From Excel Sheets to the Cloud: Why We Created Reprtoir

In this day and age, many of us expect technology to make our lives easier and we should. We have finally reached a stage in our evolution where we can delegate boring tasks not to humans anymore, but to machines and computer code. A couple of decades back, sending and managing cassette tape demos wasn’t something pleasant. It took a lot of time and resource. Music compression and email changed everything in that respect.

Now we have many tools to make our music business practices a lot easier, but just because they’re at our disposal doesn’t mean we are using them properly (or using them at all for that matter). One of our objectives at MIDEM this year was to identify pain points catalog owners were experiencing with the management of their metadata, audio files and overall label-related activities. What we expected was confirmed: labels are living on islands technology-wise. Most labels are still dealing with rudimentary tools that date back decades to get their content across to one another. As long as old school procedures can be enforced, they feel no need to change. But the combined evolutions of tech and the recording business are now moving so fast that change is going to be imposed upon them in the near future. It is time for them to hop on the bandwagon.

As a record label, we have been confronted with the numerous intricacies of managing music content for a long time. We are in the back-catalog business so we deal with sizable quantities of recordings from a varied number of partner labels. In terms of metadata, this translates into having to gather, manage and harmonize metadata sheets formatted differently on a constant basis. From a legal standpoint we have to apply various sets of rights to all our catalogs ranging from territory restrictions to compilation creation rules. Organising audio files is not an easy task either. When you are dealing with hundreds of thousands of recordings like we are, linking files to metadata, permissions, contracts, rights and royalties can become a biohazard. You have to keep things as clean as possible on all fronts or the majority of your time is spent administering your assets. Being trapped in this scheme kills productivity, and most importantly it sucks all the time needed to be creative with your business.

We understood this pretty quickly.

8 years ago we would manage tens of thousands of recordings in iTunes. We used it to rip CDs, assign metadata and basically manage it as our database. If we wanted to create a compilation, we had to manually search for the recordings on hard drives, copy them and package them together. Sending this product to stores meant logging into our dashboard on our aggregator’s website, manually uploading metadata Excel sheets we created by hand, manually renaming the audio files and uploading them via the interface, wait for everything to happen, all the while having to manually report any contractual restrictions to our products in various ways. This was a hellish manual time-consuming process. We knew there was a better way and we quickly realised it involved lines of computer code. That translated into hiring developers and creating our own content management system, one that would replace all these time-consuming-error-generating-mind-numbing manual tasks and replace them by seamless automated ones. We also knew that our tool should not be an offline application installed on our computers. It needed to be in the cloud, accessible from anywhere at any time.

Once you start building your own music label software, and you integrate the fact that part of your time and your investment is directly feeding its maintenance and improvements, you start to envision your work differently. Not only every manual task can be implemented in one way or another but the possibility of coding new features that once might have seemed impossible to accomplish via offline processes are now feasible in an online software-base environment. In no time we involved our platform in most of our work. Content ingestion, metadata curation, rights administration, audio and video file management, royalty calculations, delivery, data aggregation through the use of APIs, our platform was doing it all, and we kept striving to make it better every time we had the chance to.

One crucial aspect of the practicality of our system is cloud computing. Without AWS’s (Amazon Web Services) power, robustness and flexibility, our content platform wouldn’t be as dynamic as it is. We have everything stored on AWS, content and software. Adding more storage is done in the blink of an eye. Same goes for processing power. This just barely scratches the surface of what cloud computing offers to us. For this reason we call our current platform “The Cloud”.

What is contradictory is that the more we implemented tools and features to increase our productivity, the more we ran into hardships regarding how we dealt with our partner labels and new clients. When everyone is working with Excel sheets and hard drives, it is quite easy to transfer music and ingest metadata because everyone is talking the same language. Might take forever to get the point across but eventually everyone succeeds in doing so. When we start asking our clients to do server-to-server connections, or DDEX compliant data transfers, we are confronted to friction. As I mentioned, most professionals we know are still living on islands technology-wise. They might have invested in infrastructure, tools, software etc. for their business, but 90% of the time its proprietary. The large majority of labels we know have put systems into place that are completely closed to the outside world. In the past that was the only way to go, but nowadays this is very counter-productive. Audio file transfers should take a matter of minutes for dozens of tracks and no more than hours for batches of thousands of recordings, not 2 months (the time to organize the hard drive, send it, pay expensive transportation fee, receive it, hook it up and transfer the files is mind-boggling).

An intriguing thought for us is that many labels are barely aware that they could do better. On the other hand it is encouraging to see that they want to. Frustrated by how they handle their data, their royalties and their files, many are waiting for the right fix. We are hoping to supply them with just that: for the past year we launched a project that aims to entirely refresh The Cloud and bring it to professionals.

We named this project Reprtoir

Throughout this blog, we will cover topics related to our business and to the improvements brought to Reprtoir. We will decrypt current events as well as technology trends that impact our industry. It is our opinion that the music business has always been slow to adapt to change, probably due to the opaque nature of the management of its main assets: rights and data. Although one could argue that rights and data are the foundations of any industry, the history of music rights paints a rather disappointing portrait in regards to how human nature handles them (i.e. music existing for thousands of years until it generates any income for authors, composers and performers). Music is now generating more sales data than ever before and labels need to be prepared to fetch, ingest and analyse it properly if they want to survive on the long term.