SongLily is both my business and my passion. And yet I often question whether the business of music was the right choice. While I believe most people agree that music is a significant part of their lives, I also believe there is an on-going struggle to bridge the gap between the importance people place on music in their lives, and the economics of music. Particularly the economic value of popular music.
When we started SongLily, we believed that a lot of the reason companies (particularly startups) pirated popular music for use in their products tied directly to the difficulty in licensing music- particularly sync licensing (why sync licensing is hard is worthy of a blog post all on its own). So we thought if we could just make it easy to license music for use in products (games and apps to start) developers would be falling all over themselves to license the music. And like most startup founders, we were only partially right.
I met with a guy who created a mobile app that was in the social video sharing space. He wanted to give his users song choices to soundtrack their videos. We discussed sync licensing and it’s challenges and the SongLily solution (which eliminated most of those challenges). He said he didn’t really have budget to license the music but he thought that the publicity it would give the artists would be valuable enough. I took a deep breathe and explained that his app that had not yet launched and had no investor support and therefore would not add significant publicity to famous popular artists to the extent they would exchange that for money. But that there were plenty of terrific indie artists on SongLily that were charging much less money and would love the publicity. I also suggested there were artist who were willing to license their work under creative commons licenses – designed to value publicity and spreading the art over money. The developer, with a straight face, told me that he really needed to use popular music because people would not be inclined to download his app if it contained music by artists they were not familiar with. Huh. Not sure how that makes the publicity a good deal for the artists, but it certainly (at least in his head) was a make or break for his app. So why the disconnect?
If music is perceived to be a driver of installs of an app or game, then how is the value of music not clear? Music generates income only from its use. It is no longer purchased in CD or vinyl format in quantities sufficient to sustain most artists. Like any developer, an artist may choose to give away some or all of their music for marketing, to find and develop a fan base, to reward their fan base. But the artist gets to choose how giving away music benefits their business. Like a developer chooses if they sell an app, give it away, monetize through ads or other products, an artist is also running a business and choosing their business and monetizing path. But the disconnect is something we at SongLily spend a lot of time thinking about and we haven’t yet come up with a good answer.