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Rumblefish: Content ID and Music Micro-Licensing

Rumblefish is the leader in micro-licensing and YouTube royalty administration. Its micro-licensing platform allows social video networks, video applications and marketplaces to offer soundtrack functionality on web, tablet and mobile offerings providing access to the world’s largest copyright-cleared soundtrack catalog of over 5 ...

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Ryan Dawes

From Music Archaeology to Digital Humility: Rumblefish's Covert Curators, The Discovery Team, Give Metadata A Human Touch

In the digital music revolution, the gatekeepers have been banished. Music pours into the market, and the tastemakers of yore—radio program directors, record store buyers, music critics—have given way to a new crop of curators. Working behind the scenes, in positions few know exist, a new generation of music professionals are quietly influencing tastes via new platforms like apps, ads and online video editing programs where new artists are being discovered in the great flood of sound.

The Rumblefish Discovery Team works on this unsung frontier, making connections for both traditional licensing (TV, advertising) and micro-licensing. Drawing on a catalog of three million tracks, a catalog that is orders of magnitude larger than yesterday’s sync libraries, the team finds the right sounds for a broad range of apps, platforms, and marketplaces. These songs make their way into millions of user-generated videos and slideshows, in the kind of micro-licensing placements that are Rumblefish’s specialty.

“I like to dive in, pages and pages deep,” explains William Nix, Senior Music Supervisor at Rumblefish. “I listen for tracks that would work well in many situations, but would not necessarily come up in a more traditional search. I always have an ear out for tracks that are a little outside of the box or would add an interesting dynamic to the pitch.”

In the era of overwhelming choice and giant catalogs, search has become key. It’s connected to metadata, the tags associated with every music file that indicate everything from tempo to mood to composer. Yet these tags are artist generated—and not always accurate or helpful. “You have thousands of people who swear they sound like the Beatles or Radiohead,” notes Sarge Sargis, Director of Music Discovery for Rumblefish. “While you may be influenced by those bands, it’s important to be honest with tags, otherwise music supervisors or potential clients may write off your entire catalog.”

The whims and vagaries of metadata demand other means of finding good stuff, including tapping into social media and other music-oriented online platform’s APIs and seeing what is causing a stir or gaining traction. “If you are active online, turning that activity into more views of your YouTube videos and getting more fans on sites like, those are metrics we can use to bubble up your tracks,” says Sargis, “and it will make an impact on how likely we are able to find your track.”

Yet all the algorithms and data points can’t replace human ears and judgment, as Nix and Sargis sift through songs for the right feel, the right fit. Their ears are guided by backgrounds that mix the best of the pre- and post-internet business. Nix grew up playing in bands in his small Louisiana hometown, but cut his teeth in online advertising and social media. Trained as an archeologist, Sargis spent decades in brick-and-mortar music retail, where he learned both the subjective pleasures and objective demands of getting the right music into the right hands. “In the indie music shop world, you have to stop being a music snob and help people get what they need,” explains Sargis, “if you want to keep your doors open. That objectivity serves us well in what we do in our work now, too.”

Yet Sargis’s archeology past serves him equally well: Both he and Nix painstakingly sift through a massive amount of music daily. They listen for tracks (or bits of tracks) that might work well for advertisers, filmmakers, or other clients, while also seeking out unknown artists who push the envelope just enough, while keeping the right sound or mood for mainstream listeners. “We consider an app or marketplace’s main users— say it’s skaters or soccer moms—and try to pick music accordingly,” explains Sargis. “Sometimes, we get a bit more free rein,” adds Nix, “and can push the envelope a bit. When the apps have a trendy section you can be more adventurous. We can find music and artists in our catalog that we might enjoy personally and want to promote. That’s another exciting part of what we do.”

The team’s discoveries often translate into listeners’ discoveries, as users take Rumblefish-selected tracks, add them to their videos, and upload them to social media or video platforms for public viewing. Entire new niches are emerging—trailer music, for example—with commercial appeal, music that was once relegated to industry-only obscurity.

About Rumblefish:

Rumblefish is the world leader in music micro-licensing and online video monetization. Its micro-licensing platform allows social video networks, video applications and marketplaces to offer music functionality on web, tablet and mobile, providing access to the world’s largest copyright-cleared music catalog of more than 5 million copyrights. The company makes music for online social video easy and legal, and has had over 65 million videos use its music tracks, resulting in 1.8 billion YouTube views per month and millions of dollars in royalties for its artists. Rumblefish clients include YouTube, Shutterstock, Google, Vimeo, SocialCam, Tango, Vizify and WeVideo; and partners include CD Baby and APM. The company has offices in Portland OR, San Francisco and Los Angeles.