Matt Thompson first launched his startup Songfreedom from a Belleville, Illinois, basement in 2010 with the goal of bringing music licensing to the masses by allowing videographers to buy licensed songs for videos at a low cost.
He had no idea that in the midst of his company’s ascension, a slick company from the West Coast backed by Bill Gates—GreenLight Rights—would try to knock them right off that ladder.
“I heard from a few different folks that [GreenLight Rights] were asking about us, they wanted to know what they were up against,” Songfreedom CEO Matt Thompson tells SLM. “That was hilarious to me. They didn’t know four years ago I’m working out of my basement. It was me and my wife at the time just working on little Macs.”
Thompson says his competitors must have spent “millions and millions, on platforms and staff and content” to grab the click licensing niche while the Thompson built Songfreedom’s library of music from top record labels, on which he already had a two-year head start.
Then, suddenly, the competition stopped.
“A year later it was gone,” Thompson says. “They never talked about it. It’s like it never existed.”
Score one for Silicon Prairie.
Songfreedom still corners the market for low-cost song licenses for wedding videographers, corporate promoters, and anyone else who needs to buy the perfect song for a video without spending an arm and a leg. Songfreedom users shop through thousands of songs and purchase the licenses for between $60 and $120. Licenses are all pre-cleared from all contributors on the song—musicians, writers, publishers—so no copyright laws are broken.
The inspiration for Songfreedom came from a conversation that took place six years ago—two years before the start of competitor GreenLight Rights—between Thompson and a friend who couldn’t figure out how to license Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours,” a big hit at the time, for a wedding video without getting stuck in negotiations with a big record company.
“There’s gotta be a way to do this,” Thompson remembers telling his friend. “We’re smart guys, let’s get together and get a coffee and talk about this, see what we can find.”
Thompson didn’t come from a tech or musical background. He worked in finance for years, and what he learned in banking came in handy when compiling market research and looking at commercial lending and risk factors for an idea like Songfreedom. Once he realized the concept had legs, he further used his financial prowess to create a presentation that not only sold the concept of Songfreedom but outlined specific business and marketing steps to make it profitable.
The idea was new for the industry, but it made sense to Warner Music Group, who happened to represent the person whose music inspired Songfreedom's origins: 2010 golden boy Mraz. With Warner on board and agreeing to properly license songs, other record labels quickly followed suit.
“We called [record companies] and said, ‘Oh, by the way, Warner just approved Jason Mraz and Rob Thomas.’ And they said, “Really? They gave you Mraz?’” Thompson says. “It was one guy really believing in it and being willing to put in the time to give this thing a shot.”
Six years after the watershed agreement with Warner, Songfreedom has expanded to reach videographers in over 150 countries, and Thompson sees no signs of slowing down.
Thompson wears the cliché tech company uniform of medium wash jeans and a hoodie with the Songfreedom logo, but he describes himself as a “good ol’ boy from Belleville, Illinois.” He rubs elbows with music industry bigwigs but grew his company from starting funds from friends and family.
The formula has worked for Thompson and Songfreedom, and he plans to keep the business right where he started it.
“Technology lets you work from anywhere and do anything from anywhere,” Thompson says. “I’ve gotten jokes from the label guys out in L.A. when we were starting up like, ‘So you got dial up in the Midwest?’ I think anybody can do anything from everywhere. We’re proof of that.”
Looking forward, Thompson says Songfreedom plans to expend licensing for songs for student and independent films for both film festivals and distribution.
GreenLight Rights tried to beat Songfreedom at its own game—and lost. Now, all that’s left of the former competitor’s music licensing venture is this answer from a FAQ page:
“What types of rights does Greenlight NOT clear?
Public performance rights for films or music, Dramatic performance rights, Mechanical rights to cover songs or use samples and music use rights for personal uses, such as fundraiser videos, weddings videos, school projects and YouTube videos.”
Right up the alley of Songfreedom.