Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Business

Wesley Chapel company distributes digital music around the world

WESLEY CHAPEL

Ten people who work in a small business park 20 miles north of Tampa are part of the future of the music industry.

They work for Symphonic Distribution, a digital music distribution company, which is to say they help artists get their music into online stores such as iTunes and onto streaming services like Pandora. In all, Symphonic distributes to more than 300 online music stores and streaming services globally.

Digital distribution was preceded by physical distribution, back when consumers had to go to a record store to buy music. Only artists who were backed by big labels could get on the shelves, as pressing vinyl, and later CDs, was an expensive venture.

Symphonic founder Jorge Brea, now 30, wasn't backed by a big record label 10 years ago when he was a DJ, and he was having trouble getting his music out.

So, in 2006, with no venture capital, he started a company at his parents' house in Land O'Lakes that would make it easier for him and his peers to get heard.

Brea, who has lived in the Tampa area since 1993, had worked at a software company and had been an administrator at Coldwell Banker. It wasn't until 2008 that he was able to dedicate himself full time to his music business.

"That was kind of a trying year," he said.

But, eventually, the company gained traction. Now, Symphonic Distribution has more than 4,000 clients from all 50 states and more than 100 countries, including artists, labels and even other distributors who don't have the penetration into digital stores and streaming services that Symphonic has. It generated $2.3 million in revenue last year, about $500,000 of which was profit, Brea said. It has even distributed music by Justin Timberlake.

The company bought space along State Road 56 near Interstate 75, amid a commercial and residential explosion in southern Wesley Chapel, because Brea said he's familiar with the area and has loved watching it grow; and because it doesn't really matter for business purposes where the company's brick and mortar are located.

But even though Symphonic's work is done mostly on the Internet, Brea makes sure office visitors are aware of his commitment to locally grown talent. In the waiting room of the company's ultramodern green and black office sits a three-dimensional mural done by local artist Bask, whose work was featured in the movie Iron Man 3.

It's a mind-set that resonates with Symphonic's Tampa Bay area artists.

The company sponsored a battle of the bands competition and offered the winning artist free music distribution. Nick Ewing, 21, who plays violin and viola for the winning band, Tampa-based Dropin Pickup, said he appreciates what a nearby distributor can offer.

"Nobody knows the scene better; nobody knows what's going on better in southern Florida," Young said. "You might have so much more at Universal or Columbia, but they don't know you as well."

And, Ewing said, he likes that he can invite his distributor to a local gig.

The company is doing well, Brea said — so well that it has garnered national attention. A buyer from Los Angeles tried to acquire the company in October, but Brea turned down the offer.

"We're doing all these things that are moving upward and don't show any signs of slowing down," he said, "so it doesn't make much sense for us to do that right now."

The concept of distributing digitally has been around since people have been listening to music on the Internet. The ascent of digital has allowed artists to get their music straight to their fans, circumventing the big record companies — many of which have consolidated or folded as physical sales have plummeted — much the way social media have connected news consumers directly with newsmakers.

What makes Symphonic unique within the digital distribution industry is its pricing model.

Artists pay a one-time $25 fee and then a fee per release. A single would cost the artist $10.99, and a 20-track album would cost $39.99. The release fee earns the artist not only 100 percent royalties on digital distribution, but music video distribution and YouTube monetization.

Symphonic also offers varied pricing for record labels: $500 up front earns the label 100 percent royalties, or a more frugal label can elect not to put anything down and receive 70 percent of its artists' royalties.

"That's one of the most unique points about them," said Brandy Price, music distribution course director at Full Sail University in Winter Park. "Their pricing is so much better than everyone else."

In effect, Symphonic is similar to a record label for independent artists and a distributor for labels that don't have the infrastructure to disseminate their artists' work. The company does mastering for its artist clients, which means it puts the finishing touches on songs and albums to get them ready for distribution. It also does music video production and can make cover art. What the company doesn't do is press CDs or spend millions on marketing its artists, like Sony or Universal would do for a big act.

Symphonic also doesn't make artists sign away ownership of their music, the way traditional record labels do.

"Most people want to be a record label so they can own your masters," Price said. "They don't."

Brea estimates only 20 to 25 other companies worldwide do what Symphonic does. In addition to its unique pricing model, one of the ways the company distinguishes itself is through customer service.

"We literally are the only company who just puts their phone number out there," the Dominican Republic native and Sickles High School graduate said.

It's another reason Ewing and his band mates stick with the company, because of the personal connection the employees offer.

"Every member at Symphonic Distribution knows the names of everyone in the band, their girlfriends," Ewing said. "You're never going to share a drink with the president of Columbia."

Contact Josh Solomon at [email protected] or (813) 909-4613. Follow @josh_solomon15.

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