A couple of years ago a stranger that I will never meet did something unethical and permanently altered the trajectory of my life.
Since then, I’ve been on a whirlwind of events that I could never have forseen. I’ve had my photo in Billboard Magazine; presented my startup to hundreds of people at conferences from San Francisco to Washington D.C,; discovered that a good presentation can create (temporary) celebrity; met with venture capitalists; chatted with the Howard Marks, the founder of Activision; traded crazy boss stories with a former employee of Notorious B.I.G., and was offered both partnership and, subsequently loss of employment by my (former) boss. I’ve been bamboozled by international programmers, been named one of Amazon AWS 100 Best Startups and called “Black Steve Jobs” (spoiler: I’m not.). I’ve received startup advice at 30,000 feet from J Sider, the founder of BandPages, sat front row at the (Canadian) Grammies, and drank wine from the glass of Mark Zuckerberg.*
I owe that stranger a firm thank you.
Anyway — after two years of tinkering, exploring, learning, and ultimately working, I’m finally launching. This is the story.
Two years ago I moved to Los Angeles and shortly thereafter, found myself working for a fairly prominent grammy nominated music producer. She or he has worked with artists like Beyonce, Usher, The Black Eyed Peas.
Anyway, shortly after I started working, one of the songs they’d written with an artist showed up on YouTube. A leak.
If you’re not familiar with the songwriting/music industry (and why would you be?) it’s worth pointing out this: Most of your favorite songs aren’t written by the people who sing them.
As luck would have it, it’s not likely that a person is born good looking with the ability to sing, dance, play an instrument AND write catchy songs. Life isn’t that imbalanced.
So, any artist will write dozens (sometimes hundreds) of songs with numerous writers and producers (normal looking people, or “fugly no sing no dance word nerds” as pop stars don’t, but should call us) while creating material for their album. Sometimes the lag time between a song being written and that same song appearing on a shelf (if you’re old) or on the iTunes music store (if you’re young-ish) or on Spotify (if you’re for real young), can be not just months but years.
In the intervening time, that song gets sent around.
To A&R reps. To other artists. Music supervisors for film placement, corporations for product placement, record labels for consideration for their artists. Then when a song actually gets selected for release it gets sent to video directors, and promotional teams, newspapers, magazines, bloggers and hundreds of people who now all have an early copy of the hot new song by
[INSERT YOUR FAVORITE ARTIST HERE.]
[EVEN IF ITS NICKLEBACK.]
[NO REALLY I HAVE NOTHING PERSONAL AGAINST NICKLEBACK, I’VE NEVER MET THEM AND I’M SURE THEY ARE LOVELY PEOPLE. THE JOKE JUST DOESNT WORK AS WELL WITH (say) BOB MARLEY OR (say) THE BEATLES FOR REASONS BEYOND THE SCOPE OF THIS BRACKETED COMMENT. ]
[JUDGING ART IS LIKE JUDGING TASTEBUDS WHICH IS A WEIRD THING TO DO, BUT NO ONE I KNOW LIKES THE TASTE OF NICKLEBACK, OR FECES.]
[AGAIN I AM NOT DRAWING A COMPARISON I’M NEVER MIND BACK TO THE STORY. SERIOUSLY. IT’S JUST MUSIC. HONEST.]
Well, like anyone with something cool and rare, there’s a desire to show it off.
So then suddenly some stranger put my boss’ song on YouTube and there are over 100,000 listens and now everyone is pissed–the artist, their manager, their label, the producer. No one knows who leaked it, and now the artist no longer wants it on their album. Having your song placed on the album of a fairly successful recording artist could easily mean $30,000-$50,000 in your pocket. That’s BEFORE royalties.
I asked my boss who leaked it. My boss didn’t know. I asked why they didn’t know, because if someone did something that cost me tens of thousands of dollars, I would want to have an idea of who it was.
Well, I’d want an address, but I’d settle for an idea. I would probably be very much like Liam Neeson in Taken, although the opening scene of someone grabbing your song from a server is different from grabbing your daughter from an apartment. It lacks what the French never ever call gravitas. Because that’s Latin (Togas not Todos), and why would they call it that?
My boss said it was impossible to know that kind of thing. Being very stubborn and very curious, I decided that he was probably very wrong about that, so I decided I would figure out how. My boss suggested that it was a waste of time but luckily your employer doesn’t get to determine what you do in the comfort of your own home. Not for lack of trying though.
Up Next: Part Two
Where I try to find out if someone else has tried to solve this problem (Spoiler: They have) the way that I would (spoiler: They haven’t.), and then David Fincher and Trent Reznor inadvertently give me the musical boost necessary for a really ugly MVP, and where my boss tells me that “WE COULD BE RICH!”