Music

Songview in Review: Test-Driving ASCAP and BMI’s New Shared Database

The music licensing community was intrigued by the Dec. 21st launch of Songview, a new one-stop platform presented by performing rights organizations ASCAP and BMI combining both databases for easier searchability.

It’s simple enough to find rights holders for recordings issued by record labels, especially if there’s only one owner involved. But songwriter info can be frustrating to track down for many reasons. Many songs are credited to multiple writers, including those affiliated with various performing rights organizations (PROs) who until now had maintained entirely separate data. Songview brings two of the best-known performing rights databases together for the first time.

What is a PRO? It’s the entity that licenses the public performance right on behalf of its affiliated songwriter, composer and music publisher members to all businesses that publicly perform music, including broadcast and cable television, radio, DSPs, streaming A/V services, bars, clubs, restaurants, symphony orchestras — or any user that publicly performs music.

In order to clear a song for synch or other licensing, representatives from every party must be tracked down and approvals granted. This means that a lot of hard work and expectations can be shattered if a music rights holder with a very small percentage of a song, perhaps from a long-ago sample, can’t be tracked down to meet deadlines.

One would think songwriters should want their information easily accessible just for this  purpose, but it’s not always that simple. Rights ownership can change hands multiple times, as songwriters sign new deals or publishing companies are bought and sold. Songwriter percentages are sometimes disputed and the negotiations get tied up in litigation. Songwriters pass away and their heirs lose interest in administering the catalogue.

With many moving parts, it would be useful to have as much as possible in one place, so researchers don’t have to juggle browser tabs with one hand while adding up percentages with the other. Songview takes some of the clunkiness out of the process, integrating two of the major players in this space into an easily accessible and free platform.

Songview can be accessed by visiting either the ASCAP and BMI sites, and while the two versions have different layouts, they appear to contain the same basic information: publisher contact info, percentages, ISWC and IPI codes, and the like. The combined platform can be searched via a range of useful fields including song title, performer and songwriter.

Any song where the info in both societies’ databases matches entirely receives a green Songview checkmark to indicate its confirmed status — a nice thing to start out with when you’re a licensing rep who needed to track down that song yesterday.

The platform is still being rolled out, so some key information has not yet been integrated, including both companies’ substantial databases of film and TV cues. And it does not integrate the databases of SESAC, GRS or other performing rights societies, although some of their info is incidentally listed. This means if a song doesn’t have any ASCAP or BMI writers involved, it won’t show up at all.

And, while we can see what percentage of a song is controlled by ASCAP or BMI, we still don’t know how it’s divided up between songwriters beyond that.

But it’s obvious there’s a need for something like this, especially in the digital age where databases can be combined relatively easily (former record store employees may still have nightmares about changing yellow pages in old Phonolog books). The launch of Songview, along with the upcoming mechanical rights holders database being created by the MCL, are promising first steps toward getting this info centralized.

Mara Schwartz Kuge is the president and founder of Los Angeles-based Superior Music Publishing.

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