Cameron Parkins, October 22nd, 2007
BeatPick is a record label started in London that bills itself as a “FairPlay” music label. From the BeatPick website, users can enjoy a range of different styles of music from all over the world, from pop to electronic to hip-hop to rock; all licensed to the public under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. The website is available in English, Italian, and Chinese (with Spanish coming soon).
The idea for BeatPick came from founder David d’Atri’s Masters in Business Economics thesis. BeatPick made its public debut in February of 2006. As of October 2007, BeatPick represents around 120 artists with over 3,000 music tracks. In addition to BeatPick’s London base, the company has recently opened an office in Rome, Italy as a result of being partially acquired by an Italian software company.
Creative Commons’s former general counsel Mia Garlick caught up with BeatPick.com founder David d’Atri earlier this year to learn more about the company, its artists, its business model, and how it uses Creative Commons licenses to achieve its goals.
It requires quite some determination to take something from a Masters project to a real live business; what was the driving force that lead you to turn BeatPick into a reality?
As a young adult, I was involved in setting up a small label: we specifically did not put a copyright warning on our vinyl and did not pay the collecting societies which we were not members of anyhow. Later on, we began to encourage people to download our music for free from our website. We felt that this was an acceptable way of getting known and making money.
During my studies, I began investigating if whether or not by relaxing the rigid existing copyright laws and decriminalizing file sharing, the music market could become truly competitive. I was also increasingly interested in finding out if it was possible to devise new business strategies that were radically different from traditional ones.
After having completed my MSC, I was hired at a small record label in London where I acquired some practical experience in music licensing. I soon realized that I wanted to replicate the model I had previously used with my old label but on a larger scale. I was curious if I could come up with my own system, something that would provide me with a secure legal framework; that’s when I found out about Creative Commons. I suppose it was discovering the much-debated issues with Creative Commons that really encouraged me to embark on a project like BeatPick.
BeatPick describes itself as a “FairPlay” music label. What does this mean?
In a nutshell, “FairPlay” music label means that with our system we cut out many of the costs associated with traditional record labels; trying to re-balance the position of the artists and the public vis-à-vis the label. More specifically, this means that we have been trying to develop a system that is:
- 1. Fairer to the public because it allows people to try before they buy, as well as pay a low price in order to download the music in a variety of high to perfect quality digital formats. BeatPick.com also encourages music sharing and allows music to be re-downloaded after it has been bought.
- 2. Fairer for businesses because they get quick and easy access to music licensing prices and contracts, and have an accessible system with which to license music day or night. They also have transparent access to music licensing with equal prices for all artists, haggle-free.
- 3. Fairer for the artists because they sign a non-exclusive agreement that can be terminated anytime, receive 50% of any earnings on their music, are not forced to sign obscure and unfavourable contracts, benefit from free advertisement for their creations and they get their music in film/tv and other commercial projects.
- 4. Last but not least, BeatPick.com runs a fair system that encourages millions of students, soon-to-become professionals, amateurs, DJs and professionals, to use music for free in their non-commercial projects. We love people who remix, podcast or create multimedia projects with our music and disseminate it on the web. We believe this is truly a resource for innovation and sharing of information, as well as a key in assisting our business and increasing the earnings of our artists.
- 5. Fairer for store owners: we are launching a pilot project in Italy under which public and private spaces will be able to acquire the right to diffuse our music in their premises without having to pay the collecting societies (SIAE in Italy). We have ratified an agreement with FIIS (Italian Federation of the Sport Centres) which will present their members with two membership options: web radio or external hard disk with music manager software. This is the first time in Italy that a private company becomes a direct competitor of SIAE therefore liberalising a market. It seems fairer that public and private spaces have an option to choose the organisation that offer the service most appropriate to their needs. Owners of large public and private spaces can save up to 70% on SIAE fees.
How does BeatPick select the artists it represents? Do you focus on specific genres? How do artists hear about your label?
We have a couple of people here at BeatPick.com that listen to music all day long short-listing the most interesting artists. Then we get together and decide which artists we would like to represent – it’s pretty democratic really. We do not feel that only one person should decide; that would not be very fair towards the musicians or our business.
We try dealing with all music genres, from very rare and distant world music to very experimental glitch music and passing through the most popular genres such as rock, pop, hip hop and dance. We are not doing classical at the moment but are planning to expand into that genre this year after we have cut a few partnership deals with some Opera houses in Italy.
Artists hear about us via MySpace and other social networking sites, via word of mouth, via podcasts, blogs, and search engines. Mainly they hear about us via the Internet.
Tell us a little bit the BeatPick business model. How are your deals structured? How do BeatPick’s artists and how does BeatPick itself make money?
We split earnings 50/50 with artists or labels. Our agreement with them is non-exclusive and can be terminated anytime.
However, we see that the core of our business lies in the music licensing side of things. Professionals listen to our music, then pick which works best for their production and they are only just a few clicks away from getting a legal contract and WAV file for the music they have chosen. We also help professionals with no time to search for the music they need. They send us an email with their request and in a few hours they are emailed a link to download a number of songs to choose from. Once they have decided on a tune they write back to us and we send back a licensing agreement via email. We also provide clients with access to our catalogue free of charge. They get access to our ftp and from there they can download anything they want. They can simply download over 3000 tracks divided by genre to their hard disk. We are also planning to offer membership deals and supply clients with a hard disk full of music.
We also sell digital downloads: people listen to music for free, decide what to buy, pay and with a few clicks they get a digital download in WAV, MP3 and OGG. However, pay for music downloads is not very popular and we are deciding to experiment with different business models. It is very likely that a brand new version of BeatPick.com will offer different solutions.
In order to make our earnings (and those of the artists) more secure and stable, we are cutting offline deals in Italy to diffuse music in gyms, hotels, and book shops. The idea is having them to pay us an annual fee for the right to play our music. Our fee would substitute the fee they should pay to the Italian collecting society (more details later in this interview).
We are also very near to cutting a deal with a worldwide music channel leader for a project in Italy. This will possibly mean extra earnings for our artists and great visibility. More info on this project later on, but the very important thing is that we are finding it easier than we expected to find large companies who are interested in a fairer business model, independent music, and Creative Commons.
How did you hear about Creative Commons? What attracted you to the idea of using CC licenses in the BeatPick model?
I cannot recall exactly how I first heard about CC. It was at the beginning of 2003, and Creative Commons had begun to be featured more prominently on the net. It could have been by word of mouth or I may have just wandered onto it. Creative Commons was the inspiration for BeatPick.com and not the contrary. I thought that it was the perfect legal framework for the label I wanted to create: it would give us the possibility to decide which rights to grant and which to retain on our music.
Why did you choose the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license?
We believe it is the best CC license for businesses because it balances the need to make a living with the need for advertisement. It helps to get your music noticed via sharing, remixing, and use in non-commercial projects without losing the possibility to earn money from people that are willing to pay for your music. This license applies perfectly to us and has allowed us to create our business as it is.
Have you had any reaction from artists or the general public or others in the industry to your use of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license?
One of the most difficult things is to help people see that Creative Commons applies on copyright and is not a substitution for copyright. Many artists fear that people are going to be able to do anything with their music and that the artist will lose ownership of their creations. However, we find that most people – artists and public alike – become very enthusiastic when we explain what we are exactly trying to achieve with Creative Commons. Under the Creative Commons licenses, the artists are empowered to decide what to do with their music, depending on the needs of the artists rather than the rules and regulation of traditional copyright. In contrast, managers and label owners are often against Creative Commons, possibly because they have been in the music industry for so long, making them unwilling to change what has been successful for them over the years. They also maybe unable to keep up with the changing forms of copyright or are just not willing to adapt. We do deal with record labels but we often prefer to speak directly to the artists. Businesses seeking to license music do not seem too interested: they just want good quality music, as quickly as possible, with as little bureaucracy as possible and with a legit legal agreement that will protect them from any possible litigation. In contrast, as mentioned earlier, we are finding large companies who are interested in our business model, specially those companies that are not in the traditional music market.
BeatPick has had some fantastic successes over the past year in having its artists included in major music promotions and projects, such as the Mercedes Mixtape competition and the Nokia for Music awards. Tell us about these and other cool projects that BeatPick artists have participated it.
The Mercedes Mixtape Competition was a good result for four of our artists that were selected. It has allowed them to promote their music to a vast audience as well as gain attention from many industry insiders. An agent working for Mercedes approached us and liked our business model and our music selection. They short-listed a number of songs from our music catalogue and then selected Foley and Napolitano Lounge Connection for Mixtape 14, Cris Tanzi for Mixtape 15, and Sean Haefeli for Mixtape 17.
Speaking of commercial licenses, we have recently sold ten tracks from different artists, including the beautiful voice of Nell Bryden, the brilliant tunes of OHN, and one of our frequently licensed trip hop bands, Sleeve Channel, to Original Marines for their Autumn collection video presentations that will be screened across their 500 retail franchises in Italy. Il Tempo, an Italian daily paper, born in 1948 that presses over 50,000 copies every day, has licensed a piano solo from our artist Galdson for an ad that will be screened in underground metro stations in Rome. The Travel Channel has licensed our artist Mole for a TV ad and the Airport of Rome has used music by Keister and Mr. Tunes. We have also participated in some high-profile fashion shows in Italy and several small to mid size creative businesses are licensing the music they need at BeatPick.com.
Furthermore, we encourage video artists and our musicians to collaborate, helping them to work together on new projects as well as use our music for free for non-commercial projects: a good example is our Tobor Experiment collaborating with Hfr-lab for an audio/video installation at the onedotzero festival. The collaboration then developed into a TV show which is aired on Qoob Tv (MTV Italia). Another of our artists, Autobam, recently collaborated with visual artist Quayola and went on to win the MTVbloom contest. We though those musicians could work well with some of the visual artists we know, so we put them in touch.
We are also partnering up with several festivals and universities. The Department of Science of Communications at the University of Rome, “La Sapienza” (the largest university in Europe), has asked one of our representatives to teach a series of lectures and workshops to their MSc program of Marketing and Managing about how we market and manage our music. At the end of the series of lectures, the university will propose to BeatPick two of their students for a three month internship. The project has gone well and we have recently hired one of our interns for a full-time position at BeatPick.com. The university has asked to renew the program in 2008.
We are keen on promoting our artists in all directions and we often spend time signing them up for competitions with out any possibility to earn money ourselves. We try to act as their managers as well as simple distributors of their music. Some other competitions, such as Nokia for Music awards and the Global Battle of the Bands, were simply advertised and supported by BeatPick.com. The artists who participated in these competitions have won a lot of popularity due to their unique talents, which in some cases has even brought them good earnings: Heavy Mojo won 100 thousand dollars and a world tour. Unfortunately we have now lost Heavy Mojo who have recently signed to Universal. Good Luck Mojo!
Can you talk a little about BeatPick.com’s recent partial acquisition by an Italian software company? How did they respond to your use of a CC license? What attracted them to make the investment in BeatPick.com?
One day I received a phone call from the boss of this software house asking to meet with us. They had noticed BeatPick entering the Italian market and wanted to expand their business to music, video, and cartoons. We were really suspicious and never considered selling any shares of our little company, especially not to an unknown person. As it turned out, we found a bunch of really nice people in a very active working environment who were strong supporters of the open source movement, as well as fans of Creative Commons. They were simply happy to find a music label working with an open source attitude. We were in talks for two or three months, trying to work side by side on a few projects in order to see if we could interact and trust each other. We then decided that it was a good opportunity for both teams and we went ahead with forging a deal. With this partner, we have created a non-profit organization that will attempt to inform Italian artists about copyright, Creative Commons, and what collecting societies can and cannot do. This will be done via the Web, traditional press, conferences, live events, and political tribunes. The deal has also allowed BeatPick.com to expand by opening an office in Rome, Italy and in hiring extra employees.
Furthermore, if all goes as it should, BeatPick.com will be launching a brand new website with many new features. We do, however, intend to stick to our ethos and will always pay our artists 50% of the earnings, will always offer non-exclusive contracts that can be terminated anytime, and we will always operate under a Creative Commons license (although we might eventually be open to other types of CC licenses).