Entrepreneurship in Music Series: 011
CEO & Founder Paul Wiltshire
Songtradr is a brand new marketplace platform for trading and licensing music rights. They only officially launched in March and are working to connect artists, labels, and rights-holders directly with production libraries and talent buyers across industries in a clean and simplified way. They’ve removed the hassle of third-party roadblocks, and they help put the artist in the driver’s seat when getting their music into lucrative placements. Plus, Songtradr’s sales team works around the clock to secure more opportunities for their users. CEO and founder Paul Wiltshire is an international multi-award-winning record producer, songwriter, and entrepreneur.
With deep connections in both the entertainment industry and the independent songwriting community, Songtradr has been endorsed by artists such as Patrick Joseph, Keaton Simons, Shane Alexander, Heather Holley, and Bite the Buffalo, and their advisory board includes Phil Quartararo (former CEO of Warner and EMI), Gary Stiffelman (attorney to some of the biggest names in the industry), Jimmy O’Mahony (former CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi), Bryan Biniak (former GM of Microsoft and Nokia), and Matt Rockman (tech entrepreneur, co-founder of Seek.com.au).
What is the essential problem that Songtradr has set out to solve?
As a marketplace with both buyers and sellers, we’re attempting to solve several problems at the same time. As far as buyers are concerned, we’ve created an environment where they can access commercial music instantly based on their usage requirements. We solve the difficulties associated with acquiring rights from multiple owners, saving both time and legal costs while providing a matchmaking process between buyer and seller, regardless of where they are in the world. We collect comprehensive metadata, connecting and building a complete tree of rights on a track by track basis for both master and copyright, and at all levels: authorship, ownership, control, and PRO (Performance Rights Organization) registration (if available).
And how does creating an open platform for licensing deals help to streamline that typically complicated process?
Well, we attacked this from several angles. First, we had to consider what buyers ultimately wanted when licensing or acquiring rights. In a perfect world, they would execute one legal agreement (rather than multiple agreements, if licensing a track from several parties). They would also want the full version of the track at the highest quality available (i.e. 24 bit 48khz), plus any additional assets to the track, such as instrumental files and even stems for flexible editing. So we designed the platform to not only be a marketplace, but also a content management system (CMS) for rights owners. We decided to provide the CMS for free, along with unlimited storage space for any number of tracks, so that our users would get great value from the service from day one.
We also needed to make it compatible with any type of song ownership scenario (e.g. multi-writer, multi-publisher, label), as well as include tools that allow users to pitch, share, and connect, whether participating in the marketplace or not. We wanted to deliver value to users unconditionally, so that we could attract a great range, quality, and depth of catalog, which is what every buyer ultimately wants when they go searching.
Given the fact we are an open platform where anyone can participate, the need for in-house curation and carefully customized metadata has been crucial. The Songtradr business is made up of a number of modules which are all equally important in our ecosystem;
1) The development team — responsible for the technology and user experience
2) The metadata team — responsible for improving metadata/search results
3) The curatorial team — responsible for the curated playlists that provide buyers the ability to browse curations rather than rely on search
4) The sales team — responsible for sourcing additional opportunities for our buyers
What makes Songtradr worth the commission you take on each exchange?
We’re trying to widen the net and open up new opportunities for our users. So, we provide the benefit of a free and unlimited CMS, a sales team working 24/7, all on a non-exclusive basis. We only earn when our customers do, providing them a no-risk environment which they have complete control over.
What do you think about the claim that artists today need to be more entrepreneurial, and less focused on their craft in a creative vacuum?
I believe we live in exciting times! At what other time in history did artists have the direct access to audience like they do now?! It may be true that it’s much tougher to procure a major label as your benefactor; however, technology has provided everyone a voice, as well as publishing and distribution power. Being entrepreneurial is therefore crucial to augmenting one’s career. Artists need to be their own back office, mindful of marketing/PR, A&R, touring, and merchandise, and balancing their time with the creative. It’s not easy, but those who have both the talent and the business, have a clear advantage.
As far as being “less focused on their craft,” I think its more a matter of discipline rather than focus. Not every artist is going to have the patience or the mind for business, but they will inevitably need to identify the importance of it if they are going to be successful in today’s environment.
Your “Intuitive Licensing Pricing” calculator function is actually pretty brilliant! Can you tell us more about it?
Thank you! We wanted to really simplify the whole licensing process and create a technology that did all of the heavy lifting when it came to determining prices from both a seller and buyer perspective, across the many different forms of licenses.
We literally broke down all of the common license types by media and their corresponding relevant variables into a programmable pricing matrix. Then we programmed presets for users to select from to best describe who they are (e.g. emerging songwriter, professional songwriter, buzz artist, label, etc.), and created a slider bar from low to high. Users move the slider and automatically see common pricing scenarios populate across multiple media types (film, TV, advertising, video game, online, etc.). Pricing can be done on a track by track basis or at a catalog or sub-catalog level, or users can simply select “Offers Only” if they are not comfortable with automated licensing.
What were some of the challenges you have faced in trying to launch Songtradr?
We’ve faced many and our philosophy is to try to turn problems into advantages. One of the big challenges, was how to make licensing pricing simple as well as automated given the thousands of different variables possible. We think we solved this with our variable license pricing platform.
Building a viable marketplace of any kind is a monumental challenge as you need to have one side (sellers) of the marketplace built before you can work on the other. We successfully achieved this during our beta period last year and relied on our customer feedback to improve functionality and the user experience along the way. Of course we’ve had to also face the same challenges as most other start-ups such as raising capital, finding talented staff, etc.
How did your networks in California and elsewhere help to kickstart this initiative?
We are blessed to have a lot of great people involved in the company, many of whom have come on board over the last year and some whom are old industry friends. My background and experience as a producer and songwriter helped a lot in getting the business up and running quickly and in designing the platform to be something that resonates with artists and writers. Coming from Australia, my network of contacts in California was actually quite small when we incorporated, but it doesn’t take long to make connections in a city like Los Angeles!
In ten years, if Songtradr succeeds, how do you see it changing the work life of the average musician?
I think all the data points towards more musicians managing their own careers and being completely reliant on using technology to succeed. We’ll always see superstars driven by the major record companies, but those companies will also benefit from the growth of the DIY space from the perspective of sourcing talent and assessing risk.
Songtradr is focused on providing tools that allow artists to monetize rights in a way they previously could not access, or at least found difficult to access. Our mandate is to open up new markets and provide access to all music creators and we intend to deliver a whole lot more as we grow as far as functionality, analytics, and monetization is concerned. Our ultimate goal is to position ourselves to be the one place you need to be.
How many of your staff are musicians or involved with making music?
Everyone in our office is a musician! Collectively, at some stage in our life, we have been artists, songwriters, producers, music supervisors, DJs, A&R, record company execs, or promoters! We all come from a place where we love music and want to bring positive change to the industry. Most of the team have their own music on Songtradr and many of us are still creating when we’re out of the office.
What would be your best advice for aspiring musicians these days?
I find the best advice sometimes comes from the most humble, unexpected places. At the risk of sounding corny though, “Listen to what your heart is telling you, not your head,” is often the best, and the hardest to execute. When you set out in life to achieve what many consider the impossible, you will hear many reasons why you cannot succeed. Sometimes the advice will be right and you can make a small adjustment to realign with your dream or ambition, however, often it’s just negative noise, so my advice would be… listen… breathe… and don’t stop believing you can succeed!
If you’re interested in hearing more about pioneering new music initiatives, check out the full Entrepreneurship in Music series!