime of that license fee. Club plays are very poorly tracked, and the royalty payouts are dealt with by often frustratingly opaque, ad hoc systems. 

Enter Geo Track Identifier, a recent creation from music software company Future Audio Workshop. GTI is a “compact, robust, tamper-resistant, low-cost” box that hooks into a venue's sound system and continuously analyzes ("fingerprints") music selections for matches within the massive database of Juno Records, a collection containing both vinyl-only and digital releases. Producers are also invited to submit their tracks directly to GTI, reports Resident Advisor (via FACT).

The system is now being tested at the Prince Charles nightclub in Berlin, with positive results. In the lab, Future Music has achieved a 90 percent match rate, which is not too shabby considering the system can account for tracks being pitched up and down, as would likely occur in a DJ set. Once a track is matched, the fingerprint is sent to an encrypted database. "We retain this information securely and never put it into the public domain," explains the GTI website.

PROs might not be the most friendly to a technology as potentially disruptive as GTI. At current, GEMA uses "an extrapolation-algorithm that primarily measures mainstream market sales and 'airplay,'" explains RA's Luis-Manuel Garcia. Essentially, most of the money tends to get distributed among the organization's most popular artists in the mainstream, and might not take into account plays at more underground events. GTI, however, marks straight one-to-one links between artists and plays.

How a tool like GTI could fit into that kind of system remains to be seen. "We are in discussion with a number of performance rights organisations at the moment," Future Audio's Alexander Roland told me, "but unfortunately we can’t discuss the details at the moment." Both ASCAP and GEMA have yet to reply to requests for comment.   

Whatever the initial PRO response ends up being, as the box spreads beyond its Prince Charles testing ground, those organizations might eventually not have a choice in recognizing the system's fingerprinted plays—and paying up.