How Risk Becomes Reward and Surviving Becomes Thriving 994 words · 5 minute read

“A lot of dreams came true in 2014. For the first time in my career, I felt a surreal and profound shift from the experience of “surviving” to “thriving.” Seeds planted years ago and labored over season-after-season began to bear fruit. And then there were surprises, both painful and pleasurable, moments of joy and gratitude… And the dozens of opportunities to build character in the moments discomfort.”

Written by an independent artist in her blog last month, this from-the-heart quote speaks volumes on the current state of the music industry. Millions of rising artists found their careers curbed in recent years as record sales plummeted, leading many to seek alternative revenue streams in order to “survive,” as this blogger put it.

That’s how Music Dealers met Wendy Colonna, the author of that wise quote, and together strove to elevate her career into the “thriving” state that it is today.

One catalyst in that success, according to Wendy’s recent interview with The Austin Chronicle, was a placement for a national ad by Coca-Cola, for which she wrote the track, “A Happy Song” exclusively for the spot. The commercial garnered acclaim from consumers and admen alike, and was listed as “Top Ad of the Week” by AdWeek after its airdate.

“Basically, Music Dealers called and said, ‘We need you to sign a non-disclosure agreement.’ [Laughs],” Wendy responded in the interview. “They sent me an explanation of what was needed. I had exactly a 30-minute window to write and send a demo of a song.”

“I thought, ‘What am I doing?! I’ve got to boil this down to a 30-second sound bite.’ But I was game. In 30 minutes, the first draft was in the bag, [and I] sent it to him: Me and my ukulele singing into the little mic on my Mac.”

“I found out it was a go in mid-March. Then I got mentioned in the Wall Street Journal South by Southwest picks, and I thought, ‘Whoa! Things are happening!’ The ad started airing on Memorial Day weekend. I remember getting phone calls and text and Facebook messages from people saying OH MY GOD!!!”

In a Jan. 16 press release, Music Dealers announced it had earned over $15 million in revenue for its artist community since the company’s founding. These opportunities arise from a variety of services, ranging from commercial music services and custom music creation to strategy and sonic identity, including unique sync licensing placements and booking exclusive live performances for artists.

“Television, games, movies … they may want these familiar hit songs, but they’re real expensive to license,” continued Wendy. “Music Dealers built a business around the idea that there is this surplus of artists out there with great music.”

Music licensing can be a great tool for artists and brands alike. Brands get the benefit of working with real artists, whose passion and authenticity can lend themselves to the content the brand is producing, whether that’s ads, social media or an interactive campaign.

“Working with indie artists provides McDonald’s with the flexibility and innovation to co-create something really special,” said Deborah Wahl, CMO, McDonald’s. “We also enjoy using our brand power to help artists realize their own dreams. Similarly, many of our owner/operators are entrepreneurs who started with nothing but a dream, and we love their spirit and determination.”

And artists benefit from the opportunities that come with working with brands. Wendy’s successful sync with Coca-Cola is a great example of the mutual benefits each party can enjoy. From the placement, Wendy earned significant promotional value for her work and marketed her music in an entirely new medium, thereby reaching millions of new fans to whom she otherwise would not have access.

“Basically, before the deal, I could afford to make a whole record, but not pay for a PR campaign,” Wendy explained. “Then: ‘Oh. look! This is the exact amount you spent on PR!’ This is the universe saying: ‘Congratulations on your risk! It was the right choice; here’s your reward.’”

Chicago-based band The Ivorys is another example of applying the power of music licensing to propel an artist’s career. Recently featured in two web ads for DiGiorno Pizza’s Super Bowl campaign, the band’s song “Can’t Stop” jumped to iTunes’ #HotTracks chart beside major-label hits, such as Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk.”

“Working with Jessie at Music Dealers and DiGiorno on this campaign was a tremendous opportunity, and ‘Can’t Stop’ making the iTunes Hot Tracks charts alongside Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” was huge for us. Not to mention, the social media buzz got us even more exposure and opportunities. Can’t thank Music Dealers enough!”

“[$15 million earned] is a celebration of all of our artists, and of the breaks Music Dealers and our clients have created for indie artists as they advance their careers,” said Eric Sheinkop, Founder & President of Music Dealers. “We are thrilled to be the stepping stone to give many of these artists a stage to share their music with the world, and help them generate significant income doing what they love.”

Through Music Dealers, Wendy Colonna was also placed in several opportunities through blanket deals with major brands. These include MTV blanket deals in 2012 and 2013, and in a CBS blanket deal for the television show, Charmed.

“The bottom fell out of the music business. What’s a musician to do?” said Wendy. “They can go clean houses; they can go use their talent to teach in a church. I’ve taken every music job there is, and I think there’s dignity in being open to the creative process however it shows up in your life… Songwriting is songwriting. At the end of the day, [taking the Coke gig] helped put out a new record. What a blessing.”

And blessings are exactly the results that we love to see created when progressive brands forge relationships with emerging artists.

Check out Wendy’s profile for a taste of her deep versatility and superb creativity.

By: Zach Miller, Music Dealers