By Marcella Nahas and Alice Macedo
This article is the transcription of an interview with George Howard and Nicole d’Avis about RAIDAR, Berklee’s new licensing platform in partnership with MIT.
The interview was conducted by Marcella Nahas, Alice Macedo, and Josef Kiefer.
George Howard, JD/MBA, is a Distinguished Professor in the Music Business/Management department and the founder of GHS. This strategic consulting firm advises clients on integrating technology with a strategy to increase brand awareness and revenue through innovation, social media, digital platforms, and strategic partnerships. He is also the co-founder of Music Audience Exchange, a company that facilitates branding music for marketers. Howard is also the former president of Rykodisc, and co-founder of TuneCore – the world’s largest independent digital music distributor – former manager/publisher of Carly Simon; his most recent book is entitled, “Everything In Its Right Place: How Blockchain Technology Will Lead To A More Transparent Music Industry.”
Nicole d’Avis is the Managing Director and designer of Berklee’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship and the Open Music Initiative leader. She directs Berklee’s annual Silicon Valley Student Trip, the Berklee-Brown Summer Program, executive ed programs with ESADE Business School, and numerous Berklee Artist Residencies for Grammy-Award winning artists. One of her many speaking engagements was at the Forbes Imagination in Action event at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos. Recently d’Avis has stewarded the first stage of Open Music’s Berklee / MIT technical project, which you’ll hear her talk about below.
- What is RAIDAR?
Nicole: RAIDAR is a direct creator to consumer music licensing platform, built by Berklee and MIT, designed by students and for students.
George: The platform allows Berklee artists – and only Berklee students – to upload their work and have those works licensed into student films.
- What is RAIDAR’s purpose?
George: What drives us is the fact that while revenue from streaming continues to grow, it is not distributed well at all; it’s going to a very small number of people. In no scenario will any customer one day wake up and say, “Hey, I want to pay more for my music subscription service!” Really, the only way that we can grow the market is by growing the opportunities for artists by creating more efficient and more widespread licensing opportunities. There is a huge demand for music across a whole array of uses that we can’t even imagine that can help students create sustainable careers on their own terms. That really is the ethos of RAIDAR.
- How did the partnership with MIT come about?
Nicole: MIT is one of the founding members of the Open Music Initiative. MIT Connection Science, the division that we work with, deals with data and analysis to revolutionize technology-mediated human networks. They helped architect the technical design upon which RAIDAR is built.
- What is the Open Music Initiative?
Nicole: OMI is a consortium of over 300 member companies from the music and entertainment value chain from point of creation to consumption. It involves all of the major labels, publishers, and streaming services, as well as adjacent companies whether it’s Netflix, Facebook, IBM, or Intel.
The three goals of OMI are interoperability, education, and innovation. RAIDAR was built based on the protocols and principles of OMI, so it’s, in many ways, one of the first working prototypes that’s a reference implementation of those protocols and principles.
- What’s the equivalent of RAIDAR in another industry?
George: Licensing music today is equivalent to booking travel in the 1970s; still a very time-consuming, laborious, and inefficient system. We have this amazing wealth of music that is not being utilized to its highest and best form. I got this idea because I studied the Sabre (Airline Solutions Software Company) database, which is where the travel industry runs on. Once the airlines started putting the data up into a database that anybody could access, companies like Expedia and Travelocity went: “oh, we all have access to the same data but we’re going to make it easier for people to find what they are searching for.” Those standards emerged over time – proving that standards follow transactions, not the other way around.
- How does blockchain add value to the platform? How does it maximize what you want to achieve with the platform?
Nicole: Blockchain is a technological tool that enables direct-to-consumer connection. Right now, most of what we do within the internet is governed by third party systems. For example, if you want to connect socially online, you’ll use Instagram or Facebook. There are hundreds of people you’re connected with that you wouldn’t be able to access and find without those third-party platforms. You’re depending on a private, for-profit entity (within which you have no stake, no say) to enable your social connections. Therefore, blockchain enables us to build systems that are not held by for-profit, third-party platforms. Most importantly, it enables us to direct all of the payments to the students. We have no desire to hold onto a cut of the payment. We’re just trying to facilitate the licensing directly.
George: When a student uploads their work, a record of that upload and the associated rights of that work is stored on a blockchain. Advantages of blockchain are immutable (meaning they can’t be changed) and decentralized (meaning they’re not owned by any particular entity – Berklee doesn’t own the works, the database). The ethos of blockchain has been a very big part of OMI because the technology that blockchain facilitates is precisely what we believe the music industry needs: more transparency and interoperability. Over time, blockchain allows for licenses to occur with fewer intermediaries. Today, if you want to license a work, there are lots of people between the person who creates the work and the party who licenses it – and each person in between takes a cut.
- Do you have any plans on expanding RAIDAR to other markets in a way that is available to non-Berklee students?
Nicole: We have built this for Berklee. However, we will be putting the architecture online and making that available, so that other music schools could build their own. So, for example, if Juilliard and USC were to build their own RAIDAR, then the prospective licenser of the work could say, “I would like to see the options to license from Berklee, Juilliard, and USC.”
- Do you have plans on incorporating other tools to the RAIDAR platform, other than solely licensing?
Nicole: Right now, with direct licensing, what we want is what I like to call ‘career sovereignty for artists’ – we want to allow students to make money. Could we enable distribution to streaming platforms? Sure, but that’s not going to bring money to students in any fast way. I think that for us, it’s really more about “what are other ways of getting the music out there, and getting it to people that want to pay for it?”
- What are RAIDAR’s next steps?
George: We have broader ambitions than just film – the goal is to move onto other verticals. In particular, targeting video game makers, VR makers, health, and all these areas that licensing music into is extremely hard, where there is some green space for students to begin building their reputation and making some money along the way.
- How can a Berklee student join RAIDAR?
George: Before a student is able to upload their work to RAIDAR and a buyer of the work/licenser of the work is able to buy, they’ll have to go through a quiz to make sure they understand what the rights are. It’s as much an educational gesture as a transactional and commercial one – the two together are very powerful.
Nicole: The best way for a student to get involved is simply by uploading their music to the platform. The worst-case scenario is that nobody licenses your song, but you’re still learning about intellectual property, music valuation, and metadata. The best-case scenario is that your music gets licensed, and you get paid for it.
Through participating in RAIDAR, students will gain a deeper understanding of the development of startups, businesses and marketing communications, legal aspects of licensing, user experience, and general business leadership and management. Starting in the Fall of 2021, there is actually going to be a course built around this that is in development right now. Students, after taking those course experiences and having that foundational level of education, will be able to intern in leadership positions within RAIDAR.
Visit www.raidar.org to upload your music!