Audiosocket: An Interview With Brent McCrossen

Brent McCrossenYou may have already read about Audiosocket in Mashable or TechCrunch, or maybe you’ve read the profile on it done by Entrepreneur magazine. Even if you haven’t, you’re in for a treat with this interview with a man who is revolutionizing online music licensing, Audiosocket CEO Brent McCrossen. [In the interest of transparency I must divulge that I’ve known Brent for years and have had the pleasure of watching his endeavor from birth pains to a raging success.]

And now, without further ado, here’s our interview with Brent McCrossen of Audiosocket.

audiosocketWhat inspired your approach to music licensing? How much of it was informed by your work with music in New Orleans and Seattle, and in what way?

BMcC: I was in Seattle at the time, working as an artist manager and talent buyer. I was watching the record industry implode and seeing the effects on artists. They weren’t selling CDs any more, record advances were drying up, and touring was getting expensive. Revenue streams were needed. Two of our artists got sync licensing deals. One was a placement in a video game, the other was a placement in the TV show, “The Sopranos.” Both paid very well. At that point, a light bulb went off.

I thought to myself, “Brent, if you had a deep catalog of pre-cleared music that covered every genre, you could scale this type of business and help put money into the artist’s pocket.”

It has been a slow process of evolution for me as an entrepreneur in the music business. I started out at the age of the 13, playing in a NOLA-based punk band, “The Malignant Minds,” and then in the alt rock band, “Institutional Size.” I had a passion for playing drums, but equally enjoyed the business of organizing my bandmates, booking the shows, and ultimately getting people to come see us play.

When I moved to Seattle, I was really struggling with missing New Orleans. I decided to throw a big Mardi Gras party to bring some of my native culture to this new city. It was a smashing success. From there, artists asked me to manage their careers, and clubs asked me to become their-full time talent buyer. All of that has informed my work — New Orleans and Seattle both having a major influence in their own way.

I recall that even from the start, there was a significant intention to ensure that  independent creators profit from their works. Are you satisfied with what you’ve achieved so far in that regard? 

BMcC: While we’re still building, I’m thrilled with the progress. We’ve developed a catalog of super high-quality music. That success is demonstrated by the fact that in every payment period, more than 50% of our catalog gets a royalty check. Many stock music libraries have hundreds of thousands of songs, yet only a small percentage of those artists ever get placed. Our catalog is diverse and our artists are creating exceptional work. They get paid for this, because clients use the work on a regular basis.

There is nothing more rewarding then paying artists. These creative souls work their butts off to get their ideas into sonic wave form. It’s not an easy process. It’s even harder to gain exposure for their work. When we license a song, it finds an audience and produces a financial reward. This allows the artist to pay rent, tour the country, and record their next record. It builds an economy for a creative class and gets music out to a larger society. Music builds connections and inspires people. When this cycle of creation and human interaction can become sustainable, it feeds the entire process and allows it to grow. It’s very rewarding for me personally and I’m humbled by the experience.

I know from past conversations that one of the motivating ideas behind Audiosocket was allowing creators to be more easily paid for their work. Would you expand upon this for our readers? 

BMcC: There was one very powerful moment that I experienced last year. It’s a “tug on your heart strings” kind of story, but really demonstrates the simple power of all of this. The artist will remain unnamed. However, I will tell you, that there is a New Orleans-based artist in our catalog. We secured a national ad campaign for him in 2009. It was a nice payday and his song was all over the TV, in households across America.

About a year after this placement was secured, I received an email from this artist on the morning of New Year’s Eve. The artist wrote to inform me that when he got the check, he sat on it. He figured he’d use the money to record his next record. Unfortunately, his father passed away. His father, a popular, yet broke musician, died with little money to his name. This artist was able to use the money he made from that commercial placement to pay for a proper musician’s funeral. He sent his dad off to the great beyond in style and was honored to have been able to do so leveraging the success of his own creative work.

I sat in my living room reading that email and cried my eyes out. I’m a simple man running a simple business. I have no ideas of grandeur. In that moment, though, I understood the effect that one’s passions can have on other people. We’ve gone through hell and back in building this company. That email had a profound impact on me, and it drives me every day to make this business a success. People are depending on us. We have to deliver for them.

The past three years have seen explosive growth for your company. With offices in both New Orleans and Seattle and a global client base, you’ve certainly become well established in such a short time. Tell us a bit about the wild ride as Audiosocket has moved from an idea to a noted resource for content creators and businesses.

BMcC: Man, a wild ride it has been. I have a ton of stories that highlight the challenges of building Audiosocket. I’ve made some critical mistakes in building this company.

The first music search technology we built was not up to par. It looked great, but once there were 3,000 songs in the database, it could no longer handle the content. It failed to scale. Basically, it broke — on the same day, Disney called looking for a song. We were shut down, dead in the water.

My business partner is persistent. She called every CEO she knows and begged for a quality software engineer. One of those companies sent us a top engineer to help. This CEO said, “Look, he’s my top guy. I know I just burnt him out on a really boring tech project and he could use some excitement. On top of this, he’s a music fanatic. He’d love to do this work. I’m happy to send him to you to moonlight for a few weeks, but do not steal him away from me.”

That guy’s name is John Barnette. He came to our office like the character The Wolf, from the movie Pulp Fiction. He walked into the room and basically said, “Your universe is broken. I’m here to fix it. Get me what I need and then get out of my way. I’ll have this working shortly.” He did. In less than five days, we had an entirely new music search technology standing up. It wasn’t perfect, but our clients could actually search for and license music again. He continued to refine it over the course of three weeks, and then it was better than it had ever been. In fact, this was the beginning of our development of the MaaS [Music as a Service] Platform — we just didn’t know it at the time.

We made John an advisor for Audiosocket. We didn’t steal him away from his original company. After a few months later, he left there to work on a black ops team at ATT. After a year of that, we had raised enough money to bring him into Audiosocket. He’s now our CTO.

From tragedy is born greatness. I have so many stories like this, I could go on and on. Basically, it comes down to a Winston Churchill quote, “When you’re going through hell, keep going!”

Both NBC and MTV rate Audiosocket as a preferred vendor, and rumor has it that other big announcements are in the works. What do you see in the future for the company and what other milestones do you wish to achieve? 

BMcC: We do have “preferred vendor” relationships with all the major broadcasters. That’s great, yet we’re evolving beyond traditional licensing. That market is becoming compressed. Big licensing companies are starting to give music away for free, only to collect the performance royalties on the back end. It’s a very disruptive approach, but we’ve decided not to compete with it or follow their lead. We continue to demand upfront payment. We don’t get the volume of placements they do, but we get our artists paid.

We’ve pulled ourselves out of the trench warfare environment that’s been built by a lot of these large stock libraries. We do have a couple of major announcements that will be made later this summer. We’re attacking the digital media markets and using quality content and robust technology to address this in a way that these stock companies aren’t positioned to serve as effectively. We’re doing it with some of the largest and most respected brands in the business. You’ll know more about this in September, when we launch the first partnership. It’s going to make waves, and I can’t wait to share it with the world. It’s game-changing.

Tell us what makes your Music as a Service (MaaS) approach to licensing unique within the industry. 

BMcC: Major digital media companies have a massive music need. To date, there has been no way for them to provide sync licenses to their clients in a simple and elegant way. The MaaS Platform is built for integration. These digital media companies can now build on our API and offer access to search, discover, and license music right within their own site. For talented software engineers, it’s easy to build on top of our API, and it provides a frictionless solution for the end user.

With the introduction of sync licensing/MaaS, you’ve entered the world of video and video games. Are you seeing a shift in users of your service from B2B to more of B2C? Are more small producers using Audiosocket to license audio tracks, and what sort of expansion in this market do you predict? 

BMcC: There is a major shift. Consider this. More than 60 hours of video content are uploaded to the Web every minute. Most of this content is created by novices or the budding filmmaker. Music licensing is a real beast for the average person. Where do they start? What do they need to know? How do they go about it? As MaaS is integrated into gaming engines, social networks, and video/photo-sharing sites, we can get music into the hands of this new breed of creatives. They can seamlessly license music for their productions, be it user-generated or commercial content. In addition, the musicians can get compensated for their work, and everybody wins.

Tell us a bit about your recent integration with Animoto and how this has helped shape the face of your MaaS offerings. 

BMcC: We provide music to Animoto but they don’t use our MaaS Platform. However, our relationship with Animoto certainly proved our notion that MaaS was needed and that the business model can scale. They pay us a percentage of revenue when their customers use our music against photo slideshows. On the face of it, these are low-dollar sync fees, but they add up quickly. You get tens of thousands of people creating content, and the next thing you know, you’re cutting large royalty checks to the musicians. Every week, we have an artist call us to say that they’re getting emails from photographers that have used their songs on Animoto. They have become fans on their Facebook page and bought their songs on iTunes. It’s built their fan base in a very real way.

This brings exposure and scalable, recurring revenue. As we’ve watched it grow, it has proven that there is an entire market that can provide similar results. MaaS will address that market and extend deeper into the digital universe of online content creation. It’s clear to see the impact that’s going to have on our artists and their ability to make a living. Moreover, we’re giving these other content creators tools to develop quality work. Stock music just won’t do. People want to use the music they love, music that resonates with them, and they want easy and legal access to it. We’ve heard their call. We’re answering it.

What differentiates your company from Jingle Punks or Pump Audio? 

BMcC: At the end of the day, it’s the quality of music, technology, and our relationships with the artists. Both of those companies are a success. I tip my hat to them. In fact, they helped shape our evolution as a company. They took a track in the traditional media markets that forced us to change. That inspired our technological innovation and gave rise to our MaaS Platform.

Right now, we’re the only music licensing company with this type of technology. In addition, we have the most robust music-tagging system in the business. We tag each song with up to 100 different attributes. This allows our clients to search in a very granular way and delivers quality search results. We’ve got a team of highly trained and very passionate people. From tech to music classification, to finance, to artist relations: everyone is performing at a high level and loves working for the company. They love music. Our artists are like family to us. We communicate with them all the time and strengthen the ties that bind us. While some [services] work to drive a market down to zero so they can sell more stock photos or simply collect on the performance royalties, we’re finding new ways to monetize music that will allow our artists to sustain their carreers.

What changes do you think we will see in online audio and video over the next few years, and how is Audiosocket preparing for them? 

BMcC: It’s only going to grow. We know that it’s a new frontier and it’s being built with a more thoughtful approach. These digital media companies realize that music is a very important element of the work being created — be it in gaming, video, or photo-sharing. They’re working to do it right.

As I previously stated, more than 60 hours of content is being uploaded to the Web every minute. With the wider use of mobile devices, this will continue to expand. I predict that content load will double in the next 24 months. Recording and editing devices will continue to become more affordable. This will add to the explosive growth of creative  content. It’s a locomotive, and Audiosocket is the caboose that’s being pulled along by this digital content development.

We’ve hit a powerful inflection point and we’re growing our team to meet the demand. We prepare for this by continuing to increase the size of our music catalog while maintaining our values for quality. Our technology becomes more powerful every day, as new feature sets and management tools are layered into an already robust system. We have a number of MaaS Platform deals that will go live this summer. Each of these meets the demands of the growing digital media marketplace.

To add to this, we have term sheets out with a number of other companies to duplicate this model [in] compatible verticals. It’s going to be a busy couple of years, I can tell you that!

Thanks for taking the time, Brent! I look forward to talking to you again late in the summer when you make those announcements!

As the CEO of Audiosocket, Brent McCrossen is responsible for the company’s business development. Working with his business partner, investors, employees, and customers, McCrossen crafts a vision and strategy that benefits not only the company, but also the musicians and media producers it has set out to assist. He first made his mark as co-founder of Interface Booking and Management. Interface was a Seattle-based booking and talent agency in charge of the talent-buying for three Seattle music venues: High Dive, Nectar Lounge, and ToST. The company managed such artist as KJ Sawka, Emilia Sosa, DJ Motion Potion, and Chrisopher Blue.

Having booked its artist roster on national tours, the company leveraged those successes and secured appearances at nationally acclaimed festivals like Bonnaroo, Vegoose, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and Bumbershoot. More than 10 years in the music business gives McCrossen a unique perspective on the industry and the changes it’s facing. Born and raised in New Orleans, McCrossen has a deep passion for all things food, music, and culture. He has made that passion his career.

Images are courtesy of Brent McCrossen, used with permission.

About George Williams

George “Loki” Williams is the community and brand manager for award wining game company Savage Mojo, Ltd. and the owner of SocialGumbo, LLC, an online consultancy specializing in Web content and online communications. Loki has produced content for clients including the Open Society Institute, National Association of Broadcasters, Kobold Press, and Kaiser Permanente. His work has been seen or written about in The New York Times, The BBC, Air America, The Gambit Weekly, and NOLA.com, among others.

  

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  1. Great interview, George!

    McCrossen is filling a need and eliminating a source of pain for many creatives: licensing music. It’s one of the most time-consuming aspects of film making. And time is money.

    I bet there will is a huge, growing market for music in online advertising. By making it easy for ad producers to license popular music for their ads, Audiosocket could find itself powering the soundtrack to the web.

    Thanks for this timely interview!

  2. Don’t know how I missed your comment Steve, apologies for the late response.

    I agree wholeheartedly. In my opinion the business models are changing. McCrossen, unlike many others working in music, is well aware of that. I see his primary strength as being able to defy the conventional ways of the past while honestly assessing the opportunities offered by the technology.