Vinyl Group's Josh Simons on how metadata can create a fairer industry, plus LP e-commerce expansion

Vinyl Group's Josh Simons on how metadata can create a fairer industry, plus LP e-commerce expansion

Jaxsta changed its name to Vinyl Group this month.

The company relaunches with a pledge to provide tech solutions that connect and give credit to the global creator economy. Vinyl Group will function as an umbrella brand that incorporates the company’s three existing brands: music credits business Jaxsta, music industry social-professional network Vampr and e-commerce platform is a vinyl e-commerce platform that currently operates in the US, Canada and Australia, with plans to launch in the UK next year.

Expanding to the UK remains a key part of our product roadmap in 2024,” said a spokesperson. “We will share more updates with you on this, including OCC accreditation, in the near future.”

Jaxsta describes itself as the world’s largest database of official music credits, with data partners ranging from major labels to the Grammys. 

Here, in an extended online interview, recently appointed chief exec Josh Simons reflects on his new position, the acquisition of Vampr and the role of AI...

As a British-born exec now based in Australia, can you talk about your family’s background in music?

“My grandfather was an early partner in Leeds Music, which was acquired multiple times over but ultimately today is the backbone of Universal Music Publishing Group. My father followed in a similar vein, although he went more of an independent route and created a few independent music publishing companies that worked with some pretty big people – Maxi Priest, Paul McCartney. 

“It was forced down my throat from about the age of four, so I did have a decent grasp. When I had an artist project in the late 2000s, early 2010s, I remember sitting in my first few publishing meetings where I was trying to get a publishing deal for myself, and they didn't like that I knew quite how it all worked, which was funny. Yeah, it's just something I've grown up with.”

You became CEO of Jaxsta (now Vinyl Group) soon after it acquired your company, Vampr, in the summer. How has it been making the leap?

“It was a baptism a fire. When we were selling the company, we were focused on finding an acquirer where the synergies would be obvious, and Jaxsta really was a match made in heaven. We're targeting a similar problem, which is how do you help people professionally network in the music industry? We created a social platform; Jaxsta was very much a database approach, and they built this incredible asset with data deals with every rights-holder imaginable. So the power of bringing those two together – a social platform with a database that comprehensive – was always very attractive to both companies. [In the near future] you'll see a product that brings some of those things together.”

What are the immediate priorities you’ve identified for the company?

“It’s been a really fun but also challenging process of looking at all the various different products and services that we offer between Vampr, and Jaxsta. With a new management team in place, we have an opportunity to consolidate some of these products. Is there kind of an ‘everything app’? The short answer is, 'Probably', but in order to be an all-in-one platform, you take your time and take your users on a bit of a journey. We've got a grand plan and, bit by bit, we’re bringing it all together.”

Can you share the vision for aligning those services?

“For a business customer, which might be a record label, music management company or law firm, they're very much interested in just the IMDB-style Jaxsta platform. But then when you look at your everyday music creator, let's say an indie musician who's put out their first EP, that's where Vampr is far more useful. But at the same time, they really would like to show off their verified credits and that's where merging Jaxsta with Vampr Pro becomes far more compelling.”

So for songwriters and producers, this helps them to highlight their official credits via Vampr?

“Exactly, it strengthens the Vampr profile. When I conceived of the Vampr idea in the first instance, LinkedIn wasn't cutting it for musicians. When you're looking for a drummer or a bass player, you want to hear the music they've recorded, it's more experiential. It’s the marriage of the audio-visual Vampr experience with that music résumé [via Jaxsta’s credits database] that’s compelling.”

Jaxsta holds a lot of music data, what role do you play in the global music ecosystem?

“It really depends on the customer's use case. We've got estate companies that want to make sure that the estate's collecting as many royalties as they can, and they'll use our service to make sure that there's nothing missing from their registration system with the CMOs and PROs around the world. In an ideal world, every single music company that relies on metadata would cross-check with our database. Some PROs and CMOs are starting to see the value in using our database to improve the accuracy of their own version of that data. Ultimately, when it all flows through, it means that songwriters get paid more accurately.”

One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is matching recordings metadata with works metadata – we can do that with a very high level of accuracy

Josh Simons

With that amount of data, how can the industry get to grips with the problems of royalties allocation?

“One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is matching recordings metadata with works metadata [ISRC and ISWC]. That's a bottleneck for most people, and solving that is an incredibly useful tool. Every collection society in the world and every label struggles with the reconciliation of the two. We can do that with a very high level of accuracy. It comes down to making sure folks get paid. 

“If you take a Taylor Swift song, like Shake It Off, there might be 100-odd covers. How are publishers meant to stay on top of all of those different recordings, and make sure that every time that recording is sold that that percentage that's owed to the songwriters gets paid to the songwriters? So it becomes very useful in that sense, to publishers in particular, because staying on top of all those different recordings is just really very tricky.”

So Jaxsta is helping songwriters to get paid fairly?

“Yeah, it’s almost core to our DNA, the belief that correct metadata and transparency is ultimately the path forward for a fairer music industry, especially amongst independent musicians. It's a long game, we're not going to solve the problem overnight and we won't solve it alone, either. We're not trying to be a collection society, that's not our job. We're trying to partner with folks that rely on that information to make sure those people get paid.”

Looking at the third brand in the group, what’s the model for

“Obviously vinyl, as a medium of music, has been growing year-over-year in quite a surprising fashion for a decade now. What a lot of existing e-commerce vinyl stores lacked was an ability to – as we describe it – go digital crate digging. One of the joys of buying vinyl is looking at who contributed to a recording, who was the producer, who was a mixing engineer. Digitising the liner notes and turning that into a consumer experience for vinyl just made a lot of sense. One of our largest shareholders, Songtradr and its CEO Paul [Wiltshire], had had rights to the URL, so we licensed that and then also built a platform around it, and we're looking to expand that beyond just vinyl records. We want to extend it to merchandise and collectibles, both physical and digital, and just turn it into a music lovers’ playground online. We saw an opportunity, there’s just nothing like it that exists at the moment. It's the fastest growing unit of the business. We're looking forward to, hopefully, a very busy Christmas period.”

And the sales are chart-accredited…

“That's a really important part of our marketing strategy, because it opens doors for us to work with labels and do D2C campaigns and exclusives. So chart accreditation was a top priority when I first came in.” 

As a rich resource, can drive catalogue sales too?

“Absolutely, and long term – we're probably talking 12 to 24 months – the ambition there is to, on top of the storefront, also expand it more into a marketplace and allow people to trade between themselves as well as buy original [vinyl releases]. That's an ambition and dream that we're pursuing.”

Finally, how is the Vinyl Group working with artificial intelligence for its platforms?

“We're doing some stuff in the AI space right now. It’s about how can we use the information that we have from the Jaxsta side to make stronger, algorithmic recommendations on the Vampr side for future work partners. Because the whole purpose of Vampr is to use an algorithm to introduce the Lennons & McCartneys of the world, the Dres & Eminems. That was always the mission statement. I would argue we’re the market leaders of doing that particular service, but it can always be substantially better. We've indicated to the market that it's something that we’re spending quite a bit of our R&D budget on.”


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