“The Winners Take Advantage Of The Building Blocks To Generate Community And Commerce,” Says Patrick Sullivan, CEO of RightsFlow
Recently, I spoke with Patrick Sullivan, who is the cofounder, President, and CEO of RightsFlow, a mechanical licensing and royalty payment technology platform. In this interview, Sullivan talks about the romanticism of the traditional record industry, the barriers to licensing music in the past, and easy-to-use licensing is a necessary part of the emerging digital ecology of music culture.
How will a music consumption system that compensates artists based on how often people listen to them create a different set of winners and losers than one that compensates them based on CD sales?
Patrick Sullivan: With the music consumption model that exists today, the winners are the set of artists who take advantage of the building blocks to generate community and commerce. Given the ease of access to distribution channels and the toolkit available to artists today, (CD Baby, DiscMakers, ReverbNation, Topspin, Tunecore, etc.), opportunity exists for all musicians to successfully create and connect globally. This digital evolution has created a new set of winners who are creatively and artistically stimulating perception of their music… perception that equals value by actually fueling a reality of revenue. The tools are available to all: drive perception; drive value; drive success.
In the old model 90% of artists didn't make money and had to keep their day gig. In the new environment, 100% of artists can be winners by creating positive income streams and finding some level of success.
"While they may still need to work the day gig, a real choice and a real opportunity exists to play and be heard that just wasn't available before."
The system now allows the set of "winners" to maximize the perception, drive perceived value, and generate real value that cuts through the clutter and makes people want to listen. The new system gives the 90% that didn't make money previously a real shot to be heard, connect and make — at least and at last — a bit of their own money. The revenue streams are out there… develop your blueprint to success and claim them for yourself.
For most, do you believe that their lust for the traditional music consumption system and record industry is over-romanticized and the result of not being able to think outside of societal and cultural norms?
PS: Reminiscing about the "good old days" is really nothing new, so there's an aspect of it that's a natural tendency. A few years back, we all had some great times and experiences driven by an industry with growing margins, opportunities and a defined path to success for a record. The companies were set up to fuel consumer's desire and to drive big dividends from the 10 to 20% of successful hit records that were funneled through the ecosystem.
That model has of course changed, and will continue to do so. Now, artists and companies that are ready to embrace constant change and built to drive engagement and innovation from every band/team member will have the greatest chance for success. The old system generated huge amounts of cash for large companies who in turn invested heavily in infrastructure to manage and drive that investment. We now are faced with a shift that demands that the investment be poured into more streamlined, efficient systems and teams. That part of the pattern is happening across many cultural and business categories.
"Innovate fast, fail faster" is a personal business mantra.
We've invested heavily in our technology and in our people so that we can maximize not only our current systems and offerings, but also can conceptualize, develop and launch new products and ideas needed in the marketplace tomorrow. With consumption growing, everyone needs a license and we will continue to find ways to help our clients secure that license, account for it, and pay the correct rights holders.
In the past, was the path to licensing music and doing cover songs obfuscated from artists and too expensive and complicated for most to pursue? Why is access to our cultural heritage important?
PS: In the past, most artists didn't have the wherewithal to build their own blueprint for success. They needed to be connected with the infrastructure that the big companies provided because that was exclusively the gateway. Now many companies are set up to provide knowledge and access by shedding light on parts of the path. It's still crucial for bands to have a trusted and experienced support team of people and services, but today there's the new DIY option and flexibility to assemble it: we aim to be an important part of that equation.
If you can simplify a complicated process and provide an easy-to-use option at a fair price, most artists will investigate it and give it a shot. They will also provide feedback, and if they like it, will spread the word to other artists too. Our RightsFlow team is made up of current and former musicians who understand the demands and needs of both the creative process and the commerce channels. It's in our DNA to listen and serve musicians and help them share any connection to their own heritage.
"That connection is crucial because it helps define the music: giving it a foundation and a context."
By playing and sharing favorite cover songs, artists are engaging in something authentic and smart. A well-picked cover tune can show 'who you are' and 'what you love' while offering something familiar and cool to your fans. Plus well-crafted songs written by other skilled songwriters can often cut through the clutter in a way that many originals can't.
Why is something as simple as providing artists with an easy-to-use and cost effective solution to licensing music and doing cover songs a vital part to the emerging digital ecology of music culture?
PS: Offering value and ease-of-use are two features absolutely necessary in the ecosystem. Musicians need a way to filter out distractions and find time to focus on writing, performing and connecting. We've defined our addressable market and are offering them an option that saves them time and money. We know that millions of artists, bands, choirs and a cappella groups want to record and release covers or third-party compositions. They're looking for ways to do the right thing that don't require a time investment to search for copyright ownership, file notices to publishers, or familiarize themselves with some of the complexities of copyright laws.
"If the emerging model is indeed more track based, obviously what we do becomes even more vital."
Selling and sharing great songs means more great cover songs are being sold and shared. In turn we make it easy and affordable to secure necessary mechanical licenses, ensure compliance, and pay songwriters and publishers. Our systems — Limelight and our enterprise support — are both collecting thousands of dollars in publishing daily, ultimately paying out millions to the entire publishing spectrum. It's vital to our licensee clients – the artists, labels, distributors and music services – because it allows them to build, manage and grow their careers and businesses. It also equally vital to the thousands of songwriter / publisher licensors that we pay worldwide, because it allows them to do the same.