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Deep Cuts: Songness discovers 'invisible' performers
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William 'Bill' Geissler His earlier ventures include a surveying firm and United Press International

Songness, an online artist-rating and song-recommendation platform, is being upgraded and readied for formal launch, according to CEO Bill Geissler, a Shelbyville entrepreneur.

The three-year-old developing Internet venture, incorporated 15 months ago, aims to identify and rate independent performers who would usually be overlooked by consumers hungry for fresh talent, said Geissler.

The most recent Songness investors are Judith Geissler ($300K), the founder's wife; and, Mississippi entrepreneur and restaurateur David Paradise ($200K). Earlier investment in Songness totaled $500K, Geissler said.

 
 Herrington

Earlier seed investors include Dan Herrington, a partner in Nashville-based Herrington/Fox Management, the former owner of Dualtone Music Group and erstwhile executive with Arista Records and BMG Entertainment, said Geissler. Murfreesboro resident Bill Ahlhauser, a financial consultant, also played a key role in Songness' earlier stages and remains an owner, but on the sidelines, Geissler confirmed.

 Paradise

Paradise, a multi-brand restaurant franchisee based in Natchez, told VNC he invested after meeting Geissler through a mutual friend, because he believes Songness could prove transformative for the music business, and because he was favorably impressed by Geissler. (Paradise noted that he's also considering a cable- or television-programming venture.) Geissler said the introduction to Paradise was through Farsheed Ferdowsi, a Nashville entrepreneur and investor.

Asked about his confidence in Songness, despite the inherent risk, Geissler declared, "I've never been more certain of anything in my life." He later reinforced this by saying, "More than 90 percent of songs are excluded by the hits model and the industry is failing because of the high cost of exclusion. The new paradigm must be predicated on inclusion, which is also consistent with consumer expectations." He aims for Songness to be a force for inclusion.

Geissler acknowledges he's had a steep learning curve in the past year, but the negativity he says he encountered among some major label executives has been offset by the encouragement he's gotten from such folks as Al McCree, the local president of American Association of Independent Musicians and CEO of label Altissimo! Recordings. Music Row publicist Kissy Black of Lotos Nile also provides counsel, said Geissler.

Inevitably, some observers are skeptical, given the crowded e-music playing field. Mark Montgomery (at left), currently entrepreneur in residence at Claritas Capital, said Songness will have a tough time working from scratch to achieve "mindshare," given that its content is not yet fully developed and awareness of the site is limited. Montgomery and his co-founders sold their Echomusic platform to Ticketmaster (then part of IAC), in 2007-08.

Montgomery said he believes Songness' best hope lies in partnering with bigger players. Geissler did not rule-out such scenarios. Several other observers noted that individual artists are now able to use social media to achieve ends similar to Songness'. Geissler stressed he believes Songess will become an essential tool, but would never be the only thing artists to do promote themselves.

                                          ► More details on Songness business model here.

Geissler, 62, previously founded and successfully exited Survey Next, an opinion-surveying business. In 1982, Geissler and co-owner Douglas Ruhe bought already-imperiled United Press International (UPI) from the E.W. Scripps media group for $1, but two years later the wire service fell into bankruptcy and was sold.

 
'stache's Moore

Songness has selected New York City-based 'stachemedia, part of the RED Music distribution division of SONY Music Entertainment, for crucial viral marketing, advertising and public relations assignments, but the group is not yet under contract with Songness, according to Allison Moore, 'Stache's manager of advertising and social media.

 Tuning-up?

Moore acknowledged "the music world online is pretty saturated," but expressed confidence in her firm's ability to "corral enthusiastic people" to use Songness. Attracting the basic traffic isn't nearly as challenging these days, she said, as "having the crowd be sort of sticky."

'Stache works mainly with SONY artists and with about 80 independent labels, Moore told VNC. Geissler said he met 'Stache during the year he spent visiting major labels in New York City. The Songness launch slated for February will cost up to $200K, said Geissler.

MediaNet is another key ally in all this, affording Songness streaming access to about 10MM tracks, according to Geissler. Songness will maintain within Amazon's Cloud tracks uploaded directly to its portal by artists. Songness' technology and a network of contract programmers is overseen by CTO Al Cripps, a professor of computer science at Middle Tennessee State University.

Songness development has been heavily influenced by the direct involvement of Doug Eck, an expert in song recommendation and related fields whom Geissler said recently joined Google. Eck was previously associated with the University of Montreal.

Songness' legal work is done by Nashville's Sobel Poss & Moore and accounting is handled by Chris Sparks, based in Shelbyville, Geissler said. The Songness alpha website will soon be upgraded significantly by Delevante Creative, Geissler said. VNC

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Tags: 'stache media, Al Cripps, Al McCree, Allison Moore, Altissimo! Recordings, American Association of Independent Musicians, angel investing, Bill Ahlhauser, Bill Geissler, Chris Sparks, Claritas Capital, comparison, Dan Herrington, David Paradise, Delevante Creative, Doug Eck, e-commerce, entertainment, Farsheed Ferdowsi, Judith Geissler, Kissy Black, Lotos Nile, Mark Montgomery, MediaNet, music, Pandora, ratings, recommendation, RED Group, seed stage, Sobel Poss & Moore, social media, Songness, SONY Music and Entertainment, United Press International, UPI


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