The iris is the part of the eye that governs the size of the pupil and how much light comes in. Put even more simply, it controls how much you see.
Capitalize it, then, and it becomes an especially germane name for a new royalty accounting platform from Synchtank. The firm claims that IRIS can see through – or at least deep into – the welter of data that dominates and (logistically and financially) controls the modern music industry, finding payments for publishers and songwriters that would otherwise possibly be ‘lost’ or take an inordinate amount of time to reach rights-holders.
IRIS (which, more prosaically, stands for International Repertoire Information System) is actually a spin-off from a product originally developed in-house by global independent music publisher, peermusic. Its tech has already been running for 10 years, and has processed hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties to date.
Synchtank claims the new, commercially available version (as IRIS) is designed specifically for use in the music publishing sector, with a unique ability to track data and identify royalties due across the broadest possible range of platforms and territories.
It is a bespoke tool built by a team who know the challenges and needs of the 21st century music business, a scalable solution to the most pressing problem faced by companies and creators alike: where and when is my music being played, what royalties have those plays generated, and how quickly can I get them?
Here, three of Synchtank’s senior execs discuss IRIS’s genesis, its power and its unique advantages, as well as the impact of the mind-melting, system-straining data that has enriched but engulfed the business of music…
For those who know the name more than the company, can you start by giving us a rounded picture of what Synchtank is and does these days?
Joel Jordan, Founder and President: As the company name implies, Synchtank’s origins are in sync pitching use cases, essentially storing and managing recordings and data.
It was typically used by a single department or individual within an organization. Over time, our customers demanded complex, deeper and more sophisticated solutions for managing works/audio files, the underlying rights and metadata behind them and their financial implications. So, we took a less one-dimensional approach by having conversations with Data, Data Security, Technology, Finance and Business Affairs departments.
The Synchtank team has grown rapidly over the past few years to help the company expand into these areas. Today we provide bespoke solutions to both music rights-holders (e.g. record labels, publishers, libraries, distributors) and users of music (e.g. studios, agencies, networks, platforms), all of whom have a need to manage and report the use of music.
We license our software as a service and pricing is dependent on the configuration required.
We like to think we have come a long way but recognize there are huge opportunities and challenges ahead in an ever-changing environment.
last year you launched royalty accounting platform IRIS. As the industry works out ways of tracking and managing overwhelming amounts of data, that’s an increasingly competitive sector, so what makes IRIS stand out?
Chris Cass, Chief Business Officer: 2020 was more of a soft launch for IRIS. This year we are rolling it out commercially following a number of proof-of-concepts with interested parties.
IRIS stands out by addressing the problems one typically finds when there has been no competition in a certain space for a while. Working with our customers’ accounting and finance teams, it became increasingly apparent that the industry was still a long way off ensuring creators are paid for their work, both faster and across multiple business streams and geographies.
“most of the systems available were not built for the digital age, or are record label systems pretending to do publishing.”
Most of the systems available out there – and there aren’t that many once you scrap the vapourware – were not built for the digital age, don’t have the ability to deal with increasingly fragmented royalty statements coming in on a global basis, or are record label systems pretending to do publishing.
We believe our proposition is unique as we are the only solution provider bringing tools to both manage catalog and rights ‘pre-license’ (our Synchtank platform) as well as ‘post-license’ (our IRIS platform).
Thanks to its origins in peermusic, IRIS has been running globally for over 10 years now and is fully integrated with over 60 CMOs, has over 1,000 inputs for statements and has processed hundreds of millions of dollars of royalties.
Plus, IRIS is just as suitable for a small independent music company as it is for a major entertainment conglomerate or media platform.
How did iRIS land in the Synchtank suite of products, and is it not a ‘bespoke’ solution for peermusic?
Rory Bernard, Chief Executive Officer: peermusic is a long-standing client of Synchtank’s, and we both saw the opportunity to enhance and scale what they had built with IRIS to solve the issues that other publishers are now facing with the explosion in data and costs.
Synchtank decided to white-label IRIS, bring our decades of software engineering in big data and cloud systems to bear, and bring a commercial version of this leading system to the market.
“we saw the opportunity to enhance and scale what Peermusic had built with IRIS to solve the issues that other publishers are now facing with the explosion in data and costs.”
Obviously, this included hardening and commercializing the platform from an internal system to a high performance, scalable SaaS platform that meets all modern-day music companies’ performance and security requirements.
Copyright registration, royalty collection and calculation is a natural fit for our existing suite and made sense for our established customer base.
IRIS combines peermusic’s 90-plus years of publishing expertise across 38 offices in 31 countries, with Synchtank’s deep technological knowledge and understanding of the requirements of music companies operating today.
How does it directly benefit writers?
JJ: At a very simple level, we have found the adoption of IRIS shines a spotlight on copyrights that are not even registered with the organizations literally making the payments!
Sufficient performance also allows IRIS to quickly process PRO suspense files, which means access to previously unclaimed funds.
Balancing power also comes with offering transparency. IRIS has its own artist/songwriter portal so royalties can be viewed in real time.
“IRIS DOES PROVIDE THE FLexibility for our customers to revisit historical records and back-calculate should they wish.”
It was developed with one of the most respected companies in the music industry and not blatantly designed to simply ‘monetize’ the millions of self-published songwriters. Rather, it enables admins to efficiently register, collect and distribute income on a global scale.
How those splits and pay-outs are determined is of course not our business, but IRIS does provide the flexibility for our customers to revisit historical records and back-calculate should they wish.
Having configured systems that cater for many different use cases, from asset management and licensing to copyright registration and royalty calculation, we know this brings efficiencies to those running our solutions as it saves them time, allowing them more opportunity to provide resources and value to their creators.
How big a problem do you estimate ‘missing’ revenues (and, indeed, delayed revenues) to be for publishers and writers?
CC: Talk of ‘more transparency’ started to get traction in the 1990s, first with the way music started to change in how it was consumed, and secondly with the development of digital distribution and the potential transparencies that come with such a fundamental shift.
It’s important to remember it happened that way round. Many projects have tried but the historic lack of global standardization and interoperability married to antiquated data and royalty management systems inevitably resulted in revenue going missing. This is obviously a huge issue and there are industry bodies and standards being created now to address this.
Technology has a huge role to play. IRIS moves things along in the right direction, and of course is built to be versatile as new distribution models are springing up all the time.
In terms of speeding up payments, IRIS can be used to inform the traditional music company on such matters, as well as by those businesses now specializing in supply chain finance and catalog valuations.
How might IRIS work in the world of catalog valuations, and help companies in pre-purchase valuations and post-purchase ROI?
CC: IRIS has been used by management/investors to forensically audit royalty statements to ensure that the creator is getting paid correctly.
If you know what you should be getting paid, you know your value and you can forecast your royalties, thus making the sale of your catalog based on empirical information. The same can be done by potential investors to evaluate a catalog’s value.
“Synchtank is providing the picks and shovels to prospectors mining their next goldmine.”
There are other factors that can be introduced and weighted such as ‘is the songwriter still alive?’, or ‘will the songwriter be undertaking a Fortnite concert or be adopted by the TikTok community?’. It’s about checks and balances but obviously risk can only be minimized, not eliminated completely.
As catalogs become important investment vehicles, this type of analysis and value estimation provides a key tool for potential investors, adding clarity to business decisions. Synchtank is providing the picks and shovels to prospectors mining their next goldmine.
What is the most direct competition to IRIS – and what would your message be to a company choosing between the two?
RB: IRIS is built from the ground up to be fit for the 21st century and is integrated with our asset, rights and metadata management platform.
In addition, development of APIs ensures interoperability with a multitude of other platforms – critical in todays connected world. No other company we are aware of provides combined technology to aid the efficiencies between pre-license and post-license.
The processing speeds for IRIS compared to the competition are simply astonishing, with the ability to scale processing power when you need it and not spending money on redundant computer power.
The system is industrial, genuinely global and has been impressively road-tested, having had over $1 billion in revenues run through it to date. Also, if you’re just starting out, our business model is there to allow you to grow.
More generally, what would your advice be to companies weighing up the pros and cons of building an in-house system compared to an ‘off-the-peg’ solution?
CC: We tend to see companies who are either at the crossroads of that decision or have just come off the path of building an in-house solution and have decided to not try again.
It’s like anything: I am sure I could build my own house but at the end of the day I’d probably use a specialist, especially if my day job is as an accountant. Or if I decide to build a house, I may need someone to fix the plumbing.
Essentially, only a few media companies can really demonstrate they have built everything in-house and wholly independently, for the simple reason that this is not their specialist area.
The fact our solutions have APIs and can integrate pretty much with any other system’s API makes IRIS and Synchtank a ‘plug and play’ solution not beholden to any specific third-party software.
You’re about to publish a report about royalty accounting in the digital age called ‘Drowning in Data’. Does that title indicate that you see the avalanche of data as an issue that is yet to be properly solved by the industry?
RB: What we are certain of is that data volumes are going to continue to grow and income sources will continue to fragment, and although revenue will increase, the amount of data needing to be processed will be significantly higher, and we mean significantly, as time goes on.
Previously you had to budget for IT systems that could deal with peak data processing requirements without overlong delays but living with the fact they were not being used a lot of the time.
IRIS changes the dynamic – you only need to pay for the compute power you need, when you need it. Running royalties? Crank up the CPU power – you don’t need to pay for unused compute resources.
You can think of IRIS as way to catch the firehose in real time and make sense of what is coming in without losing a drop – a buoyancy aid to help teams keep afloat as the torrent fills up the lake with data, if you will.
What are some of the other key findings and main challenges highlighted in the report?
CC: The need for a global royalty solution is fundamental as [in the future] emerging territories will contribute disproportionately more to income streams than they do today.
Processing power for royalty systems needs to increase, by some estimations, to 4,500% compared to what they were even a decade ago.
Moreover, access to data is demanded by creators, meaning more transparency is expected, and this in turn makes decision-making easier for the organizations collecting and distributing royalties.
Technology is here to solve these problems, as necessity has always been the mother of invention.
[You can download the ‘Drowning In Data’ report for free here.]Music Business Worldwide