Watermarking in the Studio

As digitally recorded music moves through the recording and production chain, it can be handed off to a variety of studios, musicians, producers, record label executives, and mastering engineers. Sometimes this is done with a recordable CD or DVD, sometimes with a portable hard disk, and sometimes via a high-bandwidth Internet connection. Somewhere along the way, a good percentage of those files (some estimate up to 80%) get copied in an unauthorized manner and quickly end up on the Internet or on the street as pirated CDs before any official discs are released.

This problem has become an opportunity for companies like DMOD (Digital Media On Demand), who provide the industry with tools to move digital audio files around securely. All well and good for the law-abiding audiophile who only purchases authorized discs, and treasures full-bandwidth music.

However, one of the tools that companies like DMOD are starting to rely on in the production chain is watermarking. Watermarking is, of course, a dirty word among audiophiles, who shudder to think that their pristine music may have been compromised by the willful addition of watermarking distortion. Both the DVD-Audio and SACD formats have a variety of watermarking options (some audible, some not) built into their formats, but the studios' own recording discs and tapes are exempt right?

Not necessarily. DMOD announced last week that it has signed a deal with Activated Content to add its watermarking technology to DMOD's encryption and digital rights management (DRM) tools for moving audio files around the production environment. The companies say the new tools, offered as the DMOD WorkSpace ASP hosted service and ActivatedAudio Watermarking Suite, are intended for use throughout the entire music production process from recording to mastering to manufacturing and distribution.

The companies claim that their bundled offering is the first to incorporate not only encryption and DRM, but also watermarking features, to protect and trace digital assets while defining an individual's rights to play back and/or export the digital files. Activated Content says that The ActivatedAudio Watermarking Suite in particular provides watermarking production, restriction, and distribution management features for any audio-inclusive content, including music, movies, and games. "Once content is exported with the content owner's permission from DMOD WorkSpace, it can be identified and traced via its unique watermark."

But in the end, all that matters to audiophiles is whether the watermark is audible. All Activated Content will say is that ActivatedAudio is "golden ear" approved, and a "field-proven audio watermark" that has already been deployed by several record labels, mastering studios, duplication houses, and online distribution services.