How Songtradr is simplifying sync – and aiming to become the definitive B2B music licensing platform

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.”

Paul Wiltshire

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 $12m in a Series B funding round earlier this year, 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 for music rights licensing, available to any music rights owner and 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 an 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’re developing and gathering a number of key datasets so the platform will deliver search results based not only on our own taxonomies, keywords, moods and genres etc, but also popularity, trends and geographics; making music search 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? We believe building a platform where their music is discoverable, and they’re able to leverage their success to be discovered, is the answer.

The other problem to solve was licensing transparency and efficiency.  The sync licensing business hasn’t changed that much in the last 20 years. It’s still largely a 20th Century model where a licensee has to often negotiate with multiple parties manually, work with lawyers, agents or managers. It can be a slow process.

The sync licensing business hasn’t changed that much in the last 20 years. It’s still largely a 20th Century model where a licensee has to often negotiate with multiple parties manually, work with lawyers, agents or managers. It can be a slow process.”

We wanted to solve two problems on that side. One, create an efficient way to be able to license music automatically, and two, be able to simplify the discovery of music, matching music to a creative brief or to search terms.

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 to the consumer audience of the music they license. We believe making a subjective creative choice from filtered results like this will ultimately create a better experience and more successful campaign.

A creative in an agency may have 20 go-to libraries [to search for music].  We decided, let’s build the right technology and best experience, be agnostic so any rights-holder could use our platform, similar to how almost any retailer can use 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 potential viable technology for rights-owners, to be connected to their rights, 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 potential viable technology for rights-owners.”

There will not be any productization in the immediate future, but we have started research and development. You could say we’re in stealth mode to some degree, and when the time is right to activate, we would love to share more.

We’re working on a rights administration product at the moment which we’re very excited about. We have distribution, content management, and the sync licensing marketplace and now developing what we see this as a missing and highly complimentary piece.

The product will include neighbouring rights collection, so artists have one place to collect and manage their rights all in one platform. But most importantly, provide the tools for artists to leverage their success, and data, so we can optimize their sync possibilities. If we know exactly what has been synced, such as a particular TV show or advertisement, it makes sense for us to collect and to ensure accuracy of rights registration.

We’re not going to own any rights. Our model will allow artists and rights owners to maintain ownership of their work. We want to make sure the artists collect what is due to them.

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, growing sync revenues, which is one of the reasons why we purchased Big Sync.  The Big Sync team bring a high calibre of music supervision skill and industry experience and we’re only just starting to unlock all of the wonderful synergies between the two companies.  We’re also continuing to look at other acquisition opportunities that compliment our licensing business. Our focus on sync is what is driving the success of the platform.

Why did you acquire Big Sync?
Big Sync have great blue chip brands and advertising agency clients. We see advertising as the key vertical for sync growth. In the majority of cases, advertising sync is the highest value in terms of transaction size however there’s also a growing need for smaller licenses for various content channels. It might be a brand’s social channel, or other owned online channel that requires music and at scale for example.
There are many layers of music use that brands need today. In the past it may have been a single track for one campaign; today licensing multiple tracks for multiple campaigns over multiple channels is possible.

“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

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