CEOs of digital music startups often strive for diplomacy when it comes to talking about the major powers that control most of the world’s music. Not Paul Campbell.
“Simon Cowell is Satan, and the major labels have become antique dealers,” says Campbell, a 53-year-old former BBC TV and radio producer turned entrepreneur. “We don’t touch the labels and never shall. The key is to cut yourself free from the labels.”
Which is exactly what Campbell has done with his company, Amazing Media, and it’s why he’s having such success.
Unless you’re really into new music, or live in the U.K., where Amazing Media has created quite a stir for reasons I’ll get into in a moment, you’ve probably never heard of Amazing Media. But the way Campbell is going, that’s soon likely to change. His business has piqued the interest of big Silicon Valley venture capitalists; he’s in talks with major consumer Web businesses to distribute Amazing music; and he’s on track to launch a radio station in the U.S. in the coming months.
In fact, what began five years ago as a simple Web site to let unknown musicians upload and sell their music has grown into a burgeoning business unlike any of the others trying to take advantage of the chaotic music industry. Amazing Media also does something else that sets it apart from the likes of Pandora, Spotify, SoundCloud, and all the rest: it makes money.
Campbell, a professional drummer since he was a kid, began thinking about the opportunity in music back in 2005. Technology had made it supercheap to record and produce music, but it was still a monstrous challenge to get your music heard. It was an even bigger challenge to make any money from it.
He wanted to change that. Campbell assembled a small team and, working from the top floor of a Victorian building in Newcastle, England — the home town of Sting and The Animals — started building Amazingtunes.com, a site where musicians could upload and sell tracks and get paid 70 percent of the price.
That might sound like a bad deal for Campbell, certainly compared with the big labels, which typically pay musicians about 8 percent of the sale price. But his main goal was to build the catalog of music and win customers. Plus, musicians who used the site gave Amazing the rights to use their music for promotional purposes. “The idea was to be fair to the musicians,” says Campbell. “And we deliberately gave margin away to attract users.”
The site launched in 2007, and the first couple of years were slow going. This was pre-Twitter — even pre-Facebook, to some degree — and it took a while to amass much of an audience. Gradually, though, more and more musicians joined, and competitors emerged. Amazingtunes.com gained enough traction and buzz that in 2008, Richard Branson’s Virgin Media tried to take over the business for an undisclosed amount. Campbell wouldn’t sell.
Amazingtunes.com is similar to well-backed SoundCloud or BandCamp, sites that also let musicians push their music out across social networks and the Web. But Campbell takes things a step further. A few steps, actually.
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