Five Questions: Panos Panay

The cofounder of Berklee's Open Music Initiative wants to modernize music rights tracking systems, and says the itme is now
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In June, Berklee’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE) launched the Open Music Initiative (OMI), an ambitious, industrywide effort to solve issues of tracking and compensating rights holders and creators of music distributed through digital platforms, through a set of open standards that will allow industry databases to exchange and verify information.

OMI already has the support of 50 industry heavyweights: Major labels Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, and BMG are onboard, as are Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, SoundCloud, Netflix, SiriusXM, and trade groups such as the Music Managers Forum and Future of Music Coalition.

Panos Panay, founding managing director of BerkleeICE and cofounder of OMI, talked about the problems plaguing digital rights management, and how this bold initiative will lead toward fairer compensation for music makers.

Where have you seen the weakest links in the industry infrastructure, as far as tracking and distributing royalties?

Right now there is no global, industrywide interoperability among existing platforms, databases, and systems for detection, collection, and distribution of royalty payments, which not only creates vast inefficiencies and friction but also millions of dollars that are not channeled to rightful owners and creators of music. In addition, the absence of a uniform protocol for rights-holder and creation identification is thwarting innovation, which in turn is holding back growth and innovation capital in the music business.

As an academic institution leading this initiative, how are you building consensus among the various stakeholders?

It’s simple: We are a neutral institution that educates musicians. Our job is to give our students the proper tools, mindsets, and networks needed to create successful careers. The aim of the initiative is very simple: Help drive compensation, in a new world order, for the people that matter the most in our business: musicians, artists, creators of music.

It’s been a big year for music industry advocacy in Washington, with Fair Play Fair Pay and its AMP Act provision on the table. How does OMI fit in with these efforts?

It’s good to see a rising tide and awareness about issues that have challenged our business as we’ve experienced the shift from analog to digital. OMI is not a lobbying group, however, and as a nonprofit institution we do not have any lobbying activities. We do hope that our approach can help inform policy makers with respect to efforts that help advance compensation issues for music creators. Innovation happens when industry, academia, and policy makers join forces to make a change. You saw that with the internet.

Can you talk about OMI’s provisions for engineers and producers, and will you offer best practices comparable to, say, the Recording Academy’s metadata recommendations?

We are talking with the Academy and want to work very closely together on this matter. This is an effort meant to be inclusive and to build on existing efforts, not compete or replace any. We feel that engineers and producers play a critical role in capturing invaluable information related to our effort with OMI.

You already have the support of the major labels and streaming services. How will you serve indie labels and artists?

Like small businesses and entrepreneurs in the US economy, independent labels and artists are the heartbeat of the industry. It’s where you see the most cutting-edge music being created, it’s where you get a glimpse of all the future of our business that’s being created as we speak. We are working hard to bring the independent sector in, and—having spent 13 years of my life with the company that I founded, Sonicbids, helping independent music get heard around the world—this is a big priority for us. Not to mention that an overwhelming number of our graduates from Berklee go into careers in the independent sector.