Justin Gray has had a 25-year career as a professional songwriter, amassing a personal catalogue of some 1,500 songs. He’s worked with John Legend, Luis Fonsi, Mariah Carey and Joss Stone, and had song placements in movies like Sisters, The Lego Ninjago Movie, Oz The Great and Powerful, and in TV shows like Hawaii Five-0 and Hannah Montana. Still, he’d grown “completely dismayed” with how poorly organized songwriters are – “including myself,” he readily admits.
Gray had a personal problem he needed to solve: How could he upload and quickly search his songs in a database, preferably from his smartphone, in order to pitch a song for a placement? And how would he know if his co-writers have pitched it, and to whom?
“There is very little communication between co-writers after the fact, and If I were to draw a circle around their relationships — their managers, their publishers — that grew very frustrating for me, not being able to organize that data,” says Gray.
To solve the problem for himself and his peers, the Los Angeles-based Canadian, through his company Songistry, has launched a service called MDIIO. It’s “an easier way for our songwriter community to collaborate, network, pitch and monetize music,” says the MDIIO website.
The user can embed each registered song with as many as 90 points of metadata, such as lyrics, collaborators’ contact info, performing rights organizations, master owners, beats per minute, musicians, and so on, thereby improving accuracy – and payment. Gray had once been notified by SOCAN that dozens of his songs had been uploaded with the wrong IP (intellectual property) number.
“We’re trying to clean up the process of data management in songs, while at the same time linking a global community, because it’s collaborative,” says Gray, the founder and chairman of Songistry, which developed MDIIO. “If we can help find opportunities, that would be amazing too.”
Those opportunities are numerous: A user can post a project to MDIIO’s community, privately or publicly, and can customize it. For example, he or she can look for instrumental music for a documentary; search for four- or five-star rated songwriters and ask them to submit songs; post the payment amount; and even license music directly from within the application. “We do all of the transactions within it, so for the user who’s licensing the song to you, they don’t have to pay a lawyer, and you don’t have to pay agency fees on top of that,” says Gray.
Songistry debuted in 2013 under Gray, who later brought in tech-savvy Albertan Curtis Serna from the energy and gas sector, as President and CEO, and the concept evolved. The new MDIIO service is an acronym for Music Data Information In and Out. He’s hoping it catches on, with users saying, “Oh, did you MDIIO the song yet?” in the same way people now use “Google that” or “Shazam it.”
“Our number-one goal with MDIIO is to help everybody in music build viable opportunities and networks to help really propel their careers forward.” – Songistry’s Justin Gray
MDIIO is beneficial to any and all songwriters, he says, no matter how prolific or accomplished, and is offered absolutely free to SOCAN members with a six-month activation code: SOCAN6FORFREE.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve written 10 songs, or 1,000, or none,” says Gray. “It works on so many levels. We try as much as we can to link any of those songs that you’ve written to potential opportunities that may be out there. Maybe there’s an opportunity to place a song on a TV show, or to place a song with an artist. Maybe you’re living in rural Saskatchewan, and you create music, but there’s somebody who writes Spanish lyrics in Majorca. We’re really trying to encourage collaboration on a global level, and connect the dots.
“Of course, anything that you collaborate on, within this connection that you’ve made through MDIIO, hopefully we can help monetize that relationship down the line, so it’s really about creating.
“I’d rather not use the term ‘social network,’ because it’s not, but [we’re] creating this global community where we connect people to people, songs to opportunities. And it’s not just songwriters. The platform is meant to encourage music supervisors to come on, and there’s huge advantages for them. We have music publishers and record labels who are already using it.”
During the soft-launch of the past four years under the Songistry name, the service acquired 1,500 users in the beta phase, and converted half of those to MDIIO users, says Gray. “We haven’t done any branding on it,” he says. “We haven’t done any marketing on it. We really wanted to take the time to make sure that it worked. These early users were people that were founding users, legacy users, that we felt gave us a good base for expansion.
“If you’re in a writing session with two other songwriters, and one writer is using MDIIO, that’s the best kind of marketing that we can have, because it’s validating a platform to other users, from somebody that’s already on our platform within our community,” Gray explains.
“We want to use the word ‘community’ because that’s really what it is. For us [songwriters], you can kind of use Facebook and LinkedIn and Soundcloud in a sort of inelegant manner to try and do this; we just wanted to put it into one very cohesive, very robust application that’s fun and sticky. It creates a deeper level of communication between collaborators, and opportunities.”
MDIIO makes its money from subscriptions – which offer users even more opportunities for networking and uploading more songs, for example – and collects a commission of any placements that comes through the site.
“I wanted to make sure that the percentages that we take are less than what those percentages would be in the real world,” says Gray. “For example, there are a lot of placement companies here in the U.S. and everywhere in the world where they’ll take up to 50 per cent of any placement fees that they would get on a song. That feels absurd, so we wanted to make sure that we cut that percentage down to as low as 20 per cent.
“So if someone is paying a subscription fee, and they get a placement, that comes down to 20 per cent, one time. We want to also act as a temporary publisher for somebody, if somebody’s in the middle of going from a publishing deal to another one, and they need someone to help administer their copyright, then that percentage reduces down to 10 per cent.
“Obviously I wish that we could be philanthropic in that way, but we do need to keep the lights on somehow,” says Gray. “We feel that this is the least we can do in order to help build our platform, and help it grow… We can provide these sorts of recurring administrative deals, so if a songwriter wants us to administer their copyrights, we can do that, and in 30 or 60 days – or whenever they want to end that deal, because they’re doing a new publishing deal somewhere else – they can just let us know, and get their rights back.
“We want to be very transparent. We really are trying to help songwriters. Our number-one goal is to help everybody in music build viable opportunities and networks to help really propel their careers forward. Songwriters, artists, managers, labels, publishers, and music supervisors alike. Too many, songwriters especially, feel a sense of helplessness after they’ve finished their recordings. ‘What now?’ is a common phrase I encounter daily. MDIIO will close that gap for everyone.”