Business

Can This Music Rights Search Tool Solve a Big Industry Problem?

Jarrett Hines and Bryson Nobles
Todd Plitt

Jarrett Hines and Bryson Nobles

Rightsholder.io wants to make finding music copyright data easier for licensing professionals and others.

Rightsholder.io 's founders have a fresh approach on solving an age-old problem in music licensing: how to find important data, quickly.

Music licensing is "a big enough market to care about [but] small enough the broader industry hasn't decided to serve," says Bryson Nobles, CTO of Rightsholder.io parent company Music Tech Works. That's a problem when many industry pros need information on a song's ownership and publishing, as well as other rights.

So, Nobles and Jarrett Hines, Music Tech Works' CEO, set out to build Rightsholder.io, a platform that gathers the necessary information in one place. Headaches, beware.

Hines, who lives in Atlanta, and New Jersey-based Noble made strides in 2020, first with funding from Collab Capital, an investment fund that targets Black entrepreneurs, as well as WeWork Black Founders, Google Black Founders Academy and early angel investors. Nobles says that Google, for instance, has been "hands on" by providing resources, including a tech support contact who went "deep with us on architecture" and other questions. Hines and Nobles also worked with teams from YouTube and ContentID, the Google-owned platform's audio recognition technology used for copyright protection. Also, Music Tech Works was in the 2019-2020 cohort of Project Music and Entertainment, the music-focused startup accelerator of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center.

Rightsholder.io has a deceptively simple user interface — just a search field — that populates real-time results as letters are typed. Searching for a song or artist will produce links to pages with an abundance of information. For example, Rightsholder.io has 270 titles for Jay-Z. Each song page contains data for recording company, publisher, performers, songwriters and their respective PROs, and an option to save for later reference. An album page shows the track listing with ISRC (International Standard Recording Codes), songwriters and their PROs, plus the artists, publishers and administrators. A separate page shows the song's different versions -- helpful when licensing a less expensive version of "Empire State of Mind" from the television show Glee, for example.

For all the improvements in metadata in recent years, information germane to licensing can be difficult to find. Not that music data is being overlooked, but the focus has been elsewhere. Trade group Music Biz's annual conference has highlighted data issues since 2013 in metadata-focused panels and presentations. But these and other efforts have focused on global standards to improve licensing and royalty payments for streaming services. The data that music supervisors need is still strewn across several proprietary platforms such as Discogs and MusicBrainz, as well as Wikipedia and the PROs' own databases. In most any other industry, people would have this data at their fingertips.

Numerous startups have helped music supervisors in one way or another. Analytics platform Chartmetric has an "A&R Dashboard" that surfaces unsigned artists with fast-growing Spotify listeners and potentially inexpensive licensing fees. Music production house Jingle Punks, launched in 2008, was an alternative to the more inexpensive licensing library Pump Audio, itself acquired by Getty Images in 2007.

The proliferation of streaming services' original content could make a music rights database more necessary than ever. More in-house programming means a greater need for music supervision and licensed recordings. In 2019, Netflix produced 2,769 hours of original content globally, according to Statistica — and that's not including movies and series created by Amazon Prime, Apple TV+,  Disney+ and, in the U.S., Hulu and Comcast's Peacock, launched in 2000. If licensing is time consuming, production houses will retreat to low-cost production music libraries. Instead, production teams might be better off using a cloud-based database rather than a spreadsheet to discuss their music needs.

"Having a collaborative tool for a collaborative process just makes sense," says Hines.