The path from record producer to media mogul is not for the weak of spirit.
Paul Wiltshire broke loose from the studio, where he worked with the likes of Backstreet Boys, Human Nature and others, and is now living his best second life as CEO of Songtradr, the California-based global B2B music licensing and digital rights management ecosystem.
Wiltshire presents well. No, really. Along the way, “I must have I must have done probably 500 presentations, maybe 1,000,” he explains. “I have no idea.”
Since its 2014 launch in Santa Monica, Wiltshire has raised more than A$150 million, which places him in the elite class of Australians operating in the music industry.
Songtradr has been on something of a splurge.
Earlier in the year, Wiltshire oversaw the £19.4 million ($36 million) acquisition of 7Digital, the U.K. digital music company which delivers 80 million licensed tracks to clients, for use in apps playing in fitness, social, radio, gaming, background music and more.
That deal follows the purchase of AI metadata and music search company Musicube, music licensing agency Massive Music in 2021, licensing agency Big Sync Music in 2019, and separate arrangements for film, TV and gaming music data platform Tunefind, and Pretzel, which provides DMCA-proof music for Twitch and YouTube livestreamers.
Last year, Songtradr introduced a new digital rights management tool, Smart Sync, aimed at tracking, controlling and monetising music catalogues, all part of Wiltshire’s mission to “feed the force between supply and demand and defragmenting.”
Currently, the group has teams in 16 countries, and, since 2021, has jumped from 100 to 300 staff.
“There’s complexity on complexity” he says of the “people challenges” that come with acquisition. “There is a dependency on all kinds of HR requirements that need to come in. No one ever factors all that cost in and the disruption that that causes.”
Fast forward to May 2023, and Wiltshire estimates the company’s valuation at $US430 million, a sum well over half-a-billion Australian dollars.
Wiltshire traced his journey, and shared insights, inspiration and lessons learned for AIM’s iHUB, hosted last week at its new Sydney campus in The Rocks.
Check out five takeways below.
Just keep swimming:
Wiltshire, like many of us, has a motto for life. His is written down, and he looks at it every single day: “Failure is not an option.”
In business, failure is part of the fabric. It’s the way you handle it that matters.
“There are days where you are jubilant, because you’ve kicked a goal or something good has happened. And it’s like a proof point. But there are probably many more days where there’s a reason not to do it.”
Songtradr was launched at a time when the music industry was in a deep, dark cave.
“I started out talking to investors, and they just looked at me going ‘the music industry, and we’re not investing in the music industry, it’s going the wrong way.’”
Streaming and Spotify provided hope, but “there was no proof point to support the growth of the business.”
Wiltshire pounded the pavement, racking up hundreds of pitches. Initially, the first round was “very much friends and family.” Today, “my circle of friends is bankers,” he quips. “It’s completely changed”.
Get the pitch right:
Wiltshire identifies two secrets for his success. Like the best ideas, they’re simple.
“Read the room,” he says. Figure out who you’re pitching to.
“Are they going to understand the complexity of what you’re doing? Or is there a way to simplify it for the room? So one thing I always do is, I ask questions before I pitch. I actually ask about whether they have had any investment experience in the music business. How much do they know about the business. Because if they’ve done work, if they’ve been in a data room or have looked at an asset deeply, then you can tailor your pitch to accordingly.”
If they haven’t had exposure “then you have to simplify it, you have to go ‘look, this is the music industry.”
Money money money:
Averting a cash crisis is always at the front of Wiltshire’s mind.
“I adopted a mentality of just always raise money. Just make sure you’ve got more than enough.” He blames it on an “inherent fear of running out, all the time… it’s just embedded in me now.”
And with that capital, the company directors “identify assets that are going to accelerate us forward so that we’re staying ahead of the curve, so that we’re capitalising on what we’ve built, so that we are accelerating those products.”
It’s challenging, it’s fatiguing, and “it can be demoralising. I try not to let that impact the way I feel because really you have to meet maybe 20 to 30 investors for every one that will invest. Sometimes those numbers are 100 to one. There’s something to learn from every one of those meetings, like what worked in the pitch, where did they lose focus? What questions did they ask that I couldn’t answer? It’s never a waste to have a meeting that doesn’t work out.”
Don’t just learn from your mistakes. Surround yourself with people who’ve made and overcome their own, and learn from them.
“I had good advisors and one thing I could recommend is, you know, very early on, we got a number of board advisors that were really influential and, and really cross-vertical,” he explains.
Wiltshire found a technology expert who could build a financial model “like you wouldn’t believe.” Add a former CEO of a big advertising agency, a former CEO of a major record company.
“I was lucky because I had a network being a record producer, I did know people,” he recounts.
If you’re raising capital, “maybe you need someone that has some sort of banking network on your advisory board. If it’s a music business, you obviously need someone that’s potentially got some great hair like me and add that on your on your advisory board.”
Songwriting is a transferable skill:
Wiltshire didn’t go to college, doesn’t have an MBA. He didn’t even complete year 12 (“I wanted to be in a band”).
Had he committed to the books, he might “have been able to skip a bunch of things that I’d have to learn through error.”
Those years spent creating music wasn’t wasted. “The core of being a musician and a creative is that there’s a belief in anything’s possible,” he explains.
Songwriters have a transferable skill.
Consider a hypothetical — firing off an email to a member of the hierarchy of the corporate world.
“That should be the shortest email possible, but the most effective language. The moment you go into too much (detail), and tell too much of a story, they won’t even read it. It just won’t get past.”
As a songwriter, “precision of language is really key. Anyone that has a songwriter background, will benefit from being able to use that as a craft”.