“When it was super expensive for someone to even have a typewriter or a radio – we coveted every word. We live in a BuzzFeed world now where there’s just so much of it out there,” says Jared Gutstadt, CEO, CCO, and co-founder of music licensing company Jingle Punks. In the world of music, a large bulk of that stock there’s so much of is now cleanly categorized into search engine-friendly tags at Jingle Punks. With collective Internet knowledge Wikipedia-fied and filed into BuzzFeed-like lists and Twitter hashtags for easy access, Jingle Punks always believed they could do the same with music. And so far, they’ve found massive success. After all, the World Wide Web has drastically changed the way we think about cultural references and really, the way we refer to culture at all with an endless possibility of taggable, annotatable things – why not with music?
To do this, first, TV-editor-turned-music-licensing-CEO and composer Gutstadt wanted to remove the “image component” from the music, to in a way democratize the playing field of licensable music. All artists that work with Jingle Punks enter a fair 50/50 split contract that’s non-exclusive, meaning they can walk away with their music at any time. Because of Jingle Punks’ inclusive submission process, he explains that it all really goes down to “may the best music win” because literally anyone can submit music. Because of this, oftentimes subpar clips of music that would never sound good on their own end up having the potential to be reappropriated by Jingle Punks into nuggets of produced gold for television, film, or brands – like Jared’s composition that’s now known as the Pawn Stars theme song. “We have to categorize even the bad stuff so people can find that,” he explained.
Skeptical, I asked if he thinks regarding music as “content” in this way is taking a bit out of the creative process, and he responded that, “Well, I think that everything evolves with the means to actually produce things.” It reminded me of something a musician friend once told me about creatives – that we’re really just able to short-circuit our way around the creative blocks that “normal,” non-creative people think is their reality 24/7. So – is Jingle Punks actually democratizing what we assume is some sort of “creative process” needed to make music? Read my interview with Gutstadt below, and let me know what you think. In it, he discusses music-making templates, working with musicians outside the world of music licensing, and his thoughts about the future of music and content as a whole.
Words by Alina Nguyen.
ALINA NGUYEN: I’ve heard you call what you do at Jingle Punks a “democratic music idea.” Can you explain what you meant by that?
JARED GUTSTADT: Yeah, when I was in bands, there were people who grew up more well-connected than I was with richer parents, with the right haircut. And when I was on the Lower East Side playing in bands, that’s usually what determined whether or not you were good or cool or worthy of ending up on some music supervisor’s desk at MTV. So for us, we wanted to let the best music rise to the top, so we really took all of the image component in the selection of music for television shows out of it. We categorize music based on tags. So if a song is written by some shlumpy 60-year-old dude who lives at home and it sounds like Hans Zimmer or it sounds like Television or Coldplay, we categorize it as that. The best music, when people search for it, is gonna really be what ultimately has it as an end selection.
So we started this company with a bit of a very inclusive attitude. I think that that’s really been our sweet spot since we actually opened our doors. We’ve always welcomed composers to come in here and be part of our process, we’ve welcomed people to submit music from around the world, and it’s never come down to who’s cooler, who’s better connected – it’s really, “May the best music win.”
“WE CATEGORIZE MUSIC BASED ON TAGS.”
What’s the screening process like?
Originally, it was myself and Dan on the Lower East Side. Literally, the company was started in an apartment smaller than that half of the side of the room. People in bands that were playing at Luna Lounge or Pianos would literally just come by and be like, “Hey, I heard you can get our music in TV shows, here’s a CD.” We got so many of those early on that we’re like, “We have to have a better mechanism for getting it into shows.”
So we started a Cloud-based submission process where anyone could submit two tracks, we would listen to them, and if we liked them we’d say, “You’re in, submit more.” Then at that point, they would go off to our team of music, I guess, “categorizers.” And these are kids – it’s our version of the mail room. If you’ve ever seen agencies like William Morris or CCA, they have the mail room where people graduate from. People who have come from our mail room have become “some of the most successful composers in all of television.” We have Jeff Peters who literally has 1,000 television [songs]. We have this guy Bill Marked who is now one of the biggest writers in country music.
Pre-this company, I was a TV editor and I was in bands and now the creative resume of all of us is kind of grown crazy this year. I worked with Nas, I wrote with Dierks Bentley, we had our first top 10 record drop today with this artist Jelly Roll out of Nashville.
Can you tell me more about the project with Jelly Roll?
Yeah, he is an artist out of Nashville who was actually a hardcore rapper who came from the world of Three 6 Mafia. He went on tour with everyone from Insane Clown Posse to Gucci Mane, he’s buddies with Yelawolf. And when I found him, he had put a whole lot of hardcore rap stuff online. He had one song that was a cover of “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor and I was like, “That’s the thing you should be doing. Acoustic guitars with rap.”
I literally reached out, out of nowhere, and he is someone – he’ll tell you – he’s been in and out of prison his whole life, I just happened to find him on an upswing where he had turned around his life, wasn’t dealing drugs anymore. I went down to visit him, we hit it off like family and I spent, literally, a year with him recording. The guest features on his record that we pulled together was everyone from Travis Barker to Uncle Kracker, Yelawolf, this girl Priscilla who wrote [Ke$ha’s] “Timber” and Miranda Lambert’s last single. We’ve really just built our own sound and story over the last year and now that’s becoming an expansion of the Jingle Punks offering.
Ultimately, Jingle Punks is a publishing company that helps peoples’ music get served. Now that we have so many avenues, we can actually help break artists. We have him, we have this guy, Lil’ Dicky – he’s kind of blowing up right now.
Oh, Lil’ Dicky – [one of The Hundreds’ contributors Jensen Karp] actually interviewed him.
Nice! He’s another person where we signed him to a publishing management deal. And we’re finding all these kids on the Internet that were like, look, they can benefit from our studios, our reach into television shows, our relationships with the different film studios, and even lifestyle companies like Street League.” We were just at with Brian last night and he was like, “What’s something big that we can do this year that puts music into content?” So we’re trying to put our heads together there.
“WHEN IT WAS SUPER EXPENSIVE FOR SOMEONE TO EVEN HAVE A TYPEWRITER OR A RADIO – WE COVETED EVERY WORD. WE LIVE IN A BUZZFEED WORLD NOW.”
What percent of the bands that you work with get music deals after?
The new thing is that when people get enough success with us, they end up on our radar. We literally have 3,000 artists who have submitted to us over the last few years. So it’s hard to give everybody the attention that they deserve because some people are just really happy just do to that. But every now and then there’s someone like a Lil’ Dicky who really just exploded off the Internet. Or like a Jelly Roll that I went out and found. Or this kid, Clark Manson, or JR Moore out of Nashville. We found a lot of country artists lately and a lot of white rappers. [Laughs] We’re like, what’s the deal with that?
It’s kind of an open door policy, if people are ambitious and come to us and say, “Look, this is how we’re going to make money together.” If they’re willing to tour, if they’re willing to be their own best marketing vehicle and create content, and we can put them in studios and get them a record deal set up, that’s a really winning scenario. You can’t want it more than an artist and an artist can’t want it more than you. When that sweet spot of everybody being on the same page happens, it’s beautiful.
I actually meant, what percent outside of your help –
Go on to get? Quite a few, this guy Mike del Rio – he was an early artist in our system and now he’s signed to Alex da Kid’s publishing thing. We had The Cataracs who are literally two of the biggest EDM producers out there right now, they work on Britney’s records. We had Sleigh Bells in our system.
Oh, [Sleigh Bells] actually makes a lot of sense.
We had members MGMT submit music, it’s been crazy over the last few years. We had the guy who wrote “Angel of the Morning,” and “Wild Thing,” who is like the coolest dude I’ve ever met. He’s Angelina Jolie’s uncle, his name is Chip Taylor if you want to Google this guy. But he’s Jon Voight’s brother and he was a songwriter who was living on the Lower East Side. He just came by our place one day early on and was like, “I want to get my music out.”.
Obviously, a lot of what you guys do with licensing kind of thrives on cultural references – like [clients will] want the music to emote a particular feeling that people will relate to a particular thing. How do you think the Internet has changed the way that we think about cultural references?
That’s actually an amazing question because it’s so hard to describe things the ways that we described them three years ago. Coldplay and Green Day are no longer the cultural references. Ray William Johnson and Cimarelli – bands that don’t really exist outside of this [bubble] are known by more people, theoretically, than some of the biggest indie bands or some of the biggest pop bands because their subscription to their premium YouTube accounts are so – that’s part of the cultural vocabulary that exists now. So it’s gotten more challenging.
But it’s also designed as a tool to really – for people who work in television, film, and commercials to describe music. So on that level, we’re still pretty much on our sweet spot. But as digital content becomes more and more of a focus for our business, we have to adapt and continue to speak the language that everyone else is speaking.
Is there such a thing as unique music DNA? Can you still make completely unique music? You’ve mentioned that you can’t.
I would like to not be cynical and say yes. But I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. Some of the coolest stuff being made right now comes from the world of hip-hop. A lot of the electronic musicians are basically just using a different set of tools than what people were doing in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s and every now and then something new comes out of that. Whether it’s a new message or just a new sound. Even the stuff that like – the Southern rappers that we’re finding are doing, it’s now a true hybrid between country music, pop music, and hardcore rap and finding it’s own weird, American sound. I love that because I believe that if Ahmet Ertegün was live today he would look at these Southern rappers and be like, “Oh, cool, that’s the new blues artists of our generation. People have a depressing story, but a really great musical message to bring to people.”
Right now, what’s currently trending for you guys? What’s the top couple – maybe 3 – most searched terms?
This is going to sound corny – a lot of the times it’s emotional terms. So people type in “uplifting” a lot, which will never change because they’re like, “Give me an uplifting commercial.” So that falls into the Coldplay, Imagine Dragons category. But you’d be surprised, when we first started U2 was a big search term, but then it evolved to Coldplay, then it evolved to Imagine Dragons, then it evolved to Bastille. There’s always bands that occupy certain lanes like it was Green Day then something else. Then Postal Service then it was Owl City – things just continue to evolve, it’s a different way of describing the exact same thing.
You see more and more esoteric electronic searches is cool, I like that. Then seeing a lot of random indie bands that normally wouldn’t be on people’s radar being mentioned as an actual search term is cool too.
What do you think it takes to be such a prolific composer? Since I read that the average composer here will do up to seven songs a day.
I mean, I set the pace on that originally. When we first started, I was making up to 20 tracks a day and eventually – it’s like the Gladwellian [10,000] hours thing – once you know how to do it, it’s unfair to hold the composers to the same sort of strenuous regime that I was holding myself to because it was my company and I really wanted it to be successful. So we figured out what that sweet spot was, it was like, “That’s the most you can do, somewhere in the middle is what you can do, and this is what you should do.” I think that people just decode the language of music and then it’s just speaking.
If you’re a great typist or something like that, do you really want to burn yourself out and type as much as you can every day or do you it to be quality work? So we focus a lot of the quality of it. Initially, when I was just creating that template of how to churn out music – I was literally just in the middle of doing something now before you came in where I’m doing demos where they’re a little produced. [Plays music] some game show open. And like that just took me 20 minutes to assemble that. But then I have the benefit of having the mixers and composers finish a lot of these tracks. So if I just put in the basic notes they can just get the rest going and we have a work flow system where once I hit save here and drop it in a Dropbox, someone from New York can continue to take it all the way. What I’ll hear is the final mix a few hours later.
“I THINK THAT PEOPLE JUST DECODE THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC AND THEN IT’S JUST SPEAKING.”
[That’s] so efficient. It’s crazy because – this totally ties in with even web content – the way that we societally generate text content these days is so BuzzFeed-y. Don’t you think that that takes a little bit out of the [creative process]?
Well, I think that everything evolves with the means to actually produce things. When it was super expensive for someone to even have a typewriter or a radio – we coveted every word. We live in a BuzzFeed world now where there’s so much of it out there. That’s why when stuff is amazing and really hits you, it’s kind of even more important than all the noise going on around. This thing right here, this thing is probably categorized as noise, that’s why when I work on something with Jelly Roll, it takes a year to make. Much more important to me and hopefully more important to other people and impactful.
It’s like, all content is moving in the same way.
I mean, look at reality TV, that’s our bread and butter. I worked in reality TV as an editor, you just shoot everything and then try to make up a story after.
How do you decide what musical basis to cover outside of what’s commissioned? Because it sounds like you guys are really on top of –
And we’re trying to contribute to our library too. So we’re looking at the charts a lot and we’re looking at our metrics, we have a very robust metrics business that we see what everybody is searching and really use that to code that, again, into information that becomes our agenda. I wish it was a little less scientific, but if I just woke up every day and made what I wanted, we’d have a whole lot of the same in there. It’s helped us stretch our legs and grow. Every year, during the holidays when I have time off, I try and learn something new. Whether that’s how synthesizers work or making tracks that sound like a Trent Reznor score. That’s projects that we kind of take away over the holidays. Not necessarily because there’s someone who wants it, but because we want to learn how to do that.
I thought it was interesting when I was reading more about you guys – how there might be a clip that, on its own, might never work, but you guys are able to reappropriate things that maybe aren’t the best of the best – but somehow it meshes into something that works. And I feel like it kind of levels out the playing field for creative ideas. Do you have anything to say about that?
Like in terms of just pieces of audio that normally wouldn’t work for other things? Yeah, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. We’ve had instances where early on we learned our lesson. There was an artist that submitted music that we thought was really bad and then NBC ended up licensing it because they needed really bad music for something and this person made $5,000 off a joke song in an episode of a sitcom. And we’re like, “Okay, we have to categorize even the bad stuff so people can find that.” It was crazy, you have to have everything.
Do you remember which artist that was?
Yeah, I shouldn’t say, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
We were talking about content and how the Internet has changed the way that we think of cultural references to things. What do you think is the next step?
The next step for us would be – we’ve discussed this for a while – but being able to hum ideas into our player and be able to get ideas back, like advanced voice recognition software or things where you can literally Shazam your musical preferences. Or even feeding episodes of other TV shows into our system, “We want our show to feel like this,” so we can create templates for people.
[I’ve heard that] you guys have great company culture here.
I mean, I’d like to say that the most important thing for me is that we built a company where I come to work every day and it’s like hanging out with an extended version of my family. When I’m here, I’m missing my friends in New York. And when I’m in New York, I miss my friends here. So we’ve created a fun place to work because I’ve had so many shitty jobs in the early 2000s, I know what it’s like to come to work and be like, “Fuck my boss.” We don’t really watch the clock here, everyone just tries to be as entrepreneurial as possible, create new ideas, invent. If they want to play in a band and they need time to record or studios, that’s part of it, but you don’t have to necessarily be a musical person.
We also have a content division, where we’re going out and shooting fun videos. We will rarely say no to people when they say, “I want to do something at this company.” It’s kind of an open door to people who are creative and just want to be curious about culture. So I hope we can maintain that as long as possible. [Laughs]
How have you built the team that you have so far?
A lot of kids that came from liberal arts colleges. We didn’t do a lot of the Berklee School of Music-type things. We found a lot of kids who just grew up the same way I did, which is a bored suburban kid who was waiting for an opportunity to make my own shit. It started with this guy, Bill Marked, who’s now in Nashville. He recruited probably six or seven of his friends from Syracuse and then we became a seeder school for Syracuse to the point where I go back every year and speak at the Martin Bandier School. It’s really awesome being part of a school’s culture that I didn’t even go to.
So what kind of lectures are you giving?
I just tell them the story of Jingle Punks, how to start a business. Talk about how Dan and I got drunk, had a margarita fight at each other, and started a business. Hopefully I inspire people to be functioning, fun, entrepreneurial, alcoholics. [Laughs]