MUZIT'S BUZZ ATTRACTS FANS WITH HONEY
By Robert Preskill
There is a generation of musical artists who lived the dream and then saw the whole damn thing unravel. I’m not saying their suffering is more noteworthy than other evolving industries, or that their struggles need be our primary cautionary tale here. It’s simply that there are people who entered the music industry joy ride in the 70s & 80s who now find themselves sputtering out of the industry’s business-model house of horrors. Those who started with major label recording contracts eventually went indie, only to lose numbers to new technology and an entirely new set of attitudes of listeners. We now exist in the ultimate consumer-centric model where big ticket artists sell few copies and share the dial with trending microstars, TV generated overnight pop idols, and anyone else who can play a guitar and upload a video.
Singer-songwriter Tommy Funderburk has experienced this evolution both as an internationally known recording artist and as a music label owner. Now he has developed technology and a new business model to help artists connect with their online fans and grow their base. He’s calling his new marketing platform, Muzit.
A Singer-Songwriter from The Land of Dreams and Chunky Guitars.
“I came to Los Angeles in 1980, and was fortunate to join David Foster and Jay Graydon as lead vocalist in a band called Airplay, which featured the original recording of the song, ‘After the Love is Gone’. That opened a lot of doors for me.”
As a recording artist, songwriter and music producer for RCA, BMG, MCA, Polydor and Pioneer music labels, Tommy has performed on hundreds of recordings*.
Tommy and writing partner Martin Page penned the international hit, It's Not Enough for Starship, which was recognized as the "Most Played Rock Song" of 1991 by BMI. Tommy’s vocal work on the 11 million selling international hit album, Whitesnake, brought him to work with Led Zeppelin founder, Jimmy Page on the multi-platinum Coverdale / Page CD. Later, Tommy was recruited by Tom Scholtz, founder of the super group Boston, to handle vocals on the band’s Walk On CD. Tommy continues to write and record with his partner, Bruce Gaitsch for their band, King of Hearts, having released albums on the Chrysalis, Polydor and Pioneer labels.
In 2002, Tommy founded an Internet focused music label called, Sovereign Artists, signing well known artists like Heart, Don Grusin, Chris Hillman, Dee Dee Bridgewater, The Crickets, featuring Eric Clapton, and others. “I was excited by the possibilities of the Web. We were trying to connect directly with fans via the Internet…”
The excitement faded when he began getting emails from around the world thanking him for the free copies of the albums he’d just spent big money making and promoting.
“That was my introduction to peer-to-peer file sharing. I took some meetings with some ex-Grokster guys and ex-Napster guys to see if there was some kind of positive opportunity there. But everyone had the same mantra ‘its all open source,’ ‘the artists are so rich it doesn’t matter,’ or ‘if it’s on the Internet it should be free.’” He found little common ground.
“It was tremendously disappointing. I put a lot of time and real money into Sovereign, gathering a great executive team who really loved music and musicians. We had such great intentions… the losses to file sharing killed us. I first heard ‘How can you compete with free?’ in 2003.”
“So, as an artist, I was initially excited about seeing so many people access my music around the world but reality hit home when I started getting dwindling royalty statements…and it’s only gotten worse. Then as a record label owner, file sharing flat out killed my business so after a bought of hand wringing and loathing, I decided to see what could be done about it.”
Enter, The Peer-Seeking App for a New Music Model
“I watched the music labels and movie studios fight a stupid, expensive and losing battle trying to control the Internet, trying to stop downloading. And as a label owner, I was approached by tech companies saying they had technology that could send viruses and threatening letters and lawsuits to P2P users. What business would want to do that to their customers? Only the Music Industry. I came to the conclusion that, if I had access to that kind of technology, I’d use it for artists to communicate and market directly to their fans.” Tommy’s attitude was to let the major labels sue and make enemies while he would use technology to engage an artist’s fans.
In 2009 Tommy founded a prototype company called PayArtists.
“Our first client was the estate of Frank Zappa. It’s well known that Frank’s widow, Gail, has had issues with the P2P community. Frank had been a strong proponent of copyright law and she was pissed when we were able to show her that Frank’s songs were being downloaded for free 96,000 times per day in the US alone. Now it is true that, according to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a copyright owner can seek to recover damages of up to $150,000.00 per song from an individual they can accurately identify downloading copyrighted material. But we chose a different way. Gail chose to ask for $10.00 from those who downloaded and did not pay. We never demanded or threatened. Yes, the DMCA requires legal language to accompany any correspondence but our early emails were an offer the recipient could blow off if they chose. Nearly 5% accepted our offer.”
According to Tommy, Gail Zappa’s position was that the estate held a catalog of over 1,150 Frank Zappa songs and the most popular download was “his entire catalog.” So in the context of existing usage, a $10 suggested payment seemed more than fair.
“After other successful beta tests, I lost my mind and thought the music industry would embrace a positive business model.” In time, Tommy presented his model to Sony, Universal and Warner Bros. This turned out to be “a huge waste of time.”
“Their RIAA attorneys made it crystal clear they were not interested in being friendly to ‘infringers’. They wanted blood and they still do. My favorite quote is ‘they should all be put in jail.’ Can’t you just feel the love?”
Tommy then reached out to artists including members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Van Halen, Limp Biskit, Rick Rubin and others. The artists liked being able to discover their fans online but were emphatic, “The last thing they wanted to do was to alienate fans. [Chili Peppers’ lead singer] Anthony Kiedis came up to me after a presentation and said ‘Why don’t you just give it away’ and, yes, he actually said that. All I had to do was convince investors that real fans will actually support their favorite artists. So I shut down PayArtists and reformed as Muzit – a truly artist-and-fan-friendly communication and promotion platform.”
By communicating with the fans, Muzit offers P2P users the ability to connect directly to the artist in a social and value-added way, and provide opportunities to promote artist merchandise and apparel, physical product, DVD’s and interaction. “The idea is that you need not go to several sources or illegal sources for these items,” according to Tommy.
“The music business is not what it used to be. The record labels are not able to handle the number of artists they used to. A & R is essentially gone. Really, the power of the machine of yesterday is gone. Artists are looking for ways to reach out to their fans. We’re offering new, positive ways social media can be used to identify and engage fans.”
The reception from fans and artists has been generally very positive.
“Currently we’re working with The Mavericks, for the Big Machine Label Group, Martina McBride of Red Light Management and others I’m not at liberty to say yet.”
Funderburk’s School of Rock: Econ 101
Tommy Funderburk is the ultimate distance runner when it comes to the record industry business models. He has survived and, at times, thrived during decades of music industry fallout. “I actually took time to read our label contracts. That was eye opening. I asked questions, got personally involved in negotiating my own music publishing agreements and decided that I could do better than giving 85% to the label. After our first album as King Of Hearts, my partner Bruce Gaitsch and I began writing and making our own albums and its been great for us. As early as 1985, Tommy and others started putting up their own funds for music they made or produced. “We learned a bit about marketing and promoting, and we learned that the record labels are not always the dark side. They had to pay and do things to. It gave me an opportunity to learn about the other side of the music business.” Artists today have to be in control of their careers.
Do It Yourself
“If an artist wants to move beyond making music as a hobby, they’re going to have to wear a business hat. The Internet provides an opportunity for those individuals who are creative risk takers. Create it, own it and market it yourself. The potential is so great. Consider this, iTunes sells around 3.5 million songs per day. But, at Muzit, we track hundreds of millions of songs being traded everyday. Muzit provides artists with tools that enable you to reach out to tens of thousands of fans every day and you say, ‘hello’. Then it’s up to you to make a compelling invitation to build a relationship.
“Yes, it’s a challenge. But artists are figuring things out. And I’m seeing more and more artists today doing exactly that: artists running their own businesses, controlling their own careers, growing it themselves.”
*Tommy Funderburk has performed on many albums and many international and Grammy-winning hits by artists as diverse as Boston, Celine Dion, Jimmy Page, Earth Wind and Fire, David Foster, Whitesnake, Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart, Steve Lukather, David Lee Roth, Steve Vai, Poison, Dwight Yoakam, Yes, T Bone Burnette, Tom Jones, ToTo, Bon Jovi, Henry Mancini, Rick Springfield, Julio Iglesias, Oliva Newton John, Juice Newton, David Lee Roth, Chris Hillman, Barry Manilow, Lee Ritenour, Timothy B Schmidt, Heart, Rodney Crowell, Cher, Melissa Manchester, Spinal Tap, Elton John, Sammy Hagar, Eddie Money, Sheena Easton, Twisted Sister, Clint Black, Cheap Trick, Tracy Chapman, Steven Bishop, Nancy Griffith, Bad Company, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Paul Young, Larry Carlton, Burt Bacharach, Bad Company, Manhattan Transfer, Pat Benatar, REO Speed Wagon, Motley Crue, Starship, Al Jarreau, The West Coast Allstars and many others.
Tommy can be contacted at tommy@muzit .com .