The Truth about Music Recognition Technology: Looking Beyond the Hype

Music Recognition Technology (MRT), also known as audio fingerprinting, has become an essential tool in the music industry. It has been used for over a decade by organizations like PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited) to track and monetize music usage. However, as MRT evolves and promises new opportunities, it is crucial to take a closer look and evaluate its true value.

The Evolution of Music Recognition Technology

MRT has come a long way, starting with its use in TV and radio and expanding to cover the vast landscape of online platforms and social media. The ability to scan and compare music fingerprints against reference databases has revolutionized the detection and reporting of previously unreported music usage. This has unlocked significant income for rights holders and provided valuable insights into the consumption patterns of music.

The success of MRT in the online domain has led to its application in public performance settings, such as shops, bars, gyms, and nightclubs. These venues play a crucial role in generating income for rights holders, but it is challenging to track and report the music played in such diverse locations. Traditionally, proxies, such as popular radio station playlists, have been used to allocate royalties. However, MRT offers the potential for accurate and specific data on a venue-by-venue basis at a relatively low cost.

The Challenges of Accuracy

Get Played, Get Paid: Music Recognition Technology

While MRT holds great promise, accuracy remains a critical concern. In noisy environments like bars and clubs, capturing a usable feed of the music can be challenging. The accuracy of the generated fingerprints and the matching algorithms used to compare them against reference databases are also factors that can affect the reliability of the data. In trials conducted by PPL, instances of incorrect reporting, such as misidentifying cover versions or derivative recordings, have been observed.

Another challenge lies in the authority and trustworthiness of the data returned from the reference databases. Managing metadata for millions of sound recordings is an immense task, and resolving conflicting rights ownership claims takes time. While initiatives like RDx aim to cleanse ownership data, it will require significant effort to ensure the accuracy of the information provided by MRT providers.

Context is another important consideration. Unlike licensee-provided playlists that provide information on how a piece of music was used, MRT lacks context. It recognizes and reports all music it detects, including music that may not be covered by the license. Determining whether a reported music usage should be included requires additional analysis and evaluation.

The Potential and Limitations of MRT

MRT has undeniably added significant value to the music industry, benefiting rightsholders, performers, licensees, and administrators. It has the potential to further enhance services and address issues of accuracy, fairness, and cost. However, it is essential to scrutinize marketing claims and thoroughly test the capabilities of MRT to ensure it meets the desired objectives.

The cost implications of deploying MRT at a large scale cannot be ignored. Rolling out this technology to tens or hundreds of thousands of public performance venues can result in significant expenses. While PPL has seen positive results using MRT in the public performance domain, it is crucial to acknowledge its limitations. Trials conducted by PPL have revealed instances of low detection rates for non-mainstream genre music, challenging the notion that only niche genres suffer from lower match rates.

Making Informed Decisions

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To navigate the complexities surrounding MRT, it is essential to perform due diligence and develop comprehensive business cases. Understanding the problem at hand and thoroughly evaluating the claims made by MRT providers are crucial steps in ensuring the best outcomes for the music industry. Claims of improved accuracy, greater fairness, and reduced cost should be rigorously tested through trials and parallel running.

It is tempting to embrace new technology with bold promises, but a cautious and thoughtful approach is necessary. By engaging all stakeholders and promoting collaboration, the music industry can drive innovation forward while maintaining the highest standards of accuracy and fairness.


Music Recognition Technology has transformed the way music usage is tracked, reported, and monetized. Its application in online platforms and public performance settings offers exciting opportunities for the music industry. However, the accuracy of MRT remains a significant concern, along with the reliability and authority of the reference databases. It is imperative to critically evaluate marketing claims and thoroughly test the capabilities of MRT to ensure it delivers on its promises.

By conducting trials, developing comprehensive business cases, and engaging all stakeholders, the music industry can effectively harness the potential of MRT while mitigating its limitations. With a cautious and diligent approach, MRT can continue to contribute to the growth and success of the music industry.

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