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Friday, March 27, 2009

Frank Zappa and Downloadable Sheet Music

Musicnotes, Inc., the market leader in downloadable sheet music, announced that it recently sold its five-millionth download since the site first launched (1999). The five-millionth download was a Guitar Guru Session of Don McClean’s “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night),” and was sold to a customer in Germany. Musicnotes will also pass another milestone in early 2009, when royalties paid to publishers and songwriters will pass the $10 million mark.

I'm pleased that Musicnotes are doing well, but this really doesn't seem like a lot of sales, considering they've been around since 1999. What's striking to me is that this was something that Frank Zappa envisioned in 1981, and almost even raised venture capitol for it.

Frank connected my then partner Steve DeFuria and I with the same venture firm, Rothschild Capital (yes, that one) and spoke highly on our behalf. We actually met Baron Von Rothschild in the penthouse of 1 Rockefeller Plaze in New York as a result.

Frank gave us the use of his studio to make our initial pitch to two Rothschild bankers, which happened to be at 9AM, one of the few times that he slept (every day he had two 8 hour shifts in the studio and some private writing after that). About 15 minutes into our pitch, Frank burst into the meeting with coffee cup in hand, torn t-shirt, sweat pants with a hole in the knee, and severely matted hair, obviously right out of bed. Steve and I groaned a little inside, wondering how his appearance was going to go down with the 3 piece-suited straight-laced New York VCs, but Frank launched into an absolutely captivating hour and a half pitch on our behalf, holding everyone in the room in the palm of his hand. That was Frank. Everyone who ever came in contact has a story (usually a lot more than one).

Our project (called the MicroScorer, basically a computerized music scorewriter that's pretty much in every DAW these days) and Frank's were never funded, mostly because the oil crisis that year made energy investments the better bet, but it was an interesting little ride at the time.

Sheet music over the Internet was a dream of Frank's and he'd be proud that it eventually happened. Wish he were still here to see it.


Don D said...

It's interesting to note that sheet music was the first real minifestation of a RETAIL ENTERTAINMENT PRODUCT. In other words, it was something that allowed an artist to sell his works to an audience without actually having to be in the same room, selling tickets to enjoy the show. Sheet music was the birth of the retail entertainment business. Antone interested in this should check out the book "Northern Songs" where Rupert Perry explains -- in a deliciously short chapter -- the early histroy of intellectual property as it relates to music and, eventually, most creative businesses.

Don D said...

One more thing:
The first company to roll-up the independent sheet-music purveyors became history's first entertainment "giant" back at the turn of the 20th century. The name of that company: Music Corporation of America. Eventually known as MCA. Ring a bell?

Bobby Owsinski said...

Sheet music is not what it used to be in terms of sales, but it's still a steady seller. It took a hit from the copy machine and still seems to survive.


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