Every year, the Midem conference’s Midemlab startups contest highlights a new crop of music/tech firms hoping to make their name with a well-crafted pitch. Today’s third session saw marketing and data/analytics startups showing their wares.
Soundcharts, Rotor Videos, NPREX, The Bot Platform and Instrumental were the five finalists pitching to a panel of judges. The latter included Bansintown’s Fabrice Sergent; Marathon Artists’ Jimi Mikaoui; Station F’s Marwan Elfitesse; and OVH Digital Launch Pad’s James Mackenzie. Bluenove’s Martin Duval hosted.
Soundcharts CEO David Weiszfeld was first to pitch, citing a “completely dysfunctional workflow” in the music industry as his motivation for founding the startup. “The need for automated reporting and automated information-flow was crucial,” he said of the challenges he identified in his past job at a major label. “Our goal is to solve the workflow issue in the industry… way too many questions are unanswered, or they are answered in many different ways.”
Soundcharts focuses on real-time charts, playlists, airplay and social monitoring, serving up this data in a dashboard. Aimed at managers and labels alike, the platform also digs in to the big streaming playlists, to identify when tracks are added to them. “We make the experience very personal: you can customise your preferences, your notifications,” he said.
The business model is software-as-a-service, with three pricing tiers for managers tracking a single artist; managers tracking up to 10, and larger corporate accounts (Universal Music France for example). Weiszfeld said that the technology could scale for other verticals: “Celebrities, sports people, anybody who has visibility online,” he said, while warning that serving the music industry well is currently a big enough job for Soundcharts.
“We’re one of the first technical companies in music that’s built by music professionals,” he added. “That’s a big asset for us.”
Rotor Videos CEO Diarmuid Moloney was next, showing his company’s technology for creating music videos for artist and label clients. “We have the tools to get our videos out there, but we’re under increasing pressure to create more and more: more videos, more formats… This is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed,” he said.
It can take as little as 20 minutes to create a video using Rotor’s platform. A user uploads their music, picks a visuals style, adds some clips of their own, add images and text if desired, and then the technology puts everything together into a video, drawing on its own stock-footage providers. It also has a working virtual-reality prototype for 360-degree videos.
“We’re getting to a point where Rotor will be able to create thousands of videos based on just the music,” said Moloney. The company will also provide analytics on social-video performance, and is keen to work with clients on other opportunities like sync. Universal UK and Sony Music UK are among its clients already.
“The industry is demanding our tools and what we have, and we need to accelerate,” he said, reiterating Rotor’s pitch to labels. “We know that if you’re not being seen, you’re not being heard.” The company has considered a subscription model, but for now it’s an a la carte pricing policy. It is still a possibility for the future: for example, a premium subscription with some exclusive features and video assets.
NPREX SVP of business development and legal affairs Neeta Ragoowansi talked about the National Performing Rights Exchange: an online platform for direct licensing of public performance rights – the space occupied by ASCAP in the US or PRS for Music in the UK for example.
The idea: entities that use music, from TV stations to businesses, can license music directly from rightsholders, rather than going through the collecting societies. She suggested that the existing consent-decree system in the US has brought high costs to both sides of the licensing relationship. But NPREX’s pitch is also that rightsholders have more of a free hand to charge market-based pricing for these uses.
“NPREX can be as disruptive or as not disruptive as the industry wants us to be… We hope the PROs will use us in their licensing department… to where PROs start doing direct deals instead of collective deals on behalf of their members,” she said. NPREX charges a 5% transaction fee, which she compared to ASCAP’s 18% blended rate for admin in the US.
The platform is currently in beta testing with major, major indies and indie publishers, with scope to work in technologies like blockchain as the opportunities arise. “Every performance rights society is competition… but it’s an open system. If we’re helping to push the technological piece and get folks to become more transparent and efficient, and make a better marketplace, we’ll all win in the end.”
The Bot Platform CEO Syd Lawrence explained that his company uses messaging bots to grow loyalty, sales and engagement for musicians, brands and celebrities. He cited the three current challenges of digital marketing: it’s underperforming; platforms like Facebook are seeing organic reach decreasing; and it can be expensive.
“We get a 99% read rate. Every time you send a message out to a fan via Messenger, 99% of them read it… and no download of an app required. 1.2bn people are now using Messenger… that is vast,” said Lawrence, adding that a bot can speed up the process for someone to go from being a casual fan to a purchaser.
Lawrence claimed that bots are 2,788% more effective than email campaigns. “It’s superfans! They’re badass…” Axwell Ingrosso sold more than £5,000 of merch through their bot with a single message, he added. The dance duo provide some exclusive content including videos and audios through their bot, as well as selling merch.
“We are charging, and we are not charging a super-cheap amount of money,” warned Lawrence, noting that the target customers – artists – have more than one million likes on Facebook. “They’re the people who can drive value straight away,” he said. Hardwell and Axwell Ingrosso’s bots are now the biggest drivers of traffic for those artists – more than Google and Facebook itself.
Instrumental CEO Conrad Withey was last to pitch. “Instrumental finds talent that drives sales,” he said, citing the company’s TalentAI tool which identifies influential users on social networks and apps. “They can leverage influence over consumers and drive sales. These creators aren’t the outliers any more: they’re mainstream stars,” he said.
This has spawned a buzzing ‘influencer marketing’ industry with agencies and stars scrabbling for the budgets of brands. Withey said there are about 7.5 million active creators at the moment, making finding the most suitable for a campaign something of a needle-in-a-haystack fest.
The TalentAI tool uses machine-learning to track these social stars based on API data from YouTube, Facebook and Twitter – with Spotify next in line for an integration – and pings Instrumental when someone emerges who might be worth working with. “It’s basically A&R through data,” said Withey. The tool can be used to help brands decide who to work with on marketing campaigns.
Instrumental has used its tool to identify emerging musicians, including Calum Scott, whose ‘Dancing On My Own’ became a big hit even though he’d been rejected by many label A&Rs. “A rather nice proof that data can beat gut instinct,” said Withey. Warner Music Group has since invested in Instrumental.
The company is currently generating £100k-£150k a month from its business. “At some point we’ll probably open up in America, but behind revenue rather than in advance of it,” said Withey.
He added that some of the company’s strength is identifying under-the-radar influencers: for one campaign for BBC motoring show Top Gear, the broadcaster insisted on using one famous influencer, but Instrumental brought in another five emerging online faces who “wiped the floor” with the bigger star when it came to engagement with the campaign.
This year’s Midemlab winners will be announced later today.
Music Ally’s Midem 2017 coverage is supported this year by Music is GREAT, the British government’s campaign to promote UK music exports.
The UK and British Music are represented through the British Music at Midem stand, with the Department for International Trade joining forces with music industry associations AIM (Association of Independent Music), BPI (British Phonographic Industry), MPA (Music Publishers Association), PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited) and PRS for Music.
Together, they will support over 150 UK music businesses and member delegates as they seek to pick up on the latest trends, connect with international companies, sign deals and develop trading and export opportunities.