The new gold in the music industry



Thursday, November 17, 2022

Harriet van der Winden is the CIO at Buma/Stemra.

When music is composed, whether lyrics or tunes, the composer is entitled to compensation if their music is used somewhere. In today’s digital world music is played everywhere in every format ranging from iTunes to festivals, to shopping malls and gyms or simply on your own Spotify playlist.

Buma/Stemra is a non-profit organisation of - and for - all songwriters (text and music) and publishers within the Netherlands and has 36.000 of those members. It aims to make sure all songwriters get fair compensation for their work. To do so Buma/Stemra collects compensation fees for the songwriters and publishers who are affiliated with them. By means of a license, the users of music (i.e. the festival organizers, Spotify or restaurants and shops) pay these fees and are granted the right to use the music.

What are your core responsibilities at Buma/Stemra?

To sum it up, it’s all about digital & data! We can never have too much data in this industry. The more we are able to gather data and make sense of it, the better we are equipped to make sure the music creators receive fair compensation for their work. The bigger goal is to turn more and more data into insights for them too.

An important component of my role is setting the vision for the company’s digital development. Both the IT and the business teams have to understand the processes and the data collected, along with their connections and dependencies, so we can make the right decisions or provide knowledge and insight to our members.

Coming from more commercial organizations, I now moved towards a more passion-driven environment with a people-first approach. Music creators love their work and do it from the heart. And so does the majority of the Buma/Stemra organization. Precisely that, combined with the data complexity and endless opportunities for innovation is what engages and drives me forward. 

What are the main challenges you face in this industry?

I see an intriguing paradox in the music industry. On the one side, it is technology invested (AI creating music “by itself”, digital instruments, streaming platforms, NFTs' to name a couple), but on the other hand, the business models and ecosystem comes from a long history (Buma/Stemra was founded in 1912!). The processes and regulations have since then grown into a complexity that is not easy to automate. 

Currently, we get a lot of data from for example Digital Service Providers (DSPs) such as YouTube, iTunes or Spotify but we still want to have far more! The real challenge lies in recognizing music when it is played (both online and offline, for example on radio and television or at festivals) and trying to match it 1-on-1 with the works registration database that we have available. Some very specific technology is used to facilitate that for some of those areas, which is called fingerprinting. But we cannot catch or fingerprint every note that is played in the world.  

Both music creators and music users somehow expect such services and other IT processes to be completed in a click of a button, but our challenge is that we are not Google or your local bank. Our budgets for automation are far smaller than for the average banking app for example. The bottom line is, to be smart and choose wisely where we can really make a difference (and should thus spend our money). More metadata surely helps to streamline the process further. In our industry metadata is becoming the new gold.

Developments like this are fundamentally changing the competencies required in a modern workforce. In business teams (usually described as Business Technologists) but also in IT (moving from strict tech only towards more T-shaped profiles, including analytical and communicative skills for example). This is why I always say that everyone is able to work in IT if they want to.

Do you see many women in the music industry or even the data sector?

Currently, only 14% of all composers and lyricists in the industry are women! That number could definitely be better. The good news is that among the youngest members, this is already 26%. With initiatives such as ‘Rise up’, we offer the opportunity for young female artists to network, share their stories and in turn increase the number of women in the industry. 

In terms of the data sector, I truly wish more women would reconfigure their thoughts about tech. It is more than servers connecting. It is about understanding information and breaking it down into bite-sized chunks to take a wise next step. Model it, combine it and figure it out into something easily understandable.

When I attend IT leadership events, I’m still typically one of the very few women present. However, when I travel abroad for any tech event, usually far more attendees are women! 

My guess is that this largely has to do with different attitudes towards part-time work. However, I strongly believe that both individuals (not just women) and organizations can benefit from more flexible working arrangements. Being successful in tech roles does not mean you have to work full-time. Perhaps promoting this perspective will encourage women to pursue more senior tech roles.

Balancing work and family life is a big challenge, and it’s something that many professional women must learn because both your family and your job will keep on asking you for more. You have to learn to say no and trust that both sides will still like you if you do.

What advice do you have for young women stepping out into the professional world?

My strongest advice would be to take the time to figure out what you really like, and when you do, enjoy it. You learn best when you’re having fun. Young people today might fall into the trap of thinking that the first three years will determine their entire careers. I truly believe that agility and the skills to adapt to changing environments are the most important competencies that will make people both successful and most happy.

My experience is that life is full of interesting curveballs, and your career will unfold as it will. I will say that if you’re interested in technology, that’s brilliant, because it will be one of the most important areas in any business, and it’s not going away any time soon. If you choose to work in this area, you’ll have so much fun and learn a lot along the way. Don’t let the complexity of it deter you, it’s an enjoyable challenge and usually far more simple than it seems to be from a distance.