Below is an excerpt from the feature story "EMI Opens Up The Vault" -- a look at EMI's attempts to create an API to encourage app development -- from this week's edition of Billboard Magazine, which also features our cover story on the rebirth of Christina Aguilera, along with stories on R&B rennaissance man Miguel, a celebration of 20 years of the Top 40 Chart, Timbaland's new deal with ole Music Publishing, our incomparable columns and charts, and much more. You can buy a copy of the issue here, and subscribe here.
EMI Music is setting its music free. No, the company isn't abandoning copyright, but it's still a somewhat progressive plan. Through its OpenEMI initiative, EMI is giving app developers access to parts of its catalog, giving them a few rules and a revenue-sharing deal, and asking them to do what they do really well: develop really cool music apps.
Bertrand Bodson, the London-based executive VP of global digital at EMI Music, created OpenEMI to help guide unknowledgeable developers through unfamiliar, inhospitable terrain that would otherwise be impractical to individuals and small companies. The OpenEMI team is the conduit between the developer that creates the app -- an iPad app, for example -- and the business development team, the artist and artist management, label and publisher and marketing team.
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Bodson wants developers to become interested in working with EMI's content and create all sorts of fascinating, fun apps. But for developers to work with EMI's content he needed a way for them to gain access to it.
BREAKING THE BOTTLENECK
An application programming interface, developed in partnership with music technology company the Echo Nest, allows a content owner to dictate terms to developers in order to grant access to the content. Developers using a precleared catalog will not suffer from the guesswork and back-and-forth negotiations that are customary with customized deals. In effect, licensing through the API does away with the legal bottleneck that has hurt digital innovation and turned away some entrepreneurs. "It's a very efficient content licensing tool," says Jim Lucchese, CEO of the Echo Nest, which powers EMI's API.
In the past, an entrepreneur would have only needed a business license to open a record store, an account with a distributor to fill its shelves with CDs and LPs, and other accounts for shipping the products. Tens of thousands of record stores were opened this way. Today, signing up tens of thousands of entrepreneurs isn't possible without using APIs.
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"The problem is that in the digital era, the mom-and-pop stores are software developers," says Bill Wilson, VP of digital strategy and business development for NARM and DigitalMusic.org, which recently launched an online API directory as a resource for developers. "These are kids who love music. These are the same people who probably would have opened up mom-and-pop record stores five, 10 or 20 years ago."
EMI isn't alone in seeing the power of the API. Island Def Jam Music Group announced a partnership with the Echo Nest in February. Developers don't yet have access to the label group's content but can expect access in the future, according to an Echo Nest representative.
The OpenEMI team sits within CEO Roger Faxon's office and has jurisdiction to drive the initiative throughout the company. Day-to-day operations are driven by VP of digital products Neil Tinegate and digital projects manager Kara Mukerjee.
The first step, Bodson says, was to listen. Bodson, who previously worked at Amazon and co-founded a startup called Bragster.com, and Tinegate, went to MIDEM in 2011 seeking feedback from startups. After MIDEM they had a meeting with a handful of developers and venture capitalists to better understand the precise difficulties developers were experiencing and get a better understanding of where EMI could help. "The first hour was probably a rough one for us in terms of pain points they were encountering," Bodson recalls.
Some quick wins followed. Bodson and Tinegate were getting quick access to startups without sending them through many divisions of the company. The OpenEMI team started building a catalog of tracks for which EMI owned both the master recording and publishing rights. They quickly amassed 2,000 tracks ranging from Gorillaz to Robbie Williams to Pet Shop Boys.
Then the team got to work within the organization, communicating the concept to bring executives onboard. Faxon was especially active, Bodson says.
APIs also represent a fundamental shift in music company thinking.
From the recording to the point of purchase, there's usually a record label, music publisher or distributor involved in some way. Ceding some control to third parties and licensing in bulk using APIs represents a shift in thinking. Bodson recognizes that EMI needs to concentrate on its strengths and surround itself with passionate, creative people who are really good at building digital products. "We have great teams to do apps and great conceptual concepts to work very closely with the artist," he says, "but at the same time we have to be honest that we're not the best one to develop them internally."
"One of the things I've been impressed with in EMI's expectations and goals is they want to get closer to the creative class of people," the Echo Nest's Lucchese says. "They want to have a more direct relationship with lots of app developers and they see lots of benefit to that beyond just the release of a commercial application."
OpenEMI now has more than 50 proposals, in one stage or another, from 480 developers who have been granted 1,150 keys to use EMI's content. Some proposals are in an early stage, Bodson says, while others have been discussed with artist management.