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Aeroplane Music’s Jan Hellriegel on the take-off of Songbroker

Last year Jan Hellriegel also launched Songbroker, a service designed to connect production companies and content producers with independent Kiwi musicians. The company supplies organisations with existing tracks or write-to-order music, providing starving Kiwi artists with commercial and promotional airtime for their music. Just supply a brief and Songbroker can supply original compositions within your budget.

And so far, it’s working. Hellriegel has secured deals for artists involving car manufacturer Ford, murder series The Brokenwood Mysteries, Cliff Curtis film Dark Horse and upcoming TV series Filthy Rich, along with many more.

A year on, Idealog caught up with Jan for a chinwag about what’s happening with Songbroker, the state of the Kiwi music industry in general, and the meaning of musical success in 2015.

Idealog: So why did you launch Songbroker, Jan? What was the market you were aiming to meet?

Jan Hellriegel: Well Songbroker looks for opportunities for songs. That’s the core thing. We find ways of using songs, we find ways of connecting people who need songs with that music, and we make it easy to get things cleared [for commercial use].

We just want to get music on things, so we started it because we thought there was real need for publishing for young and up coming bands that didn’t have a huge budget. Songbroker is about opening those doors.  

So you’re targeting the independent artists specifically?  

Yes, it’s basically for independents. In New Zealand there’s quite a few people who are independent artists so it’s basically for people who have got lots and lots of songs but aren’t getting played on the radio.

New Zealand probably has the most songwriters, per capita, in the world. There are quite a few of us! But what happens these days, when you’ve made it is…nothing happens. You make an album or a single, a couple of your friends buy it, and you don’t get any coverage on the radio. You put the song away and it never comes out again. That’s a shame.

So who’s demanding the music? Who’s calling you up?

We deal with anyone who needs music – online content makers, production companies that make TV shows and movies, agencies for advertising, people who just need a video for their business. A lot of the time people spend a lot of time getting the words and pictures just right and then they throw on some cheap production piece that lets it all down. We all know we can do better.

And the thing is, those performance royalties – the fee that’s paid every time a piece of music is played – that often ends up going offshore, so we’re trying to ensure that New Zealand artists are getting some of that money.

We have an incredible resource right now. We find stuff for people and curate it – great stuff that’s within budget. We’re getting it on air and were generating those royalties for Kiwi artists. Local production companies want to support us and they are happy to pay a premium price to support local artists. They want to make something really amazing and they want to have great music. This gives them an opportunity to put world-class music in their product that just makes awesome movies better.

We’ve only been going a year and we’re still developing but were getting to nice place. I’m really proud of everybody that we work with.

Photo: Michelle Cutelli-Male

So is this what success look like these days? Isn’t there a stigma around ‘selling out to the corporates’?

Well the perspective of a lot of people I know is this: they make music from their heart, but the idea of charting is starting to get really difficult. Radio is only playing a small percentage of Kiwi music, so you have to look down other avenues.

Sometimes its film or television, and often it’s actually a lovely relationship. A lot of people just want to make music, they’re not interested in rock stardom, and they just want to make great music.

Our artists always have the option to say no, and they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to. Each to their own.

So is this the way things are going? Instead of getting a record deal, you release songs for corporate use?

All I know is my position and that’s as an independently releasing artist. When you release music now, with streaming and everything, if you’re an independent artist, your return from those Spotify plays is so small it’s not even worth thinking about.

When you put an album out [those sales] have gone from 1000 to 10. And while there’s something about buying a piece of work, I don’t think young people are particularly concerned about that, so I think it’s still in a state of flux. The chart doesn’t really matter more.

But we have this incredible resource made by people who are really good at their craft, and people still want to put music out and be heard.

Is that disheartening for artists? You’ve got to want that recognition, right?

I think it’s a personal thing. I guess there is a lot of frustration and you may think you’re not that successful because you haven’t sold a lot, but creating something that’s good, that’s success. There’s nothing quite like creating a great song.

So what’s the state of the industry at the moment? What’s it like for young people trying to get a foot in the door? It must be a hard slog, I imagine.

Yeah, it is pretty much. I get a bit disturbed how many people knock on the door and ask for a job, because there are no jobs.

What’s the next step?

I feel as if I haven’t really started yet. It’s been such a lot of work to get to here, but we’re at a stage now where it would great to have a bit more capital.

There’s a lot to what we do – it’s a new model and I don’t know anyone else that’s doing it. It took me two years to figure out how it works, because copyright is complicated. It’s not like selling a pair of shoes. Or maybe it is, if those shoes come with a lot of conditions.

So is that Songbroker’s angle? Take something hard and make it easy?

Yeah, it is. We’re easy to deal with. If you like something, everything’s preapproved and everything’s within the budget. We stand by our quotes. If you don’t want to use something there are no penalties.

So yeah, we’ve got some really big things on the horizon that we can’t really talk about, but I’m really excited because we’re challenging the old model. I really like being a disruptive business. No one else can really do what we do. We create that opportunity to use these beautiful and wonderful songs. We’re well outside the square and thinking outside the norm.

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