Matt Thompson, CEO and founder of Songfreedom, is not afraid to leap down paths others fear to tread. From young manager to music licensing entrepreneur, Thompson used a natural inclination for persuasion and sales to become a leading force in the democratization and expansion of music licensing.
Thompson was high school friends with a singer whose career began taking off. He asked Thompson, who had a head for business, to get involved as a manager. Thompson agreed, though he knew he was in for a real challenge. “We were barely 20 years old and we were just some punk kids who didn’t know anything,” he recalls with a laugh. “Here’s my buddy with the amazing voice, I thought, and I’m going to keep beating down doors until I get what I want.” What he wanted, and what he got, were offers from several major labels for recording contracts.
The persistence came into play again when Thompson left a successful, but unsatisfying career in banking and finance to pursue a wacky idea suggested by a videographer friend. Instead of forcing professional videographers to use canned music for soundtracks to wedding or other event footage, why not create a way for people to get licenses for a limited but common set of usages, at a convincing price point?
“We knew this would be hard, but worth it, because no one else had done this,” Thompson says. “There is still no one out there who has all the rights we do. It’s a unique thing. We started piecing things together in October 2009, seven years ago.”
Thompson quit his job, and the two friends met regularly at a local bakery, scheming what it would take to make this service a reality. Neither had any background in music licensing or law, so Thompson reached out to another friend, Milton Hopkins, who had worked in licensing in LA and Austin, for advice. He got them some contacts. Then Hopkins and Thompson got to work.
“From that point on, it was all about selling the concept and being as persistent as possible. Eventually someone would say yes,” Thompson recounts. “I’d build rapport with really smart people and then I’d slowly work my way up the ladder to a final decision maker.” The concept was novel, a new kind of right that most labels and publishers weren’t sure what to make of.
Yet, as Thompson predicted, the tide turned at last. He got a EVP at a well-respected record label on the phone, who listened to Thompson’s pitch and replied that he had to check with some managers, but that he thought it sounded like a good idea. Many other yeses followed, until Songfreedom had all the majors and a huge catalog of wildly popular music (even the coveted Sinatra blessing). “When Warner cleared Jason Mraz for us, who was a super hot item at the time, I knew we had something,” explains Thompson.
Along with relentless pitching, Thompson learned quickly how to deal with the labyrinth of music rights: Admit what you don’t know, and never be afraid to ask for input. “It’s easy for an enthusiastic startup from the tech world to present a great idea to music professionals, but you have to listen to their feedback,” Thompson advises. “You need to grasp their perspective on licenses, and ask people, what would you alter in this agreement to make this easier? The different labels and publishers were all much smarter than I am when it comes to the deal terms. I let negotiation educate me.”
This education is a crucial one: Songfreedom is part of the minority of music tech companies with strong business bases and a sustainable model. Thompson and his team fought to identify and address true pain points for rights holders and potential music licensors, from the church group to the small-budget filmmaker. “You need to be patient,” he cautions. “Everyone is busy with huge deals, all the time. It’s not about what’s hot now; it’s about carefully building a strong business.”
Songfreedom licenses Top 40, iconic, indie, epic cinematic, and other amazing music so you have the freedom to choose the type of music that best fits your video. No hoops. No huge fees. Just music.