Paul Wiltshire may have single-handedly revolutionised the sync licensing business in 2014 when he founded Songtradr.
The Santa Monica-based firm is a fully-automated music licensing marketplace, which boasts what it calls “the largest pre-cleared catalog of music in the world”.
Its database now contains over 450,000 artists, songwriters and catalogs from over 190 countries, while the firm’s licensees include the likes of Netflix, NBC Universal, Microsoft and Disney.
In addition, Songtradr offers artists distribution to a wealth of digital platforms – while allowing these acts to keep 100% of their streaming royalties.
Wiltshire is an award-winning record producer and songwriter, having produced and/or composed music with sales in excess of 15 million records including 12 No.1 albums and singles.
“It wasn’t until I owned songs and had songs being licensed that I started to understand how difficult it actually was to get a sync,” he explains.
The problems he identified at the time included a lack of access to suitable music for advertisers or TV and film music supervisors, and a lack of efficiency in the licensing process for the latter.
“It wasn’t until I owned songs and had songs being licensed that I started to understand how difficult it actually was to get a sync.”
With Songtradr, Wiltshire and his team have built a platform where music is easily discoverable, and easily licensed.
The company continues to go from strength to strength, raising $4m in a Series A funding round in 2018 and having recently acquired creative music licensing agency Big Sync Music in a multi-million dollar cash and equity deal.
And it’s riding the waves of a burgeoning sync business, which according to the IFPI, saw its revenue grow 9.6% globally in 2017 – delivering $333.1m to artists and their record companies that year.
Here, Wiltshire explains Songtradr’s business model and plans for the future…
Could you talk us through Songtradr’s core business?
Songtradr is a marketplace of music rights, available to any type of music buyer. If you think about Spotify being the B2C platform, we’re trying to build ourselves to be the B2B platform – offering the best experience for project makers, filmmakers, advertisers, brands or video game [companies] to discover music, and be able to license it.
That journey is two-sided. We also want to build out the ecosystem for labels, publishers, artists, songwriters and [other] rights-owners. In order to make that experience for the licensee the best it can be, we need as much data as we possibly can have so we can tailor or influence search results based not only on our own taxonomies and keywords and moods and genres, etc, but also popularity, trends and geographics; making things localized and hyper-focused.
Which problems in the sync industry did you want to fix when you launched?
There are two problems that we focus on.
From the artist’s perspective, it’s access. How does an independent artist get their music onto a Netflix show, or a Nike ad? By building a place where their music is discoverable, and they’re able to leverage their success to be discovered, seemed to be one answer.
The other problem to solve was efficiency for licensing. The sync licensing business has been much the same as it has been always. It’s still largely a 20th Century model where a licensee has to negotiate with multiple parties, and go through lawyers and agents and managers. It’s a slow process.
“The sync licensing business is still largely a 20th Century model where a licensee has to negotiate with multiple parties, and go through lawyers and agents and managers. It’s a slow process.”
We wanted to solve two problems on that side. One, create an efficient way to just be able to license music automatically, and two, be able to simplify the discovery of music so it’s as simple as typing in words that [find] the right creative.
Our mission is to create a much more data-enriched process so that, for example, an advertiser can match the target audience that they want their product to reach with the consumption audience of the music – and then make a subjective choice [from the] intelligent selection of music that’s matched [by the Songtradr platform].
Before Songtradr, a creative in an agency may have 20 go-to platforms [to search for music]. We go, ‘Let’s build the right technology where all of those competitors could be on our platform, the same way retailers are on Amazon.’
How have your goals evolved since the company was first launched?
One problem we needed to solve, being a songwriter – and looking at my own catalog and how many co-writers I had – was, ‘Let’s connect rightsholders together in the platform so multiple owners of a song can transact together as one.’
That was the initial problem. Then, once you start solving those initial problems, you start seeing a whole bunch of new efficiencies that you can bring in to make a much better experience. We’re always going to be looking at solving new problems as we grow.
Could you tell us about your blockchain work?
What we can say is, we see blockchain as a very viable technology at the rights-owner level. Rights owners can be connected to their works, and for interoperability between platforms, and to be able to unlock new technologies by easily accessing rights. It’s hard to not talk esoterically without really getting into the weeds.
“We see blockchain as a very viable technology at the rights-owner level.”
We don’t see it in our immediate future, but we are developing in the background. We’re in stealth mode with it, and when the time is right to activate that, we just don’t want to be left behind within that. We want to be front of market at the right time.
One thing we’re working on the moment and we’re due to release the product in Q3, is a rights administration product. We have distribution, we have content management, we have sync licensing marketplace. We’re now building what we’d see as the missing piece, which is publishing administration; what we’re just calling ‘rights administration’.
That will include neighbouring rights, so artists have one place to collect and manage their rights all in one platform. But most importantly, to leverage all of their success, or any of their data, so we can better place sync. If we know that a track is earning a certain income, or we know that we place a piece of music in a certain TV show, it makes sense for us to try and go and collect the income for them as well.
We’re not going to own any rights. We do it to make the experience for artists a more viable one.
You represent over 450,000 artists, songwriters and catalogs. That’s a lot of music…
It is – and one of the natural forces of the industry is there’s more supply than demand. That creates an opportunity for us to start building into our ecosystem the pathways for emerging writers, or emerging artists, to either learn or be able to improve their chances of [getting a sync] licensed.
“Meeting the expectations of artists can be a challenge sometimes.”
Sometimes a user will upload their music and expect results within weeks, but sync is very much about right track, for the right placement, at the right time. There are a lot of uncontrollable forces that determine if and when that happens.
The majority of our energy goes into building out the buyer side of our marketplace, building out the amount of licensing that we get, which is one of the reasons why we purchased Big Sync. It was to expand, and we’re continuing to look at opportunities in that space, where we bring in more licensing opportunities, because that really is what’s driving the success of the platform.
Big Sync have some great blue chip clients that are very much in the brands and advertising agency space. We see one of the key areas of growth for sync is advertising and brand. In the majority of cases, it’s the highest value transaction as well, but there’s also a growing need for smaller licenses for different content channels. It might be a brand’s social channel, or a brand’s own webpages, for example.
There are different layers of use that the brands are looking at now. In the past it was just one track for one campaign; now they’re licensing multiple tracks for multiple campaigns. It might even be targeted campaigns based on the users’ profile or YouTube habits.
“Songtradr is now the largest pre-cleared catalog of music in the world.”
Part of Big Sync’s [offering] is also to clear music from any label and publisher on behalf of a brand. For example, if they want to license a major iconic artist from a Universal or a Sony, or a major publisher, Big Sync is in the middle of that transaction, negotiating on behalf of the brand. We saw that as an important piece.
They also represent over 250 composers, and they do bespoke music. We saw a great fit for our community, so our composers and songwriters can participate in potentially being a part of that, part of the bespoke music creation for brands.
The third piece, which made perfect sense, was that Big Sync licenses music from a number of libraries and catalogs. Songtradr is now the largest pre-cleared catalog in the world, so it made sense for us to be another supplier for them, and to complement their operation with the data that we have, and the intelligence that we have around the music as well, so they can better match music to the needs of the brand.Music Business Worldwide