With a personal catalogue of more than 1,500 songs, working with he likes of John Legend and Mariah Carey, and success placing songs in films (The Lego Ninjago Movie, Oz The Great and Powerful) and TV programs (including Hawaii Five-O and Hannah Montana), veteran songwriter Justin Gray recognized the need for a safer, more accessible and efficient way to organize the data for each song. Three years ago, Words + Music interviewed Gray about the launch of MDIIO (rhymes with video), as “an easier way for our songwriter community to collaborate, network, pitch and monetize music.”
The service was a pragmatic response to a problem that Gray recognized wasn’t his alone. One day it occurred to him that a song he’d worked on, an international hit, “should be paying by now.” After checking in with SOCAN he discovered that, “a former manager of mine inadvertently applied the wrong songs to the wrong Justin Gray,” he says. “We discovered that 70 songs, during the tenure with this manager, had been misappropriated to the wrong Justin Gray. If someone spells Gray ‘G. R. E. Y.,’ If someone pitches the wrong IPI number [an international identification number assigned to songwriters and publishers to uniquely identify them as rights holders], or if you called a song ‘Happy Days,’ but spelled it ‘Happy Daze,’ with a ‘Z’… There are so many different variables that can cause a songwriter not to be paid.”
Since its launch, Gray says the evolution of MDIIO has been “significant.” He explains that MDIIO was “initially intended to be a centralized repository where songwriters can store their music, they can share their music, they can pitch their songs and they can track all of that activity, allowing users to add their own metadata to their music. We’ve taken that and we’ve expanded it. We’re now in the process of releasing, hopefully later this year, something called MDIIO+.
“The idea is, so many emerging songwriters want to get into film and TV music placement. They want to try and generate revenue from their passion. We know that [a major] barrier to entry for a lot of emerging songwriters is relationships. They don’t know who to speak to. They don’t have access to opportunities. They don’t have somebody who can create and generate revenue for them. So, we’re creating this portal that allows anyone to upload their song and allow them to get that music licensed. That goes for publishers, too.” Gray points out that only four to six percent of most publishers’ catalogues get licensed. The new service will give the other 95 percent a fighting chance. MDIIO+ will be an AI-driven music search portal that allows for licensing, where anyone can participate.
MDIIO is already engaged with 1,500 music supervisors, and more than 10 major film production and TV studios, as regular users of the service. For MDIIO+, Gray says he’s currently “in the middle of negotiating six different blanket licensing deals with six major television producers and networks. Each one of those has their own unique set of song requirements. Just watch, literally, any show on television and listen to how much music is there. Every single one of those needs to be licensed.
“We represent the writers for licensing, we don’t publish them, they can have publishers,” says Gray. “We don’t claim ownership at all over any of their music. We own nothing. We are literally just connecting dots through our portal, but in order to do that we have to be able to approve licensing. When a member puts their music up onto MDIIO+, they’re authorizing us to facilitate licenses. The licenses that we’re going to do primarily are blanket licenses. What that means is, there’s really no negotiation.”
With over 90 points of metadata available for registering, MDIIO and MDIIO+ “want to consolidate as much information as possible associated to every song,” says Gray. “When that song gets shared or downloaded or pitched, all that metadata comes down with it. Contact information, lyrics [if you choose], all the search metadata tags, the beats-per-minute, sounds like ‘Gimme Shelter’ – whatever. It’s a tremendous tool.”