Illuminated by stage lights in an otherwise darkened studio, Zach Winters looks out with a smile and starts to sing.
The fledgling indie-folk artist from Norman, Okla., accompanied by his wife on vocals, a percussionist and a violist, engages an intimate crowd of about 70 onlookers with song and banter as a camera crew records his session. A video will be made and uploaded at Musicbed.com, where filmmakers and advertising agencies can consider his songs for use in commercials or movies.
The scene might be common in places like Los Angeles or Nashville, but this recording session is taking place in far north Fort Worth, at a studio building set among suburban homes just west of Alliance Town Center. Not exactly where you’d expect to find a thriving digital music business.
But that’s just what Daniel McCarthy has created. The Fort Worth native is the driving force behind Musicbed, a fast-growing music licensing business that represents more than 600 artists and licenses their music to corporations, nonprofits and filmmakers.
Since launching five years ago, Musicbed has carved out a place in an industry fueled by rapid growth in video production for corporate marketing and advertising. Samples of music are available through its website, Musicbed.com, where customers can search by genre and place orders.
McCarthy said the company handles about 13,000 licenses a month, with prices ranging from $150 for a limited online use to $50,000 for a multiplatform campaign or independent film. Customers include major corporations such as Nike, Google, JetBlue and The Home Depot, as well as entertainment giants including Sony Pictures, Netflix and Lionsgate.
Revenue has been doubling each year, he said, and employment has expanded as well, from about 25 to 45 workers in the past year. So earlier this year, the company relocated from office space on Magnolia Avenue south of downtown Fort Worth to a two-story 16,000-square-foot building at Heritage Trace and Harmon Road in north Fort Worth originally built by the Wilks brothers, who founded Frac-Tech.
Building a hometown business
McCarthy sank $2 million into the building, creating modern office space, a studio and an outdoor patio area for intimate concerts and other events. Earlier this year, the company hosted its first film festival, featuring films that used music from its site.
While much of its business can be handled online, McCarthy, 29, still wanted a place where his employees could meet and get to know customers and musicians.
“Technology gives you the freedom to not have any direct contact with customers. For us, that’s where it becomes a burden,” he said. “You represent people better when you get to know them.”
A graduate of Southwest High School, McCarthy came up with the idea for Musicbed while working for Ardent Creative. He needed music for a video and found the available selections underwhelming and overpriced.
After getting help from a friend in Nashville, he decided there was room for a business that could offer a strong selection of music using the latest technology to reach clients. He sold a house and launched the business with childhood friend, Nic Carfa.
The pair started contacting music labels to sign up artists and then used ad industry connections to start pitching the catalog. Once it had about 200 artists, Musicbed became very selective in adding musicians, curating content to offer a selection of genres and sounds.
While it might have made sense to locate in one of the country’s music hubs, they decided they wanted to stay in Fort Worth and contribute to the region’s creative community.
“Hopefully we are bringing a lot of art and creativity to the Metroplex,” McCarthy said.
Musicbed — the name refers to background music layered onto videos — works through major ad agencies to service corporate clients and has established its own connections to video makers. The company recently launched a new division called Filmsupply, which licenses video clips.
“They have really put something cool together,” said Russell Ziecker, executive vice president of TV Music for Lions Gate Entertainment, the studio behind such hits as Mad Men, Orange is the New Black and Weeds.
Ziecker was quickly impressed when he was introduced to McCarthy through a friend. He agreed to be a judge for Musicbed’s recent film festival and was blown away by the breadth and quality of submissions.
Ziecker decribes McCarthy as well-spoken and focused on creative excellence. “He has a through vision that’s greater than being a music supplier,” he said.
JetBlue Airways has used Musicbed for about three years to find tracks for videos it produces for both internal communications and outside marketing.
Jonathan Weitz, the airline’s video manager, said songs are vital in setting the tone for videos, and that at Musicbed, the “music is authentic. It’s real. It’s emotional.”
“We oftentimes send them a rough cut of the video, ask them to help us select a track or an artist that might be relevant to the piece,” he said. “They don’t just sell licenses, they’re sometimes a big part of our production process.”
Changing musicians’ lives
McCarthy said Musicbed provides an important source of money for struggling artists, allowing some to quit part-time jobs and focus on their passion. Anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of income from a music license goes to the artist. And Musicbed produces high-quality videos on its website to promote artists.
“There are a lot of musicians creating great work who don’t have a voice in the industry,” he said.
Consider Zachary Kuykendall, who got hooked on music at Frisco High School and then studied music production in college, first in Los Angeles and then back in Collin County.
He started to create his own music while working freelance production jobs but went back to school at the University of North Texas thinking he would be a social studies teacher.
Then one night a friend told him about Musicbed. He made his first sale two years ago, for about $25. “I was so psyched that something that I created was something that somebody else wanted to pay money for,” he said.
He added more tracks to his Musicbed site. Slowly business built. At first it provided extra income that allowed him to buy more equipment. Then he was making more than he made as a substitute teacher. Eventually the Musicbed money outgrew what both he and his wife were making.
In two years, he sold more than 2,500 music licenses. His biggest client? Wedding videographers. “It’s very hopeful sounding,” he says of his music.
Recently, he and his wife moved to Nashville, where he plans to immerse himself in the music world.
“We were able to move to Nashville because of Musicbed,” said Kuykendall, 27. “Musicbed was a key to this great life change. If they hadn’t existed, my life would be totally different.”