First LyricFind, and now LyricMerch. Toronto-based company LyricFind is recognised as the global leader in the field of lyrics licensing. Formed in 2004, it now has a catalogue of over 1 million songs, thanks to deals with over 4000 music publishers around the world. That catalogue is now the basis for a new offshoot enterprise LyricMerch, described as a shop for on-demand lyric merchandise. Here you can get your favourite song lyrics emblazoned on T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, phone cases, coffee mugs, and shower curtains. No excuse for getting the lyrics wrong when you sing in the shower now!
LyricMerch launched two months ago, and we recently contacted Darryl Ballantyne, co-founder and CEO of LyricFind and the force behind LyricMerch, for a progress report. Speaking to FYI from New York City (he was there to attend the Grammys, with whom LyricFind has partnered), he terms the reaction "super-positive. Not just from the media but publishers and artists and all those we've been working with. There were some people where we weren't exactly sure how they'd react, like an artist selling merchandise where we potentially could be competitive with them, But as people look at it, though, they view it as adding to rather than cannibalizing existing sales."
"There may be a piece of merchandise they may not be able to offer as it can be hard to clear the publishing rights if they are not their own. They can see it as an opportunity to work with us, help market it and get a share of the revenue coming in, while also being able to integrate it into their own merch stores."
"A lot of artists we are talking to now are considering using our on-demand platform that we have built and designed. It gives them an opportunity to experiment with different designs and products and not have to worry about the fulfilment of it and all the logistics of doing a large scale run that runs a risk of having a lot of unsold inventory left hanging around."
Ballantyne explains that "we had the idea for LyricMerch five years ago, but back then on-demand printing was nowhere near where it is today. Three years ago, we hired Will Mills as our chief revenue officer for LyricFind and he brought up the idea again. Now, with the advances in on-demand printing, people can pick any line from any song and we can do a one-off of a product for them."
To Ballantyne, LyricMerch offers an appealing platform to small and mid-sized artists, more so than global superstars. "Someone like Taylor Swift is not going to have much added value from LyricMerch," he explains. "Taylor can go and print up thousands of any particular product at a much lower cost than what it takes to produce on demand . She can then sell them at a higher price and make a lot more money directly than by doing it through us. "
"But a lesser-known artist who is marketing to a smaller fanbase and doesn't know how well something is going to sell can't take that risk of printing up hundreds or thousands of a particular product to get a reasonable unit rate. Then they'd have to deal with all the shipping, fulfilment and production too. We can take a ton of hassle off their hands, remove all the risk, and have them make just as much money per item as if they were doing it themselves, because of the efficiency of our system. It makes the most sense for that level of artist to take advantage of it."
Songwriters and publishers who have signed licensing deals with LyricFind are easily integrated into the LyricMerch system. "Our standard deal with LyricFind now includes the merch rates," says Ballantyne. "For anybody who licensed with us more than one year ago, those deals did not include the merch aspect. They can reach out to us and we can update their license."
LyricMerch has the same deal in place for all the songwriters and publishers it deals with, Ballantyne explains. "For LyricMerch we operate very much under the same philosophy that we have at the core of LyricFind licensing. We treat all songs equally, and everybody gets the same rate. it is just that some things are used more than others, so, in terms of absolute dollars, then the more popular songs make more money."
The royalty rates paid via LyricMerch are significant, he explains. "On most of the T-shirt sales, the publishing royalty is approx $4-$5, based on a $30 shirt. That is considerably more than what a publisher would normally get from doing a mass T-shirt printing deal. Often those come in at $1 per shirt. Obviously the tradeoff with the publishers is there is no guarantee of volume with LyricMerch and there isn't explicit approval over the design. Because everything is one-off, on-demand, it doesn't make sense to send off that design for approval."
Ballantyne stresses that "we do incorporate a lot of restrictions on what kind of designs can be made. The lyrics can't be paired with any images, so we can assure the publishers we're not going to have the lyrics of a kid's song with a picture of a gun next to it!"
The LyricMerch operations currently just cover North America, but Ballantyne has plans for international growth. "The UK and Australia will be next on the list, and in the first half of this year, I would imagine. Our existing supplier has facilities there and there's so no need to worry about localising the site for language, so that is a pretty easy switch to flip. We will look at the rest of Western Europe after that."
There will also be a gradual expansion of LyricMerch product lines. "There has been a lot of conversation on what should be the additional products should be," says Ballantyne. "We are looking at different partnerships and suppliers. Nothing official yet but some things make more sense than others, things like blankets, towels, posters and wall art, or different clothing - like tank tops. Just before launch, we added in crewneck sweatshirts as an option, as crewnecks are growing in popularity."
While operating on a global basis, Ballantyne remains a real booster of Canadian music. "One of our first LyricMerch sales was a mug for The Weeknd's 'Can't Feel My Face,' and that was really nice to see. Talking to some Canadian artists and their reps, we want to push that as much as possible, and keep that Canadian pride going!"
Looking ahead, the entrepreneur predicts that "the merchandising side of the business will ultimately end up generating significantly more royalties for the publishers than the existing licenses. If they're getting the same amount from a T-shirt as they would get from 5 or 10K lyric displays, then they can see a real benefit there."
Learn more at lyricmerch.com
Read Bill King's earlier A Conversation With Ballantyne in FYI here