Canadian Musician - November/December 2021 - Page 41

the digital deals started happening . So , the very first YouTube deal , the very first Spotify [ deal ], the first with Apple Music — I got to be involved in all of that ,” she says . “ At the time , maybe membership and licensing seemed like they were two ends of a company . But I really felt that the member part that I could bring to licensing was , we ’ re not here to meet budget , we ’ re not here to hit a target , we are here to get the royalties into songwriters ’ and publishers ’ hands . That ’ s why we have to fight for the deals that we need to fight for , and make sure that when it comes with data , that we can distribute this money that we get [ coming ] in . So , I think having that member [ focus ] at the centre of everything has always been what I ’ ve been best at in these roles coming through .”
To make a long story short , from VP of licensing , Brown rose to VP of operations in 2017 , and then had reproduction rights added to her portfolio in 2018 when SOCAN acquired SODRAC . Then in April 2020 , when Eric Baptiste abruptly resigned from his decade-long post as CEO , Brown was named its interim CEO and the position was made permanent in June 2021 .
The second half of Baptiste ’ s time as CEO was marked by a significant expansion of SOCAN ’ s operations , both internationally and technologically . In 2016 , it purchased both New York-based streaming mechanical royalty collection agency Audiam , as well as Seattle-based MediaNet , a business-tobusiness music technology provider . In 2018 , it launched Dataclef , which was meant to be a new services arm of SOCAN that worked with other music rights companies around the world . As well , internally SOCAN was investing in new technologies and research , including in the fields of artificial intelligence and blockchain .
In contrast , SOCAN ’ s announcements during Brown ’ s first year as CEO made clear that she is steering the company in a new direction . Under her leadership , SOCAN has sold MediaNet to Audible Magic , a California company that provides digital song identification technology , and sold Audiam to Nashville-based music licensing company SESAC . As well , in its 2019 and 2020 financial results , SOCAN revealed that it hadn ’ t recouped the majority of the $ 41.7 million it advanced to Dataclef , and that the parent company is currently seeking a buyer for Dataclef ’ s assets .
“ I mean , I do think the initiatives were great , but I do want to focus on the member . I feel that we need a strong Canadian presence here in order to have a strong Canadian presence internationally . That in order to really prove ourselves , we need to lead by example . That ’ s really what I want to focus on ,” Brown says , noting that she doesn ’ t think her and Baptiste ’ s visions for SOCAN are fundamentally different , but : “ I think the difference , though ,
is more in the execution side , and it ’ s really subtle . Instead of the acquisitions that were made , I really do want to look at partnerships . How do other like-minded collectives work ? How do we work more closely with the [ other ] associations in the Canadian industry ?”
This means that Browns puts less emphasis on acquisitions and proprietary technologies and data , and more focus on working efficiently with other data-intensive music organizations to reduce redundant investments .
“ We are not alone in the industry . So , I think that investing in the same technology does not make sense ,” she adds . “ I am just seeing it more from a [ perspective ] of , how do we partner on these things together ? And how can we move on these things to keep the network strong of all of the SO- CANs around the world that represent our rights in their territories ? How can we share that data ? How can we build the technology together ? How can we can work together so that we ’ re all making sure that the money keeps flowing through the system and that , internationally , there is a really strong collective rights management system ?”
Speaking bigger picture , Brown says that SOCAN and other music rights collectives around the world are viewing themselves as service companies rather than data / tech companies , which was historically the case . “ We are here to serve our members , and to really understand their needs , and part of that means that we have the data and the tech to do that . But should we constantly be investing in data and technology when the Americans are doing the same thing , and the Australians are doing the same things , and the Belgians and so on ?” she points out . “ You know , let ’ s just make sure that we can find a way to partner and , again , to maximize royalties . That ’ s not just getting more money in the door , but that ’ s also making sure our cost base is reasonable . I think that ’ s part of the angle that I really want to look at , which is how do we make sure that the investment is not always on SOCAN ?”
Related to this question about investments in technology in order to identify and process the billions of song performances that SOCAN must pay out royalties for , Brown says the other side of that equation is making sure the distribution rules make
sense for now . “ A lot of them were based on 30 years ago when TV score was very different from the synced works . Now , you hear score and synced works in a TV show at almost at the same level , right ? In fact , there ’ s a lot of big songs that are almost used as background music , or what we would classify as ‘ background music .’ … We ’ ve also been making sure that the general licensing revenue that we receive , it always used to go to radio and concerts , but we ’ re taking a look at what kind of music most restaurants or gyms play to make sure that the proxy that we ’ re using is correct ,” she says . “ And then , of course , the radio — we ’ re trying to follow the money , more so . So , there ’ s going to be a new distribution rule for both digital and radio , where it will be based on the revenue that those streaming services or radio stations bring in . So , it doesn ’ t seem huge , but it is more about following the dollar and making sure that we can make current decisions based on how the industry is using music right now , or how people are using music , how people are writing music , and not based on how things were 20 or 30 years ago , because it is a very different industry .”
SOCAN also needs to better understand how young , current songwriters are working together , Brown acknowledges . It ’ s no longer the case that popular songs are always written by a couple people in a room together . “ They ’ re often in different countries and [ it ’ s about ] making sure that everything gets tracked well , and that they can register that song as easily as possible ,” she says , before thinking back to her earliest days with SO- CAN : “ I met one of the first women who really led BMI Canada , which was a precursor to SOCAN , and she joked – because she knew my grandfather – ‘ Oh , when I registered the songs , I had them all in a shoe box .’ You know , she had all the songs that they represented in Canada on index cards in a shoe box . So , I don ’ t even know how to tell you about that trajectory ! To now where 30 people are on a song and it ’ s just a totally different writing dynamic , and definitely a different industry .”
For our full conversation with Jennifer Brown , listen to the Nov . 3 , 2021 episode of the Canadian Musician Podcast . In it , hear Brown ’ s thoughts on some broader industry topics , including the politics of promoting Canadian content on streaming services and the pandemic ’ s impact on royalties , as well as SOCAN ’ s Equity Task Force , signing the Declaration to end anti-Black racism in the Canadian music industry , and its diversity review and recommendations from CPAMO .
Michael Raine is the Editor-in-Chief of Canadian Musician .