Being an industry disruptor is not as sexy as it sounds even if headlines everywhere infer otherwise. Forbes, The Guardian, Equities.com, and others talk about the disruption of industries from two points of view.
From the disrupted: “Oh, s**t! We’re f***ed! What do we do?” From the disruptor: “Here we come. Watch out, World. Early investors who managed to hang on are so gonna wanna kiss our feet.” In all these instances, disrupted and disruptor are sexy because of having big bucks and making even bigger promises, teams of under-30-somethings roller blading from one fancy office to another as they read their quarterly stock option reports, and planned IPOs or looming layoffs making them beg for government bailout. (Note the cover to the left: I’m surprised the art director didn’t throw on a cowboy hat and snake skin cowboy boots and have him twirl a lasso the graphic designer would have made out of greenbacks.)
But I’d like to tell you about being an industry disruptor from another POV that so rarely gets covered and is not so sexy:
When seeking funding for my new technology company, I was told on more than one occasion by people who know what it means, “You are an industry disruptor, Angela.” The first time I was surprised as I didn’t think of myself as that. I was simply trying to efficiently get around or remove roadblocks to my participation in the global business called the Music Industry. To help get eyes on my solution, and thinking he might like to celebrate this innovation, I several times wrote personal letters about this journey, sent in real envelopes, to Rich Karlgaard of Forbes. I got absolutely no response whatsoever from the guy who says “I celebrate innovation and growth.” I didn’t even get the typical polite letter from an underling acknowledging receipt of my letters. Not one impersonal reply that hey, Rich is a busy, busy man. I wrote Steve Forbes years ago asking him to blurb my book on resumés and he had his people reply with a quote from him that he couldn’t do it because I was pretty much a nobody. The letter even seemed as if it was signed by Mr. Forbes himself. See how it works, Rich? Steve had manners.
What I need is a sexy little jet.
I stopped writing Karlgaard when it became clear his idea of a sexy disruptor celebrating innovation and growth did not include companies protecting the rights and data of content creators. Now, if I had a sexy little jet that goes fast and turns loopdeloops in such a manner that his whiskey-laced latté would not spill, then yeah, he’d talk to me. But I didn’t. I readily admit I am a nobody from nowhere who has no famous, rich, or otherwise influential relatives, school connections, or friends.
I’m not surprised I wasn’t taken seriously.
This story about Karlgaard is not sour grapes. It is told with the clear intent to show to other industry disruptors in the same boat as I what can happen. It is nothing more than my journey. A cautionary tale of not wasting time by buying in to the hype surrounding pitching or belief in investors who tell eager crowds some version of I celebrate innovation and growth. The headline that says “He started with $1 and turned it into $1 billion” is misleading in the extreme.
Even more impossible is keeping up with the pitch methods of the guru du jour. Trying to do so will only distract you from your main goal. Quickly coming to understand all that, I did not easily jump on this path of being an industry disruptor and inventor of technology as I am never an early adopter. I always wait for things to shake out, but since things weren’t shaking out, all this is written just to say…
…I didn’t start the disruption. But I’m just perverse enough to damn well aim to finish it if I can hold out that long.
When the Music Industry began consolidating is when they sowed the seeds of their own demise. From Warner Music Group ever-so-quietly buying up as many small music publishers and labels in the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, and other countries as they could lay their hands on, to EMI being bought by a consortium that included Sony/ATV, and more industry cannibalizing too lengthy to mention here, the Music Industry began experiencing rips in the fabric of time that was their outdated business model.
They ignored the rips for awhile because the money train kept rolling on as it always had done. Their favorite song was “Don’t worry. Be happy.” Executives from labels, publishers, performing rights organizations (PROs), distributors, and aggregators believed their balls were bigger than anybody’s and strutted their stuff in front of attorneys and legislators, bands and other artists, and radio networks, television, Grammy, and others in their corporate version of “Bad.” (Though, frankly, their theme song should be Weird Al’s “Fat” as their companies were bloated with personnel.)
But The Majors and The Bigs believed they couldn’t be touched.
So they acted with impunity, and they acted illegally.
While very few dared to question their authority, and most bowed in servitude.
And they did not fear one little girl from Atlanta, Georgia, namely me.
But, the timing to question and disrupt was right even if I didn’t know it.
All I was doing was finding out how to operate within a new business I’d entered. All I wanted to do was place my songs with other artists and into movies and collect mailbox money. All I wanted to do was act in a responsible business fashion so the entire food chain could make some money and protect and defend my rights in what I created. That is, live a creative’s life that had been put on hold for so many years.
I lived that life for about two years only to find the Music Industry to be worse to navigate than the Mississippi River during a flood into which songwriters are thrown, drowning in roiling waters and being waved to from the deck of the gambling riverboat while cries of “Cheerio! You will be a star if you just sign here!” echo in their water-filled ears.
So, yes, I found plenty complained about blatant predatory practices, many opted out of the business (thus the rise of the DIY-Indie), and a few wrote about it in hard-hitting exposés of journalistic-quality (like Hit Men by Fredric Dannen and Navigating the New Music Business by me, and this one in science-fiction style, Year Zero, by Rob Reid). So the question is: Why did I become an industry disruptor?
Simply put, I was forced to do it.
This was never my plan. I don’t like conflict and never seek it for its sake. Questions are asked in order to learn and I never like being held back for no good reason. So when I’m lied to and threatened and all I did was ask for information, well, I’ll give anybody several chances to clarify or back away. But when my back hits the wall and financial brass knuckles are flaunted, that’s it, buddy — I hit back because I don’t like being lied to and I definitely don’t like being threatened.
I’ve been called a bitch and had nasty rumors spread about me. People that used to talk to me in the music business no longer will catch my eye in public, though privately I hear from them when they ask me to keep up the good fight to protect their rights.
I’ve been told I needed to have more respect for my betters and “know my place.” Others who supported my efforts to teach about the business have been threatened. Case in point: A long-established music business conference was threatened with sponsorships taken from their events if they did not remove me from being a speaker. These threats were acted upon when the organizer of the conference refused their request. All of a sudden, featured speakers on the same panel as me were told not to show up and the next year there was no conference because there was no funding to be had.
I’ve become persona non grata in several circles and I’m damn proud of the reason why: I haven’t toed their line nor given up my rights and I scream loud and long when they try to get me to do it.
And all this happened before I launched while I was still just trying to figure out the damn solution to the damned business.
So digging deeper, I questioned why the four American performing rights organizations (PROs) had such a hard time paying songwriters properly. I quickly found out that it was all the fault of their members. That’s right, they said, if only the songwriters would upload proper information about their songs then we, the long-suffering, loving, helpful, and kind PROs could get them their money. They continued with this gem:
But damn it all, these songwriters just won’t do that mysterious paperwork that we won’t — and some of us cannot — totally explain. And furthermore, even if songwriters do upload properly, we just can’t find them.
After all, wasn’t the U.S. Government looking for a way to help the PROs to disburse all that play money? Yes, they were. Weren’t the PROs putting out press releases bemoaning their fate, telling the drive-by media they were the victims here, and begging in their glossy annual reports for a solution? Yes, they were. (The PROs simply changed their rules and said if money wasn’t claimed within a certain amount of months then ootay-adbay, songwriters, you are SOL*.)
Of course in my mind I called BS on that self-serving narrative.
But to move this along, I took the high road and acted as if they were telling the truth. Yes, I would help them solve their problem. Long story short, my thorough disdain for busy work coupled with eagerness to get moving on my new songwriting business made me invent a software solution for the PROs called MyDigitalCatalog.com.
MyDigitalCatalog.com was the perfect solution to their data intake woes. It would be the step-by-step intake portal for millions of users. It would verify and validate information about songs before they were released, and once that information was complete, a button would be clicked and faster than you can say change-o-presto, accurate information would be transmitted to the correct PROs and royalties could be paid properly.
Further, clear license would be proven by a third-party validator of the basis of their deal and placements into movies and ad campaigns and with other artists could be accomplished with a nice payoff at the end as lawsuits were avoided. Specifically —
- The database we would build would not be controlled by any PRO.
- It would not be owned by any of them and they could not manipulate it.
- Songwriters and publishers would have their wholly owned information at their fingertips housed in an independent database with information that flowed one way: From songwriter to PRO and other service providers such as digital aggregators who needed all this information, too.
Everybody was crying for it.
I was going to have it.
Where was the problem?
But faster than a self-proclaimed millionaire rapper can freestyle about his swinging lifestyle — toot-sweet! — I found out the PROs didn’t want to find songwriters and pay them.
I could suppose here and say it was because the pot of unclaimed money just got so big and they were having such fun with the booty** that their judgment was skewed. I could further surmise that my supposition is correct. I don’t fear anybody will sue me for defamation. They would have to prove I’m lying and they can’t do that because the evidence against them is so public and so massive.
Therefore, looking to skip the whole investor route by getting paid a service fee from the PROs to operate MyDigitalCatalog.com, and seeing that wasn’t going to happen on this planet anytime soon, I went looking for investors who cared about the property rights of content creators and who understood the nature of this fundamental change in the business would take time.
Pitch decks were built to current guru du jour specs, pro formas that did not falsely promise the moon were tweaked, and meeting after meeting held netted me nothing but the following:
- One offer to buy me out completely and never think, write, or approach this topic ever again. (I turned that down).
- Lots of offers that, for a big old fee, they would put me in touch with investors.
- Lots of offers that, for a big old fee, they would redo everything I had to meet the standards of yet another pitch guru du jour.
- And meeting after meeting where I was told, “The music business? There’s no money in the music business. All those potheads in their mothers’ basements aren’t going to pay for anything.”
It was pointed out other companies were servicing the same market (such as ReverbNation.com, Soundcloud.com, BandCamp.com, Kobalt.com, TuneCore.com, CDBaby.com, and more), each of whom were dealing with the bad effects of incomplete data, I was still shot down with the “potheads” line of reasoning even when it was pointed out my solution could easily be implemented into these companies intake portals and then we could all be heroes in solving the copyright infringement and piracy issues. But…
…I quickly found out nobody wanted a solution.
So I ended up financing the building of it myself. At first, the building was going to be simply a wire frame version to show potential investors how easy this would be. Then investors said, “Yeah, but do you have any customers? Get 10 customers and we’ll talk.”
Upon further conversation, clearly these investors did not understand just how bad this problem was. Their investment could not be guaranteed to produce an IPO within X years. Further, I was unwilling to commit to an exit strategy or its timing because I understood better than they that this solution was not a gee-gaw designed to attract gabillions of eyeballs in a quick time period, but that it was a…
…mission to stand up for creators by standing against the bullies in the marketplace.
The entire Music Industry inhabited by The Bigs and The Majors was built on a two-pronged approach to copyright. Prong #1: Fiercely protect your own rights. Prong #2: Steal others’ intellectual property, claim it as your own, and extort money through shakedowns (such as the Happy Birthday Song shakedown by Warner Brothers and the PRO legal extortion and clear license.)
Adamant that all the work be done within U.S. borders by U.S. citizens, I found a man in metro Atlanta who could do it within the confines of my budget because…
…I had no investors and my financial runway was extremely limited.
All by myself, I got busy making videos that explained to songwriters what was going on and how they could protect themselves. I write on the industry constantly. I research and answer questions. And I push out messaging over and again that says “Anti-piracy begins with YOU!” How can I push that messaging out faster?
Why, speaking at music schools, of course. But each one I’ve approached — even after meeting heads of departments — turn me down and won’t say why or simply ignore me completely.
Lest you think I am the only one with these ideas for protecting and defending copyright rights, I can tell you at the same time as I was building my solution, four other companies headed by music industry insiders had also been started that said they would do the same thing as MyDigitalCatalog.com.
I had a friend join each of these so that I could log in and try them to see if they worked. After all, if someone already had the solution and it worked, there was no need for me to continue. Remember what I told you? I hate busy work and want to live the creator’s life.
These companies had investors behind them. One company was headed by my friend’s longtime buddies and even he didn’t know they were running this. But in all cases, what those people built were four solid piles of messes. It was clear that these insiders had been inside so long they had no clue as to what was actually happening in the music industry.
They felt a business pain and, assuming causation that did not exist, built a solution that did not work.
Money down the drain. These companies can still be found online. After all, it doesn’t take much money to park it somewhere online. But there is nothing going on with them. These people, so used to working within the system built by and for The Majors and The Bigs, had no clue they had to step away from it and build something autonomous.
A friend of mine put me in touch with someone in California who he said would love to support MyDigitalCatalog.com‘s vision and could potentially be an investor or at least a public spokesperson. Cali Man and I talked on the phone for almost two hours. Within a year he had rolled out with a SaaS that claimed to do the same thing as MyDigitalCatalog.com. I didn’t even bother logging in to his portal because I see his incorrect messaging on Linkedin and I looked at his site and what did I see? Yet another “solution” designed to keep The Majors and The Bigs happy.
“What the hell is wrong with these people?” I asked myself.
Why are they so blind? Are they that gullible? Probably yes and yes.
I didn’t come from money and only one of my relatives has any to speak of and I’m not asking him as he has lots of kids. Money is tight at Casa Angela. Thank goodness I’m comfortable living cheap.My home and condo are paid for. I have no bad habits to support. Man drama is at an absolute minimum. And I continue to write songs and books and now I’m out singing live, too.
Two friends treat me to coffee and a bagel once a week at our favorite local coffee shop. I have another friend who’ll buy me dinner every other week at a place of my choice. Another friend loans me his extra car when mine has to go in the shop.
These are my kind Medici’s doing what they can to support my efforts and I’m grateful for every one of them.
As they listen to the updates of what’s going on, they give me a place to dump. But it isn’t enough and hard money is needed. In the dark nights and the light of day despair haunts me.
In the meantime, I slog on alone in this industry disruptor world of mine. Handling all the messaging and marketing and monthly bills it takes to keep a solid product up and running and I feel so alone as I seek to protect and defend the rights of creators around the world.
Want to help out a little bit? Buy me a cuppa or a whole pot by clicking the link below and do that.
If you know of person with money who wants a vision and the heart and soul to march to war against The Bigs, The Majors, and Tech Giants, put him in touch with me.
*SOL is a polite acronym for “shit outta luck” which does not need any explanation.
**No, not that booty, but booty as in plunder taken during time of conquest.