Tracking Broadcast Music Performances in a Digital Age


Volume CI, No. 7/8July, 2001

Lorraine Lush

The Media Composers Organization (MCO) works with composers, including many members of Local 802, in New York. This article has been edited for publication in Allegro. Its purpose is to inform Allegro’s readers about some of the issues raised by digital audio watermarking technology.

Digital watermarking is an inaudible, invisible digital code embedded in an audio or visual file. For data retrieval from broadcast sources, it must be robust and capable of withstanding everything from AM frequencies to voice-overs, redubbing and high compression ratios.

Watermarking technology has been available for years. But only recently – because of advances in technology and the internet, which makes the watermarking companies and their software more accessible – has digital audio watermarking moved to the forefront as an important method for composers to monitor, track and protect their work.

But at what price does digital audio watermarking come to the composer? Verance, which expects to be able to monitor 100 radio and television markets as well as another 100 cable networks by October, is providing its ConfirMedia software to composers free of charge. Other companies are charging software and/or licensing fees. Data retrieval, however, is not free, and some composers feel that the fees to retrieve their performance detection data are too high. Verance has set up a tiered schedule in which the subscriber pays only for the number of detections allotted within the purchased tier. Unfortunately, the costs of certain detections, based on their usage weighting, could conceivably cost more than the performing right royalty itself.

With its 100 market capability, Verance will be able to collect data in all major markets in the continental United States, according to Don Jasko, Director of Music and Entertainment Solutions at Verance, which is headquartered in San Diego. However, he told us that neither smaller markets nor the internet would be monitored at this time.

According to their web sites, Blue Spike, Cognicity and Liquid Audio do track the internet. Neither Blue Spike nor Cognicity responded to our inquiries. Liquid Audio referred us back to their web site.


When asked why a composer would want to begin watermarking, Doug Wood, composer, activist and music library owner, stated: “Some composers create music that is difficult to track using traditional methods, and watermarking may help.”

The potential benefits to composers who want to begin watermarking their music are many. Once the monitoring of the broadcast markets and cable networks begins, the data retrieved from these markets will let composers know where their music is being played. It will also detect potential copyright infringements.

The problems associated with digital audio watermarking, however, go beyond pricing. A primary concern for composers, publishers and performing rights organizations (PROs) alike, is data ownership. Verance, not the individual subscriber, will own any data collected by its monitoring systems and license it to its subscribers, who include composers, lyricists, arrangers, publishers, PROs, record labels, recording artists, production companies, NMPA and SoundExchange.

Only SESAC and SGAE, among the PROs, have any commitments with regard to watermarking. Alison Smith, Vice President of Performing Rights at Broadcast Music, Inc., reports that BMI is looking into the services provided by many watermarking and fingerprinting companies. Said Smith: “While cue sheets are the standard in our payment system for TV and cable and we don’t see them lessening in value – only increasing – we do view watermarking and fingerprinting technologies as a supplement to this process. When it comes to proof of performance, we will accept the detection data that these new technologies afford when it comes to augmenting our current payment schedule.”

Chris Amenita, Vice President of New Media and Technology at ASCAP, states: “ASCAP has been very actively investigating all established and emerging watermarking technologies for their ability to meet our very exacting requirements.”

Peter Cronin, SESAC Media Relations, sent us this statement: “SESAC has indeed made a commitment to watermarking technology [since] it’s the best way to monitor performances in the changing music business landscape.”


Verance maintains that watermarking will allow for more accurate tracking, and will likely result in significantly more performance detections than are now collected using existing technologies. Unless there is other evidence, however, proving that those performances were broadcast – such as cue sheets, sampled surveys or videotapes of the broadcasts – those performances may go unpaid, since some PROs don’t accept this technology alone. Furthermore, some composers contend that they are already paying the PROs and publishers to administer their accounts, and they oppose having to pay a third source – data retrieval companies – for their performance data.

It may not be absolutely necessary for composers to retrieve their performance data from watermarking companies. Should a PRO or publisher subscribe to a watermarking detection service, the composer might receive that data through those sources. However, composers who retrieve their performance data via subscription can monitor their own accounts more accurately. Additionally, discrepancies with their PRO or publisher statements would be easier to document.

Some look to a watermarking and tracking system that would operate much like ATMs, FedEx, or a long-distance telephone transaction. Mark Holden of Musicomm, Inc., based in Hollywood, says, “Waiting nine months to a year (or more) for incomplete domestic royalty distribution isn’t going to cut it anymore. Not in a digital age when other industries … debit/credit their electronic transactions in a matter of seconds, minutes, or hours.”

Holden continues, “Why our PROs didn’t develop methodology to accurately track broadcast usages decades ago is baffling, except there was no will at ASCAP or BMI to do it, then or now, it seems. It should have been done when the banks, retailers, telecoms and the shipping companies automated their tracking and transactional systems. It should have been done by our PROs as a basic safeguard of the performing right and music copyright in general.”

The problems now associated with digital audio watermarking may change as watermarking technology continues to evolve, competition between watermarking companies intensifies, and such factors as mergers between media giants and acquisitions by them, music business politics, and national economics affect both the music and watermarking industries.

© Copyright 2001, Used by Permission

To learn more about digital audio watermarking, the Media Composers Organization, or to read this article in its entirety, visit the MCO web site at