Kirt Debique met his SyncFloor co-founder Cestjon McFarland during a 20-year stint at Microsoft. Immersed in the Seattle music scene, he left the tech giant to start a label (Brick Lane records, named after his favourite part of London) when the music industry was struggling.
“I spotted the bottom of the trough of the last disruption in 2012 and saw that everyone was having a hard time. It disproportionately affected the indie community and I wanted to try to find a way to help them,” says Debique.
At his label, he tried to create an environment that was good for artists – investing in them, with an artist-favoured split. “One of the artists’ legal team once asked me, ‘so are you guys a non-profit?’ because they were so amazed at the terms! That’s how I learned about the music industry.”
As the music business returned to health he realised that, “the back end had a lot of archaic processes, with a disproportionate impact on the indie industry. So I wanted to combine my tech background with my interest in the indie sector – and use software as a connector.”
Thus, SyncFloor was born, aiming to make the process of finding songs to sync easier, faster, more transparent and in the language of the people that need it: the content producers.
“We are in this golden age of video – it’s the lingua franca for the world. We now have a (video) production industry that needs to do more with less, and faster, and with approximately 10% of budgets set aside for music. With new players – Netflix and Apple and an ecosystem of brand agencies – coming in, there is a huge growing opportunity – and you can unlock good adjacent opportunities in podcasting, prosumer video, esports, and live broadcast,” he says.
“So we saw the opportunity there, because on the music industry side there’s a fragmented, archaic system around really great content with great integrity. There’s all this music and no way to easily connect it with production. The perfect artist for could be across the street and you’d never know it!”
Debique wants to make licensing commercial music as easy as it is to license production music. He’s not the first to have this idea, so what do SyncFloor do differently?
“Everyone we talked to [on the video production side] said that they don’t always want to use production music – they want to use commercial music, but they couldn’t clear it without drama. And now there’s a growing trend on the commercial music side where people holding the masters are trying to hold onto publishing and vice versa… so it’s easier to get business done.”
“So what if we can use this one-stop catalogue, with a professional discovery system that works for the modern production workflow, and provide the framework to make licensing conversations happen?”
The simplest aim of SyncFloor is to close the gap between song discovery and licensing.
“We only have one-stop content in our index… and we allow film and TV production teams to find them using their industry’s language, to try out songs, and then work out a transaction brokered by our software,” he explains.
“We can have a disruptive fee structure because we’re building software that scales – so we have a 10% transaction fee, not 30%. We can also go to partners with catalogue, give them the tools, give them a storefront, and a non-exclusive deal, with a 10% fee. It’s usually an easy sell to suppliers.”
At the moment, suppliers won over by this deal include Believe Music, Sub Pop, Create, Tunecore, and Motor Music. The latter are already using the SyncFloor storefront – the “Sync” link on the Motor Music homepage takes you directly to a SyncFloor page where you can search the Motor catalogue.
But before the licensing happens, song discovery has to work seamlessly, and song search is where SyncFloor has invested a lot of time. Searching for music that fits the mood of your TV show, or has a certain emotional impact, or perhaps sounds similar to another, un-syncable song, is a convoluted and inexact process.
It’s especially complex when you’re looking for songs that are unknown-unknowns. Debique says the team has worked hard to build the product to work for video producers, so they can find songs they don’t yet know, using a language and workflow they do know. It’s what Debique calls “natural language search.”
“You can’t be successful with this unless you put the production profession front and centre. I had a conversation with a producer and he said, ‘when I search, I think in terms of wanting music that feels like this song in this film.’ So we can recognise a search request of ‘a song like the one from American Beauty.’”
In practice, what this means is that a SyncFloor search can be made in more practical ways: searching for “songs like Sufjan Stevens with strings” throws up a list of songs and a small word cloud (“sad song”, “deep new Americana”, “death and dying”) that are useful in further narrowing the search. Debique explains, “we developed that taxonomy in the bottom-up sense: not, ‘how do you describe music?’ but instead we analysed the search briefs that are sent around – and we fitted that language to the music.”
There are other search opportunities too – you can paste in a Youtube video link to Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” and SyncFloor parses the metadata and applies it to the search. If that song’s in the catalogue, it will find it, and it will find similar songs.
Debique’s pleased with the results. “We spent a year and half building the initial engine, and our taxonomy and our filters are so rich, so you can filter on themes, production, instruments – it’s like searching on Amazon.”
Licence fees can vary wildly depending on its intended use, so SyncFloor aims to make a byzantium process simpler to navigate. Songs have a price range, download options, and a button to get a quote based on your use case. “It’s a modern workflow,” says Debique.
“All the back and forth is gone: a few clicks to select the term, territory, delivery platform, length of song used, whether it’s for brand advertising – and you get a quote from the rightsholder.”
In some cases, there’s a one-click license fee. A catalogue owner can select some of their songs and whitelist various uses (certain types of TV show, uses, brands, etc.) and set flat fees, so there’s not even any negotiation involved.
Debique is especially keen to “collaborate with indie labels and publishers”, not just large incumbents and well-known artists – why? “It’s not only established musc that is used in sync – there are tons of opportunities. People want this content! Peaky Blinders, for instance, are not looking for the “obvious” music choices.”
“We believe the production industry is a pyramid, and the body of the pyramid – all the big Netflix and Amazon shows – is huge. If they thought they could find music and clear it easily, then Indie has a huge opportunity.”
“The friction in the system tends to benefit the larger players: they have bigger teams and a better ability to consolidate rights. So we’re saying, ‘how do we take the system out?’ because it’s locking up opportunities during this explosion of video. You need a different way to scale to provide that content.”
For SyncFloor to work, Debique needs catalogue that’s wholly-owned. So what’s his advice for labels or artists?
“What I tell artists is to find a label or publisher who does right by you, but make sure you have the freedom to go after opportunities yourself. That carve-out is a modern way to work. Artists now view themselves as long-term businesses and are going after it differently. We are trying to drive new business to them, but not to lock them up in the process.”
Debique says it is currently focusing in two directions: developing relationships with video production companies, and trying to bring on board more fully-owned catalogue.
“We’re looking for catalogues that have some one-stop catalogue in them – we ask for their IRSC and info and the asset, hopefully within an instrumental version. Then we’ll tag their songs – we get data feeds, we have an algorithmic analysis, and we also have a team of analysts that can add some human input where needed. Our system will dig out songs you forgot you had.”
Right now, says Debique, it is experimenting with buyers and finding different tiers of usage. With a platform built around a B2B experience, built-in storefronts, and a low-fee, catalogue owners seem happy to get on board.
Debique’s ambitions are high, and is aiming for a catalogue of 25,000 songs by the end of 2020. “That puts us in the tier of big agencies and we’ll have the best indie stuff you can find. In the future, if we hit low six-figures of songs, with good diversity, then we’re competing with majors. We think this is the future of sync.”
Category: Sync marketplace
Management Team: Kirt Debique, CEO & CTO and Cestjon McFarland, General Counsel/Head of Business Affairs
Funding so far: Pre-Seed funding from Betaworks
SyncFloor is currently seeking to develop relationships with: artists, labels and catalogues with some wholly-owned songs; film, video and TV producers.
Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org