Lots of people have enjoyed posting their own versions of Jason Mraz's massive hit "I'm Yours" on YouTube.
That has given the artist a lot of free exposure, but he also may be missing out on royalties. Now Jeff Price, the former Chief Executive of Tunecore, is trying to solve that problem with his new company, Audiam.
Price launched the New York-based service in the U.S. Wednesday, after introducing it in other territories last month, to help artists make money when their songs are played in videos posted on the Google Inc.-owned streaming site.
Artists' songs frequently get used in other people's videos, and there are multitudes of musicians uploading cover versions of others' tunes. Price said rights-holders should get paid for plays of those uses.
Audiam scours YouTube for those videos and monetizes them by collecting ad revenue from YouTube or getting the company to place text or video ads where there previously weren't any. Audiam takes an administrative fee of 25%.
"YouTube has about 30 billion views a month of videos with music in them, and only about half of them are generating revenue," Price said. "The artist needs a solution. They need an easy button for YouTube, and that's what we give them."
YouTube, which counts about 1 billion unique visitors a month and 100 hours of video uploaded every minute, makes money when a visitor clicks on ads or watches commercials on its videos. When YouTube users upload videos, they can get paid by authorizing YouTube to monetize the clips with advertising.
It's relatively easy for musicians to monetize videos they upload on their own, but not when other people use their songs, compositions and recordings, Price said.
Major record labels have direct licensing deals with YouTube so they can get paid, but independent and unsigned artists don't have that resource, Price said. A major hurdle is finding all the videos using their music.
Scott Schreer, the composer behind the "NFL on Fox" theme, has written thousands of instrumental pieces that people can use for free in their videos, often as background music. With Audiam, he can now make money from videos that use any of the 2,000 songs he's made available, such as the slide guitar-fueled rock piece "Misfit."
In the first four weeks of using Audiam, YouTube plays of videos using Schreer's songs generated some $40,000. "It's a fantastic opportunity," Schreer said. "It gives you the ability to rely on the power of your copyrights."
Price rose to prominence in the digital music business as chief executive of Tunecore, a company that helps independent artists make their music available on services such as iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. Price, who co-founded the company with Peter Wells in 2006, was ousted last year in a public dispute with its board of directors.
Robert Levine, a former executive editor at Billboard who wrote the book "Free Ride," said most artists who use Audiam will generate only a handful of cash, but it could be a successful business for Price if he gets a lot of customers. Besides, making a little money from YouTube is not a bad thing for independent and unsigned artists, especially if they've previously been seeing no revenue at all.
"When you have a technology, like YouTube, that makes it possible for anyone to make content, I think it's appropriate to help people get paid for it," Levine said. "This could be part of it."
With the U.S. launch, Price is opening the service to publishers and labels and introducing new features, including a way for artists to see all the videos that are using their songs and how many views those videos have received. Starting Wednesday, Audiam will also help artists collect money from their own videos without charging the 25% fee.
Price said he hopes artists find creative ways to use the service, such as getting fans to cover the songs to raise money for tours.
"You're hiring me to go into the world of YouTube and get you paid for your music," Price said. "Ultimately this is about exploiting copyright to make money and raise your profile."
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