Tech Talk: Music Firm Distributes Digitally
IRIS Distribution, founded in 2003 in San Francisco, is a music industry marketing and distribution company that sends out audio, video, and album-cover artwork to websites, music reviewers, social networks, and Internet radio stations on behalf of independent record labels. IRIS tried a variety of ways to send these files, including snail mail, e-mail, and FTP but settled on a file-transfer service, Bryn Boughton, chief marketing officer, tells IncTechnology.com
Elizabeth Wasserman: What does IRIS Distribution do?
Bryn Boughton: We are a digital music distribution and marketing company that works for mid- to large-sized independent record labels to get their music distributed to 430 retail outlets around the world, including all the big names, such as iTunes, Napster, Rhapsody, and anywhere you would purchase music digitally. On the client side, we work with 650 record labels, varying in size. Most have different niche audiences -- electronic, rock, jazz, blues -- but they specialize in independent music.
Wasserman: What type of technology issues do you grapple with?
Boughton: On the distribution side, a lot of issues stem from lack of standards. We deal with hundreds of different stores and there is not an established standard for delivery specifications, encoding, transcoding, or delivery of the files. We have to convert all our audio, artwork, and meta data into all these various formats. It's a big issue in the industry right now. In the general music space, a lot has been going on with music. There's been a transition from physical product to digital product with peer to peer technology enabling people to share music. It's really led people to re-evaluate how music can be monetized.
It's also the fact that so many artists can make their music available for sale right now. It used to be that distribution was a problem because there was a chokehold by the major record labels. Now that barrier has been taken away and independent artists and even music hobbyists can make their music available online. There has been a real recognition of the importance of marketing music online.
Wasserman: You encountered problems in distributing these large-sized music files. What did you do to resolve those problems?
Boughton: We resolved that by building a dynamic and extensible encoding system. We are very efficient and can handle all those distribution formats effectively. We handle the distribution of all our promotional files through YouSendIt, which we started using three years ago. Previous to that we mailed physical copies for promotional use. That was very expensive in terms of mailing costs and packaging and labor.
Wasserman: What do you use the service for?
Boughton: We use it on the distribution and marketing side. Some record sites want to submit files to us for distribution from musicians and record labels. FTP is available but some aren't comfortable with navigating that technology. We enable them to deliver it to us through YouSendIt. On the marketing side, we actually send out materials to writers, online publications, music discovery sites – anywhere people can review music or are posting music for free downloads. It's important for us to send multiple types of files. That was one limitation of other services. There are other services specific to music delivery but all they deliver is audio and they're proprietary so journalists would have to log in. That's another step where you're likely to lose someone's attention. We want to make it as easy as possible for someone to grab a file and listen to it.
Wasserman: How does it work?
Boughton: Everything is campaign specific. In some cases, the label is concerned about protecting music from being leased ahead of release date. So we'll make sure a file is password protected. We're able to track who is downloading it. In some cases, we want music to get as far and wide as possible, so we make a link available. On the other side, when labels send files to IRIS Distribution, they feel comfortable because the site is branded as IRIS. They see our logo and they can upload their files to us. It's similar to FTP but a lot more intuitive.
Wasserman: What have the results been?
Boughton: We've been really happy. Just going from a physical promotional campaign to digital saves thousands of dollars on a campaign. There are still some journalists that just prefer the physical materials, but we've definitely cut a big chunk of that out.. ON the labor side, we've been able to cut out a lot of the human resource time involved with people using FTP and making people feel comfortable using that technology.