How Tuned Global is helping fitness brands integrate licensed music into their virtual classes

Already a fast-growing sector pre-pandemic, the virtual health and fitness business has soared during quarantine, with Wellness app installs reaching 1.2 billion in 2020 alone.

The growth of this space has also created a significant opportunity for music rightsholders, with music’s role in the remote fitness business becoming so central that instructors are now being compared with the likes of “influencers and DJs”.

Amidst the boom in the fitness startup market – which received $2.4bn in VC funding last year – some fitness industry figures are already looking to the future with confidence that the digital and remote sector of the business will continue to thrive even when gyms reopen and social distancing measures are lifted.

Mario Forsyth, Head of Business Development for Europe at B2B music company Tuned Global, which recently inked a multi-faceted deal with British fitness brand Psycle London, also predicts that it will continue to grow.

Forsyth tells MBW that consumers will likely adopt a “hybrid” approach to exercise, whereby they combine in person and virtual classes.

“There’s this definite transition in the more traditional industry between the physical and digital spaces. We’re going to see more offerings like that,” he says.

Within this hybrid fitness space, says Forsyth, comes a “huge opportunity for music”.

“[Rightsholders] should make it as simple as possible for fitness companies to use music, because it is so intrinsic to the experience and it has such a positive impact.”

Mario Forsyth

Forsyth is well placed to make this forecast. Tuned Global’s B2B work with the fitness and wider sport sector ranges from its involvement in UFC’s $7.99-per month UFC Ultimate Sound app to its recent deal with Psycle London to deliver a licensed playlist app to over 70 instructors for use within its digital fitness classes.

Services offered by Tuned Global include the delivery of music from license holders to the creation of a customized music streaming application that can potentially feature anything from personalized radio to live-streaming functionality.

For fitness companies like Psycle London, which offers in-person and virtual classes, Tuned Global’s turnkey fitness application lets instructors search songs and playlists by BPM, genre and exercise activity. Tuned Global also manages everything from music catalog ingestion and reporting to labels and publishers, to licensing negotations with rightsholders to expand the app’s content pool.

Tuned Global’s Chief Revenue Officer Spiro Arkoudis tells MBW that a big part of the company’s focus in the fitness space has been on educating fitness firms about the correct licensing needed to use music legally in virtual classes.

With gym companies forced to move their classes online during the pandemic, Arkoudis says that there were cases during lockdown where fitness program providers were using a combination of Zoom and Spotify to deliver remote classes.

“We are seeing a lot of clunky technical projects out there,” he says. “They’re trying to figure out ways [to work], because they’re not sure,” he explains. “And if you search [for a company] to help, what do you start searching for?

“There’s an absolute missing link there, there’s the rightholder [part], there is a technical integration part and obviously, asset delivery. There’s a lot of education required. We’re hoping to teach companies about what they need to do [in terms of music licensing] as a fitness company”.

“We’re hoping to teach companies about what they need to do [in terms of music licensing] as a fitness company.”

Spiro Arkoudis

In addition, Forsyth suggests that rightsholders should also familiarise themselves with the opportunities in the virtual fitness world.

“It’s really important that they understand how music is being used in the fitness space, and to view it as a space that they should actively be involved in,” he explains.

“[Rightsholders] should make it as simple as possible for fitness companies to use music, because it is so intrinsic to the experience and it has such a positive impact.”

Here, Forsyth tells MBW about the convergence of the virtual fitness and music businesses and how Tuned Global can help fitness brands integrate licensed music into their remote classes…

When did the fitness space become a focus for Tuned Global?

What we’ve seen with the pandemic is two things. One, connected device experience has accelerated. More people have been willing to try connected devices, because they’ve almost been forced to.

The other piece that we’ve seen is where you’ve had gym chains that were perhaps real physical locations that have been forced to transition into the digital space.

Initially, it was a bit of a mash up of things. They might use Zoom to actually stream the classes, they might have a MindBody [management software] for the classes to be scheduled.

Within that, music might have been offered through everybody accessing a Spotify playlist at the same time and then playing it, but that’s obviously dependent on everybody having a Spotify subscription.

Those have been the key drivers. It’s really come down to solving a problem for those gyms and basically saying, “This is a solution that you’re hacking together, but there is a better way of doing this that is going to be better for your instructors to be able to curate the right music for fitness classes”. There’s also a better way for end users.

Tell us about the music licensing challenges that fitness companies working in the digital space are facing?

Each piece of music has two general ownerships. There’s the master rights, which are generally owned by record labels, and they look after the performance. Then you’ve got the publishing rights, which look after the [song]writers.

Where you’re putting music to video, there’s also an additional right required from publishers, which is a synchronisation right. Historically sync rights have been where you put your music in a TV program or a film.

The same applies with fitness, albeit that it’s a subscription-based model, generally, where a user pays an amount every month rather than a traditional sync model, where a fee is paid to use [music].

So, what fitness companies need to obtain is a master right from a record label, and from a publisher they need to obtain performance, mechanicals, and a synchronisation right.

It’s all of those rights that then allow [fitness companies] to use music alongside video in a fitness class.

Which is all presumably taken care of by Tuned Global if a company chooses to work with you?

Absolutely. Within that there are two options for fitness companies. There’s the production music option, which usually involves going to a single source to acquire all the rights and a certain revenue model that applies.

Then there is the commercial music model, which would be popular artists. And that’s where the master rights and the publishing conversations come into play. At Tuned Global, we support our clients through both of those processes. It really comes down to the type of music that our clients want to use.

Could you go into a bit more detail about the different market segments you’ve identified and what their specific technical challenges are?

B2B, or what we term enterprise clients, tend to be companies that need someone like Tuned Global to provide a platform that enables their instructors to have the tooling to search a catalog of licensed music.

From that, they can create playlists that are then used for playback in the fitness class, which is broadcast live and then captured for on demand performance. These companies tend to have their own infrastructure for recording and broadcasting these classes.

Psycle London, which is a client that we’ve recently signed, is a great example of that. They approached Tuned Global and said, ‘We want to use commercial music within our fitness classes.’ So Tuned Global supported them through acquiring licences that enabled them to do that.

We’ve also provided their instructors with an application that they can use to search the catalog they have licences from and curate playlists, which they then play back in the exercise class.

The B2B-to-C model takes into account that B2B process, but it’s aimed at instructors or companies that don’t have their own infrastructure to capture and broadcast the live and on demand stream and manage subscriptions. People that at the start of the pandemic were pulling together Zoom-Spotify type solutions.

We identified that space and worked with rightsholders and instructors to say, “Right, what are we trying to achieve here? And how can we achieve that in the in the most simplistic way possible?”

In the Psycle London [announcement] it mentions your Autotuned content management system. Who was that created from? 

That’s the CMS that that we’ve developed behind the scenes for Psycle and for other fitness clients. It’s a white labelled fitness application that allows instructors to search a catalog of music, but it also contains pre-curated playlists that are categorized by genre, by BPM, by sporting activity.

The idea behind that is that rather than fitness instructors searching a huge catalog of music, we are pre filtering that catalog down to music that is going to work in certain situations for them.

For example, you have an instructor that’s curating a playlist for a spinning class. That is going to be a very different playlist to an instructor that’s curating a playlist for a yoga class, so by using our branded application, when those instructors log on, not only can they search by artist, title, genre and all the things we’re used to searching by, they’re also going to see pre curated playlists that are categorized by yoga, by spinning, by BPM.

So not only are we providing a platform for instructors to search music, it’s also a platform for instructors to discover music.

As part of Tuned Global’s deal will Psycle London, you will handle negotiations with rights holders for expanding the content pool. How does that work?  

Once we’ve got the licences in place, the content will expand naturally. So as a rights holder issues new releases, they are automatically available to our client. What happens in the background is, relationships develop between Pyscle and the rights holders, because what we’re seeing now is that some of the rightsholders are seeing fitness as a significant space.

It’s almost becoming a marketing platform. So for example, between Pyscle, ourselves and the rightsholder, we might choose to do a fitness class focused on an artist, we might choose to do a fitness class focused on a certain type of music.

You might have a fitness class that is rock classics, dance classics, new releases, artist-driven, whatever you like, so the catalog expands naturally.

But people are also leaning into the catalog and rather than saying, “Thanks for licensing our content” and taking a hands off approach, they are asking, “How can all parties lean in to make this a much more music centric experience for the end user?”

Alongside that, if you’re dealing with three rightsholders, and a fourth one wants to be added into the pot, so to speak, then of course we manage those conversations as and when they become applicable.

What are your predictions for the convergence of the music business in the fitness space over the next couple of years, especially post pandemic?

The digital fitness space is going to grow. The link between music and fitness is huge. Historically, it’s been strong in a physical space. The last three or four years we’ve seen it become really relevant in the connected devices space, with the advent of products like Peloton and Hydrow.

It’s going to continue to be like that. When you talk to Peloton, dance music is by far the most popular genre on their platform. It resonates the most with their audience. I assume there are going to be different platforms that have different types of music or different genres that resonate with their audience.

What we’re going see on the other side of that is a kind of hybrid [approach to fitness]. Pyscle London’s approach is certainly going to be offering members a hybrid experience, so if you’re in town and you’re near a physical location, and you want to go in and do a class, then you can do that.

If you’re working from home a couple of days a week and you want to take a class online, you can also do that. There’s this definite transition in the more traditional industry between the physical and digital spaces, and we’re going to see more offerings like that. There’s a huge opportunity for music in this space.Music Business Worldwide

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