May 3, 2016
With streaming arguably not bringing in the revenue content creators expect, it's becoming incumbent on the creators to market their music in as many ways as possible. One is through the sync licensing of music and getting it placed in film, TV and commercials. Enter Songtradr, an online marketplace where artists, songwriters and content creators can optimize their music rights by getting their music in front of interested parties, creating more streamlined transactions. Here, Songtradr Founder CEO/Paul Wiltshire offers a more comprehensive overview.
What made you decide go from producing and writing to the administrative side of the music business?
I've never thought of it as an administrative move actually. I find what we're doing as creatively rewarding as my studio days. The genesis of the business really came about after experiencing first-hand how difficult music rights transactions could be, especially synch licensing. As a writer, producer and publisher, I was often frustrated at missing opportunities because either other parties weren't contactable or lawyers and administrators were slowing down the process. I thought this fragmentation could be solved and I imagined a comprehensive content management system that connected rights owners to a marketplace, so buyers (licensees) could have a streamlined transactional process.
That obviously led to the creation of Songtradr. Is the service a finished product or are you still tweaking it?
We have a great full product up and running now, however I don't think we'll ever consider it finished. We began with a basic prototype in 2014, followed by extensive testing and development until we launched a private beta version in February 2015. We then opened up the beta in May 2015 for anyone to use and spent the rest of the year focusing on growing content as well as further product and brand development. We officially launched in March this year.
What have been the biggest obstacles to the creation and future success of Songtradr?
There has been no shortage of obstacles along the way and at many levels -- technological, financial and human -- however the biggest one is time. Our team has an abundance of ideas of how we can improve the platform; however, a good idea can mean months of R&D. Finding the right team members who are suited to start-up culture is key. Our culture is very collaborative and I love it when any of the team comes up with the next big idea, despite the pain it may mean in actually executing it!
Most of the obstacles we've faced to date have turned into breakthroughs for us in terms of our technology. The music industry has major problems when it comes to rights. Try to explain music rights to someone outside of the industry and you will know immediately how confusing and fragmented it all is. We're working hard to simplify this from both the buyer and the seller perspective and we believe this is key to unlocking untapped revenues for music creators and rights owners of all sizes.
In radio, a station often flips format to fill "a hole in the market." Was there a hole in music rights market that is being filled by Songtradr?
I think there are a few factors to consider. On the one hand, there has never been less of a barrier for music creators to enter the market. Thanks to advances in technology, music creation is easier than ever before, as is the ability to publish and distribute, to have a voice. The real challenge for artists and music creators, generally, is how to stand out through the noise, so access to a marketplace of rights buyers, we see as a critical connection. Online and on-demand entertainment has matured so much over the last few years and subsequently, there is massive growth in channels of content globally, so the opportunities for music creators are therefore also increasing. It made complete sense to create a marketplace that has great depth and diversity to service the established and emerging markets worldwide.
How did Songtradr evolve during the beta process? How did you choose who would be involved in it?
We started with a private beta in February 2015. We invited songwriters, bands and artists close to us to test the platform. These users provided valuable feedback as we solved any problems and debugged. Once we were satisfied we had a MVP, we opened up the beta so that anyone could join. We again utilized customer feedback, learning from both their problems and suggestions that assisted us in developing the current version of the platform. Our culture is all about transparency and empowering our creators so we're good listeners! We want Songtradr to be something our users want to use because it intuitively makes sense rather than attempt to force a way of working that doesn't!
Now that you officially debuted Songtradr, what are your initial goals?
We have a number of fundamental goals - vertical integrations, revenue targets, user targets, quantity of content - but having said that, it's one thing to set arbitrary goals around quantity; it's another to set a goal around quality content as well. We work hard on the curation process so that great music can be found easily from any of the songwriters, bands, artists and composers, as well as production music libraries, publishers and labels on our site. Buyers can either use our search or they can discover music through our diverse genre and themed playlists.
It's been an exciting time since our launch in March, with thousands of new users coming to the site each week now. We're seeing some amazing music from all around the globe across all genres and styles. It's great to see indigenous music from developing countries as well as great indie bands, singer-songwriters, EDM and orchestral works. We've just commenced our buyer-focused ad campaign and we have an amazing in-house sales team who all come from a music supervision background. This team is working hard on placements in film, TV, trailers, commercials and other media. We have some really exciting developments in the advertising space, which I will be able to discuss more openly in the near future.
How big do you see Songtradr getting in terms of content and clients ... and how fast would you like to grow?
We will be introducing a number of new features to the platform over the next six months that we believe will impact growth significantly. As far as content goes, tracks will be in the millions; however curation and ease of discovery will always be paramount. We will continue to develop our buyer relationships with major advertising creatives, music supervisors in film, trailer and TV, video games and other media, and we're working on a number of new verticals that will provide our users with some amazing new opportunities.
We're also opening up a market for buying and selling masters and copyrights, making it simple for publishers, production music libraries, labels and even investors to find and acquire rights and build on their catalogs. As we are defragmenting rights, we see ourselves opening up new markets previously barred from access, simply because it was too difficult to participate.
You mentioned earlier about overseeing quality and not just quantity of available music rights. Who at Songtradr is responsible for discerning the quality of the content?
First off, we won't turn away any music; everyone is welcome to put their songs on our platform, and our team listens to every song uploaded each day. What we do is create two ways of discovery. The first is somewhat familiar -- the search process, where you can search by descriptive keywords, title, artist or writer. The search will look at all the metadata, including lyrics, to create results and we have developed proprietary algorithms to push quality to the top.
The second way to discover music is via our curations, which is more of a guided journey for buyers. We have a music team that's constantly curating incoming catalogs into playlists featuring various styles, themes and genres. Buyers can easily discover new music and from there, intuitively continue to explore particular artists or songwriters who are featured on any playlist.
We also have a third way - our sales team, who are all experienced music supervisors. Most supervisors are time-poor, so we encourage them and any other buyers to just pick up the phone and let our team do the work for them. We like to work closely with our buyers to ensure they get what they want. Human-to-human interaction is critical -- especially at our stage.
Finally, we have a feature we call "Wanted." Buyers can post a "wanted" and creators can pitch their music directly to these buyers, which is proving a great way for our users to interact. In this regard, there is no filter as users can submit anything from their catalog.
What's your take on the current performance and webcasting royalty battles going on in Congress and online? Does it impact Songtradr at all?
Right now, it would have little impact on our business as we do not collect any royalties for our users. We are a non-exclusive platform and our revenue model is only 17.5% of any completed transaction. We do not take any share of the royalty income that follows. We are, however, in the process of extending our services to include optional administration and digital distribution so the ultimate outcome will matter to us all. The more verticals we activate for the creators' catalog, the more valuable Songtradr will be for them. We live in interesting times and we get to be part of a sweeping change to our industry.
For content creators, what are the best ways to optimize Songtradr?
The short answer is that it's critical for users who come onto the site to include as much accurate information as they can with any track. Provide a description, tags, moods, genre and make sure all of the copyright details are actually delivered, including PRO (Performance Rights Organization) details. Ensure that you upload the highest quality file type available (i.e 24bit 48khz), although we accept all audio formats.
When you list a track, our platform connects any co-owners such as other songwriters, publishers and labels. Songtradr will invite any collaborators to approve your listing and once accepted, the song will be visible in the marketplace. What is really cool is that the song will also appear in your collaborator's catalog and any future transaction revenue will be automatically paid to each owner as per any agreed percentage ownership. Songtradr can therefore be also used as a tool to agree on songwriter and ownership splits at the creation stage.
Our system allows you to upload instrumentals, remixes and even stems and connect these files to the original mix. This is so important in terms of providing value and flexibility to potential licensees. Buyers usually prefer to have an instrumental version of any song they license so that they have some edit flexibility.
We're building Songtradr to be a one-stop shop where creators can store all of their music assets, connect to any collaborators, complete with comprehensive metadata. We give this service away for free and as I mentioned earlier, we are non-exclusive. Our users can create their own customizable playlists to pitch and share their music and use our platform as a tool to conduct their usual business. We encourage our users to also use Songtradr as a tool to pitch their music for their own opportunities. We believe our audio playback is the fastest online system, so pitching a Songtradr playlist is a more impressive and intuitive solution than sending dropbox links or mp3s in an email.
We've designed Songtradr so that users can utilize a great content management system for their everyday needs while being connected to the marketplace where their music can be discovered.
So how bullish are you in the future of Songtradr?
We have very ambitious goals. We aim to grow the business to become an enterprise like eBay or Amazon for the music industry, providing transparency, connectivity and access to the industry for anyone, anywhere in the world. Making music licensing simple for buyers, opening up new markets and providing unparalleled speed and efficiency ... we want to inspire trust and opportunity for songwriters and artists as their success on the platform is directly linked to ours.