New music platform Orfium offers an alternative to the likes of SoundCloud and Bandcamp. Could it be the best option for music makers?
Launched this week, Orfium is a new music platform which combines some of the best features of existing platforms such as SoundCloud, Bandcamp and Beatport, allowing users to share their tracks, promote them and sell downloads. In addition, it promises to introduce a range of interesting new options for music makers and labels, including the payment of streaming royalties and the ability to upload DJ mixes while compensating all artists whose music is included.
Uniquely, Orfium takes an artist-driven approach to music. The platform could prove to be a strong rival to existing sites such as SoundCloud, which have come under fire in recent months for their heavy-handed approach to handling copyright infringements and their apparent focus on securing lucrative licensing deals rather than listening to the voices of their users.
A lot of information is available from the site’s welcome page, but to find out more about the platform itself and the company’s plans, we spoke to Orfium co-founder and CEO Chris Mohoney.
Attack: First things first, can you explain to us what Orfium is?
Chris Mohoney: Orfium is an open social music platform for hosting, listening, sharing, selling, and licensing music and it is built on a back-end system for rights management. Our mission is to provide an open, elegant, and flexible music platform that puts artists and rights holders in complete control of all forms of promotion, retail, licensing, and distribution of music in the digital age, and to provide fans with the best discovery, sharing, and listening experience. Orfium was designed so that anyone in the industry, up-and-coming independent artists to distributors, publishers, and major labels, can tap in and participate, and one of our goals is to create the most efficient marketplace for music.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first: there are already lots of similar platforms in existence, from SoundCloud to Bandcamp to YouTube. What is Orfium going to offer to set itself apart from the rest?
Some music platforms are unoriginal and only differ by name while others have unique technology to offer, however the one thing they all have in common is that they are incomplete solutions for the music business. The difference between Orfium and other music platforms is the same as the difference between a smartphone and the gadgets it contains such as a clock, telephone, camera, flashlight, and MP3 player. None of the gadgets can do everything that a smartphone does, but a smartphone can do everything each of the gadgets does. Likewise none of the other music platforms offer everything that Orfium provides, but Orfium does offer everything that each of the other platforms provide, and like a smartphone all of the functionality is elegantly and conveniently integrated.
All of the tools which other platforms sell to “Premium Artists” are provided for free at Orfium including unlimited free hosting. Our philosophy is that artists are the ones adding the most value which brings visitors, not the other way round, and to charge them upfront for services such as hosting is completely backwards. Orfium operates purely on a revenue share with an 80/20 artist/Orfium split so Orfium only makes money after artists do. Orfium is also the most flexible as artists can customize which service they want to use and can opt-in/out at any time of individual services on a per-track basis. There is no legal risk and no financial risk, just maximum freedom.
many other platforms are run by technology entrepreneurs and programmers who don’t understand how the music business works
Does the Orfium team have a background in music? I think one of the fears of a lot of producers is that the people who run this kind of platform are just in it for the money and don’t understand the concerns of music makers.
Yes and actually this is a great point because many other platforms are run by technology entrepreneurs and programmers who don’t understand how the music business works nor the complexity of music copyrights, and they forget to build this into their back-end architecture. This is likely what happened to SoundCloud, and once you have a huge database it is very difficult to go back and reconfigure the architecture, and it is probably the reason SoundCloud Go was not cleanly integrated. Likewise most music professionals lack the programming experience necessary to communicate solutions to complex problems with adequate precision to developers. Solving the problems of the music industry really requires someone with cross-disciplinary experience in both the music business and computer programming.
I previously managed both a sync-licensing library consisting of over 400,000 audio files and also was a music rights administrator managing over 6 million music copyrights in YouTube’s Content ID system. Both operations were run by the same company where I held dual roles as head of accounting and head of product development. As head of accounting I supervised all client royalties and as head of product development led the engineering team. I’m an experienced programmer and completed both a bachelor and master in accounting at the University of San Diego.
Our Co-Founder and President Drew Delis also attended the University of San Diego and also completed law school at Pepperdine with an emphasis in music rights, internet law, and intellectual property.
Our philosophy is that the purpose of every business in general is to solve a problem, and we are determined to create a solution to the fragmented music industry that solves the problem for all parties
Our philosophy is that the purpose of every business in general is to solve a problem, and we are determined to create a solution to the fragmented music industry that solves the problem for all parties, and not at the expense of any individual party. We spent a tremendous amount of time thinking through the right way to build Orfium, and many of our friends are musicians who helped plan and test Orfium. We also spent the last six months discussing feedback from artists who were part of the 22,000 that tested the beta version and based on their feedback spent the last two months making changes for this launch. We believe that money is just something that follows from solving a problem, not the other way around, therefore solving the problem is the goal. Unfortunately many other businesses don’t operate this way as they focus on the money first, create artificial problems, and engage in anti-competitive practices which completely contradicts their primary purpose. The ironic thing about it is that it actually makes them more vulnerable for two reasons, 1) if they are monopolistic and making too much money then competitors will be attracted to their market, and 2) they are much more likely to be disrupted by a competitor who offers the same or better solutions with no side effects. It’s just annoying that we all have to deal with them before they are disrupted.
Maybe money only exists because people have not grown up enough to trust each other to return favors. If you consider what the most advanced civilization that will ever exist in the universe would be like, maybe they wouldn’t need money at all because they would simply be always willing to help each other and collaborate rather than compete.
Will artists get paid each time their tracks are played?
When streaming subscriptions are launched, yes. We are just working on getting more music on the site before launching subscription streaming. Until then, artists can sell digital downloads, license their music for synchronization deals, and generate earnings from rights management services.
One of the big problems with existing platforms is the issue of spurious automated copyright claims. If artists upload tracks they made, how are you going to make sure they don’t automatically get removed for copyright infringement?
There are actually two parts to this answer. First, instead of automatically removing music that is detected to be potentially infringing, the uploader would receive a courtesy notice first and they would have a grace period to dispute the claim in which case the content would remain until the dispute is resolved. In the mean-time all earnings generated would go in a sort of escrow account that would be released to the rightful party at the conclusion of the dispute. Second, like YouTube, we plan to make it easy for rights holders to collect earnings generated by content that uses their copyright (such as unofficial remixes) so they would be less inclined to issue takedowns since there would be no money in that. My experience with YouTube Content ID was that very few rights holders ever wanted to issue takedowns when they had the option to collect earnings generated by their claims if they allowed the content to stay up.
In the case of unauthorized remixes where the uploader has not cleared the rights, the monetization rights to the remix on Orfium would be abstracted and assigned to the original rights holder.
Clearly a big part of the value of existing music platforms comes from uploading things like remixes and edits. How will that work on Orfium?
The remix uploader can tag the original track, which will both credit the original track and also allow the remix to be recommended on the original track’s page next to other derivative versions. For the second line of defense we are working on implementing a fingerprinting system much like YouTube Content ID that will identify remixes and create these tags automatically.
In the case of unauthorized remixes where the uploader has not cleared the rights, the monetization rights to the remix on Orfium would be abstracted and assigned to the original rights holder. In the case where the remixing artist does not want the song to be monetized, we plan to also allow the remixing artist the option to purchase a license as an alternative means of compensating the rights holder.
Will Orfium focus mainly on individual tracks? What if I want to upload an album as a whole, or even a DJ mix containing multiple tracks from other artists?
Orfium supports both albums and tracks, which is also another difference from SoundCloud. Also a single track can be added to multiple albums so there is no need to duplicate tracks and its statistical data if for example one were to create a “Greatest Hits” album, which both keeps the data cleaner and makes recommendations more accurate. We will also support DJ mixes and podcast series which include tagging embedded track lists and in the case of unauthorized performances it will be handled like a mashup where monetization rights will be split among the multiple rightsholders.
These features have been planned but just didn’t make it in the initial launch as we were eager to get the latest build out to the public so that we could start getting feedback. In general we are continuously rolling out updates which often begin with a simplified version of a new feature which we then rapidly enhance based on feedback. Also since we have noticed cases of users already uploading podcast episodes and live performances as tracks we will make a simple process to allow these users to covert these to podcasts and sets once they are officially supported.
How will the platform work for other parts of the music industry? Is everything targeted at artists acting independently or will there be features aimed at labels and other rights holders?
Orfium is actually meant to be a solution for the entire industry so we do have special accounts for labels, managers, publishers, distributors, curators, and event production. However we have been heavily focused on helping the artists first because they are the first source of value in the industry and sadly have been the ones who have been neglected the most and that needs to be fixed.
We absolutely will be working hard to bring fans to the platform as it would not be a complete solution without them.
How are you going to attract music fans to the platform? Will it just focus on the music makers themselves, or will there be efforts to draw in consumers who don’t necessarily make music but want to be a part of the community?
We absolutely will be working hard to bring fans to the platform as it would not be a complete solution without them. For the latest release we actually added many nice consumer features in the right sidebar that allow Orfium to function as a full-featured cloud-based listening platform including the ability for fans to create and share playlists with their friends. Currently we are focused most on getting music on the platform as that will attract more fans. We index all music with search engines so fans who search for music on Google will find Orfium. Many artists who embed their music on social media and other sites will also attract their fans, however we will certainly run broader consumer targeted campaigns as we transition beyond the content acquisition phase as well as build more features that make discovering and sharing music easier and more enjoyable.
What’s the long-term plan for Orfium? How do you see it panning out a few years down the line?
We probably have at least two years worth of work in terms of new features planned including mobile apps and we will be working hard on that. Other than streaming, radio, podcast support, and enhanced recommendations, we feel like we have many of the important front-end features completed. Much of the work planned ahead involves back-end tools for artists and users such as analytics, royalty accounting reports and integrations with other services and apps. For example we want to provide artists with data that will help them choose where to go on tour based on where there fans are. Orfium is expected to grow significantly over the next two years as more artists and fans discover it. In terms of artist revenues I would expect them to see the licensing and rights administration side to really spring up first but ultimately the consumer channel has the most upside potential as more fans join.