26 Jul Online industry remains music to Broadjam’s ears
Editors note: This article is the first installment in a series examining successful dot-coms in Wisconsin.
MADISON – When the infamous dot-com crash hit in March of 2000, it burst the bubble for thousands of entrepreneurs who thought that they could make it rich with a unique concept and standard business plan. Excessive spending and a downward spiral in the stock market caused companies – both novice and established – to suffer, laying off employees and dropping out of the market like flies.
Now, after the downfall of so many companies early in the decade, the dot-com industry is once again rearing its head in a resurgence of profit and popularity. With the prolific search engine Google – now valued at $36 billion – about to go public and Yahoo!’s recent records in profit, companies such as these have taken the limelight. But there are many other flourishing Internet businesses in the wings – many of which got their start right in Wisconsin.
Broadjam.com – Music for the Internet masses
One business that carved out a niche in Wisconsin and went on to become one of the Internet’s predominant music sites is the Madison-based company Broadjam Inc. Founded in September 1999 by Roy Elkins and his wife Stephanie Essex Elkins – both corporate executives and musicians with years of experience in the field – the company was conceived as a way to serve both the performer and business aspects of the music industry.
“Musicians are always creating and performing new songs; music industry executives are always searching for just the right music to license … and there are a lot of folks trying to connect the two,” Elkins said. “The company makes the connection between them … and plans to capitalize on the placement of music by collecting licensing fees and royalties.”
To capitalize on this opportunity, the company has been split into divisions tailored to handle specific aspects of the music industry. Broadjam’s Web site is designed to serve both musicians and music executives by providing the world’s largest digital database of independent music and a song-search engine, which is ranked as the most advanced system available.
Performers and industry figures even have the ability to network directly with the site using the company’s unique METAJAM software, delivering all their data straight to Broadjam.com and allowing them to organize band schedules, industry contacts and musician Web sites in one place. Broadjam also manages Top Ten Music, providing a publishing system to capitalize on the most successful of the independent artists who make use of the system.
The other division of Broadjam is handling music industry services, providing useful tools and systems that can be customized to specific needs. So far, the major projects Broadjam has invested in include a song categorization for Warner/Chappell, an online voting mechanism for the Academy of Country Music, song lyric databases for Gracenote and audio encoding for Peer Music and Napster.
Steve Scott, former vice president at Warner/Chappell Music, credited the success of their metadata organization to Broadjam’s efficiency and customer service. “They are the whole package … smart, nimble and cost efficient. They provide customer solutions tailored to our specific needs, yet come in at costs far under competition.”
It is due to these skills, and several other attributes, that Broadjam has been able to survive. Primarily, Broadjam was the first company to invest in its particular area, and as a first mover could determine how to manage their market. The company made sure to direct a strong portion of their capital into technology, using transmission and encoding mechanisms to strengthen their Web site and develop products for consumers.
Even vision was important in the beginning, as the advanced Web site and its efficient features gave the impression that Broadjam was a much larger company. This gave it more credential than other companies had, meaning that they had more business connections develop and received a higher amount of clientele. A proximity to Madison supplied them with a high quality, low-cost workforce during crises, meaning it could stay afloat during troubled times.
Not an easy journey
This is not to say that Broadjam has had a free ride – it fell upon hard times with the crash as well, in a climate where “the Internet sector was considered a pariah,” according to Elkins. In 2001 they were unable to acquire a TDL loan of half-a-million dollars, forcing Elkins to lay off half of the company’s employees and give the other half pay cuts. With a vast array of competitors collapsing due to poor knowledge and excessive spending, Broadjam was forced to tighten the belt. Largely, Elkins credited this to a lack of interest in music systems in Wisconsin, saying they would be better off piping music into dairy farms to raise production in order for Broadjam to acquire funding.
“There is a perception among a number of innovative Wisconsin businesses that non-biotech companies are treated like stepchildren in this state,” Elkins said.
However, this perception has not deterred Elkins or any of Broadjam’s executives, who continue to develop and look for expansion ideas. “Broadjam … will continue to thrive and grow by continuing to monitor the pulse of industry and staying a few steps ahead.”
Broadjam customers such as Bob Romeo, president of the ACM, added that much of Broadjam’s success comes from a personal interest, saying that their focus on the voting system can be attributed to the staff’s own love of music as much as technology.
“Anytime you work with someone who understands that industry, you understand what they’re trying to do … and are able to make it work,” Romeo said.
Les Chappell is a staff writer for the Wisconsin Technology Network and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.