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Corporate music disruption

Madison’s music scene continues to inspire digital music innovation — and vice versa.

(page 3 of 4)

Notable notes

The motto of Musicnotes is “Sheet Music Anywhere,” and thanks to computing technology and more than a little imagination, the Madison-based service has pioneered the dissemination of downloadable sheet music. Musicnotes is equal parts technology/product development, e-tailing (with more than 6 million direct customers), and publishing as it licenses from publishers and creates a good deal of the global content it offers.

With more than 300,000 arrangements in a catalogue of digital sheet music that covers the entire spectrum of musical genres, Madison’s Musicnotes is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

With a catalogue of digital sheet music that now includes more than 300,000 arrangements covering every genre of music, the company supports songwriters, artists, and publishers of all sizes in nearly every country. Somewhat tongue in cheek, Executive Chairman Tim Reiland likes to say that Musicnotes had the iTunes business model before the launch of iTunes, which wasn’t until the spring of 2003, more than three years after the local company’s first download. “We were thrilled when Apple launched iTunes, as it made it much easier to explain our business,” he jokes.

Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the digital sheet music retailer has served those 6 million distinct customers with more than 35 million sheet music downloads. As a testament to its staying power, 150,000 people visit its website on a daily basis and, collectively, they buy 15,000 pieces of sheet music every day.

Musicnotes is the undisputed leader of its music industry niche with more than a 50% market share. With apps available for iOS and Android, as well as Mac and Windows desktop platforms, it’s about more than just downloading sheet music to print off. Increasing the ease with which musicians of all experience levels can access music is helping to change the landscape for musicians and performers, alike.

Elliott Kosmicki, director of operations–marketing and product experience for Musicnotes, says the buying experience itself changed the landscape. “If you’re looking at it from the buying and post-purchase experience, it’s really an opportunity cost for musicians,” Kosmicki states. “Before Musicnotes, musicians were traveling to music stores that had the sheet music they wanted, or they were photocopying from friends, which is legally not the right way to go, and many times they were buying an entire book when they only wanted one song. They’ve got that opportunity now, within seconds, to find the song they’ve been looking for and on a mobile device that’s ready to play.”

Speed to market isn’t the only advantage. What also comes into play for artists is they can have PDF sheet music that previously was purchased from somewhere else or scanned in from books they own. They can bring that into Musicnotes’ mobile app and have a single place for their entire library, so they no longer need to pick and choose music that they can pack into their bag. They also have shopping built right into the mobile app, so there will be no more need to come to the website to make a purchase.

Since the sheet music is interactive, users have more than just a static sheet but an interactive sheet that can be played back. Along with playing it back, a musician can click on start-and-stop points, and at those points they can slow the music down and “actually learn that piece more intentionally versus on the static side of things, being able to just read it and play it,” Kosmicki notes. “It’s quite a different experience.”

As an accompaniment piece, singers in particular often need a pianist to play along and practice with, he explains. With the interactive sheet music, it can actually provide background music so that customers can have the sheet music playing while a singer is practicing a song.

The interactive sheets can also be used for transpositions, auditions, and the sheer joy of rediscovering any song that a music consumer or a musician might look for.

Musicnotes recently reached the $75 million mark in royalties paid to music publishers and songwriters since its launch two decades ago, but it’s website is designed to support both the creators and the end-users of music.

Reiland was an original investor in
Musicnotes, which was founded in the late 1990s by Walter Burt, Kathleen Marsh, and Tom Hall and was spun out of the Madison-based company AR Editions. The technology to deliver digital sheet music was developed in the 1990s at AR Editions and dovetailed well with the unfolding dot-com surge.

That surge was interrupted by the dot-com meltdown of 2000 and the economic setbacks of 9/11, but “we had a really good business idea and it thankfully survived all of the chaos,” Reiland notes. “The good idea was that digital delivery of sheet music was a perfect application for the internet, as it could disrupt an incredibly inefficient traditional marketplace.”

With all the focus on being “with it” from a musical standpoint, it’s somewat ironic that the song that’s in Musicnotes’ top 10 sellers everyday is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which was originally performed almost 80 years ago by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. “They want to perform it on piano, and they want to sing it,” Reiland notes, “and bands want to perform it, too.”


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