Hello Music, connecting bands with opportunities

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Computers and the Internet have made it simple for unsigned artists to record and distribute their songs, but they haven’t made it easier for them to quit their day jobs. The do-it-yourself route is still a difficult path to success; plenty of companies stand ready to help with various marketing and sales tasks, but there’s not much help pulling it all together.

That’s the niche Los Angeles-based Hello Music hopes to fill. The company, which made its official launch today at the Midem music conference in Cannes, considers itself an ‘opportunity engine for artists,’ co-founder Zack Zalon said in a recent interview. The idea is to be talent finders for the online music ecosystem -- the digital equivalent of the labels’ ‘artists & repertoire’ teams. Initially, it will be plugging its clients into the services provided by 10 partners, including webcasters (Slacker and Yahoo Music), digital distributors (MediaNet and TuneCore), booking services (GigMaven) and Web-savvy marketers (Topspin). The plan is to keep adding partners, expanding the range of options it can present to artists.


The more talented an artist or band is ...

... the more doors Hello Music promises to open. For example, Zalon said, the top 10% of Hello Music’s clients will be featured in a special section of Pump Audio’s licensing service, which supplies music for movies, TV shows, advertisements and corporate use. Top artists also will be integrated into a new artist channel at Yahoo Music and added to the library at MediaNet, which powers the online music services offered by Microsoft and MOG, among others. ‘We really are looking for opportunities for unsigned artists that they couldn’t get for themselves,’ Zalon said.

The company’s site, which is still in a trial phase, is free to use. Artists create profiles on the site and upload recordings, along with detailed descriptions of their work. Hello Music’s team of screeners, which includes musicians, former label A&R executives and music fans, then reviews each song, providing its own description, notes and ratings. This process determines which partners the company will match the artist with. Not every band will be plugged into a potentially revenue-generating slot such as Pump Audio, Zalon said. Some will instead be offered discounts for services that partners offer for a fee. Still, he said, ‘no matter what [the song] is, we’re going to listen to it, and we’re going to find opportunities.’

And under Hello Music’s business model, the company won’t succeed unless the artists who use it make money. That’s because it doesn’t charge upfront for its service; instead, it collects a percentage of the revenue that it helps artists generate.

The arrival of a company like Hello Music is a sign of the maturation of the Net’s self-help tools as an alternative to record labels. There’s an online substitute for just about every service that labels and managers have done to promote and generate revenue for bands. What’s missing, though, is something to hold those pieces together. Zalon contends that it can become that connective tissue by providing something needed by bands and services alike: a talent arbiter. The former are struggling to stand out in the musical crowd, and the latter need help culling the wheat from the chaff.

‘What we look for is to have fresh material, material that other outlets don’t have,’ said Ryan Born, chief executive of AudioMicro, a Hello Music partner that licenses songs to online advertisers. Hello Music can sort through songs and aggregate the best ones for him, Born said, leaving him free to line up customers.

Jonathan Sasse, a senior vice president at Slacker, said Hello Music can help his company in two ways. It puts its clients’ songs into context for Slacker’s music programmers, making it easy for them to place the tracks into the right playlists and artist groupings. And it suggests which artists are hot. ‘If they deliver us a great breaking artist ... that’s insight we otherwise wouldn’t have,’ Sasse said.

Its ability to deliver what AudioMicro, Slacker and other partners need will hinge on the judgment of its team of screeners. Zalon and co-founder Brendon Cassidy also bring extensive music backgrounds to the table, having worked at and Virgin Digital before creating Wilshire Media Group, a digital media design and development firm, in 2006. Still, there’s no science to identifying which artists will be successful; if there were, the record companies wouldn’t pick nine flops for every one that hits it big.

Thanks to a $4-million investment from KVG Partners, the company will have some time to refine its approach and build its network of partners, which will be a key factor in drawing musicians to the site. Zalon contends that there is a tremendous number of talented artists that are unsigned, and ‘a lot of very willing ears for new music.’ In addition, there are a growing number of ways for artists to generate revenue from their work, as music becomes available from more sources and in more ways. ‘Being a successful artist in the future doesn’t look like being a successful artist in the past,’ Zalon said.

That doesn’t mean artists will abandon record labels. On the contrary, Zalon said, the major labels will still have unrivaled power to market and promote acts. But Hello Music hopes to assemble a viable alternative. ‘We’re creating a different kind of A&R machine,’ he said. ‘If you’re not going to get signed, you should still have opportunities.’

Corrected at 10 a.m.: The Midem conference is in Cannes, not Paris as the original version of this post stated (thanks, Mike!). I also removed a reference to MusicNet, which is now known as MediaNet.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times’ Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him on Twitter: @jcahealey