Episode 7 (ft. Ben Gross + Laura Kinniburgh): How lyrics are a leading indicator of innovation in music licensing

Genius' Chief Strategy Officer Ben Gross and Head of Music Licensing Laura Ostler Kinniburgh join this episode to discuss the challenges and opportunities in valuing and monetizing lyrics properly in the modern music industry. We break down how technology has made the music licensing process easier (and harder), how Genius' evolution as a media brand has changed its approach to licensing, how the company's YouTube series "VERIFIED" generates publishing income for artists and how Genius' sprawling online database of user-generated content relates to their official agreements with publishers. At the end, we discuss the recent spike in frivolous copyright infringement lawsuits against songwriters, the importance of Rihanna's new luxury fashion house with LVMH and the reasons why Mariah Carey should be in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

WYL & Wun Two - "Kübla"
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Ben Gross — Chief Strategy Officer, Genius
Laura Kinniburgh — Head of Music Licensing, Genius


[2:34] Interview begins

[2:52] Overview of Genius' relations with publishers, songwriters and other players in the music industry

[5:45] Overview of Laura's background in music licensing and current role at Genius

[6:53] Types of licenses involved in Genius' online video series

[7:23] Relationship between Genius' industry relationships and the site's user-generated content
[10:06] How Genius approaches sharing advertising revenue with rights holders—including emerging artists without publishing representation or support

[12:21] Overview of Genius' partnerships and integrations with Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube
  • Spotify's Behind the Lyrics integration launched in January 2016.
  • Apple Music launched its own in-service Genius integration in October 2018.
  • YouTube and Genius briefly tested a Song Stories feature in 2018.
[15:05] Genius' role as an advocate for publishers in their deals with streaming companies

[17:02] Impact of lyric integrations on lean-forward engagement and differentiation on streaming services

[21:16] Role of lyrics in voice search
[24:40] Laura's role in educating up-and-coming and unsigned artists about how publishing and performance royalties work

[25:21] How Genius' "Verified" videos provide a source of publishing income for artists

[26:18] Whether Laura's job in music licensing has gotten easier or harder over time as technology has advanced

[27:36] New and unconventional forms of music and lyrics licensing
  • Genius had to sign an "industrial license" for displaying lyrics from The Notorious B.I.G. at its Lyrics to Life event, hosted in partnership with Dropbox .
[31:00] Why music scares brands from a licensing perspective, and how companies like Genius are trying to help

[33:08] How users can experience lyrics as the first point of music discovery

[35:34] How you don't have to be interviewed in a "Verified" video to get paid by the series
[36:45] How Genius recently reconfigured its approach to music licensing—in part because of Laura's background on The Tonight Show

[38:03] What tools and resources Laura uses to help streamline her licensing process

[39:45] The massive metadata problem for artists and how, if at all, Genius can help out
  • Genius often gets requests from publishers for lyrics data, instead of the other way around! 
[44:23] Overrated/Underrated segment begins

[44:35] The ongoing wave of vague copyright infringement lawsuits from songwriters, in the wake of the "Blurred Lines" case
  • Earlier this month, Chilean singer Jaime Ciero dropped his 2017 lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company, songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and performers Demi Lovato and Idina Menzel that claimed "Let It Go" infringed on Ciero's own composition.
  • In June 2018, Bebe Rexha belatedly gave Shelly Peiken a songwriting credit on the former's song "I'm A Mess," because of a suspected interpolation.
[48:05] Mariah Carey is an underrated songwriter
  • Genius honored Carey at their flagship "Levels" event in November 2018, and Carey did get nominated for the Songwriters Hall of Fame that same month.
[51:10] Fenty, Rihanna's new luxury house with LVMH
Thanks for listening! :)

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