Mike McCready’s Music Xray: 21st Century A&R
It’s an age-old question: How can new and independent artists and songwriters get their music heard by the key industry decision makers who determine what songs get cut, promoted, and licensed?
An exciting answer to that question comes from the new company Music Xray and its site Musicxray.com, which are “facilitating a more efficient, lower, cost, and less risky A&R process. Our growing platform enables the industry to open the doors of opportunity to musicians and songwriters everywhere and to harness the most powerful tools ever built specifically for those who conduct A&R,” the company says.
“We help musicians and songwriters get deals and get feedback from professionals who want to help them succeed,” Music Xray says.
Music Xray CEO and co-founder Mike McCready recently made a Nashville visit, where he was tremendously impressed with the talent here, and he established key business relationships with folks including Ten Ten Music, Country Music Television, and Show Dog/Universal’s Cliff Audretch.
“I hadn’t been down to Nashville before, because I felt that since Nashville was so songwriter-centric, it was more likely to be closed to outside submissions,” McCready says in a phone conversation from his home base in New York in early August.
“But it turned out that wasn’t the case at all. People were very receptive,” he continued. “There’s lots of potential down there. I plan to come again.”
One of countless success stories is Music Xray client Eric Paul, whose song “Paradise Dreaming” was submitted via Music Xray to a Los Angeles film music supervisor. The song was quickly snapped up and placed in the new Justin Timberlake hit movie “Friends With Benefits,” where “Paradise Dreaming” is actually played four different times.
McCready is a native of Nebraska who has been working both in New York and Europe for several years. He developed a computer-based technology called Hit Song Science that helps forecast the commercial potential of songs, leading McCready to correctly predict the breakout success of artists including Norah Jones and Maroon 5 long before most of the world had ever heard of them.
The Harvard Business School even developed a case study called “Mixing Music and Math” about McCready’s technology.
He lived in Spain for several years, speaks fluent Spanish, and has several key investors in Music Xray from Europe. Mike’s also a former artist himself with hits in Spain, both in bands and as a solo artist.
Whether he was in Europe or the States, for the last decade he had a vision to help the music industry that he loved so well, but was under huge financial pressures from free downloading.
“For about 10 years, I’ve been obsessed with making the A&R process more efficient,” he says. “The ratio of failure to success was so high, and on top of that, A&R costs so much money. So if we could figure out a way to make the ratio better, and a way to make each failure cost less money, then we’d really be on to something.”
He goes on: “We’ve removed the inefficiencies from the A&R process, and ensure that each song has a better shot of success. It’s working really well.”
As he spoke with the more than 1,300 industry professionals who work with Music Xray, he learned that one of their problems with an open-submission policy was that these pros were getting simply overwhelmed with material and submissions that came in every week.
“We created a system where each submission costs a few dollars, four bucks minimum,” Mike says. “By charging a small fee, we actively encourage or force the artists to participate in the screening process. If they’re confident enough in their song to invest a few dollars in it, that takes a lot of the listening load off the industry professional. But none of the submission fees are very high.”
And Music Xray is using the same technology that earlier helped dismantle the music industry – high-speed Internet software and hardware – to bring the struggling business back and open it up to a whole new group of exciting songwriters and artists.
Many record labels are using Music Xray, including Capitol, Epic, Sire, Mercury, and Parlophone, along with hundreds of independent labels, McCready says.
“Each A&R pro is using Music Xray to open a profile and a drop box for submissions on our site,” McCready says. “They enter or choose not to for each submission, and they absolutely must attend to every submission they select. We give them a 45-day limit.”
A rule like that is a dream come true for many songwriters and artists, whose waiting game turns into months and years with many labels or producers.
By the way, A&R stands for “Artists and Repertoire,” and those folks are paid to find and sign new talent, and to locate songs for their existing artists. In the Golden Age of the music biz, A&R guys like Clive Davis and Chet Atkins ran the major labels. Nowadays, the label heads are often bankers and accountants with little or no music experience.
The good news is that Music Xray is having great success getting songs placed and cut, regardless of the structure of the labels.
“One in every 10 submissions seems to work out,” McCready says. “That’s 10 times higher than any other site. We feel like we’re not just a submission platform. We’re really trying to get the A&R aspect of it right.”
A key way that Music Xray does that is called Song To Opportunity Matching, which the company says is an ideal way to tailor-make just the right song one of the industry pros is seeking.
“Any industry pro has a general idea of what they’re looking for,” Mike says. “For instance, he might have a movie scene and feel like the Rolling Stones’ `Brown Sugar’ would be perfect, but he can’t afford the licensing for it and so he needs a song like that. We can upload and MP3 a recording of `Brown Sugar,’ and our Music Xray software analyzes and understands the song’s properties. Then it matches those properties with any artist who has a similar song, so that it attracts submissions at least within the ballpark of what the pro’s looking for. And for the artist, it makes them feel that they have a better shot.”
Music Xray also provides the songwriter and artist whose only feedback in the past from a label might be a rejection notice with a great deal more support. Every submission to an industry pro at Music Xray is actually rated on five different criteria, with the last of the five being its hit potential. This can be a huge help going forward, as the writer or artist tries to make his material more commercial and easier to place.
The songwriter will also learn how many times his song has been submitted to other pros. He can also track who those pros are, what’s happening with the music, and other factors. McCready calls this using “our back-end data,” which becomes something like the high-tech marketing magic that Google does with its product called Google Analytics.
So, at long last, Music Xray gives you or your artists a chance to get your songs heard, receive honest feedback from industry professionals, and hopefully get that music recorded, placed in movies and TV, spun at country radio, and all the other exciting benefits songwriters and musicians dream about receiving but all too infrequently have in recent years.
By Phil Sweetland | firstname.lastname@example.org
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