Eron Bucciarelli-Tieger, co-founder and CEO of MusicPlay Analytics, is no stranger to the music industry. For ten years, Eron was a drummer and founding member of the platinum-selling band Hawthorne Heights. During his time as a professional musician, he noticed a problem.
Say you own a bar and you’d like to play music in your bar. To obtain the right to do so, you need a license from a preforming rights organization (PRO) like ASCAP. That seems fair enough. So what’s the problem?
The PROs don’t know what songs are being played, so they don’t know which songwriters to distribute the funds to once they are collected. Unlike other mediums which are more easily tracked with technology, there is currently no technology in place to automatically track live performances and many other sources of music broadcast in businesses. Because there is no readily available way to track these songs, PROs use radio plays as a proxy to determine how these funds are distributed to songwriters. And as it turns out, this proxy method is wildly inaccurate.
Eron found that only 19% of songs played on the radio are played in establishments. This means 81% of the songwriters you hear in establishments aren’t getting paid. This insight lead him to start MusicPlay Analytics. His project aims to adequately compensate artists every time their song is played.
Cintrifuse: How does MusicPlay Analytics work?
Eron Bucciarelli-Tieger: We work with preforming rights organizations (PROs) to identify what songs are playing in establishments so the songwriter can be compensated. Traditionally and in the past, PROs issued blanket licenses to establishments and used radio play to determine how much the songwriter should be compensated.
We discovered that only 19% of the songs played on the radio are played in businesses. So 81% of songwriters you hear in a business aren’t getting paid. Our technology identifies the songs that play in businesses so the correct songwriters get paid.
The PROs distribute our monitoring device to establishments and they, in turn, plug our device into their sound system. Our device uses software similar to Shazam to identify songs. That information then gets transferred to our database.
CF: MusicPlay Analytics sounds like it will help songwriters get compensated, will it also help businesses save money?
EBT: Yes. If the business installs the device they will receive a discount on their license. Also, each of our devices are equipped with ibeacon technology. So we will provide a platform for businesses to better understand their customer – who they are, how much time they spend in the business and what they do while they’re in the business.
Those are insights businesses can use to offer products that fit their customer’s exact needs, ultimately generating more revenue for the business.
CF: How did you come up with the idea for MusicPlay Analytics?
EBT: Prior to MusicPlay Analytics I was a professional musician. For about ten years, I was the drummer for Hawthorne Heights. We sold millions of records and toured the world but, like most bands, our popularity waned over time. As the business person in the band, I was keyed into how all the money was coming in and going out.
One time after a show I was looking through our expenses and saw the usual stuff like sound and lights and insurance. Then I saw a preforming rights fee. I’d seen the fee in the past but for a time the band was doing really well so I never worried about that money. It never amounted to much, a couple hundred dollars. But, after being successful for ten years and doing hundreds of shows, that number adds up to quite a lot of money.
It hit me that this money was being deducted from our expenses and sent to our PRO. We were supposed to receive that money back because we were the songwriters of the songs being performed that night. So after the tour I went home and looked at all my rights statements and this money was nowhere to be found.
My first instinct was to call all the guys in the band to make sure something didn’t get screwed up with all the different managers we had been involved with. They assured me I was paranoid and that they weren’t receiving this money either.
I did some research and discovered we weren’t receiving that money because our songs weren’t on the radio at that given moment. In this day in age with song recognition technology and the low cost of technology, it seemed ridiculous to have no solution that accurately tracks every performance.
CF: What does your ideal customer look like?
EBT: We have a couple of different customers . Right now, we’re focused on the PROs. We need the rights organizations’ help in distributing our devices and utilizing the data to accurately distribute royalties. That’s the main goal of this business.
We’re also very conscious of the fact that businesses don’t have a high opinion of the PROs. Most bar owners and venue owners don’t have a good understanding of copyright law. So when a representative of a rights organization comes in and says ‘you need to pay royalties’, they feel like they’re being held up at gun point.
We try to provide value to the businesses themselves. Increasing their revenue and saving them money on the front end. So, in essence, the establishments themselves are customers too.
CF: What are some of the biggest challenges you encountered starting MusicPlay Analytics?
EBT: Initially the biggest challenge was getting the PROs to understand that the way they’ve done things for the last 100 years isn’t acceptable anymore. There is technology that can replace this increasingly inaccurate proxy they use to distribute royalties.
We’re not fully there yet but we’ve had several successes. Those success are putting competitive pressures on other organizations.
CF: What was your first job and what lessons did you learn that helped you start MusicPlay Analytics?
EBT: My first job out of college was as a Marketing Coordinator at Time Warner Cable. It taught me that I really don’t like the corporate world. I would rather do my own thing, be my own boss. And I think that point was hammered home over the decade that I was a professional musician.
I’m a creative soul that wants to build things. When I was in the band and thinking about my next step it was never ‘let’s get an office job’. That was not a viable option. I would get sick of it and I would regret leaving the band. But I knew I needed something more stable than the feast or famine revenue stream that comes with touring.
CF: Are there any corollaries you can draw between starting a band and starting a company?
EBT: Absolutely. There are tons of correlations you can draw between starting a band and starting a company. I actually wrote about it for The Brandery’s blog.
I constantly view everything I do with MusicPlay Analytics through the eyes of a musician. For instance, raising money – that process is a lot like searching for a record deal. Both are a process of convincing people you have a product that’s going to sell.
Another important similarly is understanding that just because you have money backing you, whether it’s from a record label or VC, you can’t let your foot off the gas. You have to keep going and keep pushing harder.
CF: What drew you to becoming an entrepreneur?
EBT: I always liked building things, even as a kid with LEGOs. I’d have this idea in my head and I’d want to make it a thing. Whether it’s LEGOs or a band or MusicPlay Analytics, it’s the same process. It’s taking an idea from your head and building it from inception to market then releasing it on the world. And, hopefully, what you’re releasing will have a positive impact.
I don’t think my LEGO creations had a positive impact on the world but I think my years as a musician did. And I think MusicPlay will too.
CF: How do you see entrepreneurship benefiting Cincinnati?
EBT: I think it’s definitely shining a spotlight on Cincinnati. That was missing for a long period of time not just within Cincinnati but the Midwest in general.
Traditionally, the Midwest has always been your typical Rustbelt section of the county. It was a very blue collar area and I think entrepreneurship helps the revitalization effort in Cincinnati and across the Midwest.
EBT: The PROs need to assess our technology’s capabilities as one more step in their diligence process. So we’re going to demo our device at SxSW in two weeks.
Following that, we’ll do a couple of pilots out in LA and around Cincinnati. After that we’re looking at rolling out our devices by Q3 this year. But right now we’re focused on fundraising which we’ll finalize in the coming weeks.
You can find more about Eron and MusicPlay Analytics at their website www.musicplayanalytics.com. And if you’re going to SxSW be sure to show your support for Eron, the MusicPlay Analytics team and #StartupCincy.
Image Credit – phillyist: www.flickr.com/photos/phillyist/