Creator economy empowerment and music tech with Molly Neuman
Behind every favorite artist, song, or lyric, is a story you've never heard. Music is highly personal, and our experiences with it shape our memories, thoughts, and desires. So much goes into every note and lyric behind the scenes, which is why we’re bringing you Voices Behind the Music to share untold music business tales. Our guests range from artists, producers, and managers to tech creators and more, each sharing their unique past experiences, current projects, and visions for the future. Voices Behind The Music is presented by Feed Media Group, the leading B2B music licensing platform.
Hosted by Jeff Yasuda, CEO, Feed Media Group.
During Molly Neuman’s time as President, Songtrust has grown to represent more than 3 million copyrights for more than 350,000 writers in 145 countries, as well as tens of thousands of business clients, including record labels, distributors, and boutique publishers. Within a career that has been focused on empowering musicians at all career stages, Neuman has been Head of Music at Kickstarter, Interim President and Vice President of the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), and has held senior roles in label relations at Rhapsody and eMusic. Her musical career began as drummer in Bratmobile, a punk band who were in the first wave of the riot grrrl movement.
[00:00:00] Jeff: Innovators in the music industry are thinking deeply about what's next and how to be a part of it. On Voices Behind the Music, you'll hear from some of the most influential voices in music about how the industry is changing and what the future might have. I'm Jeff Yasuda, CEO at Feed Media Group, giving you a backstage pass to what's going on behind the scenes in the music industry.
All right. Today, we are fired up to have Molly Newman in the house. Molly is the President of Song Trust, which is a part of Downtown Music Holdings. She has been in digital music and streaming for nearly two decades, having been at EMusic, Rhapsody, and Kickstarter. Before that, Molly was also an artist manager at Indivision Management and ran A&R marketing for Lookout Records back in the nineties.
But I think it's fair to say that here's a gal that really has seen all sides of the music industry. Having started as an artist herself, forming the band Bratmobile in Oregon, that helped kick off the broader feminist punk movement. What has remained a constant though through it all is her love and dedication for the independent music scene and the artists that worked their butts off on the road, touring in stinky vans and sleeping on floors, just so they can perform great music in front of their devoted fans. And that indeed is a noble cause and why we are in the wild and crazy industry. Right?
[00:01:33] Molly: That's right. And yeah, there's certainly many stinky vans in my past. I hope for many more for others in the future. Thinking about the Creator ecosystem right now and how challenging it is for so many people, you know, how much people just really crave that performance and connection aspect of what they do.
I really do hope that as unglamorous as it really was, it is still pretty joyful.
[00:02:02] Jeff: of course, of course. Molly, thank you for joining us today.
[00:02:04] Molly: And thanks for having me. That was a lovely introduction.
[00:02:07] Jeff: Great. I'm glad you liked it. Well for starters, tell us what is Song Trust? What is it all about?
[00:02:13] Molly: Sure. So, Song Trust is a publishing rights administration platform. It's something that's available to anyone who would like to collect their global music publishing royalties in sort of one contained area. We operate in the same way that a traditional music publisher does in terms of representing rights and registering them with the societies and collecting all of the other new means of generating music publishing royalties now.
So music publishing is the royalties associated with the composition of the song, the actual written work. The melody, the lyrics, the beats, the pieces of it. Whereas what you hear if you're at a restaurant or listening to your favorite streaming service, is the recording of a work. And there can be multiple, multiple recordings of an individual composition.
The reason music publishing royalties are so hard to track, there are so many of them. Again, you have the, you know, the individual composition, there are multiple exploitations of it, multiple places, and there are multiple participants in the actual composition. So there are a few examples over the course of history where one person wrote the song and performed it and recorded it. And so they've received a hundred percent of the royalties that they might be representing.
But more and more in the current climate, you see many people contributing to writing a song, lots of people recording it, and lots of people sort of participating in both sides of those royalty picture.
What we do is really much, much more relevant to rights holders and songwriters who have work in the market who are already sort of like on-screen platforms or have a means to get on streaming platforms, who have some audience, you know, there's some activity around the works that they represent.
Truthfully, it's still like a massive challenge in what we do. Because music publishing has been such a sort of, I don't really want to know how that works, kind of, part of our industry.
[00:04:20] Jeff: Yeah. And I think, you've mentioned sort of the dichotomy between I'll call it left brain and right brain, right. The Song Trust is a very left-brain service, royalties, handling that administration. But artists are right brain, and do they want to go through this process of having to do the accounting? What you describe as, I don't even want to know the brain damage associated with that.
[00:04:45] Molly: And that's, I mean, I think it's who the headlines have centered publishing and rights administration in the middle of the music industry in such a more active way over the last four years. I think people who were well-established into their careers, kind of didn't want to know the granular elements of what it takes to do this work. Certainly what it takes to do it well.
And so we started that effort by trying to help people understand publishing rights, recorded rights versus publishing rights, and then you have performance versus digital. You layer it down into all the different sort of jurisdictions and countries and you know, all the sub rules that are applied.
And trying to make that story accessible enough that people would watch to either say I can do this on my own, and I'm done here, thanks very much. Or I have another kind of offer in publishing or I'd love you to do that work for me. And certainly over the past four years as we've grown and the creator world has exploded as well and they're out and the headlines around lots of things in publishing, but you know, the sort of how many more writers contribute to a work.
So different challenges on this journey have been exposed in terms of trying to do that super efficiently. I think efficient in publishing administration is something that's not necessarily a helpful way to think about it. But certainly being effective and always kind of trying to identify new methods and new improvements that you can make.
And in terms of working with all of the right societies around the world, who some of which are over 170 years old, and then all the new emerging means of generating publishing royalties, like TikTok wasn't in business in 2018 when I joined the company and started to grow our offer.
I don't think that. TikTok was in business back then, but they might have already been bite dance or.
[00:06:42] Jeff: Musically.
[00:06:43] Molly: Musically. Right? So, you know, like all of the things that have changed, but you know, their engagement with our segment and the licensing was not yet part of the picture.
And I think that that is sort of the wild reality of what we try to do, which is operated in a very sort of historic. In certain cases like antiquated system, although some of these organizations that have been around for 170 years, are probably the ones that are the most forward-thinking when it comes to new systems and data investments, I think of Sesen who, you know, is very progressive in their approach to solving these problems.
But they are, you know, they also have lots of different French specific roles had requirements. And so it's energizing and challenging at the same time.
[00:07:32] Jeff: Well, it sounds like a very complex data science project.
[00:07:36] Molly: And I don't believe that our industry has ever considered it in that way.
[00:07:41] Jeff: It fair to say that the role of technology is paramount? And that it is incredibly challenging because traditionally music publishing in particular, may have been a bit slower to adopt new tech? Is that fair?
[00:08:01] Molly: I think it's fair. I think it's also fair to say that you can't design the technology solutions without the knowledge of this complex landscape implicitly. We don't just have an elegant blockchain smart contract option for fragments of rights across hundreds of international jurisdictions with different rules.
And it was interesting, I was listening to a podcast last week from one of my very favorite thinkers in our space, Cherie Hu, and at the end of the podcast and the conversation, she was the one being interviewed.
And they were talking about, you know, it really does seem like this is such a great solution. This is, I'm paraphrasing so don't get me wrong, but like something to the effect of this is such a great solution, but probably mostly for single songwriter worldwide, one publisher, you know, kind of like the most elegant scenario that you might offer.
And the reality is, as I mentioned earlier, the headlines are like, how do people collaborate? How many people are being brought in? And now we're talking about a whole new zone of thinking around, you know, shared ownership of who knows what, right?
So in our space, I think we try to look at the new dynamics and certainly some of them are like around catalogs, and bake transactions for lots of hundreds of millions of dollars. And the micro brights and the micro pennies that add up to many, many, many millions of dollars as well, that might not get properly attributed if we don't get some of these foundational pieces right.
So we're very focused on today and the current improvements that we can make. We want to be thinking about future improvements and future opportunities, but not distracted by them necessarily, because the rules that need to be applied to collect those royalties earned are not going anywhere, no matter what elegant option might come into the headlines.
[00:10:08] Jeff: Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned Cherie Hu. She was on episode two of our first season and she is wildly smart.
[00:10:15] Molly: Yes.
[00:10:17] Jeff: Well, you mentioned blockchain and I know Web3 has tremendous sex appeal, people are talking about it. Do you view the blockchain as potentially instrumental in the future of music publishing payments and tracking?
[00:10:37] Molly: I certainly don't want to say it's not because one, I don't know. But there are still a tremendous amount to do with the way that we're currently operating on the adoption that would be required from so many different elements of the rights landscape for that to be the utopic result that I think some tend to suggest it might be .
But I think about it in terms of groups that are sitting in a room, writing a song together, and now I think a more likely scenario is rooms anywhere in the world, collaborating on a beat through some awesome new software option or creating something, sharing it.
And then like, what's the source of truth of those percentages? What are the splits? Where's the documentation? How has that stored with everybody agree. So I think that smart contracts seem like a concept that want to say just that that's how you solve it. There's still compliance, right?
Like there's still from you and me, Jeff, agreeing and actually writing it down. And then my experience as a musician, making up songs, writing songs, whatever it was, whatever became our group of works that we share, because most of my songs are in a trio.
We have this really cute thing of there's 33.4%. Who gets that? And then when I go to my band who I'm like dear friends with 30 years later, like, okay guys, let's just make sure we're writing it all down the right way. Like, let's go into this Google sheet and who got 33.4% of each single song. You think that's a fun thing to do?
Nobody wants to do it.
[00:12:22] Jeff: Right, right. And actually that's an interesting segue into your past. By the way, I love the name of your band, Bratmobile. I mean, genius.
[00:12:31] Molly: Thank you. Thank you.
[00:12:33] Jeff: But to me about growing up as, you know, I think you're a guitar player?
[00:12:38] Molly: Drummer.
[00:12:39] Jeff: You're a drummer?
[00:12:39] Molly: Yes.
[00:12:40] Jeff: Okay. I love it. I love it. So you're still playing?
[00:12:44] Molly: Not a lot. But now that I have this space and I have my drum set up and it's very sweet, but my daughter, when we moved here and she found a new group of friends, she said, mom, can you be our coach for our band? And so I was like, I absolutely. Although my coaching is very much like do these four things come back to me and report on exactly what happened.
And then I will tell you the next thing, like, I'm not a teacher. The difference, right.
[00:13:14] Jeff: Right. And is she a drummer also?
[00:13:17] Molly: Her instincts so far have been with a keyboard and singing, but we'll see. Given that I didn't start playing music, like, I didn't buy a guitar until I was 18. And the fact that she's almost eight, I think I can chill a little bit with that.
Except for the fact that part of my motivation to start a band was that I wasn't encouraged, you know, from a young age. Like there was a group of guys in my high school that would just jam in lunchtime. And they never, it was never even like considered that they would say like, Hey, do you want to play? Or that I would say, Hey, let me play.
So that was originally when we started our band, it was part of the reason that we did was like, there were not that many people doing it, you know, not that many visible. And so if we did it, you know, what happens? And I think cut to the reality of now, there are these much more available spaces and programs and whole plethora of ways that people are encouraged to participate in creativity.
That's really wonderful to see. I still think that lots of room for more, but in terms of gender diversity and women contributing to songwriting or producing, it's still pretty, pretty low. That is something that I think is like, how to actively work on improving that area is something that I think about and hope that we can be a partner in that too.
[00:14:46] Jeff: Yeah, we had Maureen Herman, the bass player from.
[00:14:49] Molly: I know. Yeah. I know who she is, from Babes in Toyland.
[00:14:53] Jeff: She was talking about that, this is Lollapalooza 93, where Babes in Toyland performed. And, you know, as an all girl punk trio, all female punk band, indie rock.
However you want to describe it, but she was talking about how they were very different, right. And on the scene, I think there was another band L7, if you recall those guys. But you know, part of it was interestingly, she said that at the time, and it was a very different time but she didn't actually want to get labeled as an all female band.
She didn't want to be that sort of kitschy thing. She was just like "we're a band and we're awesome".
[00:15:34] Molly: I mean, the Babes in Toyland and L7 are like, maybe like a couple of years ahead of me, but they were on independent, large independent labels.
And so they were very much like the example when I would go to a record store. Every record that I could find of theirs, I would buy. Every one, right? Like every single, every different color, whatever it was, I was obsessed. But we came up a little bit after with a very, like, there needs to be more of this kind of position.
I have no surprise that like, people who are already doing it, like what the H are you talking about? We are doing it. I know why Maureen and L7, they were not right for all bands. They weren't, they were doing their own thing. And demanded and deserved respect. They still didn't get enough. But they were definitely in a different area of their careers.
It's interesting to see like a band like the Go-Go's, my number one for life, who just were inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame this past year. Who probably, you know, they were very intentionally, very clearly like okay with being an all girl band, but it wasn't a feminist event.
But now, and they're like incredible in their sixties and they're still playing and they're still amazing. I think that there a feminist consciousness it's like more acute than a lot of people and I think that's okay. Like, whatever it takes, you know, I hope to see, they're going to be playing at the formerly known as Staple Center, now Crypto.com Arena soon.
And the Rolling Stones they're on tour until their late seventies and stadiums, let's see if we can get them out of the arenas, into the stadiums over the next 10 years. Cause I think that's, you know, that's more women.
What is the cost to women's economy to not having participated in this through the fundamentals? So that does go back to the work I do today and the economics that I see actually, you know, who's earning what in this zone of the royalty picture and is that imbalance?
[00:17:53] Jeff: Could you give us a rough estimate as to what you're seeing from a revenue?
[00:17:59] Molly: I couldn't put a dollar amount around it, but yeah. I mean, when we do like a sample survey of customers, we have about 20% who identify as women or non-binary.
[00:18:10] Jeff: Got it. Got it. Okay. A few rapid questions that are always fun and I know horrifying for our guests.
[00:18:20] Molly: I heard Anita Hill do some rapid fire questions earlier this week on a podcast and she was like, no! Don't make me think about, who doesn't know how to answer questions better than Anita Hill, you know? So I'll be okay.
[00:18:32] Jeff: Okay. Here it goes. All right. What was the first album you purchased?
[00:18:37] Molly: My first vinyl album was the Fame soundtrack.
[00:18:42] Jeff: Are you going to live forever or?
[00:18:43] Molly: Yeah. Like the soundtrack for the film. Am I, I don't know. I don't think I want to but, like, I wouldn't mind getting up there.
[00:18:54] Jeff: Okay. First concert?
[00:18:56] Molly: When I was a kid, my parents took me to see Judy Collins at Wolf Trap in Washington DC area, which I do have a memory of. But the first concert I went to as a sort of teen, I think was Ziggy Marley and The Melody Makers and the I3's also played. That was super incredible. And then when I was at a music, probably who knows, 20 years later, Ziggy Marley played at our office at lunch. And I ended up knowing his now wife, who was his manager.
Orly Marley was at WMA when a band I managed was booked by William Morris. So I had gotten to know her then before they were married. So she was there. I was like, like a funny universe colliding, like, hi, Orly, you're at our office and Ziggy Marley was my first concert.
[00:19:47] Jeff: Oh funny. Oh, funny. Okay. And then the last is, and it may be that, but a star struck moment that you'd like to share?
[00:19:54] Molly: Okay. Well, the one that has verklempt me the most lately was I did get to meet Stacy Abrams when she was running for governor the first time in 2018, but I was at dinner the other night and Rod Stewart walked in to the restaurant and I was equally like, oh my God, it's Rod Stewart!
So I have a spectrum of interests.
[00:20:17] Jeff: Yeah, so great. Great. Well, thank you so much, Molly, for being on the show today, it was super fun to hear your view.
[00:20:24] Molly: Thanks.
[00:20:25] Jeff: We can't wait to have you back.
[00:20:26] Molly: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.
[00:20:28] Jeff: Thanks for listening to Voices Behind the Music, a Growth Network Podcast production presented by Feed Media Group. We're on a mission to make it easy, fast, and legal for businesses to use music to power the most engaging customer experiences. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast wherever you get yours and learn more about us at feedmediagroup.com.
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