Why are there so few working administration software solutions for music publishers?

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

This quote is, probably falsely, attributed to Henry Ford. However, it does raise an interesting dilemma. On one side, there are potential customers, with their needs, wishes, expectations, and concerns. On the other is the technology, both existing and potential.

Customers usually know what they don’t want. Regardless if it is slow transportation or typing the same metadata over and over again, that is the only thing that an engineer can believe. While wishes, expectations and concerns may give some guidance, they usually are misleading.

So, what does “faster horses” translate to in music publishing? For a generation used to a criminally slow software, it means making a much faster clone with many new features. For a new generation of creatives, it means a great user experience. For people used in dealing with metadata in Excel, it means better templates. But all of that is really just “faster horses”.

A fast system with redundant data (implied by spreadsheets) and great user experience is not realistic. But what is? These articles do provide answers, but they are neither simple not short.

Metadata Exchange Formats

Lack of free and pragmatic and universally usable metadata exchange formats has been sustaining the monopoly in administration software for music publishers.

Let me explain what free and pragmatic mean in this context. Free means that one can use the format without any limitations. Applying for a licence is a huge limitation in this context. Pragmatic means that it is part of the contemporary programming practices, e.g. understandable to contemporary developers. Universally usable means that it can be processed fast, regardless of the use case.

This is where music publishing has been failing. DDEX is definitely not free, and not universally usable (no normalized data format can be). CWR is free, but outdated by three decades at least, and therefore not pragmatic. Both CWR (and related formats) and DDEX are formats that do one thing. But that is not the same thing as programs that do one thing. Formats that do one thing are just electronic versions of bureaucratic forms.

There are some initiatives out there that claim to be working on new formats, and some of them are smart enough not to use blockchain and smart contracts for it. But I have not seen any workable open source solution yet that uses any of them. Nor any institutional receiver or a service that accepts them.

Seamless Integration

If we did have such formats, then we would be able to exchange data among existing solutions and integrate them in ways that would be seamless for end users. This is one of the reasons why I released Django Music Publisher as open source. So companies, that would naturally provide an interface for adding and or extending publishing metadata, can do it in a simple way. They can just use the code or simply translate it into the programming language they use. Or integrate at the database level. Or…

But this brings us to the first principle. Software should be modular and each module should do one thing well. Django Music Publisher’s one thing is the management of metadata required for registrations of musical works. I am still wondering if extending it to include registrations of recordings would not be pushing it too far.

However, when it comes to processing royalty statements, something that I have started working on, it only has the basic processing, while most of it goes into a separate app. The interface may provide seamless integration, but the functionality is only loosely coupled. It really comes down to defining interfaces well.