In July, Ellen and Omayya Atout arrived on the set of ABC’s Shark Tank with a $4 million valuation for their company Songlorious, a Cameo-like startup where customers can request personalized tracks written and performed by professional musicians. Though the show’s four investor “Sharks” quickly chewed that valuation down to just $1.2 million over the course of the episode, the Atouts also left with a $500,000 joint investment from four of them: Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary and Peter Jones. (A fifth Shark, Lori Greiner, stayed out.) More importantly, they secured the cumulative PR power and acumen of some of the world’s brightest business minds.
“We decided to take the deal because we realized that the Sharks — the value they bring — is way more than the money that they’re giving us as an investment,” Omayya tells Billboard. “Monetarily the valuation is down, but really, we think [the deal] actually brought our valuation up.”
The Atouts’ official deal with the Sharks isn’t yet done — investors and entrepreneurs on the show make what amounts to a handshake agreement on-air — but the married couple tells Billboard that negotiations are close to being complete and that all four Sharks currently remain committed to investing in Songlorious in exchange for a 10% share of the business (for a total of 40%).
Like so many businesses that launched over the past 18 months, Songlorious was a product of the pandemic. Omayya, who worked as a civil engineer at Amtrak, suffered a pay cut due to the economic crash, while the coffee shop where Ellen worked as a barista was forced to shut its doors. At the same time, the extra money they had earned as musicians — the couple met online while searching for collaborators before eventually falling in love and marrying — disappeared after music venues across the U.S. shuttered due to COVID-19.
In search of additional income, the Atouts soon landed on an idea: launch a website offering custom songs for a price. It didn’t take long for the business to take off; after buying ads on social media, “it just really exploded from there,” Ellen says. Soon, other musicians sidelined by the pandemic began contacting the Atouts to see if they needed extra hands. “We decided that seem[ed] like a great opportunity,” Ellen continues. Before long, and with the business growing rapidly, they began placing ads specifically to recruit additional musicians (referred to as “artists” on the Songlorious website).
Today, Songlorious is projecting revenues of $2.5 million for this year and $5 million for 2022, driven in part by the value of the Atouts’ Shark Tank appearance. (Omayya says the website’s organic traffic has increased roughly 20-fold since the episode aired on Oct. 15.) Meanwhile, the company has paid out over $650,000 to 160 artists — who are paid between 35% and 50% of the revenue generated from each song they contribute, depending on the specifics of the order — since launching in June 2020. Now, with a collection of brand-name, TV-famous investors on board, they’re hoping to take the business to the next level.
With the market for personalized songs heating up as of late, Songlorious’ new investment and heightened visibility have come at a crucial time. Another similar platform, Songfinch — launched in 2016 by veteran music executives John Williamson, Rob Lindquist, Scott Kitun and Josh Kaplan — closed a $2 million funding round in June from industry giants including The Weeknd, his manager Wassim “Sal” Slaiby, Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman, School of Rock CEO Rob Price and Reverb founder David Kalt (legendary songwriter and producer Quincy Jones made an additional investment in August for an undisclosed amount). A Songfinch representative says the platform hosts over 650 active artists who have created more than 25,000 original songs, and that it has paid out over $2.1 million to artists this year alone. Cameo CEO Steven Galanis has also indicated a potential move into personalized songs for the entrenched platform, which is already utilized by a host of well-known musical artists and last year pulled in $100 million in revenue, 75% of which went to talent. (The company is reportedly valued at $1 billion.)
Custom songs on Songlorious start at $45 for a 30-second acoustic jingle but can cost as much as $230 for a three-minute track. (The average order is around $179, the Atouts say). In addition to length, add-ons include more complex instrumentation, a faster turnaround time (seven days vs. four days) and the ability to choose a specific artist for an additional $20 (it behooves an artist to be requested specifically, as they then receive a larger cut of the revenue). For an extra $150, the company also offers a commercial license option for small businesses.
When placing an order on Songlorious, customers specify the occasion, who the song is for and the story behind the request. They can also choose from among several genres and moods and identify up to four lyrical elements that must be included. Revisions cost extra if there’s a “preferential issue,” says Ellen, though changes are free if Songlorious makes a mistake. But errors aren’t typical, say the Atouts: before making their way to the customer, completed songs undergo a quality check to ensure the production is up to snuff and that all requested elements are included.
To ensure quality, artists are subjected to an audition process during which they must complete a hypothetical order for a 30-second track. If approved, they undergo a small training session where a Songlorious team member (the company has four employees) walks them through the company’s standards for creating, in Omayya’s words, “a five-star song.” For artists, Songlorious has the potential to provide a healthy income on its own, but only for those who commit to it full-time. The Atouts tell Billboard that one particularly prolific Songlorious contributor is tracking to pull in between $80,000 and $100,000 from the platform this year alone.
With the Shark Tank investment, the Atouts plan to expand Songlorious’ marketing while streamlining operations, including by improving the technology on their website. In the future, they’re also looking to offer songs in languages other than English, with Arabic up first (Omayya’s father’s family hails from the Middle East). They’ve additionally discussed working with celebrity musicians, though that comes with a serious limitation: “Most famous artists,” says Ellen, “aren’t willing to do it at a price point that most customers would be willing to pay.” Still, Omayya says, adding a charitable component — as Cameo has done in the past — could draw A-listers to the platform in the future.
Now that live performances are taking place with greater and greater frequency across the U.S. and abroad, one might reasonably expect the demand from gig-starved musicians for income-generating platforms like Songlorious to be on the wane. But so far, at least, its stable of artists have remained highly engaged, with orders snapped up almost as fast as they come in. “We’ve had no problems with [turnaround],” says Omayya. “The songs get taken pretty quickly.”