A Conversation With ... LyricFind's Darryl Ballantyne

I, like so many, visit lyric sites daily and rely on quick access. I could be down in the basement working with a singer and a song comes to mind, but with time a factor and operating on impulse and intuition, I don’t want to interrupt the artistic flow. This is when a visit to an online lyric site becomes imperative. Finding the correct lyric can be a challenge - as is properly crediting writer and publisher and rights societies.

I had the good fortune to converse with LyricFind CEO, Darryl Ballantyne, who, over a period of 13 years, has made sense of the radical technological shift and created a thriving business based on the public’s thirst for lyrics. Here’s a bit of company policy and our conversation at LyricFind's headquarters in Toronto.

LyricFind offers lyrics search, display and synchronization services for all types of platforms, uses and budgets. LyricFind's licenses with over 4,000 music publishers allow for a variety of licensing and integration models that can fit your needs. LyricFind models include: Warner Chappell Music, Universal Music Publishing Group, EMI, BMG and Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

Lyric Display: Full display of lyrics taps into one of its most powerful benefits: Search Engine Optimization. With “lyrics” being a top search term throughout the world, including lyric content with your service not only drives engagement and enjoyment with your existing users, but will attract many more through SEO.

LyricFind’s Lyric Display service powers lyrics on hundreds of websites and services, including sites such as MetroLyrics, iHeartRadio, SongMeanings, LyricsMania, Pandora, LyricsMode, LyricsFreak, and many more.

LyricFind can deliver lyrics in real time via XML, JSON or periodic data feeds, allowing maximum flexibility for your implementation.

Bill King: What was the inspiration for LyricFind?

Darryl Ballantyne: The initial thought behind it was the huge demand for lyrics content. When we started in 2004, none of it was licensed or paying rights holders or songwriters and we knew there was a huge demand. It was Google’s top search term across the board, yet it was a gigantic pain in the ass to license all of the content. The services that were out there that were legitimate, talked to publishers and tried to get licenses. Realizing they would have to do licences with thousands and thousands of publishers and generate a database, it didn’t make sense for an individual service go through all the work; do all of the licensing deals, manage the royalties and create a database with the content, just for their own service. That was where we came in. We realized we could create a centralized service that licensed everybody, so everybody got the economies of scale using our database, our royalty system and our deal. So all of the music services and websites could come and do one single deal and get everything that they needed and not have to worry about the overhead.

B.K: How does it work with a site like MetroLyrics where anyone can just strip the lyrics?

D.B: Metrolyrics is a client of ours. That was the initial clientele of LyricFind. All the lyric websites had been putting them up and operating unlicensed for a long, long time because there was no reasonably efficient way to get licensing. Once we came along, those sites were able to get a license and start paying the publishers and not have to be flying under the radar.

B.K: When someone strips the lyrics off one of these sites is there a method for recognizing that action?

D.B: In general, we don’t go to the depth of tracking when someone cuts and pastes a song from there. When they view it on a Metrolyrics, the songwriter is being paid for that. That’s a royalty generating event. Every single view across the world for all of our clients pays the copyright holder, no matter the country.

B.K: How did you get thousands of publishing houses and writers on side?

D.B: We have deals with over 4,000 publishers and a number of societies around the world. We’ve worked with a lot of societies to aggregate the publishers so we aren’t sending 4,000 checks every quarter. We work with Harry Fox Agency in the U.S., APRA AMCOS in Australia, CSTM in France, rights societies in Malaysia and the list goes on. We also work with several of the majors, so it tracks down to the proper copyright holders.

B.K: Pop artists like a Drake, you will collect for them?

D.B: Absolutely.

B.K: What about SOCAN?

D.B: We aren’t working with them at the moment, but we may. We would like to get something worked out with a Canadian agency to go more direct.

B.K: Are your methods similar to a SoundExchange?

D.B: That’s digital content and that’s music and they are working off a statutory license. They have the authority to collect everything, then try to pay it out. For us there is no compulsory license or government mandate, so everything we use has to have a license attached to it that has been achieved directly. We only make content available when we have a license for it, which can sometimes result in delays -  especially with new releases if we haven’t figured out who the publisher is. What our content team does as well is research the ownership. For example, if U2 puts out a new song, we are going to know that’s owned by Universal Publishing. They have always been, and always will be, so we can activate that song and collect for them in advance of them telling us officially. We have an exclusive license to be their only third party distributor.

B.K: In the room, next to us with about 25 to 30 people facing computers, I suspect they are doing the heavy data processing of lyrics and making sure all is accurate?

D.B: Yes, and we do have teams in China and Japan as well working on Chinese and Japanese content; a  bit in Korea, where we’ve done a lot of quality control work and analysis. But beyond those languages, everything we have is done here in Toronto. Here we are doing English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and do have some Japanese here as well. We will be adding Russian, Hindi and others soon.

B.K: Would an artist covering a song come to you first?

D.B: This is all for B-2-B licensing. All the content produced by this team -  and our global teams -  gets pushed out to all our clients, whether that’s a Metrolyrics or Google or Amazon or Shazam. That’s all being generated here and pushed out to them. If an artist is looking for a particular lyric, or wants to cover a song, they will go to one of our clients to access the content.

B.K: You’ve been at this more than a decade. Where did the idea come from?

D.B: We built this out of the University of Waterloo originally in 2000. We tried to launch a regular lyric site which gave us much insight in how much demand there was and what the growth metrics and economics would be like, but we couldn’t get licensing and that’s how we realized that is was a gigantic pain in the ass to try and license for an individual site, so that got shut down. We came back to it after graduating in 2004. I had been through the Waterloo co-op program and had spent my last term down in Los Angeles working for EMI on the record label side, working on digital deals. I was supposed to go back and work for them fulltime, but then in an ironic piece of foreshadowing, it was all gone. The publishing side was gone.

I was with my family in the summer of 2004; had just graduated and was in talks to figure out my visa and go back to L.A. As I was literally stepping on a Roller coaster at Canada’s Wonderland, my phone rang and it was somebody from Microsoft who was looking for a lyric provider for the MSM music store. They had found our old website and it didn’t have any lyrics on it anymore...but it did have my phone number. They said, 'This is what we want to do, can you do it?' I said, 'no, knowing what licensing was about, but let me make some calls.' I immediately called Ted Cohen, who I had worked for at EMI and asked if he thought the industry had changed enough that we would be able to get licensing and do it as a sub-licensing play. One thing led to another and here we are.

B.K: After the confusing wild, wild west of the Napster years, are we starting to make sense of all of this?

D.B: Absolutely! There are whole new revenue streams that never existed before. Not just digital streaming, which is kind of a replacement revenue, but things like lyric revenue from us. There was no money made off showing people lyrics prior to us coming along.

You look at backstage activities where people can sell fan experiences or do an online Skype call for however long with your favourite artist. All the different royalties are collected for digital sheet music or online services, like the sale of merchandise online. People can make bits and pieces of money with new revenue streams that didn’t exist.

Look at satellite radio in the U.S: people weren’t getting paid and now they are somewhat. You have agencies like SoundExchange that now collect.

From LyricFind's perspective, our goal is to provide lyrics to everyone, everywhere, in all languages. We want to cover the world’s lyrics and have everything synchronized. We can include lyrics which we see as a vital part of the music experience that enables fans to connect with a song better. Anywhere music is consumed. Anytime you are listening to a song, you should be able to see the lyrics in time, along with it.