Pioneer's New Technology Could Be Dance Music's Own NSA

Privacy advocates and up-and-coming DJs alike should think twice before adopting Pioneer's KUVO.

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Oct 24 2014, 7:59pm

Pioneer's song tracking social network, KUVO, is now taking its first steps towards widespread adoption after its soft launch at Amsterdam Dance Event in 2013. As a way to keep track of when songs are played and therefore when royalties can be collected, KUVO looks great at first glance. Still, the platform raises several unanswered questions that independent artists in particular should look into before adopting. 

At its core, KUVO is a mobile app and web platform that pulls data from a networked black box (NXS-GW) connected to Pioneer mixers. Assuming that you've set up an account and passed your tracks through Pioneer's Rekordbox software version 3.0 or higher, their black box will track what you play and upload that data to your profile for the world to view. Pioneer go on to say that with track performance data quantified, rightsholders will be able to collect royalty payments on their recordings from DJs playing their tracks in clubs.

So, KUVO generates data and gets people paid. "What's wrong with that?" you might ask yourself. If only it were that simple.

First and foremost, we don't know all of the data that the black box is collecting, but we do know that it isn't anonymized. It's linked to a public profile, after all. This is 2014, a time when emoji apps scan your text messages (and Facebook scans your heart and soul). If that doesn't bother you then ask yourself what would stop Pioneer from collecting data on whether or not you're playing legitimate versions of songs? What would stop a major label, PRO, or even a governmental agency from requesting that data from Pioneer about you? As far as we know, there is no subpoena protection with KUVO.

Pioneer goes to great lengths to publicize their collaboration with AFEM, the Association For Electronic Music, an organization made up of representatives from various record labels and management groups that is a ubiquitous presence at industry conferences. As an industry group, AFEM has a vested interest in protecting the income streams of artists, labels, publishers and other stakeholders. That works great if you're signed to a major. Are you? 

The benefit to independent musicians is nominal at best. According to AFEM, only three of the top 10 songs on Beatport are registered with appropriate rights organizations capable of receiving and processing performance royalties. Regardless of your opinions about the music that populates the Beatport charts, it is dance music's primary source of monetized track downloads. If KUVO can only pay 30% of what's on those charts, whose fortunes can it really favor to the SoundCloud-only masses?

If this technology were to become mandatory it could also pave the way for upstart DJ destruction. If you've ever tried to play a pirated game on an XBOX, you'll know your system can get bricked pretty quickly. Now imagine something similar happening when you play an unlicensed track. Not a big deal if you gig at clubs where the latest official remixes of T Swizz and Ariana are the jam, but since the early days of house, fans of dance music come to the club because they want an alternative to what's on the radio. In fact, dance music's existence is predicated on the development of new sounds that move faster than a lumbering record industry can keep up with. Sometimes that involves a recording that is rights-controlled by a major (just ask Cyril Hahn). KUVO could be this generation's Napster in that it unlocks the door for countless lawsuits by the RIAA against regular fans and underground artists alike. 

On top of all this, the system isn't exactly simple. KUVO requires that DJs create accounts, filter all their music through Rekordbox, perhaps add messages to certain tracks, select whether or not they actually want to display the track name, and make sure their box is connected to a network so that the fans they're playing for can, if they've downloaded the app, not pay attention to the DJ they paid to see and just look at their phones while in the club. Awesome.

Moreover, the much-touted royalty payments to musicians have to come from somewhere (synching an mp3 to a dongle on its own doesn't make money appear). Someone, somewhere, will be paying the $160 million estimated cost of performance royalties. Should KUVO take off, expect a jump in ticket prices at your local club as their own licencing fees increase.

While aspects of these issues may seem insignificant for some users, privacy watchdogs should seriously consider the implications of giving a third party access to your track collection. Club owners, promoters and fans alike should also be aware of the monetary trade-off KUVO's technology necessitates. Pioneer has a well-earned reputation as a reliable brand and presence in DJ booths around the world. Still, it's only fair they tell us more.

Ziad Ramley is on Twitter: @ZiadRamley

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