Interview: Dubset CEO Stephen White
Stephen White is the CEO of Dubset, a technology solutions company for the music industry. Dubset’s rights management and clearance capabilities ensure music creators obtain full rights to the content they produce. The content includes official DJ mixes and unofficial remixes and additionally, Dubset claims royalties for more than 35 million releases. Ever since October 2018, Dubset is in a partnership with Soundcloud, one of the top music sharing platforms. Furthermore, the new partnership will allow music creators to claim their content and decide how they will split the revenues.
Tell us more about yourself. What are your favorite hobbies and interests?
I’m a huge music fan since I was a little kid. I studied hip-hop at school, I got my degree in American Studies with a focus on hip-hop and house music. I’ve always been into music and outside of that, I’m a father of two girls. I’m a husband, a family guy, and I like to eat, I’m a big foodie. I like to spend a lot of time outside like hiking, climbing mountains, and skiing.
Where did you grow up, Stephen?
I grew up on the East Coast, I was born in upstate New York. I lived in the Midwest for a little bit but I call Connecticut home.
What’s it like working at Dubset?
You know, it’s a dream job! It’s something that combines two of my passions, technology and software development. That also combines my love for DJ culture and hip-hop and dance music. I pinch myself every day that I spend large parts of my day working with the music icons that I look up to and love. I spend my five days searching how to help them get their sounds out to the world. It’s awesome!
Who were your favorite DJs from back in the day?
I’m a huge DJ Jazzy Jeff fan and he’s become a dear friend. I think he’s one of the most underrated DJs in the world in terms of really being amazing at turntables. He’s an amazing, diversified DJ who can do just about anything. I was also a big Prince Paul fan and DJ Premier fan. You know, kinda like East Coast, early-90s hip-hop DJs, they’re really like my bread and butter.
What were your initial reactions when you found out that Dubset and Soundcloud officially cemented the partnership?
It’s been a fine partnership that we’ve been working on for a long time. We take it like peanut butter and chocolate and they’re both great. When they come together, though, it’s something amazing there. If you really think about what the two companies do, Soundcloud is really the home for content creators, especially for DJs. They’ve always had the challenge of having to operate behind safe harbor. It means that we can’t really know what’s on their service to be able to still operate under a safe harbor.
That means that rights holders are constantly taking things down and that’s really tough to their user base. And so, Dubset brings a unique capability to Soundcloud to be able to help and take pieces of content from the user-generated side of the business, figure out what those things are, build a standing minimum for the rights holders, and ensure that the rightsholders are properly compensated for their content. Afterwards, it’ll be allowed to stay up in the service, allowing it to be monetized in different ways. It’s just really a great combination and this is just the beginning. There’s a whole set of things that Soundcloud and Dubset have set out to do together that are super exciting. You’ll see coming from both companies in the future.
How does the new partnership with Soundcloud compare to partnerships Dubset made with Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, and Sony Music?
It’s a little bit different, obviously, Soundcloud’s platform is different in terms of content they have access to. It’s as much of a technology partnership as it is a rights partnership. Whereas with some of the other partnerships with Apple and Spotify, those are really just pure distribution partnerships for us. Soundcloud, you know, because we have this framing role to play with them on their service, it’s just a little bit unique compared to the other partnerships.
And in regards to signing the rights holder deals, we have 50,000+ rights holders on the platform today and over 45 million tracks on their license. Sony was by far the first to really back up Dubset and truly believe in what we’re doing. They were really supportive of us early on, which allowed us to build up the business. We owe them a huge debt in terms of being the first major label to really support DJs and DJ culture this way. It really set the stage for everybody else who gotten on board with the platform since then.
What are the benefits of the new partnership for artists who have exclusive rights to the songs they upload?
If the artists are uploading digital content, the partnership doesn’t really apply. What we’re really focused on is content creators on Soundcloud’s platform that are using other people’s content. So they’re creating unofficial remixes, single-track remixes, or they’re creating long-form DJ mixes. For those types of creators, Dubset’s platform figures out what content they’ve used. Then, as clear as that content is to the rights relationship with labels and publishers, it can feed back to the different tiers and be targeted for premium advertising and aim for a higher level of monetization. The content creators on this platform are able to participate in the revenue, knowing they will get the benefit of the content staying up and not be subject to takedowns by rights holders.
They also get to participate in a greater revenue stream that’s created once the content is claimed where premium advertising can be delivered against it where advertisers now know what that content is and contribute the brand. They’re also okay with the concept that’s there and the premium deals and subscription service. That is when the artists pay the subscription total, where there is revenue and past feed subscribers. It opens up a whole new revenue stream for those content creators. It gives them the certainty that their content will stand.
How does the partnership also affect Dubset’s services provided to thousands of label and publishing rights holders?
This is a core to our mission which is to make sure that rightsholders’ wishes are adhered to. The rightsholders would also have the ability to control their content and decide what content to use. That include the mixes and remixes that are out in the world. For rights holders, this is now an ability to claim content without having to go through the very manual processes of hunting and taking turnstiles and crafts. One challenge with claiming content has always been getting an understanding of what DJs are using in the mixes.
It’s very hard to do without audio-framing technology and the advanced recognition platforms we’ve developed that are specific to mixes and other content. By applying those, we were able to claim a higher amount of content on behalf of the rightsholders. Again, maximize the monetization of that content as it delivers to the consumers so that all of those rights holders make more money.
Dubset’s MixBANK platform is the “marketplace of mixes and remixes”. How does the partnership affect MixBANK’s distribution of derivative content such as mixes, remixes, and live sets to various music services?
This initial partnership doesn’t affect that. The initial partnership is around claiming content within Soundcloud’s services on behalf of Soundcloud. So it doesn’t enable the distribution of that content off of the Soundcloud platform today. Our core business of integrating with third parties and allowing DJs to upload content directly to MixBANK. Once it’s there, it channels into our great partners like Apple and Spotify and it doesn’t really affect distribution much.
Can the DJs, labels, publishers, distributors, and music services on MixBANK still receive music royalties as usual or will there be any significant differences?
I see royalties the same way. This just becomes another revenue stream, another royalty stream that puts those rights holders in the same respect and just opens up a broader distribution channel. Albeit one that’s implied on Soundcloud and, you know, that’s self-contained. It’s another monetization channel for mixes and remixes that generates revenue on behalf of the rightsholders. Nothing really changes for the rights holders other than hopefully more dollars flying to them.
How will the MixSCAN platform, Dubset’s proprietary technology, utilize Soundcloud’s vast library of 190 million tracks that are made by 20 million creators?
MixSCAN is the identification technology that we’ve developed. It uses a combination of audio sync-encrypting, as well as a set of proprietary recognizing capabilities. Also, on top of it, the Soundcloud partnership requires us to identify content. It draws out to a smaller percentage of content creators to start, Soundcloud is carefully picking the first users of this service. We won’t apply it to all 190 million pieces of content, now over 200 million pieces of content they just announced last week. However, we’ll start to apply it to some subset of that and hopefully we’ll roll it out more broadly soon.
Dubset and Soundcloud will initiate an invite-only beta program for individual remixes later this year. What are its notable features?
So the core is exactly what I talk about earlier. The idea of claiming content and moving it from a lower-monetized tier service to a higher-monetized tier service. As well as helping with all of the identification of the underlined content, with all tracks listed appropriately. That probably may explain why it’s much easier for users to find this content. And also, to find content found within DJ mixes and find an unofficial remix that they care about and allow them to be monetized at a higher rate. Those are the main key components of the program.
How can Dubset help Soundcloud when attributing rights for DJ mixes, remixes, and other content? Especially in regards to licensing issues of remixes and DJ sets.
Our licensing deals are broad licensing deals. We enter into catalog-wide agreements with labels and publishers. We then use rule sets that are set either through automated creation by ingestion of fees from labels and publishers. Or through the labels and publishers exclusively creating those rules. We then apply those rules to the content that we’re processing so that we’re able to attribute rightsholder ownership and clearance.
At that scale, we’re able to do that with a high degree of granularity down to one second of audio. Later, we’re able to do so across content that are highly monetized like mixes and unofficial remixes. It’s a set of licenses that are unique in the industry that allow us to work with modified mixes and remixes. In a way that creates a legal construct that’s never really been done before.
What do you expect will arise from the Dubset-Soundcloud partnership by the end of 2019?
I hope I get to see this year will prove out the model around the initial partnership. We’ve been able to roll out the feature of claiming and monetizing mixes and remixes across their subscription offerings. Hopefully we’ve expanded the partnership to enable a set of innovative services with Soundcloud that continue to support content creators. Also, continuing to enable content creators distributing their creative works without concern and participate in a way as they pleased.
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