Lesson 9: How Income Data Is Shared With Publishers

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So we know publishers earn revenue. And we know they earn revenue from dozens of DSPs, hundreds of television stations and thousands of public venues via numerous societies across all different territories. So one may ask themselves, how in the world do publishers understand not just how much they have earned but also what for.

The answer is something most royalty specialists will agree on: we excel, big time.

Sometimes we look at data in Apple’s Numbers or simply Notepad. But generally, we look at billions and billions and billions of lines of data in Excel.

Sheets of data

When revenue flows, so do the spreadsheets. DSPs, societies and sub-publishers will detail why they are paying you with spreadsheets specifying (hopefully) as many data points as possible such as how much you have earned, for which work, for which rights type, from which source, from which territory and on what date.

Delimited Formats

Each row in the spreadsheet will represent a usage, with each column in the spreadsheet detailing a relevant data point. A common spreadsheet format are the familiar Excel formats, such as .xls, .csv and .txt. The different columns in these formats are delimited by a chosen character, allowing the different data types to be easily opened and reviewed in Excel. Sometimes you may still need to go through the trouble of using a Text To Column formula to display the separate columns of data, which is what we defined as one of five essential excel tricks every royalties specialist should know.

Below is an example of such a format. In fact, this is the format that the MLC uses to send usage data to its members. We can see how each line of data represents a usage or collection of usages with the same data points. And how each column stores a data point for all the usages. Some important data points displayed in this file, that you hope to find in most other statements, are

  • The Source - Which DSP, TV Channel or Radio Station did this revenue come from
  • Rights Type - Was it a mechanical, performance or sync right? More specifically, was it a stream, download, live performance, radio broadcast, …
  • Territory - In which territory the usage happened.
  • Work Identifier - A unique identifier for the work, generally assigned by the society. One work may thus have dozens of identifiers from the same amount of societies. Identifiers are needed to differentiate a work from other works that may have similarly named titles or composers.
  • ISWC - This is a unique identifier for the work that is globally recognized. Each work can thus have maximum one ISWC. In practice, due to the fractional ownership of publishing copyright it is difficult to always assign an ISWC and this data point may be left blank when unknown.
  • Work Title & Composers - So you can review which work the work identifier relates to.
  • Net Amount - For any usages coming from this source, for that rights type, from that territory and for that Work, how much is owed to the publisher?

Many sources will send you data in an Excel format. However, every source will have their own data points and construct these data points in a different way, meaning statements from any source will need to be read in a slightly different way.

Character Width Formats

Sometimes, statements are a little bit more tricky to read. To the frustration of this writer, a popular format within the music publishing industry are fixed width sheets. In these spreadsheets, there is no set character delimiting the columns, and instead we need documentation specifying the number of characters on each column, and have to count the characters to find the start of each succeeding column. Thankfully, with some manual effort, Excel’s trusted Text To Columns feature can come to the rescue.

Common Royalty Distribution format

A final format, which is very unique to but very common in the music publishing industry is the CRD format (short for Common Royalty Distribution), which is used by societies globally. This format is designed by CISAC, which is the overarching publishing society, the one society that rules them all. The format is very similar to the fixed width format, but with added complexity, making it very hard to read in Excel. The format may be complex, but it is also consistent throughout all societies, meaning clever pieces of software can automate the processing of these statements. More information on its format can be found on CISAC’s website.

Billions and billions and billions of lines of data, really?

Yep, really. Whilst selling a million LPs would have been seen as a huge success just 20 years ago; in a digital age, having your song streamed a billion times is not unheard of. It meant that the amount of data that labels and publishers need to process has skyrocketed in the past decade. Thankfully, it’s not just up to the royalty specialists and their Excel program to process and analyse this data. Powerful royalty platforms exist, built specifically with this usage in mind, to enable label and publishing businesses to efficiently process all of this data. More on this later.

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