My Soapbox: Brad Schnittger launches MusicLi at MidPoint


Starting Friday, Sept. 25, it’ll be possible to license music from Greater Cincinnati musicians for TV shows, film soundtracks, web videos, video games and a lot more. It could potentially open a new revenue stream for local musicians and provide area creative businesses the ability to license music from their own backyard.
 
Licensed music placements can be lucrative for musicians, but making them happen on the local level was rare, if nonexistent, here in Greater Cincinnati. Creating an ongoing platform for music licensing has been my goal since being awarded one of two 2015 Haile Fellowship Grants, and I’m proud to say I’ve finally accomplished it.
 
My service is called MusicLi (pronounced “musically”), and it’s an online library of local music that can be licensed for all the aforementioned uses and more. It’s real, it exists and it offically launches later this week during the 2015 MidPoint Music Festival. Here’s how the past nine months carrying this digital baby have gone for me.
 
In the beginning, I spent most of my time buried inside People’s Liberty headquarters in OTR standing in front of a whiteboard and my computer, a mad scientist embedded within a building of mad philanthropists. I wire-framed several versions of an intricate website that seemed to solve all problems and clear all cobwebs from the mysterious world of music licensing and music publishing.
 
I researched, learned and pondered.
 
Initially, I thought MusicLi could do it all. Musicians could incorporate an LLC, establish their copyrights, register with a Performing Rights Organization and self-publish their musical works in a way that allowed a variety of music licenses to be issued. They could then disperse payments among band members and other interested parties while digitally distributing the music to Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, etc.
 
On top of that, MusicLi would have its own direct-to-fan sales platform to boot. What a grand vision! It’s what I had in mind when I wrote an update for Soapbox in March.
 
But not so fast. I was a mad scientist, indeed, with eyes bigger than my budget.
 
Much of the original plan fell away in various ways, and my idealist vision was stymied by what most entrepreneurs inevitably confront: reality.
 
Luckily, the mad philanthropists at People’s Liberty saw that they truly had a “mad” scientist on their hands, so they reminded me why they’d granted me the $100,000 last fall — to build an online music library that licenses local music. They hadn’t asked me to fix the entire music industry.
 
So I started trimming the fat and focused on that original goal.
 
By May, I’d developed an equally beautiful and colorful wire-framed beta-vision of MusicLi that was constantly being put through the mill. It was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole or a never-ending Rubik’s Cube. How much of it could I trim and still be left with something that musicians would use?
 
Put yourself in the mind of a musician and imagine you want to license your music via MusicLi’s online library. The hope is that someone wants to license your song and will pay you to do so, but there’s really no guarantee. So why bother with MusicLi? It’s another place you have to upload your music, and what do you get but a wing and a prayer for all that time?

These are a valid concerns from a musician’s perspective. I know because I’m one myself.
 
I wanted to do better than that. I wanted MusicLi to include services beyond the blind hope of licensing a song. Companies that latch onto the egos and hopes of musicians are a major problem, and I wanted no part of that. So rather than gutting my early model completely, I reworked it so I could reach those larger goals.
 
I decided that MusicLi 2.0 had to keep the services I wanted to stuff into it but would need to add an old-fashioned approach to the website. So I’ll do the work, not the computer.
 
For example, MusicLi will offer face-to-face consultations for local musicians who wish to register with U.S. Copyright or with a Performing Rights Organization, and we’ll charge a flat service fee. Done.
 
MusicLi will offer digital distribution for customers who wish to make their music available on Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play and others. We’ll charge a flat fee for that, too. Behind the curtain, I’m uploading the files and doing the work manually. Done.
 
I also decided to use a direct-to-fan sales platform that already exists rather than reinvent one. It’s Bandcamp, of course. Paying customers will be able to upgrade to Bandcamp Pro, which will open them up to some great features. Done and done.
 
By reworking MusicLi, I was able to land on a solution that accomplishes my goal of providing a comprehensive service to Cincinnati musicians with easy-to-see benefits while simultaneously creating the grant-winning “online music library that licenses local music.”
 
While MusicLi was under development, I reached out to as many Greater Cincinnati ad agencies, video production houses and other potential music licensees to spread the word and gauge interest. These local businesses are the users MusicLi was created for.
 
It’s been refreshing and inspiring to discover that nearly everyone with whom I’ve talked has loved the idea of buying/licensing local music. It’s the same driving force behind buying a local craft beer or shopping at a local boutique store: Buying local is good!
 
I was even happier to find out that there were people and institutions ready to license local music, and they did. As a result, MusicLi has already licensed music by 12 local artists before its official launch date.
 
For example, downtown-based Curiosity Advertising licensed a song by Jake Speed & the Freddies for its client, TruMoo Milk. The group’s song “Red Haired Girl” was used in an online video game for kids. ArtsWorks licensed a song by Public for an as-yet unreleased promotional web video. People’s Liberty, of course, licensed a song by The Yugos. The Garage OTR licensed two songs from Buffalo Killers, and most recently Chicago-based Freeosk licensed tracks from local bands Bulletville, DAAP Girls, PRIM, The Harlequins, Pop Goes The Evil and Culture Queer.
 
Needless to say, the concept has been proven. My task now is to build the library and continuing to grow the local and regional market for licensing music.
 
So fast forward to now, with the MidPoint Music Festival just a few days away and MusicLi poised for launch. We’re the official sponsor of the MOTR Pub stage, and true to my über-mission of providing a real service to local musicians we’re blocking off parking spaces in front of MOTR so the bands that play there won’t have to worry about finding parking. Every musician will appreciate that.
 
We’ll also do some surprise pop-up shows around town during MidPoint featuring bands that aren’t the official lineup. You’ll also find MusicLi in the Indie Craft Village at Washington Park. Musicians will be able to sign up for free at MusicLi.org at any of these locations during the festival or on any computer gadget with internet access.
 
My MidPoint mission is to fill MusicLi’s library with local and regional music. If you’re a musician and planning to attend or perform at MidPoint, find us at MOTR Pub, find us in Washington Park or find our pop-up shows. Most importantly, find MusicLi.org on the interwebs.
 
If you sign up with us at the festival, you’ll get a MusicLi Tour-Kit Gift Bag full of essentials that you likely forgot to bring when you hit the road. Some of the items were hand-selected by members of acclaimed Cincinnati band Wussy on our trip to Treasure Aisles Flea Market last month. Do you like velvet horses or scorpions made from coated wire? Who wouldn’t? Check out this little video we made from the trip featuring an as-yet-unreleased Wussy song.
 
All in all, this People’s Liberty experience was pretty awesome. It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been a pleasure cruise. I’ve lost a lot of sleep.
 
But there’s no way MusicLi would exist otherwise, and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity. There’s this guy, Robert F. Kennedy, who had a really great thing to say that’s guided my life and this project and sums up very well what the MusicLi experience has been about: “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”
 
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