July 14, 2006 12:00 PM PDT
Where indie music meets mainstream media
Pump Audio, an online service that specializes in cataloging music by independent musicians and marketing it to producers, aims to make the path from indie recording to producer as smooth and speedy as possible. The company, based in New York's Hudson Valley, also has begun offering its service to amateur video makers who use the Internet to showcase their work.
Steve Ellis, founder and CEO of Pump Audio, knows what life as an independent musician can be like. A British singer and guitar player, he moved to the United States in his early 20s and landed a record deal with an independent label in Atlanta.
He recorded his music but it was never released, so Ellis moved to New York to pitch the recording to other prospects. It took three years before he struck a deal with a major label, which initially wanted him to ditch his band and eventually dumped the entire group without explanation.
That was enough for Ellis, who was then 28 with a wife who had been patient about their financially lean circumstances but also wanted to have children and a stable life.
A plan emerges
When he managed to sell a song for use in a local cable commercial and got well paid for it, his business idea was born. The first Pump Audio customer was MTV, which at the time either went through the complicated and expensive process of buying music rights from famous artists, or used music recorded specifically for use as background in TV and commercial productions.
"It seemed odd that people were getting paid to make fake music when there were millions of people like me who made real music but had no market and nowhere to go," Ellis said. "It was pretty obvious to me that if you could take this huge supply of music that was already being created every day in every country and every style, do a little filtering and then provide it to this producer across the table from me, we would have a business."
And a business he has. From that first MTV contract, signed in 2001, Pump Audio now sells music to all 16 MTV channels worldwide as well as to Comedy Central, NBC, VH1, CBS, ABC, FOX, Discovery channel, and advertising agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi. Pump Audio markets itself to musicians through publishing rights organizations, music events and other Web sites, and markets to producers via production-industry events and publications.
Each customer is equipped with a piece of hardware called the PumpBox, a pocket-size hard drive that contains more than 65,000 CD-quality songs ready for use, ranging from driving hip-hop to ukulele standards. The hardware works on any platform and can be shared on a company network.
Mining songs from the PumpBox
The PumpBox also comes with a software search engine designed to find the right tune for a specific video sequence. The software factors in criteria such as genre, mood, tempo and key instruments, and gives the client an opportunity to narrow down the search while listening.
The Pump Audio catalog is regularly updated with new submissions from independent musicians who send their songs to Pump Audio in the hope of earning some extra money. Submissions come from all over the world. Not so long ago a small brown parcel landed in Pump Audio's mail bin with the first entry from Kazakhstan--a heavy metal number.
"There is a lot of angry rock out there," Ellis said. "You never know what someone is going to like with a video. Some think a romantic moment goes best with classical music; others think it's death metal."
Music from Pump Audio has been used to help create the desired effects in commercials for brands such as Nike, Kodak and Mercedes Benz. On Monday, Pump Audio began offering a version of its service to a new market that Ellis believes has great potential: people making their presence known in the world of online amateur video.
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