Release Date 10/20/15 Episode Length 29:59

Chris McMurtry of Dart Music

Why You Should Tackle the Hardest Problems First

with Chris McMurtry of Dart Music

Speaker 1: Okay cool, so give me kind of the background of what you’re building with Dart Music.

Speaker 2: Okay, excellent, so Dart Music is the first automated distribution platform that’s specifically for classical music. Another way to say it is that new classical music cannot be sold in iTunes until now. It’s a pretty bold statement, but true. I know there’s classical music in iTunes, how does it get there, right? There are specialized distributors for classical music who utilize teams of musicologists, I used to work for 1 of them, Naxos of America. At Naxos we had to use 30 musicologists who would manually input the metadata associated with classical music. Because of that, the overhead as you can imagine was very high and continues to be very high for them. That’s really a barrier entry unless you can afford to pay their fee as a creator, and their fee is generally as much as 50% on an artist’s royalties which is a lot.

Speaker 1: That’s the musicologist fee?

Speaker 2: Oh sorry, that’s the fee that a classical distributor is going to charge to get music into iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, et cetera.

Speaker 1: You’re already losing 30% from iTunes?

Speaker 2: That’s right.

Speaker 1: Right, okay. Why do you need all of these musicologists to tag? Why can’t artists do it themselves.

Speaker 2: Yeah, great question. If you look at … we’ll just stick with the most 3 common tags of metadata for music: Album, artist and song title. We’re here in Nashville so obviously Taylor Swift is quite popular and she is everywhere. Album, artist, song title would be Taylor Swift, 1989, Shake It Off. Right? That covers all 3 of those. For classical music, one of my favorite pieces is Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony. If you look at Ludwig Van Beethoven Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, or piece No.55 the Eroica, movement No. 1 Allegro con brio, as conducted by Leonard Bernstein, as performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. All right, so who’s the album, artist and song title again? You know.

Speaker 1: Okay.

Speaker 2: In that example there are 3 languages reference, you’ve got English, German and Italian. English for Shake It Off is going to follow title casing, capital S, capital I, capital O, but what is the name of the song if you will for that first movement of Beethoven? Is it the full name? Is it Allegro con brio? Is movement No. 1 included in that and if so, how? Allegro con brio is Italian, it’s not going to use title casing, right? It’s going to use sentence casing. All of that is very important in how the DSP’s the Digital Service Providers which iTunes is a DSP, Spotify is a DSP. All of those nuances affect not just how they are tagged, but how a fan might find them in those services, so it affects discoverability, it affects structure, it affects organization. When I was working at Naxos, a Grammy winning composer named Michael Daugherty, he had just won a Grammy, and we had distributed his music, but he couldn’t find it, and he would call and be like, “Hey, why is my music not in iTunes?” I’m like, “It is, try it here.” I’d send him the link, but when he would search for it or his fans would search for it, they could not find it. You had to have the direct link with that. That is that complexity of metadata that our platform covers and …

Speaker 1: How are you solving that? Like what’s the … is there a new methodology that you’re taking to apply that or?

Speaker 2: They’re basically 3 pieces of technology at a very high level that our platform focuses on and our algorithms are created to cover, and that is a known good database, which we affectionately call “The database”.

Speaker 1: I like that.

Speaker 2: Then we all see it to last conditional logic so that we can determine, hey what exactly is it you are wanting to do and we will ask you questions based upon that, right? Very much like TurboTax. Then of course machine learning is playing a big part in this as well, because how do you supplement the brain of 30 musicologists and by the way there’s 30 musicologists, generally only get it about 72% correct most of the time in terms of meeting the standards of their stores and of course if we can tell a machine what it is we’re trying to do and we have a standard that we are meeting, then you can create artificial intelligence off of that, so that is what our platform is doing.

Speaker 1: Interesting, so you’re basically allowing independent classical artists to actually be discovered on iTunes?

Speaker 2: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

Speaker 1: Very cool. Well, I’m wondering how big is the classical market. I know independent music is growing in the number of artists they’re able to release, has it been the same for classical?

Speaker 2: It has been. It is now I should say, in iTunes, in Spotify. The independent classical market has been growing immensely in SoundCloud and in Bandcamp, because those are the only outlets that they’ve been able to enter into. It’s very difficult to monetize. At the very least most of your fan base when they want to hear new music, as awesome as SoundCloud and Bandcamp are, it’s not generally the method of listening to music that you were just listening to 30 seconds ago. You’re quitting Google Play or iTunes and going into a different platform, which is just another barrier of entry. We started combing SoundCloud and Bandcamp, and so far in the US, in UK we’re just over 144,000 independent creators of classical music that are having this problem.

Speaker 1: Wow! Now are they playing like Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony or are they writing originals?

Speaker 2: It’s both actually and specifically so SoundCloud isn’t monetized right now. They can record Beethoven or even something that’s not in the public domain, or that is in the public domain without repercussions, but that’s another thing that our platform helps with is the mechanical licenses associated with recording something that is a third party write folder has access to. Another great music tech startup helps us with that out of San Fran if you guys don’t know that, be sure to reach out, they’re really awesome,

Speaker 1: Cool.

Speaker 3: How did these classical artists find you? Because I assume that probably a lot of them aren’t online most of the day or maybe aren’t the most tech savvy. How are you getting in front of them to get them to know what you guys are doing?

Speaker 2: You guys have awesome questions. As we’ve been building the platform over the last 9 months, we’ve done zero marketing, and so they’ve been finding us just word of mouth through social media and whatnot. Now, we are trying to get the word out there and now that it’s filled and our job is to let the world know about it, right? We’ve had enough of a trickle or a select number of artists coming through that we can learn what’s working, what’s not working. To answer your question, we are finding them by engaging them through SoundCloud as well as going and talking to ensembles, and they are finding us thankfully through great press like Billboard magazine, there’s an article coming out in Entrepreneur Magazine. This awesome interview you guys are gracious enough to give us. The press is starting to pickup, but we have a long way to go to build our user base, and so that is where we are now, is getting the word out.

Speaker 1: How has classical music evolved to where it is today? If I was going to go on SoundCloud, would I hear something different than potentially going to the theater 20 years ago?

Speaker 2: Oh gosh! Yeah, absolutely. We went to the Schemerhorn which is where the National Symphony plays here in Nashville and it’s a really nice hall, but we went to hear 5 new composers on Wednesday perform their music and the audience is jeans and t-shirt. Then we leave that to go to a house show with the national chamber music series and then we could have gone to hear a premier of Turandot which is an opera. It’s pretty incredible that you can, I guess, kind of club-hop classical music. All that to say like that, that is the landscape, is … I don’t know if you guys are fans of Radiohead or Arcade Fire or Wilco, but all of those bands have members that are classical musicians, they write pure classical music and there’s nothing in the meta tags or the music they’re releasing that connects them as also an artist of Radiohead, and that’s part of that problem. When you listen to Johnny Greenwood’s music it doesn’t sound like Radiohead, it sounds like a mix between Messiaen and sometimes electronic dance music. I’ve always felt like … it’s not really a feeling, it’s a truth that innovation and music has always followed technological innovations. If you’re Beethoven, he was writing music because of this great new thing that just came out called the Pianoforte, and the particular piano had cross strings and so it was able to have a resonance unlike anything he’d heard before, so he’s able to duplicate that which he did with an orchestra in a single sitting on the piano. It’s him following the technological advancements of his day. The tech advancements of today is of course midi-software instruments, loop pedals, delay. You’ve got violinists like Tracy Silverman who is also a Nashvillian, but premiering violin concertos for John Adams and Nico Muhly these are up and coming composers. John Adams is probably one of the most famous composers of our day and Nico Muhly is a younger composer, but he’s just doing amazing things. What Tracy is doing and what these composers are doing are utilizing these electronic technologies that just sound completely different than Beethoven and a lot closer to Radiohead, but not quite Radiohead, and so you go to these concerts and there are 500 kids sitting around, eating pizza, drinking wine, just literally rocking out to art music.

Speaker 1: Wow!

Speaker 3: What do you see in terms of adoption of classical music? Is that really growing right now, especially like you said with the younger people in jeans and t-shirts, and how do you kind of see that reflected?

Speaker 2: Yeah, it is immensely growing. There are these underground scenes that are kind of popping up all over the different metropolitan areas of which Nashville is one of the smaller, but even here in Nashville like we’ve got 6 of our guard chamber music ensembles that will play anything from our show to a bar. Then in London you’ve got incredible Indie-Classical scene, you’ve got James Rhodes who’s playing Rachmaninoff, but he’s doing it in a bar in explaining in his jeans, t-shirt, and converse exactly what’s happening in the music. I think a lot like our tribe today we appreciate things like great coffee and we’re willing to pay a little extra for that, and we appreciate craft beer, that same generation really appreciates well thought out composed music. You also see it in other genres, like EDM can be a very complex in terms of form and structure and you even have Aphex Twin, he refers to himself as IDM: Intelligent Dance Music. I think we’re going to see the genre of classical when you say classical, there’s a big move, a very passionate move for you to not think about old dead white guys in wigs, so …

Speaker 1: The music industry had been kind of notorious as of late where companies have been downsizing and going out of business. I’m curious to hear about your revenue model and how are you guys making this work.

Speaker 2: Yeah absolutely, so there like most things 2 sides to that coin. 1 side is a straight revenue model of, “Let’s make sure that this genre that has been underserved has the same opportunity as other genres.” While the other genres have been paying a flat rate to get their music into these stores so we can follow that model and offer it to classical music for the first time. That’s part of it, is $40 per album, per year and that’s a subscription fee, so 12 months later if you want to keep your music in 196 stores worldwide, you pay another $40. Generally everyone feels it’s well worth it, because if … A: At worst it’s a marketing expense, $40 to be available in places that give you legitimacy and authority in these stores. Then there’s also, if you get 4 of your friends to buy it, you break even, you know? It’s not a huge barrier of entry there to really copy that model, you know what I mean? The flip side of that revenue question is … 1 of the assumptions or 1 of our questions as we went into it is, all right, nobody has ever done this because it’s really hard. If we focus on the hardest problem is it going to make all of these other … is it going to solve all of these other problems in its wake? If you solve the hardest math problem do the other math problems become easier? It’s been incredible to find that the answer is yes. The reason you’re talking about how there’s been this kind of implosion of the music industry is because of a lack of transparency and because of knowing who’s getting paid what. The inability to make edits to a digital product once it’s live without taking it down and putting it back up. Well all of that is metadata that’s driven by metadata, so since we focus on complex, complicated metadata we’re finding that, hey you can get paid faster and your music goes live faster. Hey guess what? It’s very clear where every cent goes.

Speaker 1: Right.

Speaker 2: It’s been really exciting to see the value propositions just kind of pop up for all of these different facets of the music industry.

Speaker 1: You guys went through a new music accelerator there in Nashville. I’d love to hear a bit about your experience going through an accelerator that’s focused on music in particular.

Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. It was incredibly … first of it was the single hardest thing I’ve ever done, that we’ve ever done. It was very, very intense, but very much worth it, it was very, very good. We A: Didn’t know if we would get in, here we are in country music USA, saying, “Hey, we’re classical.” The lead sponsor was the CMA, which is Country Music Association. I used to joke and say, “Well maybe they’ll think it’s Classical Music Association. All that to say we’re fortunate enough to get in, and Project Music was incredible, absolutely phenomenal. We hope to get 3 things. We hope to actually learn what it is to have a business. Can we make money at this? We hope to have access to folks within the industry, to be able to get in front of them an tell them what we’re doing, but also to find out what problems they’re having and seeing if there’s a relationship there and if there’s a connection. That’s where we started to learn about these different value prepositions that even major labels are having as a result of poor metadata. We also have hope to have the opportunity to raise capital and Project Music delivered on all 3 in spades, it was wonderful. Not only did they kind of call our baby ugly and beat the snort out of it, and get it to a place where we had a viable business model. We did have the opportunity to really get in front of everyone in the music industry, not just in Nashville, but New York and LA as well, and the encouragement we received from the industry has been … the partnerships that have resulted has been incredible. Through the process we raised almost 1 and half million dollars of seed funding, so yeah if it wasn’t for … because of Project Music we have a shot at this, you know … I’m very proud of how we’ve grown over in the last year and we have a fully staffed team and we’re working hard everyday to get it done.

Speaker 1: That’s awesome. That’s really cool to hear and I’m so glad that somebody is putting that kind of the accelerator model behind technology and music, so it’s really cool.

Speaker 2: Yeah, me too.

Speaker 1: Where can we keep up with you online?

Speaker 2: Twitter is @hellodart.

Speaker 1: You have a promotional offer too, right?

Speaker 2: Yes, we do, in celebration of our launch. If you sign up to use the platform before October 31, not only do you get to keep 100% of your royalties, but we will distribute your album for free for the 1st year.

Speaker 1: You wave the $40 per album fee?

Speaker 2: That’s exactly right.

Speaker 1: That’s cool. All right, very cool. We always have an outro song. I’m going to let you pick it today. What shall we go out on?

Speaker 2: That’s awesome. Well, since we spoke so much about Beethoven, let’s do Beethoven’s 3rd.

Speaker 1: Okay, all right, cool.

Transcription provided by Jotengine