Have you ever searched for song lyrics online? So have millions of other people, but only one company – with the sheer determination of its founder – figured out a way to get money into the hands of the writers of those lyrics.
It was a hard road pushing LyricFind up the mountain of legitimacy, but now, in its 10th year of business, the Toronto-based licensing service finds itself king of the hill at last. The turning point came last year when LyricFind acquired the lyric business of its principal rival, Gracenotes. Since then growth has skyrocketed, and LyricFind is now the undisputed global leader in online lyric licensing – boasting agreements with more than 3,000 music publishers.
“We’re paying out three times as much now as we were a year-and-a-half ago,” says LyricFind co-founder Darryl Ballantyne.
“We monetized an industry that was entirely illegal,” he adds proudly. “The only people making any money were lyric websites that were selling a ton of ads and not paying any royalties at all. That made it a little easier to get the initial deals done, because it was found money for the music publishers.” Online lyric display also drives music discovery and sales, which makes additional money for artist-songwriters.
It may be based in Toronto, but LyricFind has been tilting towards the U.S. almost from the beginning. Its North American royalties are distributed through the Harry Fox Agency, and one of its biggest champions has been the National Music Publishers’ Association, which sued lyrics site LiveUniverse in 2012, winning a major $6.6 million settlement.
LyricFind now has deals with reproduction rights and performance rights societies in 30 territories around the world.
“As we’re expanding globally, we’re doing more and more deals with societies,” says Ballantyne. “To us it doesn’t really matter whether the society is mechanical or performance, what matters is the connection to the publishers and the society’s ability to get us the correct ownership/split data.”
LyricFind licenses a wide range of lyric users – websites, digital music download services, mobile phone makers, etc. The company negotiates individual royalty rates depending on the revenue model of the user’s business, be it a percentage of ad revenue or a per-unit fee for device sales.
“Lyric websites were selling a ton of ads and not paying any royalties at all.”
“We pool all of that across the various different revenue models and we end up with an average we’re paying the publishers of around one-tenth of a cent per display,” explains Ballantyne. These small micro-payments add up.
“It’s very much a hits-driven business,” explains Ballantyne, “so the majors see a significant amount of money from us every quarter.”
Ballantyne founded LyricFind in 2004 with partners Mohamed Moutadayne and Chris Brock who met as students at the University of Waterloo. “It’s a lot of fun now, but early on it was very much a slog,” remembers Ballantyne. “We freeloaded off parents and ex-girlfriends… It was a lot of long hours and no real money. But we always believed there was a market there and eventually it proved right.”