CueSongs: Ed Averdieck
The music industry maestro on working with Peter Gabriel – and creating a hub to take the hassle out of online music licensing
Tell us what your business does:
CueSongs is a one-stop music-licensing hub for online and digital media usage. We’re a B2B retailer: our online platform offers licensed music and recordings to be used in digital and mobile media. For example, on websites, Facebook, YouTube, in apps, and in online and mobile advertising. Our catalogue ranges from established artists, such as Peter Gabriel and Judge Jules, to up-and-coming independent songwriters, such as Magnus Fiennes.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
As more and more company’s marketing budgets move online, I thought a lot of businesses would want to use great music in their online productions. At the moment, one has to go through the same hoops and hurdles to license music for online usage as you would if you wanted to license a track for a huge TV ad or film trailer – so a lot of customers use unsigned tracks or don’t use music at all. I thought that if CueSongs could make the process simple and affordable, that would be appealing for clients and, at the same time, create a new royalty earner for artists.
How did you know there was a market for it?
When I was heading up Nokia Music, I’d get emails from people in the company, asking me to get hold of a track to use in their video presentations or product launch demos. I’d always swerve the e-mails because it was so difficult to clear music for that type of thing. I realised then that there was huge value in providing a one-stop clearance house for small business music usage. Then YouTube arrived and the video market exploded. I thought ‘someone’s going to do this’ – but we couldn’t see anyone doing it properly. What differentiates our offering is that we have seen it from both the perspective of a rightsholder and a client, so we are able to understand each side’s perspective and what they both need to make it work. We focus on licensing tracks from signed artists and songwriters. Therefore, we are able to offer tracks that have never previously been available in a pre-cleared way. Also, we only focus on providing a licensing solution for digital media productions (the fastest growing sector in licensing), which represents a great opportunity to create new royalties for artists and rightsholders. We want to attract the most talented and respected artists, but also be very client-focused, so it’s important to strike a deal that everyone thinks is reasonable.
What were you doing before starting up?
Before starting CueSongs, I oversaw the music label and publishing business at Real World for three years. Before that I was part of the management team that started up OD2 (which was ultimately sold to Nokia and became Nokia Music.) I’ve worked in the business development side of the music industry for the past 18 years. It wasn’t hard to leave my last job, as this is a project I’d co-created with Real World, as well as Peter Gabriel. I was excited to get on and do it!
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I suddenly realised after the last election that I was the same age as the prime minister and considerably older than the chancellor of the exchequer! It was time to forge my own way. My family are all entrepreneurs. My twin brother launched Gü Puddings and my older brother has been an entrepreneur since leaving one of the world’s leading business schools, INSEAD. So I guess there’s some sibling rivalry! I believe I can be more productive running my business, by channelling all my energy into building what will hopefully become a successful enterprise. The other great thing is being able to handpick your team. I’m able to work with some fantastically-talented people – some of whom I’ve known for a while and have always wanted to work with. That makes going to work a great pleasure.
What planning did you do before you started up?
I talked to a lot of people, on the client side – in agencies, small businesses and brands – and on the artistic side – artists, artist managers, labels and publishers. I haven’t stopped doing that. Also, I read a great book called The Lean Startup by Eric Reiss. It made a lot of sense and said that you should launch your product as soon as is humanly possible, then learn and improve on the job. That’s the best advice I’ve had and it is absolutely true.
How did you raise the money?
Peter Gabriel and Mike Large at Real World thought CueSongs was a good idea and backed me from the start: as did my twin brother James. I have also just raised another round of money from some new investors. It’s never easy raising money but it helps if you’ve been successful before, and have an idea that people can relate to.
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What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
Launching a start-up in a new market is a big challenge, particularly in the current economic climate, when people are focused on doing things that pay bills. It’s difficult convincing people – both suppliers and customers – that they should invest their time and energy in working with a start-up in a completely new area. But, having said that, I’ve been lucky to have some very supportive and forward-thinking suppliers, and we are seeing more and more potential clients interested in what we are doing.
Where is your business based?
We’ve just moved to a new office in Lexington Street, in the heart of Soho. It’s the top floor of a big warehouse, with tons of light and open space, so it’s a very inspiring place to work, in a great part of town. We have a large proportion of the UK’s advertising and digital agencies within half a mile of our office, so we are in a good place for business!
How have you promoted your business?
The most successful promotion to date has been via press and PR. That’s driven interest in enabling the licensing of music, which has previously been out of reach for most businesses. We did invest money in speaking at a conference, which I wouldn’t do again. I don’t think we hit the right audience and it took a lot of time and preparation, which I could have channelled elsewhere.
How much do you charge?
It depends on the usage that people want, where and how long they want to use it for, but prices start at £99. The market will always tell you the right price to sell at, so this is one of the things we are still testing in Beta.
What about staff – how many do you have?
I have three full-time staff and a lot of contractors and consultants, who help me in different areas. It’s fantastic! I have people who are specialists in their field and at the top of their game. I couldn’t have done it without them.
What has your growth been like?
We haven’t officially launched yet, so ask me in six months time! However, in Beta we have achieved some good traction already, with brands and marketing agencies using the CueSongs service for marketing and communications collateral, internal communications and events. For example, Marriott International, Lenovo and Volkswagen China have all recently licensed music via CueSongs.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
I have had a few sleepless nights, as it’s difficult to switch off. But, in the main, it’s been fine. I get to take my son to school in the morning occasionally, and read him a bedtime story – so there’s some balance there. Plus I have a very supportive wife, who let’s me follow my dream!
?What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
Getting people to invest time and work in something that is a new market place!
What was your first big breakthrough?
Signing a deal with a major publisher last September. That put us on the map and showed that the music industry would support us.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
1) Don’t spend too much time in the laboratory, cooking things up. 2) Be prepared to adapt to the market place.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit plan?
I would like CueSongs to be a successful business. I don’t have an exit plan as I’m still quite young and want to work until I’m old!