Tunedly

Making the Music Industry More Financially Accessible (3,000 Songs to Date)

Chris Erhardt + Mylène Besançon

~$500k Series A

Chris Erhardt + Mylène Besançon

Back in the early 2010s, when I was still an active songwriter and radio jingle/ads producer, I lived remote enough that it was hard for me to find local session musicians for hire when I needed live instrumentation or a certain vocal type. Through Craigslist, other classified ads and Mylene who is our co-founder and back then managed touring musicians, I put together a small team of essential session players. We pretty much communicated by email, phone, dropbox and the likes. Since that was rather time consuming and not very efficient, we more or less hacked together a collaboration tool. Since I knew other songwriters I told them how I create my music and they asked me if I can help them as well and that’s when Tunedly became a business. That was in 2015 and we officially incorporated in 2016 making a run at it. 

How much we invested initially is hard to quantify because it's not like we moved funds from one account to another account and decided it would be our "startup fund" or the likes. I left a well paid job as a manager to work full time on Tunedly, without having any reliable income from Tunedly at that point. So, we lived partially from savings. Then, once we noticed this is going somewhere, we permanently immigrated from Europe to Canada so that we can fundraise in the U.S. and Canada, attend accelerators in the U.S. and live in North America full time. Going through the immigration process, as you can imagine, wasn't cheap. If I have to guesstimate how much we invested initially prior to our first outside investment, I would say somewhere around $20,000.

What does Tunedly do?

When we started, we were a pure collaboration tool, connecting songwriters to vetted session musicians. By now, we are more of a music publisher. We still operate the collaboration platform, but that really only serves as our source of content. We noticed this: On our platform, there are thousands of new songs being created every year. Songs nobody has ever heard and we get a first pass at them. So, when we come across a song that sparks our interest and could be commercially viable, we make an exclusive publishing offer to the songwriter and then try to place the song in film, TV, ads, media or with established artists, which generates sync license fees and royalties for us and the songwriter.

For this company, it was a gradual decision to start. I mean, myself and Mylene were already entrepreneurs prior to working on Tunedly so it wasn’t like we just decided to be self employed. However, the way Tunedly developed and became a company was gradual. I was really just trying to find a way to be more efficient for my own songs and noticed by helping me, we’re actually creating something of value to the music industry.

How did you get your first three clients?

By talking to other songwriters. It really was that. I was in touch with a number of other writers through online forums where I shared music to get feedback, they shared music to get feedback and at the end of the day, I was asked often enough “how do work with your musicians?” and that’s how we found our first three “clients”. Funny enough, our very first client, when Tunedly wasn’t even called Tunedly yet - we didn’t have a name at that point, is still with us today. He has been with us for so long, it almost feels like he’s part of the company. He really experienced the growing pains as much, if not even more severe as we did as founders. He got so used to just talking to one person, being myself, when getting his songs done. As we grew and added more staff, at times I couldn’t be involved in music production projects due to travel, fundraising, presentations, etc. so he had to deal with staff and at first he wasn’t all too happy about this, but at the end of the day, he is still with us because the quality of session musicians and production quality at our rate is impossible to get elsewhere.

When we had that “oh, this could be a business” moment, we put up some ads on Google, bought a few banner ads on songwriters forums and things like that just to see if we can attract songwriters who we don’t personally speak to. Sure enough we could.

I have been into music since I was nine years old. I learned how to play the piano and then in college I picked up songwriting and music production, so I had experience in the area.

Have you raised any money? How much?

We have raised some angel funding. After we validated the market, we went through two accelerator programs, StartFast in New York State and then Capital Innovators in St. Louis. The funds they invested plus the exposure they gave us to other investors in their network enabled us to raise a total of about $500,000.

The initial idea was funded by personal savings.

How do you attract clients?

In the early days, we worked a lot with paid advertising on Google and Facebook. Nowadays our blog is generating most of our traffic, plus we get into news articles every now and then which keeps us on top of songwriter’s minds.

Our target audience are songwriters. If you had asked me this question a year ago, before we really got into the publishing side of things, the answer to this question would have been much longer, but today, we really just want to make sure we’re working with songwriters who either want to create great sounding songs, or already have great sounding songs which we can sign to a publishing deal.

What is the funniest/most strange request you have received from a client/prospective client?

There are so many funny and strange requests, I’d really have to think hard about which one tops the list. I think the funniest and strangest song we ever worked on was a Psychedelic song about a purple house, written and composed by a talented songwriter in India. Other requests that were strange at first was when people who are not songwriters came by asking us to write a song for them for a special occasion or a birthday. I mean, we were always very clear about the fact that the platform is for songwriters but since this request came up repeatedly, we actually launched a service under a different brand at Bring My Song To Life to cater to those requests.

Where did you meet your founding team?

Mylene and I met about two years before we founded Tunedly while we both lived in Dublin, Ireland and actually became a couple. We met Marc, who joined us shortly after we founded Tunedly as the CTO, in New York while we were in the StartFast accelerator program. Neither Mylene nor I have a technical background. I could fumble around with html enough to put something rough together but as we grew, we knew we needed something solid and were looking for someone who can write code.

Any tips for finding first employees?

Hire people who are passionate about what you’re doing, not necessarily the ones who have the most experience, for several reasons. Number one, when you hire first employees, you’re most likely an early stage startup and can’t compete with Apple, Universal Music and the likes for talent when it comes to pay, benefits and job security. Number two, hiring someone who “has been there, done it” might implement things that worked in his/her previous role, possibly in a different industry, but might not work this time around because either times have changed or the industry is different. Your early employees should be able to be flexible, try things out, make mistakes and grow with the company. I hired “experience” for a management role once, that person lasted three months. I then hired someone who simply has great work ethics, loves what we do at Tunedly and he has now been with us for several years.

What is the most common service you offer?

The most common service we offer is the full production of a song from just a lyric sheet and a rough tape.

Did you run any companies prior?

I have always been involved in some capacity as an entrepreneur in the music industry. I also worked in management or sales positions prior to starting Tunedly in a diverse field of industries from the financial sector to the cell phone tower lease industry (yes, that’s a thing) and even a short stint with Google.

The motivation to start our own business really came once we noticed how needed something like Tunedly actually was. When some of the first songwriters who utilized our platform told us that they have been looking for something like what we built all over and couldn’t find it, this really made me realize that we have something special here.

What were your family and friends first thoughts you creating your own your company?

Well, let’s put it that way, they’re now fully supportive. Even though I always worked independently as a songwriter and music producer, I usually had a “real job” on the side and even during the months when I did not, at least they always thought I’m employed somewhere. When I first told my parents that Tunedly is now my only source of income and full time “job”, they encouraged me to get a “real job”. I mean, I can’t blame them. My dad has worked for the same company, Mercedes, for over 30 years and worked his way up the ranks from the very bottom all the way to the department manager role of a large manufacturing plant. The concept of starting something on your own and risking it all is just completely outlandish to some people. However, as mentioned, now that Tunedly looks like a company, my role looks like a “real job” again so they’re fully supportive.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

First of all, in a startup, things go wrong all the time. Not necessarily gravely wrong, but small things go wrong all the time here and there. The way I stay motivated is by knowing that our clients need what we’re building, our employees and contractors rely on the income they’re generating by working for us, our investors put their trust in us, expecting a return and by looking at how far we’ve come despite all the other things that went wrong prior to the latest thing that is going wrong. As an entrepreneur you better learn how to get up after you fall quickly.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Do it! If you’re an entrepreneur type of person and you have an idea, just do it. Don’t wait until tomorrow, or until the economy is doing this, or the next presidential election or until the wind is coming from the south. Just do it. We will find a million reasons to not do something. Yes, your idea might now work out, but you’ll never know unless you try. And even if the original idea doesn’t work out, maybe you stumble upon something else you can pivot to and create something that solves a problem we didn’t even know we had.

What is stopping you from being 3x the size you are now?

Time. The day only has 24 hours. Employees have families, friends, social lives so they can’t, and shouldn’t, spend all their time working. It’s close to midnight and I’m answering these interview questions in my “break” because my to-do list for today is still only halfway done. So yeah, time is what is holding us, and pretty much any business, back at the moment.

What apps could your business not run without?

Our top apps we’re using are, well, obviously our own platform. Our staff and contractors use our collaboration tool to communicate with songwriters, session musicians and even with each other simply because we spend most of our day on the platform in the first place. Another tool we heavily use is Slack, mostly for internal communication, sharing of non-music related files and quick messages. I personally am not too into the next one since I mostly work with the musician staff directly on Tunedly, but I know Mylene likes using Trello to organize tasks for the non-musician staff and to get a good overview of what’s done and what’s not.

Are there any new services you’re working on?

Just recently we launched Bring My Song To Life under the Tunedly umbrella which allows virtually anyone to create a song for a loved one or a special occasion. You don’t need any songwriting or music composing skills. For example, your wife’s birthday is coming up and you’re looking for a special, very customized gift, you can tell our songwriters the story you want to convey, and they will write customized lyrics, compose and produce a song with your message and story. Other use cases we come across a lot are sport teams and companies wanting their own special anthem or graduating high school classes their own unique graduation song.

Would you ever sell the company?

Well, we raised funds so in a way, we already did sell part of it. Would we ever exit and fully sell it, of course we would for the right amount and the right acquirer. Mylene and I will always be the founders of Tunedly, but if someone makes a good offer and that someone has the capacity and ability to scale and grow Tunedly faster than we can, I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t want to sell.

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