Is your band big in Japan? Changes in public performance tracking could bring big surprises

Auckland, New Zealand, one of the cities where Audoo deployed its audiometer. Credit: Dan Freeman

Despite the widespread availability of detailed figures on music consumption, the allocation of royalties for public uses has long been based on extrapolated data. And without accurate game counts from the many bars, restaurants, stadiums, shops and malls around the world, it’s difficult to tell what’s actually on – a potentially glaring unknown when the total number of streams can only be determined in seconds.

Perhaps international superstars like Celine Dion and Mariah Carey actually do get the lion’s share of public appearances today. Or maybe a whole bunch of ’90s grunge bands are massively undercounted in certain countries, cities, or locales.

There are also confusing cross-territorial issues: artists based outside of Europe might be in heavy rotation in France, for example, and be unaware of the current system.

So what is the solution to this dilemma? Audoo, a company that works to optimize performance licenses with a simple device called an “audio meter,” defies a long tradition of crude reporting estimates. Designed to monitor and identify all public performances (using digital fingerprint technology), the Audio Meter is already being used in settings ranging from restaurants to shopping malls, according to the London-based company.

“Installing an audiometer in venues is just a matter of plug and play, set and forget,” Matthew Fackrell, Audoo’s SVP and GM for Asia Pacific, told Digital Music News. “Our Asia Pacific rollout, which started in Australia and New Zealand in gyms, retail, dance studios, cafes, restaurants and bars, has been really well received.

“We obtained the largest set of public performance data ever created. We are now surpassing millions of reports each quarter and bringing to life our mission to revolutionize performance royalty payments through accurate game totals,” continued Fackrell. “We’re also simplifying best practice reporting for individual venues, which ultimately benefits performing rights and collecting societies.”

Over time, with continued adoption of the audiometer, accurate numbers could become the basis of public slack. And along the way, not a few musicians are learning that their work entertains significant numbers of fans in far-flung parts of the world – a possibility not without historical precedent.

The documentation Looking for Sugar Man introduced viewers to Rodriguez, a singer-songwriter who has remained under the radar for decades since the 1970s. Unbeknownst to the Detroit native, his work in South Africa had caused a stir for years. It’s estimated that Rodriguez has sold more albums nationally than Elvis, but prior to the film, the artist was unaware of that, or of the equally significant audiences.

While the likelihood of a situation of similar proportions occurring is extremely remote, the fact remains that lesser known acts often go unnoticed – and may not receive public performance compensation. Without an accurate game count, it’s impossible to know.

More broadly, the implications of undercounted pieces for indie artists, smaller IP holders, and others without strong representation, global PRO connections, or appropriate metadata go far beyond royalties. By leveraging the insights associated with accurate performance data, musicians and rights owners can better plan tours, promotional initiatives and various career endeavors.

Audoo founder and CEO Ryan Edwards, a musician with a UK Top 10 song, has experienced the frustration of underperforming for himself.

And this first-hand understanding prompted him to found Audoo and help the industry put their payment woes on the back burner.

“As a musician, I’ve experienced that frustration,” Edwards told DMN. “I’ve been looking at the larger ecosystem and looking for a solution for public distribution of music-licensed performances.” Audoo’s mission is simple: to provide all songwriters and artists with more accurate compensation with the most streamlined data possible and transparent reporting.”

Professionals take note. In July 2022, Audoo signed a song recognition agreement with Australia’s PRO APRA AMCOS, under which OneMusic-licensed companies in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Auckland were equipped with audio meters. There are indications that the pact will deliver potentially game-changing stats and payments while laying the groundwork for broader expansion.

In addition to clear advantages in the data and remuneration areas, PROs and participating companies and institutions also benefit from the simplicity and ease of use of the Audio Meter, Audoo told DMN.

Setting up the Audio Meter in any standard outlet takes just minutes, and eliminating manual reporting requirements eliminates human error (including accidental omissions) from the equation. For business owners, the Audio Meter is also an important step in the complex journey of ensuring that royalties go to those who actually created their customers’ favorite music.

And as the tool becomes more widespread, future consumption data looks set to become increasingly precise and accurate – with potential benefits for both Indians and key stakeholders alike.

As mentioned, it’s natural for smaller rightsholders and acts without a large global following to know about (and be compensated for) any public use of a song. Tech-centric approaches to policing radio have historically spotted indie tunes that fell through the cracks.

But even the industry’s biggest names and most popular tracks benefit from moving to concrete numbers and concrete data, even when it comes to understanding key listening trends and ensuring all usages of today’s top songs are counted.

Ultimately, it’s about making empirical statistics the basis of public game calculations to bring fairness and accuracy to the forefront of the industry over the long term, regardless of where the cards lie in the short term.

In an age where physical sales are tracked down to the unit and stream totals reveal accurate real-time personal consumption habits, proper performance tracking may be overdue. This is a memo being received by PROs and CMOs on multiple continents, with major upgrades and partnerships likely to emerge over the next few quarters.

“The Audoo mission has garnered the support of a number of industry peers who believe it will change the landscape in this sector,” said Edwards. “There are also some influential investors, including music and business icon Björn Ulvaeus, who believes our product “will change the music industry forever.” We’re excited to demonstrate this to more music fans, players, creators and leaders.”