MicroSync Licensing and Content ID 2.0 with Rumblefish CEO Paul Anthony

Rumblefish is a pioneer in music licensing and has been a trusted provider of music for top TV shows, films, ad agencies and video games for over a decade. The company has always made artists and labels its priority, and has paid millions in royalties to its members for the licensed use of their music. Rumblefish launched the Music Licensing Store in 2006, dubbed “an iTunes for Corporate America” (CNBC). It was the world’s first online resource for 100 percent copyright-cleared music for businesses. In 2008 the company struck a landmark licensing deal with YouTube, and in the summer of 2010 deepened that relationship with the launch of Friendly Music, a website where consumers can license soundtracks. The company now boasts the world’s largest music catalog for social media and diverse clientele including AnimotoVirtual ActiveAmazon StudiosKaiser Permanente and Google among others.
 
By Chris Borchert
 
What exactly is Rumblefish all about?
 
Rumblefish is all about making soundtracks fun, easy, and affordable for creators. And in this context when we’re talking about creators, we’re talking about people who are creating any sort of audio/visual project. So slideshows, movies, TV shows, YouTube videos, all of those projects, for the sake of being succinct, we’ll call them videos. And the way we do it is by aggregating a lot of music and the rights associated with that music. So when you grab a soundtrack from us, it really feels just as easy as it does to buy a download or stream a song.
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There’s a lot of friction in online video with music soundtracks, and it’s well known. So we remove that friction for the video creator. And the result of that, which is the payoff and really what we all come to work for everyday, is we get to pay royalties to artists and labels.
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I started the company in my dorm room with $400 bucks, and grew it out of being a film composer and record producer licensing my own music into films and local TV spots, that type of thing. And so I’ve spent my whole life in studios and in the music business, and what we’re all passionate about here is that marriage of music with video and how it’s basically the perfect art form. It’s the most compelling way to tell an amazing story, and it helps video creators express themselves, and allows artists and labels on the music side to get paid. And then repeat.
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The team here is really fired up about that process, and what really cracked it open is what we call MicroSync licensing. So sync licensing is the traditional market, and MicroSync licensing is the emerging market.
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So the incentive for the music artist to license their music through Rumblefish is clear: they get to distribute their music while generating revenue.  Can you speak a little bit about the incentive for video creators to purchase soundtracks from Rumbelfish?
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There are probably three reasons. The first, which I’ll just get out of the way, is because the video creator is an artist and the music creator is an artist, so the video creator should A) get the permission from the music artist and B) pay them something for it. That’s more of a principle argument, and you can debate that one all day long.
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More practically speaking, a major incentive for video creators to go through us is convenience. We make it really easy for you to find the right soundtrack for the right thing. So for example, we have a whole suite of soundtrack search and recommendation tools. And what that means is, if you are making a video and there is something angry going on, or something sad going on, you can use our mood map to easily find a soundtrack that fits that emotion. Or alternatively, we have occasion searches, so if you can’t remember the name of that wedding song, you just use the occasion search — it’s like picking out a greeting card — and you’ll quickly get to Canon in D. If you’re making a skateboarding video and you type in ‘skateboard’ you get skateboarding playlists.
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So it’s convenience; people want to get to that song. Especially when you consider our casual users: it’s Valentine’s Day and you’re making this slideshow for you and your girl, you’re probably not going to have that incredibly sappy love song in your iTunes — and fewer and fewer people are going to have the file anyway because of streaming — so our offering allows people to just go in and find what they need.
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The other reason is there are a lot of content identification services that are popping up. So all of the sites or destinations where you’re going to be sending your video are going to scan that video, and if you don’t have the rights to one song, your entire project is in jeopardy of being blocked. And that is incredibly inconvenient.
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Can you talk a little bit about the development of content identification and what the process entails.
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When I talk about content ID, I talk about it broadly. So video networks, generally speaking, install content ID systems so they can match up and say, ‘OK, I’ve identified this video as having an underlying soundtrack, and I either know who has the rights or I don’t know who has the rights.’ And to be safe, you only want to monetize videos with underlying soundtracks where you do know who has the rights, and not only do you know who they are, but that that copyright owner has given you permission to monetize videos with their works in them.
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So Rumbelfish provides a service to labels and publishers where we actually represent their content ID rights. And that’s all part of the MicroSync ecosystem, because we’re out there licensing millions of new soundtracks into videos, and those videos then get uploaded to the networks. Then when the networks match them, we’re the ones behind the scenes saying, ‘Yes, this song is good to go, don’t block or mute it.’ So we manage all of that for artists and labels.
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And where it is now, and this is really important, is at the song level. If a song is in a network, you can only apply your business rules against that song across the whole network. So the song is either going to be allowed or not allowed across all videos. That’s essentially the way that the rights work. What we developed, which we’re rolling out soon, is the ability for a user to enter in a license key. And to basically prove, with a key, that they’ve gotten the rights they need and that video is good to go.
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So where it’s headed now is content ID 2.0, which is license verification on a video by video basis.
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This is way better for the creators. Think of it this way: what if you are a film maker and you license a song from a label for $2,000 for your indie film or your feature film, and that song is being blocked on YouTube. And you upload the scene to YouTube and they say, “Oh sorry your video is blocked because it has that song in it and that song is blocked.’ And you get upset and say, ‘You know what, I have the rights to that song, what’s up?’ But then what are you supposed to do? Send a PDF with your license agreement to the customer service representative at YouTube? So they can read and interpret it? I mean it’s crazy. And you compound that with a billion users and hundreds of hours of video uploaded every minute. It just doesn’t work.
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So what we do is when we issue licenses to any of our customers, there’s a key that travels with it. And we’re excited for the next phase of license verification to come around.
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You mentioned sync licensing and MicroSync licensing earlier. For those who don’t know, can you explain how each type of licensing works?
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So sync is short for synchronization, and synchronization means synchronizing a piece of music along with a moving image. The moving image can be a slide show, it can be a video game, movie, TV show, any sort of visual work that has more than one image. And the piece doesn’t even need to be synchronized with the images on the same medium, it just needs to be intended to be played at the same time. Over the last 20 years, the industry really focused on advertisements, films and TV shows. So the “sync business” involves the act of licensing music for use in those three areas. Of course that’s blossomed into video games, and there’s background music services and all types of other licensing, but any sort of non-mechanical-based license is lumped into “sync.”
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But all of this has evolved with the democratization of content creation. Just like now you can use ProTools on your laptop instead of 2 inch tape and the $80,000 console, the same thing happened on the video side. So in the sync word, you negotiate on the phone and use faxes and emails and you’re negotiating a small volume of licenses for thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars and so on. And that makes sense, if you’re negotiating a $50,000 deal or $100,000 deal, you hop on the phone, you talk about it, you go to lunch, you cut the deal, you pay the lawyers, and everyone’s happy. The challenge with that, and why MicroSync emerged, is that when you’re dealing with hundreds of millions of creators versus ten thousand music supervisors in the world, it doesn’t work anymore. Because why would you negotiate a $1 license agreement? Why would you even negotiate a $100 or $200 license agreement?
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So once content ID services popped up and started scanning videos and taking things down and the DMCA picked up on those, all of a sudden there was a need for an automated on-demand licensing ecosystem. So that’s what we’ve been doing for the past 6 years.
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The volume in MicroSync is outrageous. At Rumblefish, we’re doing 13 songs a minute. If you look at a major label, they’re generating a very significant amount of revenue through a very small number of licenses. It’s really exciting because what we’re doing is bringing soundtracks to the place where videos are being created. So inside of a video editing app. Or inside of online video editing software, or inside of a video network. We want the soundtracks to be where you’re creating the videos, so you can snag a soundtrack just like you can grab a song off iTunes. And this way you have a licensing agreement that just works.
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That’s kind of the difference in the markets. Our partners are on the supply-side, obviously artists and labels, but our customers are API partners who are jacking into our service through the API and pulling soundtracks. And it’s all happening in an automated, programmatic way.
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What’s the time table for content ID 2.0?
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Well we’ve been issuing the keys for a long time, but they are going to start to be recognized soon. I’m under confidentiality obligations, but it’s coming. Content ID 2.0 is coming soon.
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You just announced the acquisition of Catalogik. Why did you bring them on board, and how do they play into the overall strategy?
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Those guys are brilliant. We are very, very happy to have them on our team. Those guys are visionaries and we’re thrilled to have them involved, and they are going to hit the ground running.
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Overall strategy: we are building the iTunes for soundtracks. A little over two years ago, we had 30,000 songs. We just broke 2 million. And we’re aiming to break 5 million very shortly, and we have our sights set on breaking 10 million as soon as we can after that. And the reason why we’re so focused on having a massive catalog is that we’re serving a billion people who are making videos everyday. And the only way that’s going to work is if you want a barbershop quartet, you can find it. If you want an indie rock band from Portland you can find it. And if you want an orchestra from Prague, it’s in there. If you want a death metal band from who knows where singing in some crazy language that you don’t speak, it’ll be in there. Soundtracks should be as easy to find as downloads.
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So since we’re pursuing that path, what’s really important to us is that it’s easy to find the right music. And that requires a lot of work in terms of infrastructure. It also means that we need to be able to service thousands of videos licensing soundtracks a minute, not just 10, 13, 20 a minute. We see where this is headed and we need the proper infrastructure to get there. Catalogik has a fantastic set of IP, and their code base is really gorgeous. And what happened was we sat down and saw they already did a lot of things that we want to do.
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The result of the acquisition is that users will be able to find songs faster and more efficiently. But more importantly, we’ll be able to leverage that to better monetize music on platforms like YouTube. If we can use the Catalogik acquisition to better monetize music for our artists so they make more money off of platforms like YouTube then they could before, then it’s a great move. So we decided to go for it.
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What’s the strategy for acquiring music for the Rumblefish catalog? Do you go after big name artists, or do you mostly focus on smaller scale, independent artists?
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It’s across the spectrum. We have  amazing catalogs that have signed up, like Concord Music Group and Sun Records. We’re getting anything from Coltrane to Johnny Cash to all sorts of different artists and labels. And of course our largest contingent is great independent music. Our partnership with CD Baby has been fantastic. We work with Indaba and a number of others.
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We want to keep the quality as high as possible and keep the catalog as diverse as possible. And you’ll see more and more popular artists join the platform as the year progresses.
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Are there any music/tech companies out there that you particularly admire? 
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I use MOG, I use Sonos. I think Sonos is overlooked a lot, because they’re not necessarily a content provider. But they definitely are a conduit and they make it really easy to listen to whatever you want, wherever you want. I think MOG and Rdio have a really great user experience going on.
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And I think Songza’s approach, once it has a little bit more time to mature, is great. I just think they have a great approach, and it’s very similar to our approach. You know, our big Aha! moment was to say to customers: ‘Don’t describe what kind of music you’re looking for. Tell us how you feel. Or tell us about your video. Tell us about a character. Is there a hillbilly in it? Because we know what a hillbilly sounds like. Are you snowboarding? What are you doing?’ And then we’ll recommend something to you. I think Songza’s approach is just brilliant. I think they have a long way to go in terms of having the inventory to really nail it every time. But so far it’s been a really smart approach.
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Is there anything else you want to touch on – or anything you have else coming down the pipeline?
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Sure, a couple simple facts, then a question for people to think about. First, all videos are going to be online. It may not be there now, but eventually, all videos will end up online at some point. Second, videos and soundtracks are inseparable. In the TV or film maker’s toolbox, soundtracks aren’t suddenly going to go out of style. And since they are inseparable, isn’t it interesting that they are so difficult to use when you’re using music online or on your mobile device or tablet? So the question is why are soundtracks so difficult, and why can’t they be fun and easy and faster? And for anyone who is curious about that, anyone on the video creation side who is trying to fix that problem, those are the people who we’re really excited to work with.
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And our vision really is to be the industry standard soundtrack API. And to make soundtracks a really awesome experience for anyone who wants to use them. Because when it comes down to it, our love is in that perfect marriage of the right song with an amazing piece of footage. To us, that’s the pinnacle of story telling.
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Kickshuffle is an online publication dedicated to covering the impact of technology on music and music business. Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter.
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