For Barcelona-based company BMAT, it’s important for artists to get the benefits they deserve.
It’s no secret that digital era has brought all sorts of challenges for copyrighted material, and that no other sector was affected so much, and so quickly, as the music industry. Whatever the case, now we have a clear idea of what the future of music is going to be for at least a few more decades. In two words? Festivals and streaming.
But really, music lives beyond just artists that release songs and then play them to an audience. Music also lives through licensing: for movies, shows, commercials and just about any other uses you can think of us. Music lives through what you hear at a nightclub, a restaurant or clothing store.
But how do we know what song has been played, where and how many times? Or if the owner of the song is being properly compensated?
What plays around, comes around
Founded in 2005 by a group of engineers, BMAT was a project born from Pompeu Fabra University. Sharing a passion for music, the founders started with a simple idea: to index all the music in the world.
After a couple of years of trying different projects with several technologies, BMAT then changed course and focused its efforts around music monitoring services, building one that could track any public communication of music.
The rest is history. BMAT has risen to become one of the reference music tracking companies in the industry, lending its services to 100 Collective Management Organizations (CMOs) and 600 record labels and publishers. The company operates under the motto “We hear everything everywhere and tell everyone who wants to know.”
The idea is simple. Labels and artists want to keep track of their copyrighted material, so BMAT offers an insightful report to its clients of what and where their songs have been played. Clients can then use that information to corroborate their earnings or demand just compensation if the case asks for it. “The idea is to make the music landscape more just,” says Brais Suárez, Head of Communications at the company.
He explains that there are four main business sectors where BMAT operates:
One is radio and TV, which Suárez claims is the biggest one. Next is digital media, which includes platforms like YouTube and Spotify. The third sectors are venues: BMAT tracks the music of several venues (948 as of 2018). Lastly, there’s audiovisual content like commercials, which sits somewhat apart from the rest. In any case, it’s clear BMAT means something when it claims it hears everything… it kinda does.
How it works
There’s a trick to how BMAT can do everything it does. Well, more than a trick, it’s a sophisticated technology which makes possible all of the previously explained processes. It’s called “audio fingerprinting,” and the company says that it’s their identity sign, the system that allows them to identify “52 years of audio against 60M sound recordings every day.”
According to their official definition, an audio fingerprint is “a condensed digital summary of an audio signal, generated by extracting acoustic relevant characteristics of a piece of audio content.”
When a song enters BMAT’s database, the system creates and stores its fingerprint, which is then used to identify audio being played across the four mentioned sectors (though in the case of digital services, metadata matching is enough). Just like with human fingerprints, the company explains that they can “compare a recording fingerprint against a global database of songs and locate its match within seconds.” This kind of unique signature, combined with matching algorithms, allows BMAT to even identify different versions of a single song.
However, there’s a line to be traced there. Suárez agrees that, after a certain point, a different version of a song eventually becomes something entirely new, specifically when dealing with DJ remixes and the sort. But in any case, how do you define that boundary? It’s a very interesting mixture of technology and human perception, and the challenge of teaching the tech to have that “human side” to it that helps it have a better criteria.
The company is very clear on that, and arrived at one simple answer: if a person can’t recognize the song, then a machine shouldn’t either. “We believe human perception determines this boundary and we train our technology to develop the same sensitivity so that when we humans cannot recognise a song, our matching algorithm doesn’t identify it either.”
Deep learning is, of course, a huge part of the answer. And according to the company, AI has given them very good results that they expect to expand on in the future.
These days, BMAT’s monitoring platform delivers 26 million identifications monthly and overviews over 1 trillion digital transactions each year. The growth of the company has been undeniable, and it now boasts several offices across the globe. With its HQ in Barcelona amassing more than 80 employees, the company also has smaller offices in London, Paris Oslo, Seoul, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Singapore and Tel-Aviv.
Latin America has seen huge growth for them. “In the last few years, we’ve become one of the biggest partners in our field” says Stanislava Velinova, Communications and client Manager. An indeed, because of LATAM’s big piracy problem, BMAT presence has never been more needed. The company has offices in Buenos Aires, Lima and São Paulo as well.
Finally, it goes without saying, but music is a huge part of BMAT’s culture. Most “BMATers” are huge music fans, many of them being musicians themselves. As a matter of fact, Suárez and Velinova explain that the company celebrates an annual private festival where its musician employees get to play live to the rest of their co-workers.
There’s certainly no better way to prove your love for music. In the case of BMAT, it’s also about recognizing the importance of the business aspect of it. Without it, music wouldn’t really be the way it is today.