Evan Buist of Melodie: Your Startup's Secret Weapon? Building Relationships

Summary of Episode

#13: Evan Buist joins Annaka and Ethan to discuss his startup Melodie Music, a music licensing platform and publisher that partners with musicians to create high-quality, copyright-safe music. Evan walks us through the process of pivoting business strategies, fundraising, establishing business models, and the importance of establishing relationships. 

About the Guest: 

Evan Buist is the founder and CEO of Melodie Music, a copyright-safe music licensing platform and publisher. Evan initially began his career working as an audio engineer. However, he found the music licensing industry to be difficult and confusing and created a platform to help bridge the gap between music artists and the entities that purchase the rights to their music. After some pivots as well as trial and error Melodie was created. The music licensing platform and publisher continues to grow and has worked with industry titans such as National Geographic, Fox Sports, and Nickelodeon.

Podcast Episode Notes

Evan’s background in music and how his previous company sparked his desire to create Melodie Music [0:20]

Music licensing is an archaic industry and Melodie works to create something intuitive and beneficial to musicians and content creators alike [5:35]

How to fundraise — Evan’s journey from Bootstrapping to leading a $400,000+ seed round of funding [6:30]

How to find talent and maintain content quality, Melodie’s approach to partnering with their platform’s artists [9:55]

Analyzing sunk costs, observing the changing market, and chasing new opportunities to pivot from one company to another [16:25]

Matching customer needs with pricing structure to provide a better product-market fit [18:00]

Meoldie’s use of an AI search tool that helps users search the Melodie catalog to find Melodie tracks to fit their need  [21:00]

Hiring the best and creating a network without a tremendous amount of resources [24:22]

The value accelerator programs offer for finding feedback and scaling [26:45]

Know your customers — an important tip for beginners [30:12]

Simplifying copyright law, navigating international laws, and various regulations [33:48]

Building relationships in order to market and grow a client base [41:00]

Be everywhere and talk to everyone — Evan’s advice for building relationships [46:01]

Melodie’s future and their goals to scale the business [50:20]

Evan’s advice to entrepreneurs: do your research and get advice from industry insiders [57:01]

Interested in high quality, authentic music for your content? Check out Melodie [58:35]

Full Interview Transcript

Annaka: Hey and welcome everyone to Startup Savants, a podcast dedicated to helping aspiring entrepreneurs and startup enthusiasts by bringing you news insights and stories about the startups and founders that are making waves right now. I'm your host Annaka.

Ethan: And I'm the other guy, Ethan.

Annaka: Our guest today is Evan Buist of Melodie Music. Evan is a former composer and founder of music platform, Need A Jingle. Buist chose to pivot his original startup to create Melodie with a copyright-safe, non-exclusive music licensing model attracting the highest caliber composers possible. Hey Evan, welcome to the show.

Evan Buist: Hi, Annaka. Lovely to meet you.

Annaka: Lovely to meet you too. If you could tell us a little bit about the history behind Melodie, its mission and how you got started.

Evan Buist: Absolutely. Well, I should probably start with a little bit about myself. My background is in audio post production, music composition. I wrote jingles for quite a few years in Australia, which is where I'm based, for B grade shampoo commercials or head lice treatments, if we're going to be real, for many years. Moved on to do audio posts for some big companies like National Geographic, Fox Sports over here, a lot of the broadcasters and have been pretty much a lifetime freelancer dabbling in side hustles, as we call them. I created a startup business called Need A Jingle in 2014, which was a crowdsourced bespoke music platform whereby we grew to around 700 composer users who were pitching on advertising briefs. So we'd have a brand that would come in and say, "We need a 30 second piece of music for a shoe ad or something."

Music would come in, the brand would choose the best one, the best one would win the license fee. And that was that, we'd clip the ticket and that was NeedAJingle. It was a great little business, however not hugely profitable, but very benevolent for emerging composers. The big takeaway from me for that one was the lack of curation. So even though we had 700 composer users, a lot of the music wasn't necessarily to the standard that our clients were expecting or necessarily even on brief. So grabbed that idea and thought, "Okay, let's try and make a profitable version of this. That's still benevolent for composer users, but is of more value to our clients." So took that, purchased a code base from a company in Germany. I won't give you the name because it's irrelevant, but it was awesome and a great little hustle.

Got that code base, tweaked it out with all of the search features that I knew would be useful for end users based on my experience in audio post-production and writing music for TV and you know that experience on both sides, both as a music creator, but also working with producers and editors to place music in content. Teamed up with a company called Uncanny Valley in Sydney, a very successful bespoke audio and technology company and we created Melodie. And then together, we went on to refine all of the search functionality, built up the composer base. There was 15 composers to start by the way, from the 700 over at Need A Jingle. So we really culled that down to only the very creme de la creme of the selection and now we're up to a hundred composer users.

They're from all over the world, all styles of music, extremely high quality as you so kindly said Annaka and yeah, we've got this great platform, we're striving for all kinds of diversity from gender to ethnicities to LGBTQI, because we believe through diversity in our composer base comes authenticity across all styles of music. We have two core products, which is both the Melodie platform that you will have seen, where you can search around and listen to music and click genre and mood and all of that jazz. And we also in the last year have built an API which connects up with creative platforms.

So, any large creative of tech platform, the whole of Silicon Valley realm, these platforms with users, we integrate into their platforms, their users can search and integrate music into their content, user generated content, it could be a video, it could be a podcast like this wonderful podcast you've created, and then they get access to this copyright safe music for their content. So, that's our second product revenue stream. We've got a couple, we have both the upfront fees that our users pay us in order to license the music, but then when our music is broadcast on television, we earn a royalty known as a performing rights royalty, typically film and TV.

Annaka: Yeah.

Evan Buist: And our mission, I would say, would be to empower creatives with really easy access to great music.

Annaka: Yeah. And honestly, I got on the site and I was like, "Let me poke around and listen to some stuff." And there's really high quality, really well done. Go through the filters and you're like, "Man, this is pretty brooding." So, I think if you're out there listening, go check it out because honestly, you could probably click one and just jam out to it all day. What would you say was the largest driving force behind starting this platform?

Evan Buist: I would say based on experience and just working with creatives, selecting music for promos and advertising, there's a lot of pain points in this industry. It's based on copyright law, it's a very old fashioned industry. It's extremely complex and often confusing with the breadth of musical options out there as well. There are libraries with a million tracks and you'll go in there and just be overwhelmed with options. Then there are licensing structures that can be very complex and difficult to even understand if you don't have a PhD in music licensing, things like term and territory and all of the clauses that you'll look at in agreements. So, we wanted to create something that was intuitive and easy to find really high quality music, and then simple to license, in a way that's going to be safe for all of the future uses that are becoming pretty mainstream now, even podcasting that wasn't such a huge thing 10 years ago.

Annaka: Yeah. It sounds overall like you've really simplified the process so anyone involved with music and, or needing music is grateful.

Evan Buist: Great.

Ethan: All right. We're going to dive in a little bit deeper, but first I'm going to ask you a pretty simple question. How is Melodie funded right now?

Evan Buist: We were bootstrapped. And then we had a tiny little investment from friends and family, co-founder capital investment. And then we went through a seed round, which ended up being quite a few investors, actually angel investors, one venture capital company, and we raised $600,000.

Ethan: Sweet. And that was your round A?

Evan Buist: Australian dollars, don't get too excited, Ethan. It was our first official fundraising round, but it was great to get the support of great people who believed in the products. We have some notable investors like Nick Manir, who's one of the early employees at Atlassian here in Australia. Peter Strain runs a big Australian music festival, so we had some great support and really good minds that are now helping to advise moving forward.

Ethan: Yeah. It's really great to have some names behind you and also to know that those people within the industry can help you with their industry contacts. What moved you towards getting funding and then what was your experience with that?

Evan Buist: Yeah, probably necessity, I would say. Running out of money is probably the most common reason to go down that route.

Annaka: It's a good motivator.

Evan Buist: It's such a good motivator. I didn't have experience in fundraising at all. I never went down the MBA route. So there was a lot of learning for me, a lot of reading, a lot of understanding acronyms and terminology and even just that whole business sphere and knowing how people interact. So huge amount of learning involved. And it was a great process. I always say being a startup entrepreneur is like the university that you probably should have done, but even more powerful because you learn such a breadth of topics and you have such an amazing foundation of knowledge at the other end of it. I feel like I may not have answered your question.

Ethan: Well, no, you did, but I want to dig in. Was there anything, you said you learned a lot, was there anything that your research missed? Did you get into the room with that VC and they asked you a question and you were like, "Wait, I need to know that?"

Evan Buist: Inevitably, of course. I went to dozens of meetings and tanked the first few for sure, but took away some great learnings and with those learnings, the next meetings were better. And I had answers to the questions that I may not have had answers to in the beginning. It's all a learning curve, absolutely.

Annaka: Yeah. Massive learning curve, especially when it's new to you. So some people just go in and pitch and everything's great. And it's like, "How do you do that? "

Evan Buist: Entrepreneurs have subject matter expertise, doesn't matter what you're doing, people typically come from something that they know and love and that's their thing, but then you go and start a startup business and you just have no idea about all of the other bits and pieces. You might have 10%, 20%, but you're never going to be an expert on everything because it's just impossible. And I think fundraising, depending on where you come from, is probably a pretty common one. So, there's a baptism of fire that everyone must go through.

Annaka: Yeah, definitely. And bouncing back, well not all the way out of funding, but you're very passionate about the quality of compositions that you're getting on Melodie's platform. How do you find those composers and then vet them?

Evan Buist: We're very lucky to have an amazing A&R team. So Andy Wilson, our head of A&R, Kiwi rocker from the '90s, Push Push, look them up, Tripping, number one hit. Anyway, Andy oversees our A&R. OUr catalog manager is excellent as well. So together they curate all of our music. The vetting process is extremely important. We say no more than we say yes, which is unfortunate, but it's the reality and it's how you have to do it just to ensure that the quality stays up. And yeah, so I mean, we have an application form on our site where new artists can submit music and then it just goes through a series of listening and feedback and everything. And hopefully at the end of the day, we get to a set of tracks and then we have a new artist and then we work with them moving forward as much as possible.

Annaka: How often does someone have to contribute? Is there a schedule or is it just when inspiration strikes them? How does that work?

Evan Buist: Yeah. So there's no term deal or anything. So we don't own any of our composers and there's no commitment from their end to really do anything. They like to submit, really is the way it works. So we do it in two ways. They'll either submit a set of music, which is something like an album, 8 to 10 tracks, and we'll acquire that and that'll go in the catalog. Or alternatively, we work with some of our bigger broadcast clients on their broadcast productions. So if we have a big show that's coming up, a 10 part series for National Geographic on whatever, we'll brief that out are composers and the ones that are interested in submitting that create music that is relevant to that show. We'll submit, we'll acquire maybe a hundred tracks, 800 versions or something. We'll curate it, we'll put it in a playlist and then we'll send it to the client. But again, only if the music is suitable and great for the library, will we acquire it. So that process is always there.

Annaka: That's cool. You answered the next question that popped into my head, if clients could come to you with requests, so that's excellent. And I'm sure everyone jumped at opportunities like that.

Evan Buist: Absolutely. And I mean the composers that we work with, even our clients will have favorites, so that they'll go into the catalog and they'll say, "Oh, I really like that composer and that composer." And sometimes instead of typing in aggressive rock, they might type in the name of the composer and then look for what they want because they really trust the brand of that composer. So if they want bespoke music from the composer, or if there's anything that we can do to assist, above and beyond existing catalog, we always do.

Annaka: Yeah. And, how does the compensation structure work for them? Is it the same for everybody? Do you have favorites that might make a little bit more?

Evan Buist: No, it's pretty much split across the board. We have what we believe is a really fair structure for our composers, so we share all of our revenues with our composers that includes the upfront synchronization revenue across all of our customer segments, B2C, B2B, and B2B2C, but also the backend royalties that are earned through the performance, communication, and broadcast that I mentioned earlier. Performing rights royalties that we shouldn't talk about too much, because they're confusing, but they're royalties that automatically are generated through broadcast, film, and TV mainly.

And that money just comes in and it is automatically paid to composers and also to us as the publisher from affiliated collection societies around the world. So we share everything. There can often be different deals, especially in the States, in Sweden where composers are forced to do buyout deals, where they'll get the upfront fee, but they won't get any residual royalty payments. So, it can often be a really bad deal for composers and we try to just make sure that they have all of the information about the decision that they're making when they do these kind of deals. Because sometimes even though you might get what appears to be a good lump sum upfront, when that show featuring David Attenborough plays on Discovery Channel for the next 25 years, you're missing out on that residual, substantial payment, so it’s something to consider.

Annaka: That sounds like a very fair structure.

Evan Buist: Yeah, we think so.

Ethan: So, you said that when you moved from Need A Jingle to Melodie, you went from, I think you said 700 and something composers down to double digits, maybe you said 15, and then have moved up from there. Are these composers people that are also coming from the Need A Jingle days or how are these new folks finding Melodie?

Evan Buist: Yeah. So they come from all avenues, often they'll reach out to us. Actually very frequently, they're referred by existing composers in our network. Cause we have composers all over the world from Europe, States, South America, Asia, the Pacific, not Antarctica, but every other continent definitely. So they're often referrals, we don't do any prospecting for artists, it's more just trying to get through all of the composers that come in. In fact that's a lie, we do prospecting, but when we do it, it's very targeted on specific, maybe award winners or something that we're really after. Like at the moment, for instance, we're working on vocal acquisitions, because our catalog is mainly instrumental and now we're looking to expand more into the vocal tracks as well. So that's something that's a little bit harder to come by in our little corner of the market. So we're reaching out a little bit to make that happen.

Ethan: Well, I will submit my application after this podcast is over, and you and I can chat about that.

Evan Buist: Fantastic. I like to hear your voice, Ethan.

Ethan: You're hearing it. This is it. It doesn't get any different than this.

Evan Buist: Sing me a tune.

Annaka: I've never heard Ethan sing, ever.

Ethan: Oh man, we were talking about music and listening to rock music before we jumped on this show and you would've heard that back then in my teenage years, but you wouldn't have hired me that's for sure. All right. So, you were doing Need A Jingle and when did you know that it was time to end that and pivot into the concept that became Melodie?

Evan Buist: Yeah. Good question. I said I didn't do an MBA, but I did a postgraduate producing course many, many moons ago. And we had a finance lecturer at the time who very, very briefly took me through top level 101 and introduced this thing called sunk costs, which I had in the back of my mind the whole time.

Ethan: Yes.

Evan Buist: With the case of Need A Jingle, I spent a lot of money on outsourcing the technology. It was a very complicated platform with a lot of automation built in, to allow these 700 composers to directly interface with our clients. And it was riddled with bugs to the point where, and I'm not a developer as well, so trying to product manage something that's so filled with bugs and to be completely bootstrapped and unable to afford the next iteration. And also in my heart of hearts, knowing that while it was a great thing for emerging composers, was not necessarily the money maker that it needed to be, to justify the curation piece that was so badly needed. That's when I knew.

Ethan: Gotcha. So when making a pivot, you've clearly made at least one successful pivot in your entrepreneurial career. Do you have any advice out there to entrepreneurs who are working in either a company that's working or that they've got a little bit of traction, but they really don't have much, when would you recommend to them to say, "Hey, we've taken this as far as we need to take it. Let's jump into this next thing and put our full weight behind that."

Evan Buist: I think it's the same as starting a business in the first place. If you've done your research and also markets change as well, so every business, I think, you're taking a bit of a gamble, but you really need to gauge where you are at that time with the existing business. Is it making money? What are the problems? Can I fix it? Is there something better? What are the costs and opportunities involved? There are so many variables, it's almost impossible to give advice based on that. I mean, in our case, we've pivoted, again, in very, very tiny ways, things like our pricing structure, product-market fit, trying to find that, we've done little pivots along the way. For instance, we started off with a different pricing structure where we had different media tiers, where we would sell single tracks based on you're doing a podcast or you're doing a TV show.

The prices were very, very high and it was quite complex. And we realized that a lot of the sales we were making were these unlimited deals. People didn't want to pay $500 for a single track. They wanted to have unlimited access to the music. And also, we were thinking in the back of our minds, "Hang on a second. Why are we selling a single track for $500 to this customer? When we know every track that ends up in that David Attenborough documentary for Discovery is going to end up earning us a lot of money." So if we can charge heaps more money for a blanket license fee and then encourage usage to build out that backend royalty book, it's a much better business as well.

So, we simplified the model. We went to subscriptions and it's continued to change a couple of times. So I think you have to be agile, use a buzzword, enough to change, but also be measured in a big way. So you can't just change all the time based on a fad or, "Hey, NFTs have popped up. The Metaverse, let's go and become a metaverse company." So yeah, I think measure twice, cut once.

Ethan: Sounds like you could put a masterclass on pricing or do a masterclass on pricing.

Evan Buist: Don't know about that, but I've certainly learned a lot, so I'm happy to share my personal knowledge in this journey. 

Annaka: When I was looking through your pricing structure, because always curious with any music background, what does this stuff go for? And one feature that I noticed that's very different from any other platform like this, you have AI powered reverse audio search and that-

Evan Buist: Ah, yeah.

Annaka: My little feelers went out, "What is that?" So where did that come from? What need, or what problem did that solve? And what does it do?

Evan Buist: If you've ever worked with an advertising agency or if you've ever been at an advertising agency that is the number one music request, "Hey, do you have something that sounds like this Tool song?" So this basically... That was a reference for you Annaka.

Annaka: Thank you.

Evan Buist: This tool basically allows you to grab a song from YouTube or an MP3 file, chuck it on our search bar and then it will look at the waveform of the audio file, something like Shazam. And by looking at the wave form, it can say, "Hey, that's like major or minor tonality. Hey, it's a rock song or it's orchestral. It has a violin. It's energetic. It's brooding." And then it'll use those keywords to then search our catalog for similar tracks. So it's something like reverse image search for Google, but it's a keywording tool effectively, and it's not ours. So this is a great plug for my friend, Hazel Savage at Musiio, who's wonderful. So this company Musiio in Singapore and Hazel, they've built this technology, Musiio, M-U-S-I-I-O. And they license that technology to us and so all of our AI tech is powered by them, including the find similar functionality, which is a little magnifying glass beside each track. If you click that, it'll again extract all of the characteristics from that audio waveform and look for similar tracks using AI.

Annaka: Yeah.

Evan Buist: It's great.

Annaka: It's brilliant because the number of times, I'm a graphic designer, so you ask someone, "What do you want?" And they're like, "Hmm, I think I'll know it when I see it." And it's like, "Okay, let's walk through the land of Pinterest and show me what you like." So, this is brilliant in narrowing down. Yeah, if you're looking for a vibe like Tool, if you're looking for something like Merle Haggard, they're different completely. But for someone without any music vocabulary, it's very difficult to say, "That's what I want." Without it staring them in the face.

Evan Buist: Exactly, it's all about having... For us, we really wanted to make the search as intuitive as possible and really accessible for all levels of music supervisor from professional to someone who really doesn't have any idea. And that's why we allow people to search using genre, or they can break it down into sub genre or moods, instruments, purpose, which is like production genres, BPM, tempo, key and then these more fancy tools. We also have such exclusions, which is amazing, which allows you to, instead of searching for tracks that feature a keyword, you can exclude tracks that feature a certain keyword, or if you want rock that doesn't have any acoustic guitar or something, you can do that. You can put a little negative sign next to the acoustic guitar button and it'll pull out any rock tracks that have acoustic guitar, bad example, but in case that's what you wanted.

Annaka: I mean, it's very, very cool. And you've talked about a couple different dev teams and technology licensing and stuff like that. What was it like building your in-house team out and then how were you pulling these, I don't want to call them partnerships necessarily, but building your network out to help you with your business?

Evan Buist: Yeah. So starting off bootstraps with no money, it was really tricky as it always is, because you start off doing everything yourself. And then you have to start to hire out specific satellite parts of the business. I had really good advice early on from the people from our accelerator program at Scale X, in Vancouver, who said, "You should hire the best people that you can afford." Which is contrary to how you feel as an early stage founder because you don't have any money, so you're thinking, "All right, we'll outsource it for $10 an hour and we’ll get someone who can just make it work." But it's often not the way to do it. So they're like, "If you need a marketing person, get a very good marketing person, build an ESOP pool, incentivize in any way that you can to get those people on board. Maybe they don't work full time, but you get that really high level."

So we took that advice in every way that we can. Andy Wilson who looks after our A&R is an absolute industry veteran and is extremely good at what he does. So that part of our business curation is really looked after. The rest of our team, everyone is extremely capable. I'm really lucky to have hardworking, smart people around me, everyone's nice as well. I feel that's our hiring policy. We just hire really nice, cool people and then check if they can do the work. And then another key part of it, I think without a huge amount of cash, has been to build that network of advisors and consultants. So, it's allowed us to grow quite a sizable team really, with great minds and rate networks, but we don't own them, which is the way the world's going anyway.

They don't work nine to five and they don't need to. A lot of these people are older, they have huge networks in the right territories, in the right markets and they can just join the dots. So something that might take a junior person a lot longer or may never achieve, can be done in an afternoon over an espresso martini in your local bar. So, they're the people that we've been hiring.

Annaka: Yeah. That sounds like my perfect work environment.

Evan Buist: Or, an espresso maybe at 11:00, depends on the time of day.

Ethan: It just depends on the person really. All right, you mentioned that you went through an accelerator program, Scale X, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Evan Buist: Yeah. So Ali Mansoor, Matt Harvey, I met them on a Slack channel, which was a startup Slack channel that I was a part of to learn. And they reached out and were interested in the business and they came on basically right at the beginning of COVID. So it was around March, April 2020 when things were starting to crumble around me, we were on the verge of fundraising, the investors pulled out last minute and then everyone started getting COVID we're like, "No. And yeah, they jumped in and they were absolutely... I would say that the value that they've added to our business has been as much as anyone else that I can think of. The holes that they plugged, I think also with experiences that we didn't have, around really getting a super strong investment proposal together from our cap table, our entire data room, the structure of everything, to be able to speak to investors in the right way, their experience allowed us to do that.

They also introduced just to clients and an intern at the time, Celine, who has become our partnerships manager, currently part-time studying law in the UK, but is one of the most capable people you'll ever meet. So, I can't thank them enough, really. Ali Mansoor, hats off to you.

Ethan: Hats off. When you found that program, what stage were you at in your business, and what did you have to do to get into that program? I'm sure that they don't just accept everybody off the street that has an idea.

Evan Buist: No, that's right. So, we were attempting to fundraise in those months leading into COVID. So we had a lot of materials in place that explained the business in the way that I thought was the way to explain the business to investors. Turns out it's not, a 50 page pitch deck is not the way to do it, fellow startup founders. So yeah, we had a few calls, they went through all of our documents, they just really liked the business and they saw the problems with what we were doing, but they saw through that to the business that we were creating and the value in that royalty book, through film and TV and also the value of the creator market and the API tool that we had in our tech roadmap at the time.

So, they really just believed in what we were doing and I think they liked me and it just went from there and they've been fantastic. We've been working together for a long time now, and we still meet up every week for a phone call and I tell them where we're at with the business and they feed back and just give advice and just help to guide, which is lovely.

Ethan: That's great. It's really, again, just like we mentioned earlier, it's really nice to have those people who have good advice to give, to have them in your corner. It's really awesome.

Evan Buist: It's essential. Yeah. It's really needed, I think. No one knows everything.

Ethan: Absolutely. Let's jump back into your business today. Something that we came across is that you use buyer personas. Can you tell us what buyer personas are, how you develop them and what value they bring?

Evan Buist: Yeah. So, know your customers, that's another trick for beginners. So, just trying to work out who it is that's buying your product. So again, for us, we've got B2C B2B, B2B2C. We don't focus on the B2C creator market so much, that just ticks away through our ambassador program and socials and email marketing and all that. But B2B and B2C are very important. And our B2B is film and TV broadcast companies. And the B2B2C is our API creative platforms. So we have buyer personas that allow us to know who the people are in those two core segments and in the B2B side, we have editor Emma and producer Pam, who are our most important customers. So, the editors we find are the people that are placing the music in the content itself. So they might be cutting a film or a TV show.

While they're not signing the deal, they're absolutely instrumental in the deal because if they don't use the music, the whole thing falls apart. And then you have producer Pam, who is the one who is signing the deal, but not necessarily placing the music in the content. So we have to have the ability to communicate with both of these people in a single organization. So we have to know what they like, obvious things like their habits, where they hang out, what coffee do they like to drink, how old are they? Things like that. How can we talk to them? What's the language? Are they creative? Like you Annaka, are they graphic designers at some point? So in our creative industry, everyone's a bit of a designer so things like that are important. What's the language that they use? Are they casual? How do they sign off on their emails? So we dive into things like that.

Equally for our API, we have product Paul, who's a product manager, who's our buyer persona there. So CCOs, product managers, products anything in a technology company, they're typically the people that are looking at the product's roadmap and they're the ones that are saying, "In six months, we want to integrate music or we have to convince them." So what do they like? Where do they hang out? How do they speak? What do they do in their free time? And who knows what those things are. We do, because they're in our marketing deck, but that's how you have to create these buyer personas and then read over that and it'll help you to shape your communications with these people, how you speak to them.

Ethan: That's fantastic. I'm going to jump-

Evan Buist: Oh wait, before you go, an awesome resource, HubSpot. HubSpot, we don't use HubSpot, so it's not a plug for them. We use PipeDrive, which is, I think, better. However, I do like HubSpot because they have this amazing free resource on buyer personas and if you look up HubSpot buyer personas, anyone can get it. And it's really amazing and easy to use just for a really beginner's overall, what are they? How can I make them? And it's got a little avatar thing where you can go through and create them in five minutes, just to give you an idea of what it is and how it works. So I recommend that for anyone who is interested in experimenting with buyer personas.

Ethan: I'm going to jump on the HubSpot train as well, for maybe a different reason. Anytime I search for basically anything on the internet and maybe I'm just so one dimensional that they fit all of my needs, but HubSpot is always number one. So anybody out there, if you need to learn about SEO, just copy off HubSpot, because they're just doing it right.

Evan Buist: Absolutely. Yeah. Free resources, can't get enough.

Ethan: Absolutely. All right. I'm going to jump back to my jump and ask you about something that may be incredibly boring, but if it is, we'll just cut it because of the magic of podcasts. How do you navigate all of the copyright laws at a local and a global level?

Evan Buist: Ah yeah, that's pretty boring, but it's really important. So, it's our business.

Annaka: Yeah.

Evan Buist: And it can't be underestimated, it looks like we're in a really creative business, "Oh, you guys have a music platform. You're a music company." And everyone's envisaging cocktail hour and going to concerts for free and stuff. In reality, we're pretty much a legal firm, where we're licensing music for use in content and there are repercussions for licenses that haven't been cleared properly. So, it's a real pain point in the industry for smaller organizations or individuals, it's common to not really understand what it means. And for larger organizations, it's common to have people in the organization that don't really understand what it means. And in those cases, in the latter, there's potential for real infringement because it's no excuse if you just don't understand the law and you don't clear the right rights for your feature film or something.

So, we really created this business to try and solve the problems around the complexity in copyright, like I said, so one way that we have managed to do that is to control all of the rights in our music. So, we acquire all rights in both the sound recording and the publishing, sound recording being the CD or vinyl, the actual studio recording. Publishing being the notes on paper, so the sequence of notes in a unique way that is publishable as manuscript say. So, we own all of that. It comes into our little pockets and then we have a really fair deal with our composers and then in turn, it allows us to license that back to creators anywhere in the world, in a really simple way. So, there are different lengths of copyright in different territories, obviously American copyright law is slightly different to the British and Australian system and the whole world really has different systems, but we're able to license, some things are the same, so by having all rights, we're able to actually license it really simply to anyone anywhere in the world, in perpetuity. Which means forever.

Annaka: Copyright law.

Evan Buist: Yeah.

Annaka: Copyright law is intense and especially, I spent some years in music education and it's like, "No, you can't just." Even though you physically can listen to the radio and write the music down because that's an ability you have, but you can't do that. You can't play that at a football game. Like, "Shame, shame, don't do it." So copyright law, you've simplified it, which is not an easy task.

Evan Buist: Yeah. That's no one's fault as well. The industry is complex and I'm sure like a lot of legal industries and taxation and things like that, they're deliberately made to be complex, I think, to justify expensive legal rates. Sorry, my lawyers, but I think it's a little bit true. So, it's nobody's fault and there are people that are starting out, they're creative people, they're making podcasts, or they've got a YouTube channel, they don't know, they're making content and they put music in there, and it's usually an honest mistake. So, I think in many cases, just having access to something that they know is legal, people are doing the right thing even looking at music piracy. People are happy to pay for music now, piracy is largely a thing of the past. People are good, I think.

Annaka: Yes.

Evan Buist: Given a chance.

Ethan: Yeah.

Annaka: Yes, yes, yes, yes. I'm so glad that piracy is not really a thing anymore. I'm happy to sit down and be able to stream literally whatever I want and compensate artists at that point. It's a good thing.

Evan Buist: Yeah. For all the problems about Spotify and streaming, I think largely if you look at the macro, it's been a great thing for the music industry. No one can argue with that.

Annaka: Yeah. And all right, so we're taking another pivot here because this is my favorite stuff to talk about. Your branding in my brain, I went immediately into vapor wave, which I then had to explain to the whole team, what is vapor wave? What is it?

Evan Buist: It's true.

Annaka: So, where did that come from? And, how did you establish that, your brand voice?

Evan Buist: Definitely were not thinking vapor wavy, but true. It kind of is, we have a synth wave of collection actually in our library, look up synth waves. That'll talk to the logo maybe. But yeah, to talk to your design side, we wanted something that would speak to our users, our clients. And we have to remember we're a music company, we're dealing with creative people in creative agencies, you know, broadcast companies.

Most of them are creative people. So, design and branding is a huge part of our business. If you speak to Andy, he'll tell you that he's still not happy with our design and it's something that we will continue to evolve and technology companies do when they can, change branding. I know it happens and we will get there when we can. But, the design for the logo was outsourced at the time, I can proudly say we used a crowdsourcing platform and we had about 150 submissions for designs.

Annaka: Wow.

Evan Buist: Yeah. And, what we really wanted was something that the ‘M’ icon would indicate flow, audio wave vibe. I think Justin Shave from Uncanny Valley who was helping us a lot back in the day called it alien fingers.

Annaka: That's – wow.

Evan Buist: Yeah. That was its pet name at the time. You'll never look at our logo in the same way.

Annaka: No, but I mean, speaking, going back to your buyer personas and this is a creative’s kind of branding, they're big, beautiful photos and really sharp, bright colors and that doesn't speak to, I don't know, like a legal website, a legal website might be straight to the point, but you're speaking to the creative in your branding. So I think you did an excellent job.

Evan Buist: Thank you very much, Annaka. Do you know Material Design, Google Material Design?

Annaka: Yes.

Evan Buist: That's cool.

Annaka: Ethan's ears just went bing.

Evan Buist: Bing. It's really great. So, I have a friend who's a Ruby On Rails developer in Sydney, Australia, and he got me onto it way before we were even looking at logos, when we were looking at the web design. And when we used that as a point of reference for layouts and colors and everything, it is a fantastic resource, Material Design, Google, everybody jump in, it's really user friendly and easy to see. And they have the colors that they look at and the way they advise you to structure websites and it's very in depth, but very user friendly. It's a great resource.

Annaka: Yeah. We're going to have to start doing an interactive podcast, "All right, everybody now Google Material Design all at once, everyone together now." And you've used a couple different marketing strategies, email, video, affiliate marketing. Is there one that takes the cake for you guys or anything that you think is a best strategy for lack of a good term?

Evan Buist: Yeah. I mean, it depends on the business, for our business, again, we have the three tiers, B2C, B2B, B2B2C. The B2C side, we have an ambassador program, an affiliate program, which runs itself. We don't really have to do too much there. We've got email marketing, social marketing, we do pay-per-click, occasionally, but nothing compares to relationships and interactions. And for our two core businesses, which is the B2B and the API side, it's all about building trust and relationships. And again, the value of the consultants that we're working with that have these existing relationships in large organizations, there's really nothing like it, because no one's going to put that kind of investment in the case of the API site, say where you're buying music for 10 million users for your platform. Not only for the price tag, but no one's going to put trust in your technology without meeting you and absolutely having full faith in every part of your business.

So, relationships all the way. And in the film and TV side, it's just a really relationship-driven business. It's why typically in the music industry, there's a network of sub publishers. So you might have a British library, but they'll often just sub-publish, which means they'll have an agent company in a different territory that will look after their catalog in that territory. And the reason that's always been the case is it's just very difficult to not have boots on the ground, to be in a different part of the world. And, to somehow be able to compete with all of the libraries on the ground, to get these people interested to use your music over someone else's music. It's a very competitive market. So relationships, genuine, trust relationships.

Annaka: They're very, very important in marketing and building trust in general. But I think you're onto something where film and television a lot of times is, I don't want to say who you know, but yeah, building that trust is going to bring them closer to you and make them want to work with   you.


And also it's your creative baby. So if you're a producer or an editor, you've made 10 shows in the past or documentaries, you'll want to work with the person or the organization who's helped you make an award winning documentary last year. You're not going to necessarily want to take a gamble on someone else, unless there's a very compelling argument, or unless you can sit down with that person and really trust that this is going to be something that will make a better creative asset for you.

Ethan: Now, I don't want to assume that I know the answer to my next question. I don't want to assume that the answer is relationships. So, let's just assume that I'm not assuming that. And, I'm just going to ask the question. How did you develop the partnerships that Melodie currently has with some big name folks? I mean, you mentioned National Geographic, we've seen Nickelodeon, A&E. How did you go about building those partnerships?

Evan Buist: Yeah, so they all really started off in Australia through our internal network, myself, and the guys that started this business with me are all very connected in the Australian media industry. So we do know people and have worked at the bigger broadcasters and production companies. So, we've leveraged these relationships to at least open the door and to be able to get in there and say, "Hey, at least check this out. This is the music that we've created. We think it's great. What do you think?" And, that was all we needed in most cases, to be able to have a first run on some of the Australian programs. And also, this was a great trick really, and we continue to do it, when you're small, you can do more of a white glove approach than larger organizations, so I really recommend that. It's something that we did right from the beginning. 

So if we had a show, we would actually work with our composers to create music for that show. It would be licensed non-exclusively for that show and also available in our library, but basically instead of just sending out very random briefs to our composers saying, "Hey, we need some vapor wave music." We would say, "We have this actual show for National Geographic called Outback Wrangler with Matt Wright, and he's going to be wrestling crocodiles. And it needs this swampy, country, folk music. Who's down?" And we'd get a whole sway of this amazing music that was written for that show, cues for scenes. It wasn't bespoke music per se, but we would be acquiring music for their show. And it was really a great way to over service those customers and to solidify the relationships.

Ethan: I was right. It was relationships. I knew it.

Annaka: You were right. Yep.

Ethan: All right. So we've leaned on relationships pretty hard. Let's assume that I am some young upstart person about the town, going through to create my brand new startup, but you know what? I don't know anybody. How do I build the relationships that are going to help to propel me to accomplish the goals that I want to accomplish?

Evan Buist: Oh, goodness. Well, I think you have to get out there. That's always the most important thing. Advice from my dad, way back at the beginning, just be everywhere, talk to everyone, you don't get anywhere by sitting at home, which is very obvious, but a lot of people might be a little bit more introverted and not so keen to go out and go to conferences and go to meetups and start up community events and whatnot. So go everywhere, talk to everyone, do a lot of research, try and spread it out if you can, find early partners, build yourself an ESOP, get some advisors on board. The more people that you have that have genuine enthusiasm for your idea will help to snowball it from the start. And it's very lonely and thankless if you do it by yourself. So share it around and work with great people who are better than you at the things you don't do well.

Ethan: That is good advice from your dad and you know what? Good advice from you as well and we appreciate that.

Evan Buist: Thanks, Ethan.

Annaka: Absolutely. Yeah.

Ethan: So, tell us about your domain name. It's super hard to find any great domain name nowadays, but it seems like you've really hit the mark. It's just Melodie, M-E-L-O-D dot I-E. It's really great. How did you come across that?

Evan Buist: It took so long to find the name. I can't even tell you. We were so happy with this as well, but yeah, probably six months or something looking for the right name for this library and what to call it. And everything was too many syllables or too many words. And it was like The Facebook, we wanted something that was snappy and strong. And, I was actually out on Charlton's boat, Charlton Hill from Uncanny Valley who was creating this whole business with me at the time. And we were just on domain name websites, typing and things and seeing if they're available. And then we were looking through alternative domain name extensions that are not.com or .io and we found this IE and we thought, "Wow, that could be cool." Checked Melodie, it was available.

We're like, "Boom." Register it immediately and then realized the registrar required because it's an Irish domain name, extension .ie is actually Ireland, that we'd need to have a reason to be operating an Irish business. Which of course we're not, because we're in Australia. So, we ended up having to register a trademark in Ireland, in various categories in order to justify that we do business with Ireland, which we did and it was approved. And then we ended up with this fabulous name, although it turns out and this is another example of why you should always do research before you start a business. Google penalizes localized domain names in non-Irish territories. So, as far as natural, organic SEO goes, it's more challenging for us because we have this sweet domain name, but still I think the value that it brings in the majority of how we're getting our clients, which are these relationships and interactions, is worth it.

Ethan: Yeah, absolutely. It's super worth it because who knows what name you could have gone with musicforall.co. No, you ended up with Melodie. That's so awesome and I know just as you mentioned, all these hoops that you have to jump through to get these specialized extensions. I've heard stories about .tt, just crazy stuff. Annaka, I don't know where your head went. Ma.tt, that is the name of the website. His name is Matt.

Annaka: That's so cool.

Evan Buist: Yeah. Snappy.

Annaka: Well, and it adds a little bit of character, you could have just not had a cool domain name, but just that little extra step it adds personality back into the branch. So always very-

Evan Buist: Thanks guys. Appreciate the feedback.

Annaka: Yeah. So, what's next for Melodie? Do you have any goals or ambitions you're working to achieve now or in the future?

Evan Buist: Yeah, so it's taken us, we're four and a half years in now, we started with pretty much no music, no customers and now we have a great catalog that satisfies all of our customers. We have a lot of big name customers and we have what is effectively a library. It's like your state library where you're going and you rent a book only being the non-exclusive digital form. We can rent this. We can rent our books to everyone anywhere in the world at the same time, as many as we want, in every possible customer segment. So it's pretty, it's a really exciting place to be in. And also new industries keep popping up as well. Like I was saying, like even the metaverse like there are opportunities in Web3 that we're looking at now that could materialize in the next 12 months.

So, we're looking at the traditional parts of our business, specifically film and TV and our enterprise API, but we're also open to other areas, NFT is it's not really an area that we're going to jump into right now because it's not the perfect fit with what we're doing, but there's definitely a place in our industry for NFTs. It's exciting actually to potentially have a decentralized trackable system for music copyright. I'm not the one to build that business because it sounds like a big headache, but new technologies are really exciting for us. Yeah. So we launched in the US in January this year, a few months ago and that's our big push for now. So, Australia we have done really well and now we're just looking to replicate that in a bigger market and Australia just for reference is 3.5% of the global market, the US is 50. So we're trying to just do what we've done in Australia and replicate that over there, where there are a lot more libraries. So, it's an uphill battle, but we're enjoying it so far.

Annaka: Yeah. And those are great goals. And, the US we have a lot of love for you guys in Australia, so I'm sure you'll do excellently. Excellently, is that even a word?

Evan Buist: That's nice.

Annaka: It is now.

Evan Buist: Well here's a quick plug, I'm coming over to NAV in Las Vegas next month and I'll also be in LA. So, if anyone from these film and TV companies would like to say, hey, I would love to say, hey.

Annaka: Yeah, well got to set up a booth or something in Vegas and have people stop by. Any internal goals that you're working on. I know I've been on your website for probably too long already, listening to music, but your values and your purpose of if you're listening and you're following along, go check it out. Any internal or company culture goals, what's going on with you there?

Evan Buist: Yeah, absolutely. So, we have a huge push for diversity at the moment. And we have for the last two years, which started off with a push for female artists because we realized that the majority of the artists on our books were white men. And not because we wanted that, but because that's just what the industry seemed to push through to us. So two years ago we started really reaching out and working hard to find great female composers of which there are so many around the world, really, really talented, amazing artists. So, we've now evened that up quite a lot. We have some phenomenal female composers like Helena Chika, who writes the music for Bluey. You know Bluey? Bluey is pretty famous, right? That kid show.

Annaka: Yeah.

Evan Buist: And Luna Pan does fantastic cinematic music and so many great female artists. We are now looking to work with different ethnicities as well, especially in our push in the US at the moment, through a lot of our consultants, we really want to even things out so that we have that cultural spread, which is beautifully reflected in music as well. So, we want to have authenticity across the musical styles that we're working with, that typically can come from culture really. I mean, in an authentic way, anyone can play the didgeridoo, but they probably shouldn't, unless they're an indigenous Australian, of which we have three on our platform, James Henry, Nooki, and River Boy. So, we've got some really fantastic talent there.

Annaka: That's perfect. I'm going to go look him up now and be like, "Ah, yes."

Evan Buist: Yeah. River Boy and Nooki are electronic, more modern styles. Nooki's... You know Briggs, an Australian hip hop artist? He's signed to Bad Apples, aggressive Australian hip hop, but his stuff with us is a little bit more neutral, but very popular.

Ethan: All right. I'm going to jump out of business or jump out of this business particularly, and talk a little bit more about you. You mentioned early in this show that you were a lifetime freelancer. So we all know that freelancing and entrepreneurship, they hold hands. They're pretty close, but they're not the same thing. So, when you jumped directly into entrepreneurship, what were some things that surprised you?

Evan Buist: Well, it's really hard, but I don't think that was a surprise. So things that surprised me, the long hours, maybe. You probably work more than you would as a freelancer because things keep coming at you. And again, if you research and plan really well, it's less likely for things to blow out, but they inevitably do, nothing ever goes as planned. There are macroeconomic circumstances, there's COVID, there are wars, there are things that will affect your business, whether you like it or not. Support from the startup communities has surprised me big time. There's real love and support from your fellow founders.

So if you're feeling like you need support, if you've had a bad day or you want advice on something, you would be amazed how willing people are to help you, even like random, cold LinkedIn requests to people that might be in your industry or in your position. Again, people are largely good and I think especially people in the startup world are empathetic to what you do and how hard you're pushing and how high the highs are and how low the lows are. So, it's great to have that support and that was a surprise.

Annaka: Yeah. Entrepreneurs tend to stick together and it takes one to know one kind of thing. So, I'm glad the community was there for you. And now, one of my favorite questions of all time that we love to ask everybody, what is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Evan Buist: I would say do a lot of research. So before you do anything, try and hold back on that impulse to just get started before you do any planning and research because you want to, because you've got a really exciting idea. You probably had a hundred really exciting ideas and this one was like, "Wow, I've got to do this one before anyone else takes my idea." But fail to plan, plan to fail, cliche but so important. Really just remember that, if you don't do your research, you will fail. There are things that you will not realize and they will bite you. And it will potentially be a terrible experience rather than one that can be a really great experience. So, put your feelers out for feedback in all of the right communities, look at your vertical, look at other customers, look at people that have been successful.

Look at people who have not been successful. Survey Monkey is free, don't forget that, that's cool. You can build channels on social media. You can try and build a following. Go really high for advice, as high as you can. So, reach out to the CEO of really big companies. They won't bite you and typically they're actually quite friendly. I've spoken to, when I was starting out, I reached out to very successful people in multimillion dollar companies. They usually get back to you actually, more than smaller people, well not smaller people, people in less senior roles. So, get as much great advice as you can. I think that's the most important thing and ask yourself, is there a market? All the hard questions and don't forget that sunk costs thing. Just think about that before you even start, because that's what you'll have to think about in a year if you don't do your research.

Ethan: Awesome. Thank you. Thank you so much for that awesome advice. One more question. And then we'll wrap up. How can our listeners help to support you and Melodie?

Evan Buist: That's a lovely question to ask. Thank you, Ethan. If you are interested in really high quality, authentic music for any kind of content, be that professional film and TV production, if you're a creator making videos or podcasts or games or animations, or if you run a large creative technology platform where you have a million users or even 10,000 users, we would love to hear from you and we can provide you with all sorts of really great music for your content.

Ethan: Awesome. Well, we will put that link over in the show notes, along with everything else that we've talked about today, and that is going to be it for this episode of the Startup Savants Podcast. Thanks for hopping on and listening in. I'm going to try that one more time. Listening in. And that's going to be it for this episode of the Startup Savants Podcast. Thanks for hopping on and listening in. Hey, listen, we have a favor to ask you, if you like the show and you think we deserve it, please head on over to Apple Podcasts and give Startup Savants a five star rating.

Ethan: It really helps us to get in the ears of more awesome folks, just like you. And if you want to give us some feedback, head over to startupsavant.com/podcast, and put some words in our comment box. And of course, if you know anybody who you think would enjoy this show, don't be a pod hog, be a friend a friend would like to have and hit that big ole share button. For tools, guides, videos, startup stories, and so much more head over to truic.com, that truic.com, T-R-U-I-C.com. See you folks.

Annaka: Bye.

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