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There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.

Pythagoras


It's been a while, so let's jump right in. Click the link to jump to a particular section.

Exploration Annual Report for 2016
2017 IFPI Global Music Report
NMPA / YouTube Settlement Information (Deadline May 31st)
Get Started Making Music by Ableton (this is awesome)
Redesigned Exploration Website
Catalog Metadata Template


Exploration Annual Report for 2016

Exploration helps media companies organize their data and collect their money. We are comprised of a smart and committed staff, thoughtful and experienced advisors, and led by Rene Merideth and Aaron Davis.

At the end of every year we publish a retrospective, reflecting on what happened, what we learned, and loosely, where things are headed. This helps us plan, keeps us honest about how plans worked out, and hopefully helps some readers improve their own efforts.

You can read the write ups for 2014 and 2015.

Capsule Summary:

We are very pleased with the progress of our company. The clearest signal that we are moving in the right direction is an increase in referrals from our current clients. We are grateful for their trust and confidence.

If you listen to music on YouTube, there is about a 20% chance we work with the publisher, label, writers, and/or artists. The past year saw the bulk of our business helping music publishers and record labels, however management of Film and TV catalogs is growing very rapidly. We also executed several large scale data merging, global operations analysis, and audit projects.
Exploration Data, our core catalog management software, stumbled. Turns out building software to account for every variation of media ownership and management is a hard problem to solve. However, we worked it out and believe we now have the solution.

Human resources for software engineering, data cleaning, organization, and reconciliation remains our largest expense.

We continue to enjoy the taste of humble pie and look forward to learning from our mistakes and changes to the industry.

Being able to efficiently produce one’s formatted, clean catalog metadata remains a most profitable endeavor.


Technology

Exploration created, maintains, and continues to improve business class search, catalog management, data analysis, and accounting software.

Exploration Data v1

We set out to build catalog management software for ourselves a little over 16 months ago. We needed it. Then we thought that maybe if we needed it, so would a lot of other folks. So we opened it up to others.

Here is a post explaining more.
We started to use it. And so did other folks.

And then it broke. So we fixed it. And then it broke again. And then we fixed it again..

We realized we’d built it perfectly for YouTube. It did its job.

But we needed it to do more.

YouTube notates Owners of an asset, even if they are only Administrators or Distributors. This taxonomy doesn't apply once you leave the YouTube ecosystem. Territorial variance, ownership chains, licensing..holy tomatoes - the data model to convey this will make one's head spin.

We analyzed how to modify what we’d built. We knew quickly, although we argued about it for much longer, that we’d made foundational errors.

If we wanted it be right, we had to rebuild it...from scratch.

So we did.

Exploration Data v2 is robust enough to handle anything we can throw at it, today, and hopefully, for a long time.

It is currently available in private beta.

Our search, data analysis, and accounting software are internal tools that work well.
Strategic, competent software engineering is critical for the management of catalog and accounting data.

Management

Exploration works in a business-to-business capacity and started primarily to help music publishers organize their metadata for YouTube. Historically, publishers had not done a lot of the hands on work to associate their musical works with commercially released sound recordings. With the dawn of YouTube and the iPhone, this association became crucial if publishers were to be paid and attributed for the use of their content.

We discovered that many of our music publishing clients also owned record labels and film/TV production houses. Inasmuch, our role expanded into administration and distribution of master recordings and audio visual content, and creation and management of YouTube channels.

In the midst of the above mentioned service work, we have been called upon by relatively large companies to consult on their overarching digital operations. The end result is typically a report that encapsulates our opinion on how best to get the most from their efforts, where there might be opportunities, and how to facilitate those efforts via software and human capital.

In other words, we have helped our clients get more - often, substantially more - return on investment.

Distilled to the smallest parts, we help media companies organize their metadata into formats that are conducive to the parties that need to pay them. We distribute and administer those works, resolve ownership conflicts and mis-merging of assets, and report and account royalties.

Exploration leadership is YouTube Certified in Audience Growth and Advanced Digital Rights and the company is YouTube Certified.

Collectively, we have decades of experience in catalog data management and analysis, in addition to royalty accounting and reporting.

We are self funded and owned outright by Rene and Aaron, placing our clients' needs at the forefront of our responsibilities. Our client's report to really appreciate this fact.

Our operations are well into the black and we've been fortunate to save quite a bit of capital.

Growing the business has demanded that our staff move from being more generalists to specialists. Below is an excerpt from the packet we deliver to prospective clients and partners that speaks to the evolution of our operational management.


Dedicated account managers & general support staff

Specific members of staff are tasked with learning, supporting, and administering client catalogs. Catalog account managers work in concert with Exploration general support staff to provide accurate and timely task execution. By utilizing both dedicated and general support staff, Exploration clients receive specialized, thorough service. Phone and email support is offered 24/7, especially on holidays and weekends, where timely resolution is paramount.

Dedicated catalog delivery, ingest, and data staff

Exploration maintains staff that is focused on data. Management of data includes assisting clients with delivery, formatting and augmenting catalog metadata, platform ingest, and manual claiming. As these tasks are extremely detailed and nuanced, requiring specialized skills, Exploration clients ultimately have more control of their data and collect more royalties.

Dedicated conflict & mis-merge resolution staff

Exploration maintains staff that is focused on conflict and mis-merge resolution. Exploration is effective at resolving asset mis-merges and conflicts by having exceptional subject matter knowledge, stirling relationships with conflicting parties and Google/YouTube, and commitment to the task on a daily basis.

Channel creation, monitoring, and management staff

Exploration’s channel management staff is YouTube Certified in Audience Growth and regularly attends product development summits offer by Google to best support clients. Exploration are capable of creating, administering, and growing channels from inception in addition to revitalizing older outlets. Platform partners offer Exploration dedicated technical and operational support for unique situations and advanced recommendations on optimal management. Platform How-To’s, lessons learned, and profitable strategies are shared with client via written guides and webinars on a regular basis.

Analytics, accounting, and reporting

Exploration provides clients with monthly analytics and raw royalty data from Google, a summary of royalties and the management commission, and an explanation guide to fully understand all of the above. Clients also receive granular reports detailing manual claiming, top performing assets and videos, conflict and mis-merge data, and consumption demographics. Royalty payments can be remitted in whole to an overarching umbrella company or divided to individual creators and artists, and everything in between.

Dedicated Google/YouTube support

Exploration enjoys dedicated partner management from Google/YouTube. This assistance is extended to our clients, providing more data control and more royalty collection.

What we learned


Four main lessons were learned in 2016.

Prioritize and Execute - The inbound demand for work exceeded our bandwidth for fulfillment toward the end of Q2. We had to stop and zoom out...identify priorities. Our solutions included more frequent communication with our current clients, hiring additional staff, continued documentation of training materials, building software to manipulate data and process royalties at scale, and more focus on service over business development.

For a while there I felt a bit like the fly that is banging his head against the window. Whereas, if the fly were to stop for just a moment...to detach and get a different perspective...it would notice a giant expanse to freedom right over there...

I'm really proud of our team's commitment to proactively execute with precision and speed.

Cover and move - The top of 2016 found us in a solid rhythm of growth, progress, and systemizing processes. This trend continued for the duration of the year, however in Q3 and Q4, we were fortunate to be called upon to work with several very large companies, which demanded increasing staff in all departments. In fact, we nearly tripled in size to 24 full time employees. It was a bowl of spaghetti at first. The dust quickly settled and we realized that having additional staff allowed us to cover each other and move forward as groups and small teams. A buddy system was implemented not only for new hires in training, but in day to day operations. We also utilized this strategy in concert with our clients and asset co-owners, adjusting and supporting each other as needed.

"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." ~ Native American proverb

Control Your Data. Collect Your Money. - As per the first lesson listed above, we spent a moon or two thinking about exactly where our attention needed to be focused. Ultimately, the molecular structure of what we believe to be important to our clients is the ability to control one's data and collect one's money. Period. It has become our slogan.


What is next?

It is really hard to predict what is going to change. I believe it to be more fruitful to focus on what will not change and execute accordingly.

Demand for exceptional value will not go down. Our clients expect to realize very high return on investment to management fees that are fair.

We will continue reinvestment in our own operational capacity and offer very competitive pricing structures.

Accuracy and speed matter. Being able to zip someone a confirmation email with "Done - <--->" in the subject line posthaste will remain critical.

We will increase collaboration with our partners, other controllers' of media, and within our team.

Let the robot do it. The volume and velocity of data necessitating software instead of humans continues to go up and to the right.

We will increase bandwidth to handle data through software engineering.


Closing

All in all, 2016 was an exciting test. We learned some lessons the old fashioned way, but the ball bounced our way more often than not. It's pretty cool to be able to help folks that deserve a solid.

We are really looking forward to learning and continuing our progress.

If you have any questions or want to dig deeper into our business, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Best,

Rene and Aaron


2017 IFPI Global Music Report [PDF]

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http://www.ifpi.org/downloads/GMR2017.pdf


NMPA / YouTube Settlement [Claiming Deadline May 31st, 2017]

The NMPA and YouTube announced reaching a settlement agreement on December 8th, 2016. The full press release can be viewed here.

Agreement Summary:


  • Music publishers will have the ability to opt into this agreement during the opt-in period, which opens on December 12, 2016 and will remain open through February 28, 2017.
  • Following the opt-in period, YouTube will provide participating publishers with a list of songs YouTube may have been unable to obtain proper ownership information for. This will allow participating publishers to claim ownership in those songs and receive accrued royalties from the period between August 1, 2012 through December 31, 2015.
  • The claiming window will be from March 1st to May 31st. After the claiming window, participating publishers will receive claimed accrued royalties.
  • Any accrued royalties that remain unclaimed will be distributed to participating publishers based on each publisher’s market share and on revenue paid for known usage on YouTube during the initial accrual period. The agreement, however, will not affect the rights of any publisher or songwriter who does not choose to participate.
  • This process will be repeated for future twelve-month usage periods beginning on January 1, 2016 and ending on December 31, 2019.
    This project has been completed for Exploration clients.

    We worked toward collaboration with other publishers on this project, but our efforts were ultimately thwarted.

    The idea was that if we felt 100% confident in identifying a particular asset for one of our clients, someone else shouldn't have to review it...and vise versa...at least not first. We would have been able to do more with less. There were 23 metric tons of assets to identify, for pete's sake. A rising tide lifts all ships. We all stand to benefit.
    I asked folks where the downside might exist and what I might be missing. The response was a mixed bag of "Sure. Let's do it.", "That sounds interesting. I'm going to discuss this internally and we'll buzz you back.", and "Your hair cut is terrible. Please don't ever call me again.". It ultimately didn't seem like the stars were going to line up, so we doubled down on the work at hand and have just finished things up for our clients...for this year. We will repeat this process again in 2018 and 2019, as per the settlement.

    There are many additional settlements and large scale data reconciliation projects afoot. I'd like to challenge all to consider the benefits of working together vs alone. Trust we will.


    Get started making music by Ableton https://learningmusic.ableton.com/

    In these lessons, you'll learn the basics of music making. No prior experience or equipment is required; you'll do everything right here in your browser.

    To get started, check out the boxes below. Each one contains a small piece of music. Click a box to turn it on or off.

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    After playing with these boxes for a while, you'll discover certain combinations that you like. Many types of music are created in exactly this way — by mixing and matching small musical ideas to make interesting combinations, and then changing those combinations over time.

    Now you've combined pre-made musical patterns. Next, you'll make some patterns of your own.

    https://learningmusic.ableton.com/

    Compelling commentary on Hacker News upon the software release - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14299628


    Redesigned Exploration Website

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    https://exploration.io


    Catalog Metadata Template [.CSV]

    Click below to view and download a catalog metadata template. It's a .CSV file and can be opened in Excel and Google Sheets.

    The catalog metadata template offers the minimum viable data needed to collect publishing royalties. Confirm with your partners the naming protocol required.

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    Catalog Metadata Template


    Thanks for riding along. It's nice to catch up. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions and ideas. We are here to help.