While the concert industry is already down as much as 98% in quarterly revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some silver linings are beginning to emerge in the music biz. And sync licensing, one of many artists’ primary revenue streams for the foreseeable future without touring, is one of them.
Songtradr, a Los Angeles-based music licensing platform founded in 2014, saw the suddenly urgent need for artists to secure more sync-licensing opportunities start to emerge in the early days of lockdown. Since March, Songtradr has seen a 205% increase in artists signing up to license their music through its marketplace, which allows brands, ad agencies, film/TV music supervisors and other content creators to search for existing or customizable music across different genres and moods. The influx of activity has also prompted a 141% increase in new music uploads, and a 300% increase in new music releases from artists via the platform.
“Sync can be a large transaction, so making sure your music is available to be discovered for the right ad campaign or TV show is where we’re seeing the most increase from our distribution and rights administration,” says CEO Paul Wiltshire.
And with a recent rolodex of blue-chip brands licensing music from the Songtradr platform – including Unilever, Samsung, Del Taco, VRBO and Kohler — the company has been monetizing that growth, too. Revenue for the first half of 2020 is up 160% year-over-year, Wiltshire says, and up 61% from the second half of 2019. Songtradr also announced in late August that it closed $30 million in Series C funding, bringing the company’s total valuation to $165 million.
“This funding round allows Songtradr to accelerate product-development plans that will enhance our ability to deliver more value for artists, labels and catalogs in distribution, rights administration and licensing,” Wiltshire says. “Our key differentiator is our sync focus, [and] we will continue to expand our global licensing footprint, driving more sync value for rights-holders.”
Songtradr has also made several new hires in 2020 to help oversee that expansion. In April, former Paradigm SVP Dave Curtin was named VP-U.S. of partnerships, which includes oversight of deals from the ad marketplace and streaming services to social media platforms and OTT content. Curtin says Songtradr’s makeup of music licenses is a “dead heat” between pre-existing songs with blanket licenses and songs resulting from custom requests by brands and agencies.
As much as the automated aspect of Songtradr’s music marketplace has become part of its secret sauce, “I don’t foresee the creative process going away any time soon,” Curtin says. “There’s still that camaraderie and collaborative process that’s really healthy. All we’re trying to do as a business model is make it a little more seamless. We’re getting to a place where a lot of these decisions are going to be a lot more data-informed.”
Another new hire, Virginie Berger, joined the company as VP rights management in June to help accelerate Songtradr’s royalty collection through platforms like YouTube’s Content ID and other neighboring and performance rights opportunities. Berger, a veteran of music rights firms like DBTH and Armonia Online as well as the heyday of Myspace Music in the late ‘00s, says the new Series C funding will help accelerate Songtradr’s efforts to simplify the thorny royalty process for artists and rightsholders.
“The U.S. is such a crazy market with royalties – you have streaming, mechanicals, different organizations, different agencies,” she says. “But what we want to be able to do is collect anywhere in the world, adapt and offer different monetization solutions to our rights holders under one roof.”
Songtradr is even playing a role in the new advent of the jingle. Big Sync Music, a song licensing agency acquired by Songtradr last year in a multi-million dollar cash and equity deal, music-supervised a new campaign for Unilever’s Good Humor in which Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA updated the 100-year-old brand’s ice cream truck jingle. Working with Good Humor and its ad agency Edelman, Big Sync helped clear all the rights, negotiated fees and licenses for the ad campaign and navigated the unique performance rights scenario of having a copyrighted song play over the speakers of privately-owned ice cream trucks.
Another new jingle, for Del Taco’s Crispy Chicken Tacos, was the result of a 7-track demo playlist that Cleveland-based singer/producer Jul Big Green turned around in 24 hours after a request came in from the Songtradr sync marketplace. His final version of the jingle, mixed remotely at a Hollywood studio by Del Taco’s ad agency, resulted in the artist’s first song produced outside of Ohio. “My bucket list for 2020 was placing a song on TV, so I’m hoping this is the kickoff to much more,” says Jul Big Green, noting that the revenue from the sync has put him on step closer toward being able to quit his day job at an Akron rec center.
Another emerging artist who’s had success with getting music placed through the Songtradr platform is Atlanta-based singer/songwriter Kali J. After playing her last gig as a cover musician in January 2020, Kali J. committed herself to making music for her own artist projects and for sync full-time, pandemic be damned. In the past several months, her songs have been used in national digital campaigns for Samsung’s Galaxy A71 as well as a Songtradr branding campaign. To date, she reports, “this has been my biggest year by far in terms of sync revenue. The whole country experienced a bit of a dip this summer, but the syncs are continuing to roll in and pick back up again.”
To further support artists during the challenges of lockdown, Songtradr has made its distribution services free of charge to users through the remainder of 2020, as well as waiving all of its commissions through the end of April to ensure that 100% of licensing fees went directly to artists.
“I’m a songwriter, and my wife Victoria, who works with us, was an artist, so we lived gig to gig in our 20s. These are our people,” Wiltshire says. “It’s a small thing o, but I think we have to really do whatever we can to support this community. It’s a tough time for touring musicians or anyone that’s reliant on live income. It’s clear that COVID wasn’t going away any time soon, so the least we could do is extend that through the end of the year.”
Songs For Screens is a Variety column sponsored by Anzie Blue, a wellness company and café based in Nashville. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ahampp.