Songs in DJ Sets Are Notoriously Hard to Track — How a Dutch Rights Organization Is Paying Royalties
Buma/Stemra has created a progressive system for paying performance royalties for festival sets.
The process of collecting public performance royalties from DJ sets has long been a tricky one in the United States, with uneven data collection processes often obscuring what songs are played at dance festivals. That makes it difficult for artists with the rights to the music to get paid what they’re due.
But one music market with a firm grasp on the performance royalties collection and distribution process as it relates to the dance world is The Netherlands, where electronic music is deeply woven into the country’s social fabric.
Buma/Stemra, one of the world’s most progressive collective management organizations (CMOs) for electronic music producers, operates within a live music market that generated 34 million euros ($36 million) in public performance royalties in 2022. Of this revenue, 7.2 million euros ($7.6 million) came from dance festivals, with roughly 1 million euros ($1.1 million) from clubs, making dance music comprises a quarter of the Netherlands’ total performance royalties
Since dance music incorporates so much different music from different artists in a set, that leaves a lot of rights holders to be identified. For this, Buma/Stemra uses audio fingerprinting technology that monitors and identifies songs played during sets.
“In the Netherlands, we have such a wide range of successful DJs with worldwide success,” says Juliette Tetteroo, accounts manager of dance events at Buma/Stemra. “As Buma/Stemra, that’s also why we find it really important to be at the front of developments like fingerprinting technology.”
For its fingerprinting, Buma/Stemra primarily uses Amsterdam-based DJ Monitor, an electronic music monitoring technology. DJ Monitor functions much like Apple-owned audio-recognition mobile app Shazam, identifying tracks within its library — a database of roughly 100 million songs submitted to DJ Monitor by global performance rights organizations (PROs) — and creating set lists for any given set with 93% accuracy, the company reports. (Billboard‘s recently published lists of the top 50 tracks and the top 50 artists played at Dutch dance festivals in 2022 was made with data collected by DJ Monitor.)
DJ Monitor is one of a number of music recognition technologies, including Pioneer DJ’s KUVO, that can make the monitoring and reporting of DJ sets easier and more accurate. Buma/Stemra says that DJ Monitor has the highest identifying rates of all audio fingerprinting technology.
DJ Monitor is currently employed by CMOs in France, Germany, Finland, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and The Netherlands, where it fingerprints 70% of all festivals. (Another fingerprinting company, Soundware, is also used by some Dutch events.)
Buma/Stemra’s work collecting performance royalties from a given event begins well before any tracks are even played. The CMO begins by determining licensing fees for any given event; for festivals with revenue lower than 110,000 euros ($116,000), the festival organizer pays the standard 7% licensing rate for events. This percentage is based on the assumption that more than two-thirds of songs played during the course of a given event are in Buma/Stemra’s repertoire. (If the event organizer provides a setlist showing that less than two-thirds of the music played was Buma/Stemra repertoire, the licensing fee drops to between 3% and 5%.)
For festivals with revenue higher than 110,000 euros, the event organizer provides Buma/Stemra with audio from the events to be fingerprinted. The festival can submit the audio manually, or upload it to the Buma/Stemra server, where it is then fingerprinted by DJ Monitor. The festival can also let DJ Monitor monitor audio during live performances, in which case DJ Monitor tech is implemented at every stage at the festival.
For bigger events, Buma/Stemra pays for fingerprinting costs, as, they say, it serves their goal of paying royalties on every song played at a given event.
“Our goal is to work towards one-on-one collection and distribution,” says Tetteroo. “It is all about the quality of what we do. [Paying for fingerprinting costs] also helps in encouraging organizers to pay, because they know that the money they pay goes to the composers and their publishers of the songs that have been paid. This is why we happily invest in technology that points in this direction.”
Buma/Stemra receives hundreds of songs from any given festival, given that most events host multiple stages and often run for three days. DJ Monitor typically identifies between 80% to 90% of this music (more than 80% if monitoring electronic music; 90% if monitoring open format/pop music) and sends formatted lists of the data to Buma/Stemra. Buma/Stemra imports this data, 60% to 70% of which is typically imported automatically — given that roughly that amount of music from any given event is recognized as something already in the Buma/Stemra database.
The percentage that’s not automatically recognized is sent by Buma/Stemra to an outsourced supplier in India that works to manually identify it. Money collected from a festival is then divided and paid out based on a system that assigns points to songs.
Given that a certain percentage of songs aren’t recognized, hundreds of hours of unclaimed music aggregates over the year because, says Buma/Stemra’s music processing manager Rob van den Reek, “we have a real lot of festivals here in the Netherlands.”
Buma/Stemra publishes this unclaimed music on their website, where artists can find and claim their songs. Artists are able to make a claim for up to three years after the song is posted online. If no one has claimed it after three years, the money owed to all unclaimed music is divided between rightsholders included in what’s called a “reference repertoire” — or a Buma/Stemra-compiled sample of common songs played at festivals. Introduced four years ago, this claiming system adds another layer of transparency — and more opportunity for creators to get the money they’re owed.
“Transparency is one of the benefits that stands out the most from the way we work,” says Buma/Stemra marketing manager Annabel Heijen. “That’s where we’ve made the most progress.”
There is one fault with the Buma/Stemra system that’s in the process of being addressed. Currently Buma/Stemra pays out based on the length of a full song that’s registered — not how much of it was actually played in a DJ set. If a song was registered at a length of three minutes, but only played for two minutes, Buma/Stemra pays based on that full, original timestamp. Buma/Stemra is currently building a new system that will pay out against the real timestamp identified during DJ sets that the organization expects to release by the end of 2023 or early 2024.