Nick Gatfield, Former EMI Exec, Calls Working Under Guy Hands' Regime 'Uncomfortable'
Nick Gatfield, Former EMI Exec, Calls Working Under Guy Hands' Regime 'Uncomfortable'

Back in November, EMI Music unveiled its OpenEMI initiative, launching a developer "sandbox" on application platform the Echo Nest. App developers get access to a major label's music, as well as videos, photos and other creative assets. EMI gets to harness the creativity of the developer community to find new ways to monetize its catalog.

Revenues from any commercially developed apps are split between EMI and other rights holders, who collect a combined 60%, and the developers, who also retain ownership of the intellectual property they create in the app. In March, two apps are scheduled to debut, the first OpenEMI projects to be released commercially: a melody-matching keyboard game and a slickly designed box set-like app incorporating music from the Blue Note catalog.

In an interview on the sidelines of MIDEM, EMI Music VP of digital projects Neil Tinegate spoke with Billboard.biz about the progress of OpenEMI.

What's been the response so far to OpenEMI?
We've got a great response from people in the music industry and we've got a great response from tech people as well. We've had a lot of pats on the back. We've now got several hundred people registered, around 300-something at the moment. We see it as a first step.

Who are some of the artists on the platform?

Robbie Williams is the latest artist to go into OpenEMI. We launched with Gorillaz, they really speak to the tech demographic. We've got Evanescence who came on just before Christmas, and then we've got people like Tinie Tempah, Professor Green, big U.K. acts and we're putting more and more on all the time. We've got another big announcement coming in six weeks, another substantial artist coming on board. What we want to do is end up with the whole catalog on there. That's eventually where we want to be.

When you approach artists about getting their music on OpenEMI, are you specifically thinking of acts that will appeal to the developer community?

Yes, in some sense ones that will appeal to a particular demographic, who can sell an iPhone app, and therefore that tends to excite developers as well. So we've got a lot of artists that developers will like and that will sell a lot of albums and sell digital applications whether that's on a Web service, whether that's on an iPad or an iPhone or an Android [handset] or some other mobile device. Robbie's management IE Music was really excited about putting his back catalog onto OpenEMI. Those guys were really excited about the digital initiatives that could be opened up by doing something like that.

You've got some apps that you're preparing for commercial release.

In our pipeline, we've got six to eight [we're considering for release]. The first one is a keyboard-melody matching game, we're going to brand with our Now That's What I Call Music! brand and we're going to launch that in the U.K. and the U.S., coming out probably towards the end of March, maybe mid-March if we're lucky.

Will the app be free to download?

Yes. The idea with that one is to give the app away for free, and even give one track away for free with it so that users can fully interact, people can get to know the game and enjoy the game, and then hopefully they'll like it so much that they'll buy the [additional] tracks. The interesting thing about that one is that not only is it melody-matching as opposed to rhythm matching, it's actually educational. So you learn the song on the keyboard and you can transpose it to a real piano and you'll be able to play that song.

You also have a Blue Note app coming.
We worked with guys from Groovebug and we created a beautifully branded Blue Note kind of coffee table app, which is a digital living box set. What that gives you access to is, yes, loads of content on Blue Note artists such as biographies, photos from the Blue Note archives, similar artist recommendations within the Blue Note catalog. But the key thing is you can stream the Blue Note content -- full-length tracks. We're working out now just how big of a catalog we're going go with at [launch] and we're working out how it's going to look. We're working out whether it's a paid-for app with all the content or a subscription model where you pay monthly to get access to the entire catalog. We're still trying to figure out what exactly our go-to-market strategy will be, but those are the kinds of ideas we're kicking around.

Which app categories are attracting the most attention among OpenEMI developers?
We've got a lot of stuff. We've had some really cool stuff we didn't even think of, people doing visual representations of an artist's catalog. [One] came out of Boston Music Hack Day. It's quite hard to describe in words, but it's almost like a page of blue, and it goes from light blue to dark blue and that might represent danceability of music. Then you start with a smooth pixel and go to a rougher pixel on a different axis, and that might represent tempo. And then you can start to draw lines and create playlists visually. Anywhere you click in that shaded blue screen would be a track, so if you drew a line through the screen you'd get a number of different tracks. You might go, "I want to start off slow and build" or "I want to start quickly and slow down." It's just like, you know, we'd never think of that.

We've had [other kinds of apps], people who want to do remix, promo tools that can go alongside an album release. Then we've got the packaging the catalog [apps], such as the work we're doing with Groovebug bringing out the Blue Note living digital box, through to games such as the real-keys game, which has got the education element to it. So there is no one kind of thing, people are just coming up with loads of great stuff.

When we get these guys on board and they want to do something commercial with us, we work with them every week. The ones we're bringing to the market currently, we have weekly meetings with those guys we discuss the product, we discuss the go-to-market strategy, we discuss pricing. It's a real kind of partnership and a real team effort to get the products done.