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As Kobalt app launches, CEO talks streams, YouTube and rivals


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Kobalt’s publishing royalties? There’s now an app for that.

The company’s new app for its clients has been released today on Apple’s iOS devices, with an Android version to follow soon.

Artists and songwriters will be able to see real-time data on the income being generated by individual songs, providing a quick way to check the data from Kobalt’s existing web portal.

The app will crunch analytics by quarter, right type and territory, pulling in data from Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Pandora and other sources, as well as tracking sync deals “from pitch to payment”.

“As a creator, there has never been a good connection between the music you create and your income, but we are connecting the creator’s work with their money,” Kobalt CEO Willard Ahdritz told Music Ally in an interview ahead of the app’s launch.

“It’s also important that this is all rights. There are some slick apps where you can get usage data from the master-recording side, but this is physical, TV, radio, sync and full transparency on the digital side.”

Ahdritz has defended digital services like Spotify and YouTube in the past from criticism by songwriters and artists. He told Music Ally that he hopes the new app will encourage more creators to see music-streaming in a positive light.

Suddenly, some will see that 50% of their income is coming from streaming all over the world. They will see that streaming is enormous. I 100% believe the app will change people’s understanding, and it will change these discussions in the market where people walk around and say ‘we should kill streaming and YouTube, and we should all buy vinyls instead’,” said Ahdritz.

“First of all, what is the future? If we can monetise one or one and a half billion people, what are the cost levels? Where is the profit? How much profit do we have from digital, where we don’t have pressing plants? The Spotify cheques, the Pandora cheques or the YouTube cheques go straight to the bottom line. How can you compare gross numbers?”

(There, Ahdritz is referring to claims by industry bodies the BPI and IFPI that vinyl sales generate more trade revenue than YouTube streams – claims which are true, but which as he says, are based on revenues rather than profit.)

“What can I say? The thinking is not impressive,” said Ahdritz, always keen to poke a finger in the eye of traditional rightsholders. Talking of which…

“The internet is driving transparency. Some people are starting to get a lot of money, and people are starting to ask questions. How is it possible that there is $3bn-$4bn paid out from streaming, and no one has significant money in their statements?” said Ahdritz.

“It drives questions for anyone who can start to put the numbers together. It’s the same thing we see in [collecting] societies in Europe: they are not even telling us their rates. When my son comes home and he doesn’t want to tell me what he has in his maths test, I assume it is not an A+! If you are not proud of what you have done, you are not happy to tell it.”

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As ever, Ahdritz’s criticism of traditional rightsholders is also a pitch for Kobalt, which has always sought to position itself as a more-transparent rival to big publishers – and now with its AMRA subsidiary, to collecting societies too.

Ahdritz said that he remains concerned for the wider industry, however, focusing his criticism on major labels. “There’s a huge danger if their clients go out and say ‘streaming sucks, there’s no money’, because it has the effect of making investors say ‘why should I invest in this viper pit?’ It doesn’t work.”

This is not to say Ahdritz disagrees with major labels and industry bodies on every hot topic. On the subject of safe harbour legislation and the protection it offers services like YouTube, he agrees with them – albeit while praising YouTube’s potential for musicians.

I believe it’s absolutely clear that safe harbour needs to go. Rightsholders and creators need to have the right to say no, and they need a licence for their product. If someone has 40% of its total volume from music, it is a music service. SoundCloud was 100% music or near enough! Safe harbour is not acceptable [in these cases],” he said.

“Having said that, it’s a fantastic service: YouTube is reaching a billion people globally, and that can help bands to tour much deeper into the world. I would like to see higher advertising rates, yes, but for me this is a segment where within a year or two years we can reach 1.5 billion people.”

“But the safe harbour needs to go. If the safe harbour goes, then people can choose. Also, I believe that YouTube could do a better job of communicating [with musicians and the industry].”

For now, Kobalt hopes its new app and its existing web portal will at least ensure creators are kept up to date on their YouTube revenues.

In recent times, several music companies have come out and shown their own apps and sites fulfilling this kind of role, but Ahdritz bridles at the suggestion that they may be catching up with what Kobalt has to offer.

“Simply putting a statement online is not what our portal is. In my opinion, rivals have not changed their collections structure, they have just put the statements online. Our portal is not a web interface to a statement: it’s an interactive, dynamic, analytical tool,” he said.

“When people say ‘we have a portal too’, okay, the devil is in the detail. I’ve been waiting 10 years for people to come in and shut me up! I believe we are at least three to four years ahead of anyone else, if they can even do it.”

“Competitors don’t have to just change their technology, they also have to change their values and business culture.”

Stuart Dredge

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