How bitter disappointment led to plans to generate $2.7 billion for the music industry

One minute you’re on stage playing your songs to 50,000 fans, partying with The Killers and rubbing shoulders with your idols. A few weeks later you’re knocking on shop doors in the rain begging for a job, breathing a sigh of relief when the manager of Carphone Warehouse invites you in for a trial. That’s life – and that’s how life was for Ryan Edwards. 

Up until the age of 22, Ryan was a drummer with indie band The Lines. Compared to most musical careers, his was a success. He scored a Top Ten hit with ‘Domino Effect’ in 2007, supported The Charlatans, and opened a gig for The Killers – experiences that most musicians can only dream of. But those moments of adrenalised ecstasy soon came to a crashing halt. Not long after scoring their Top Ten hit, The Lines’ record label dropped them. Simultaneously, other indie bands came powering through. So that was that – Ryan’s band was finished, crushed under the unforgiving weight of the music biz. 

However, this is a tale of guts and determination, not of woe. Colour and joy did not drain from Ryan’s life when the label sacked him. Nor did he end up sitting at a desk wearing stiff grey suits and eating stale cheese sandwiches for the rest of his career, constantly reminiscing about the time he high-fived Brandon Flowers. Instead, Ryan, who is now 34 years old, dusted himself down and moved on. His gritty high-street door-knocking exercise won him a job at Carphone Warehouse, and he got stuck in, soon rising from raw recruit shop assistant to regional manager. 

After six years at Carphone Warehouse (“a great business to work for,” he says), Ryan was made redundant. However, he bounced back quickly for the second time, joining mobile-app developer Grapple. Here he learned a new set of entrepreneurial skills under his youthful boss, Al Crane. Before long, FinTech company Monetise bought Grapple, and Ryan absorbed more business and tech knowledge, becoming head of digital for Visa Europe and commercial director of loyalty scheme start-up Bink.

Now the twist comes – a twist that would take him full circle back into the music industry, but this time as an entrepreneur. The moment that set it in motion came in a department store’s menswear department. 

“Two years ago I was walking around the store with my wife,” says Ryan. “Suddenly my song Domino Effect came on over the speakers, which made us laugh. My wife – being the accountant that she is – asked me just how much in royalties I’d get for that single play. I told her it would be peanuts – certainly not enough to buy the Mulberry bag she’d been looking at! But I promised to find out how much.”

Ryan logged onto his online royalty account where – theoretically – he’d be able to locate the department store’s playlist and see how much he’d been paid for it. But there was no record of it, so he went on a mission to find out more about how the royalties system works.

“What I discovered is that generally speaking, it’s hard for royalties’ organisations – such as PRS For Music and PPL – to keep tabs on who’s played what,” says Ryan. “These are not-for-profit outfits set up to fight for musicians’ rights. They’re not tech savvy businesses; they’re not accountancy firms. They collect money by charging licences. They work out the number of radio plays, and they do stuff like stand in commercial spaces with clipboards listening to what’s coming out of the speakers. They also ask businesses to supply data about what they’ve played, which, unsurprisingly, very few do.”

A solution to this knowledge gap struck Ryan. “I immediately thought technology could fix it. A music-recognition app could monitor what’s played, record the time of each play, and report the details to royalties organisations. Then I’d get paid each time a business played Domino Effect, and so would millions of other musicians who currently go unrewarded.”

A shiver of excitement ran through the former drummer. Properly executed, this idea could offer justice – and revenue – to fellow musicians. What’s more, it felt like a winner both from a business and technology perspective. There was no time to lose. He went to work, pitching his idea to his ex-boss Greg Gormley, co-founder of Bink. Greg immediately agreed to invest and put Ryan in touch with other potential investors.

The embryonic start-up team came together quickly and forged a plan. They’d create a small plug-in device – similar to an Echo Dot – containing a cloud-based music-recognition. The royalties’ organisations would send this device to all commercial businesses when they applied for a new licence to play music in public spaces. The ‘audio meter’ would then ‘capture’ everything played, log it and report back to the royalties’ organisation, providing a perfect picture of what had been played, resulting in the accurate and fair distribution of royalties. 

“We registered the business in August 2018 and got going lightly,” says Ryan. “But I’d say we really started to accelerate from about January 2019. We built a prototype device to prove that the technology worked and we took it to some of the royalties societies in the UK and US. They showed interest and we took our first order within weeks. Another of societies also sent us a letter of intent saying they want to work with us. Also, a few weeks ago, we got a message from a royalties organisation on the other side of the world. We hadn’t even tried to talk to anybody over there yet.”

The early signs are about as encouraging as it gets. Audoo’s list of backers reads like a who’s who of big hitters in the music and tech industries. In addition to Greg Gormley (co-founder of Bink), there’s Luke Heron (co-founder and CEO of Testcard), Tim Davies (chief innovation officer of Co-op), Ed Matthews (MD of Jefferies), Marcus Watson (CEO of Adoreum) and Nigel Elderton (chairman of PRS).

Not surprisingly, raising funds has not been difficult. “So far we’ve raised just over £600,000,” says Ryan. “And we are closing out a further £1.2 million funding round, with another round planned for 2020.”

Audoo promises huge things. The global music industry is worth $43 billion, and artists are currently paid only 12% of the revenue generated. Indeed, artists and record companies lose $2.7 billion in revenue annually because SME owners (such as cafés, gyms and barber shops) typically stream music from personal accounts instead of buying a commercial-use license. Audoo has the potential to shift a good proportion of that lost revenue to the people who should rightfully get it. “If we can make the music industry fairer and royalty distribution more accurate, our mission will be complete,” says Ryan.

These figures are exciting, but there’s another angle to the story too: the lessons Ryan’s journey can teach us. Like so many great entrepreneurial ideas, his was a long time in the making. It was forged in the fires of disappointment and honed by years of grit and hard work. Without experiencing sweet joy and then bitter anti-climax with The Lines, Audoo would never have happened. Its creation and development also depended on Ryan dusting himself down and hammering out a new career with Carphone Warehouse, Grapple and other tech companies. Only after those experiences – collected through positivity and a strong work ethic – was he in a position to receive and act upon the idea that hit him while strolling through a well-know department store. And now the future looks bright. It might just even top the feeling of sharing the stage with The Killers whilst playing in front of 50,000 people…