This is Mike Huberty, Broadjam’s Artist Services guy, talking. I just started working at Broadjam a couple of months ago (after being a member for several years) and I wanted to sit down with our founder and CEO, Roy Elkins, to see what inspired him to get Broadjam going in the first place. Last week we talked about the first years of the company and we got to go in-depth… here’s the second part of our Q&A where I talk about Broadjam with Roy in his own words:
Q: So you mentioned that the day that iTunes opened up was the day that online music was taken seriously for the first time.
A: That’s right. The investment world started validating it, it was relevant to customers for the first time, partners and advertisers that were never in the space finally said, “Apple’s in it, I’m in it.” People forget that prior to Apple, there was Sony Connect, MusicNet, PressPlay, all these other companies that we’re trying to do the same thing as iTunes and did not succeed.
Q: Why do you think it took Apple to get the ball rolling?
A: Innovation never comes from an industry. The guy that put wipers on his windshield didn’t work for an auto company, he just wanted the damn water off his windshield. So he figured out a way to do it.
When an industry is stagnant, like the music industry has been, and they’re just making tons of money, you’re never going to see innovation. I don’t think there’s any coincidence that the best year ever for the record industry was the best year for the peer-to-peers. The record industry shot themselves in the foot when they sued the peer-to-peers. Those sites were exposing lots of music to new listeners and I think when you start suing people who are promoting your product (they call it stealing), you’re asking for trouble.
Q: So those music-sharing sites were a positive thing?
A: Well, it exposed new music to people who were stuck on old music and old music to kids who were only into new stuff. I think that’s what the peer-to-peers did. And that’s been validated over and over again.
If you get 100 million people listening to one of your songs, it doesn’t matter how big you are or who you are, you’re going to sell records. Some people did view the peer-to-peer networks as stealing, I never saw it that way.
Q: Music sharing is still rampant, but all of the centralized peer-to-peer sites are gone. How could it have gone differently?
A: If the peer-to-peers and the labels figured out a way to work together and the labels looked at it as a promotional tool, the industry would be in a much better place. But if you look at their history, they are afraid of technology. For example, do you remember DATs (Digital Audio Tapes)?
Q: Sure, it was digital quality audio that you could record on several years before CD-burners were commonplace.
A: Right. DATs were going to be the next big thing, but labels talked the manufacturers (sued, persuaded, whatever) into not doing it. Otherwise we would all have DATS on our shelves right now.
But if you even go back to the outcry when Edison invented the wax cylinder. The sheet music companies said, “Oh My God, no one will ever buy sheet music again.” Then when Marconi invented radio, they said “Who’s ever going to buy a wax disc again? Nobody’s ever gonna buy these things because they can just listen to it on the radio.” And now we know that radio drives album sales.
And there’s numerous technologies that have been shut down like the DAT player. Tapes were delayed five years, CDs were delayed five years… the industry has never embraced new technology as a solution. But with web technology, it’s different because it leveled the playing field. Nobody has broken out yet because of only the web, you still need the label machine to market. But somebody is going to break through in a certain way and that’s going to be the new paradigm and everyone’s going to copy it.
Q: So how does Broadjam contribute to that new paradigm?
A: I think we are every day, we’re constantly building new features and our members are getting a little exposure here and a little there. It’s all baby steps that helps an artist eventually make that giant leap. And as we build out our fan component we have just a good a chance as anybody to be that entity changes the paradigm. We’re not arrogant to think that we’re the only game in town, we don’t have a billion people coming to our site. If you look at Facebook, LinkedIn or even the early Myspace with so much volume, you don’t need the entertainment business, you have your own. You sign a band and you can sell that album through your website. At some point we hope to have significant fan volume that will help our members sell more music.
I’m just surprised that the bigger sites haven’t done this. I think the roles are going to change significantly in the next few years. If I was Facebook, I would be signing artists to exclusive deals, a clean deal where the artist retain the righst to their music, but we have the exclusive distribution deal. But it’s really worthwhile to the artist because they can become a well-known entity in not months or years, but in minutes or hours.
With these bigger sites, you don’t need a music industry, you’ve got one. I’m not quite sure why they don’t engage it. They’re probably looking at a much higher dollar volume than we are and have many other industries they are thinking. One artist isn’t going to be a huge factor in the dollar amounts in the Facebook scheme of themes. I don’t mean to pick on Facebook, but it wasn’t tong ago that Netscape was “the” browser and CompuServe was “the” online network. That turned into IE and AOL, which turned into Firefox and Yahoo! And then social networks happened, so you can’t count on these online entities being dominant forever.
Q: But what can Broadjam do with its present community?
A: Song plugging is nothing new but we were one of the first ones to pioneer that on the web. Like what Facebook could do in breaking somebody, we took a business that took weeks or months to find songs, but now a music supervisor can find the rights song in minutes to hours.
Q: Broadjam has survived though, so how has its mission changed between its founding and now?
A: Well, now we have a lot of features like hosting and the review mechanism, the social aspects like the commenting pages. I think Pro Reviewers is a key feature where if I was on the other end of this, I would take a song I’ve written and save two or three hundred dollars to get it reviewed by pros. You get three or four completely different opinions on this song. That’s worth it to invest in my songwriting career. If you look at the pros we have lined up. We’ve got Joe Vitale who wrote “Rocky Mountain Way” and produced Joe Walsh records and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. We’ve got Jonathan Stone, who has published songs with virtually every artist in the history of man. We’ve got David Arkenstone who was a top selling New Age artist for years.
What we’re trying to do is provide as many tools as we can because we know everybody’s not going to make it. Like the founder of this company, it’s still really enjoyable to write songs, have fun, and get other people to listen to your music and get feedback. I don’t write songs anymore to get validated, I write because I love to do it. I think sometimes as musicians we get a little confused on the need for validation, we’re really doing it because we love it. You don’t need someone else to pay you or say “good job” to continue to love it. But I also understand the desire to do it for a living.
Q: That’s exactly right, music still has to come from the heart.
A: You know, we’ve got a guy on the site who has been writing songs for thirty or forty years. He’s a great songwriter but he hasn’t had a ton of success because he’s got a very unique style. About once a year he sends me a note saying “This is it, I quit. I’m just going to give up” And I just respond “Do you love writing songs? Then why are you giving up?” We all want to make our living making music, but we’re still going to make music whether we make our living at it or not. So let’s not get the two confused. It’s a lot of fun to make the music, it’s a lot of work to promote it. It’s really hard work once the song is done to make something happen with it. That’s why I recommend most musicians should probably get somebody else to help them with that.
I don’t think our vision is tremendously different than our initial thought, which was getting songwriters exposure. We have always been primarily song and songwriter centric, but now we have bands, solo artists, and composers of all walks. We want to help musicians find an audience, and also help them find the people that can advance their career.
Alright, this is Mike again. So now I know, when people wonder what inspires us to provide the services we do for musicians and to try and build the community. We’re here to give songwriters and artists every opportunity we can to get their music heard by more people. That’s the driving goal, to leverage technology so that every artist gets a fair shake and a chance to be heard, no matter where they’re from.
We would love to know how we can make our mission reflect your needs and what services you’re looking for. Feel free to leave comments on this interview plus your ideas!