A New Startup Aims to Solve Widespread Hassles in Licensing Derivative Works 

Nick Ditri’s career as a dance music producer got a big boost when Tiesto used a 2013 bootleg remix of Avicii’s “Silhouettes” by his duo, Disco Fries. But like countless other unauthorized remixes, “Silhouettes” isn’t found on most of the popular streaming platforms. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t live anywhere outside of YouTube when Tiesto played it,” Ditri tells Billboard.  

That could soon change. Eleven years later, Ditri is trying to give commercial legitimacy to tracks in that commercial gray area. He is a managing partner of ClearBeats, a startup that enables derivative works — remixes, interpolations, mashups and alternate versions — to become properly licensed tracks. ClearBeats’ other managing partner, Bob Barbiere, is a former Dubset executive and veteran in digital technology and rights clearances. Ditri and Barbiere created the company with Suzanne Coffman and Yolanda Ferraloro of veteran music sync company Music Rightz. 


Digital platforms are awash in unauthorized derivative works because “it’s the easiest way to get your foot in the door, especially in dance music and in hip hop,” says Ditri. In a perfect world, those tracks would be licensed for distribution to digital platforms or synchronizations in TV shows, advertisements or movies. “But the problem is it usually ends at SoundCloud where it might get muted or pulled down,” he says. “[Or] it ends at YouTube or a DJ pool.” 

ClearBeats wants to address what Barbiere calls the “90/90 irony.” He estimates that 90% of artists who create derivative works want publicity and promotion, not the original artist’s rights or royalties. Additionally, 90% of rights owners would rather make money from a derivative work than take it down from a digital platform. But because the proper infrastructure doesn’t exist, Barbiere estimates that less than 5%, and maybe as little as 1%, of derivative works have proper attribution and are earning money for rights holders.  

“Why shouldn’t 90% of that content live in an ecosystem where everybody can distribute into it, consume it, be properly attributed to it, and royalties paid downstream?” asks Barbiere.  

The status quo not only prevents original recordings’ ability to generate revenue from derivative uses, but it also limits creators’ ability to build their careers, says Ditri. “If [producers] built a playlist network of five amazing Spotify playlists or Apple music playlists, and that’s their main source of promo and then they go and do a bootleg, that bootleg’s only gonna live wherever they posted — which is not going to be Spotify. So, they can’t even tap into their own networks. And it’s limited on Instagram and other socials as well.”

Currently, ClearBeats is helping labels, distributors and artists with bespoke licenses, working on a few long-term, strategic projects and helping companies identify and collect unpaid or suspended royalties. Barbiere says he has been contacted by distributors who want to help clients get licenses for tracks that incorporate samples as well as streaming platforms that want to license music catalogs to allow their users to create derivative works. A subscription-based registry for licensors and licensees is expected to roll out at the end of 2024 into 2025.

As for Ditri, co-founding ClearBeats provides him an opportunity give Disco Fries’ derivative works like “Silhouettes” a life outside of YouTube. “I’m thankful for the video clip,” he says, “but wouldn’t it be wonderful if this had existed back then?”

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