In a lot of ways, the Internet ruined music. Before the turn of the millennium, producers built careers on sampling and remixing, and bootleg tapes boosted individuals to stardom. Genres like old-school hip-hop and ’90s electronica were crafted from mashups and creative borrowing—and, with only major record labels on the hook to pay for the rights when songs were released, whole up-and-coming scenes thrived on appropriating popular riffs.
Thirty years later, that’s not an option. Complex pieces of software effortlessly flag hundreds of videos and tracks for copyright infringement across multiple platforms. Remixes are taken down, YouTube uploads are removed, and online streams are muted. For a musician relying on external samples, it can end a career before it’s begun.
Finding a cheap and easy way for rising and established producers to access previously used, studio-quality sounds has stumped the best minds in the business. But for Vancouver startup SKIO Music, the solution seemed obvious.
“Our mission is to allow people the freedom to create by changing the way that licensing and copyrighting is done,” cofounder Omri Amouyal tells the Straight over a coffee. “Young producers can’t afford $500 an hour for someone to draw up a contract so they can make a remix in their bedroom in Sweden—and no lawyer will ever do that deal, either. Creators can’t get access to content to make music with. They’re forced either to do it illegally, which means their track is likely to be taken down, or they have to use royalty-free samples and sounds, in which case nobody is making any money. How can artists survive like that?
“We’re allowing people to get paid and get credit for what they make,” he continues. “Our system creates a revenue stream for musicians and rights owners. With a couple of clicks, creators can make a contract with someone else on SKIO, and they can get the rights to remix something without worrying about it ever being taken down.”
After his own bootleg remix was removed and his SoundCloud account slapped with a notice of copyright infringement, Amouyal teamed up with his brother Zohar, a law graduate, to work out a creative and universal solution. Joined by Grammy Award–winning producer and sound engineer Jordan Young—better known as DJ Swivel, whose clientele includes the Chainsmokers, Beyoncé, Jay Z, and Kanye West—and a team of high-end lawyers from Los Angeles and New York, the pair has grown the company from 2,000 to 50,000 users over the course of a year just by word of mouth. Now in more than 130 countries around the world, the Vancouver-based business is only getting bigger.
“I think much of our success comes from how easy it is to use, and how supportive our community has been in helping us build this tool for creators,” Amouyal says. “If you were looking to make a new remix or collaborate with another artist, you’d go to the platform, hunt through the library of music, and find a song, producer, or vocalist you like. Some tracks are available instantly, and you can just click a button and you have those rights and download the stems. Otherwise, you send the artist a message. That will automatically include your whole press kit—your SoundCloud and Facebook, for example—and the musician can look at your style and decide if they want to work with you. You then customize a deal together. What you put in the contract is your choice—you can negotiate things like royalty percentage, the date that the mix has to be complete by, and the number of revisions, by moving a slider on the page.”
Open not only to electronic-music producers, SKIO has users from all genres on its platform—and its diverse mix of acts has, accidentally, opened up completely different markets for artists.
“Some of the most popular songs in our marketplace are not dance music at all—they’re indie tracks, or postpunk, or even Christian rock,” Amouyal says. “But they’re getting remixed like crazy and turned into electronic tracks. SKIO is creating audiences for them that they never would have been exposed to before. We just did a remix contest with Young the Giant, for example, which is a radio-friendly band. Of 4,000 amazing entries, the track got transformed into everything from dubstep to underground house.
“There are thousands of licences being created on our platform,” he continues. “When we started, everyone knew that remixes being taken down was a problem, but the question we were repeatedly asked was ‘How do you know people are going to use your site?’ Now we can point to how many artists are a part of our community, and the successes that we have every day. Top labels are on the platform, high-end producers, artists, engineers—all aspects of the business. We’re finally levelling the playing field for all creators, and it’s changing the game.”
SKIO Music is currently running four remix contests, with prizes that include signing the tracks for official release. The website can be found here.
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