Rap Genius, the online lyric site with financial backing from Silicon Valley heavyweights, has signed its first licensing deal. Billboard has learned the Brooklyn-based startup has a licensing agreement with Sony/ATV Music Publishing. A Rap Genius statement says the deal was finalized “earlier this year.”
In a statement, Martin Bandier, chairman & CEO of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, acknowledged Rap Genius’s ability to connect songwriters and music fans “in a new and exciting way.” Rap Genius isn’t the typical lyric site. Self-described as “a hip-hop Wikipedia,” Rap Genius allows contributes to create pages for songs, add song lyrics and offer insights and commentary through the site’s main feature, annotations.
Other licensing deals could be on the way. In a statement, Rap Genius co-founder Tom Lehman referred the conversations with other music publishers and said site’s relationship with artists “will only grow stronger” as more publishers deals are reached.
The site, which has branched out to news and poetry, is among the most popular of unlicensed lyric sites, according to a list released Monday by the National Music Publishers’ Association. It’s also among the best-funded lyric sites.
Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz invested $15 million in Rap Genius in October. Andreessen Horowitz is not a typical investor; its co-founder Marc Andreessen was a co-founder of Netscape Communications Corporation, a pioneer in early web browsers that was acquired by America Online in 1998. The company previously raised $1.8 million from betaworks and graduated from the Y Combinator startup incubator.
The greater goal is to “to add context to all important texts in people’s lives,” said Lehman. Rap Genius already has already launched sites for rock, poetry and news. The founders want to move beyond free services and create a paid, enterprise service for business users. For example, enterprise collaboration would provide to companies a crowdsourced editing process that would allow employees to add annotations to any uploaded document.
Rap Genius has caught the attention of music publishers as it has grown in popularity and attracted venture capital. The site is #1 on the NMPA’s list of top 50 unlicensed lyric sites. Although a deal has been reached with Sony/ATV — the world’s largest music publisher with roughly 31% of the global market — Rap Genius does not have licenses in place for the vast majority of songs. Because of the fractured nature of songwriting — a song can have multiple writers and multiple publishers — some songs in the Sony/ATV catalog are not yet fully licensed.
Although Rap Genius has been sent takedown notices, NMPA President and CEO David Israelite says the organization wants to facilitate licensing deals, not shut down unlicensed sites. “We simply want those that are making money off lyrics to be business partners with the songwriters who created the content that is the basis of the sites.”