Nashville Scene: Belmont Data Collaborative Partners With Licensing Collective to Make Sure Artists Get Royalties

On Nov. 6, 100 Belmont music students will be composing something a little different — code. For its first event, the newly founded Belmont Data Collaborative is collaborating with the Mechanical Licensing Collective to assess the rights and ownership of more than 21.5 million songs.  

The MLC is a nonprofit organization created in 2019 by the Music Modernization Act (MMA) that administers blanket mechanical licences to streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify and royalties to songwriters, composers, lyricists and music publishers.

Hosted in conjunction with Belmont’s Fall Preview Day, the Songwriter Streaming Royalties: Data Hackathon is the BDC’s first major event. Student participants will use the MLC’s data to determine and identify a variety of metrics, including how many unclaimed songs there are by year and genre, and incorrect or duplicate ownership designations. Then, the teams will use Juice Analytics’ JuiceBox technology to build “data stories” in the form of infographics and reports. The seven-hour hackathon will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Belmont’s Gabhart Student Center.

“Essentially, students are aggregating data sets to share meaningful data points that will help ensure royalties are paid to the right songwriters, composers and publishers,” says BDC executive director Dr. Charlie Apigian. 

“The music industry is at a point where it is not good enough to only know how to write songs or perform, because of the world of music streaming,” says MLC CEO Kris Ahrend. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

Founded in an effort to bring data-problem-solving skills to all students — not just to traditional computer science majors — BDC was launched in part to help foster new tech talent. The demand for new tech talent in Nashville is well documented — in the past 12 months, 87,500 coding, data, cyber security and digital marketing job openings have been posted in Tennessee.

“Everyone in the music industry must be data literate,” Apigian says. “There is no better place to highlight this than Belmont University, which is the beacon for music education.”

Belmont is nationally known for its music business and performing arts programs. More than 50 percent of the university’s students are studying in its Mike Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business. Last year, the school was recognized as one of the Top 20 Colleges for Music, due in part to its long list of alumni, which includes big names like Brad Paisley, Josh Turner and Trisha Yearwood.

Apigian notes that not only do Belmont music students need to understand how data determines royalties and drives the industry — realistically, it’s also a worthwhile skill set because not every music major will end up working in the music industry. 

“The music industry is a highly competitive industry that doesn’t always pay the bills in the beginning, or always offer financial security needed to support a family,” Apigian says. “By teaching data literacy and coding basics to our music and performing arts students, we are ensuring the success of our students and growing the local tech talent pool.”

Within the technology sector, musicians have been touted as skilled coders, with studies documenting the correlation between musical ability and reasoning skills. Experts credit the connection to both disciplines requiring recognition and manipulation of patterns.

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