Art-list Founder, Ira Belsky, Speaks to cinema5D
Some of you may have seen the recent pieces regarding art-list.io from Fabian and me, and you might also have noticed that the cinema5D team is now making use of the subscription music licensing service that they offer. After seeing a lot of activity in the comments section of our posts from Art-list’s Jeremiah, I took the chance to reach out and ask for an interview to get some insights from the other side of the fence. Luckily, Ira Belsky, the founder of Art-list, agreed to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.
So, we arranged an interview via Skype. Or at least, we tried. Ira works round the clock to improve the service—he seems to be very hands-on in everything that the company does—and my schedule was a little crazy, too.
Luckily, we both managed to get a couple of hours free. Without missing a beat, we got chatting. From the very first time he spoke, Ira confirmed something that I had suspected even from our email conversations. He isn’t just the founder of Art-list—he lives and breathes for the platform, its customers, and for the art of filmmaking. His passion for video and disdain of soulless stock music were immediately apparent.
Introducing Ira, the Founder of Art-list
Hi Ira, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, would you mind giving us a quick overview of your history in the industry?
For the past ten years or so, I have been working as a cinematographer and editor. My primary focus was promotional and commercial content for the internet, with a few music videos thrown in for good measure.
If any cinema5D readers wanted to see some examples of your work as a cinematographer, where should they go?
The vast majority of the videos on Art-list’s Vimeo page are my doing, so I’d probably send them there!
Did your career lead you to found Art-list, or was the music industry—or music licensing—something that you’ve always taken an interest in?
Art-list was born out of my frustration over the increasing amount of stock music that was being used in productions. Licensing tracks is difficult for independent filmmakers and small production teams. High-quality music is only available at a premium while stock music is cheap but it hinders the impact, feel, and overall quality of films. I knew that there had to be a way of providing excellent music in an affordable manner.
When was the company born, and what have been the significant moments thus far?
At some point in the middle of 2014, after spending a lot of time deliberating on how to best serve music licensing to filmmakers, I got the affordable annual subscription idea. Art-list began to take shape shortly after that. Our public beta then launched at the beginning of March.
Unless I’m mistaken, Art-list is based in Israel. Do you think that there are any particular advantages or disadvantages that you face solely due to your location?
While we’re located in Israel, we knew that Art-list was going to be a global brand. From the very beginning, our musicians have been sourced from every corner of the world, and that trend has continued with our customers.
How has the feedback from beta testers been so far?
The feedback has been overwhelming, to tell you the truth. Social media and the connection it provides to users is brilliant. The comments and suggestions we’ve received have been fantastic. We’re getting a lot of gratitude from filmmakers who formerly had to settle for stock music, and now they’ve got a catalog of true music available to them, allowing their creativity shine.
In fact, we actually just sent out a massive thank you to everybody who has given us their thoughts on our platform. Feedback, suggestions, and gratitude—the support and lust for improvement have been brilliant, and we’re humbled.
As a filmmaker, this was everything I wanted. I was frustrated with what was available, and I am glad to see that our customers are looking to grow with us. If we listen to them, we can make the product that everybody wants—and that’s our aim.
If any readers are currently subscribed and want to get involved by providing feedback and suggestions, what is the best way they could go about it?
Inquiries, feedback, and suggestions are all possible via email. Alongside providing inspiring music, customer support and communication is our priority. We feel that people committing to a one-year subscription deserve the best support possible, so we’ll always strive to provide that. Customer support was the first department we opened after launch, and we’d like to separate ourselves from the crowd by providing the very best customer service possible.
So, the feedback is coming in thick and fast. Your team are working non-stop. How often can users expect to see updates (both to the catalog and to the Art-list service)?
When we started out, it was a little slow getting everything in place. We wanted everything to be absolutely ready so that nobody experienced downtime or inconvenience with our service. We’ve recently added new ways for users to sort and find the music they want—from tempo to film type—and we’ve been thrilled with the reaction. We also added an icon to all tracks that contain vocals, so our customers know what to expect before they hit play.
Features are being constantly added. It’s not like a camera; there’s no need for firmware—people can log in and explore the new updates as we add them.
We have an excellent team and a combination of that, and the feedback we receive is what will shape the Art-list service. By listening, we feel we can really give people what they want and deserve when they’re looking to license music.
Regarding the music featured, it is hard to give a timeline. We’re getting a lot of interest from musicians, but we’re more focused on quality than quantity. We could accept every single musician, but that would have a negative effect on Art-list. We don’t want to devolve into a stock music platform. We could have 50,000 tracks if we really wanted to, but that’d hinder the quality and make it harder for our users to find the record that they want—that’s precisely the opposite of what we’re aiming for.
Can you give us any insights into what might be next in the pipeline?
At the moment, we’re looking into three new functionalities: searching, sharing, and adding tracks and artists to a favorites list. That’s as much as I am willing to divulge at the moment, but those three should add their own unique aspects to the service offered.
Are their plans to add more payment options?
We are looking at the possibility of accepting more payment methods, but for the foreseeable future, we’ll be sticking with PayPal. It is a popular, safe option which most people in the industry recognize. We won’t be making any additions until we find the best way of implementing safe options for our customers.
Thanks! You’ve gone a different route than most, by making Art-list a subscription service. Why did you abandon the more traditional licensing model?
I think the industry has changed. The filmmaking industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world. Ten years ago, most video production was for high-budget TV and film, but the modern age has seen a shift to lower-budget productions. YouTube, Twitch, and all of these other brilliant services have made filmmaking a much higher audience.
We decided it was time for the music licensing industry to evolve and adapt to this new world. This model brings a connection between filmmakers and musicians, reducing the automation and disconnect caused by stock music. Art-list is aiming to provide filmmakers with quality and affordable music, and give musicians the income they deserve, rather than making people pay for mass produced stock audio.
I understand if you don’t answer this, but I’ve been struggling to get my head around it. With the subscription service, how do musicians receive royalties?
No problem, it’s fairly simple, to be honest. A certain amount of our revenue is pooled specifically to pay the musicians. Our artisters then take a percentage of that income, which depends on how often their material is downloaded.
Part of your fresh take on music licensing is your universal license. What exactly does that entail?
The universal license is special. Once a subscriber has downloaded a track, they are covered to use it for any video project, globally.
A lot of people were worried they’d be obligated to re-subscribe. That’s not the case. Any song users download is theirs to use forever! We don’t want to keep people hostage; we want people to want to stay, by providing quality and original audio at an affordable—and fair—price.
Since the license doesn’t end when a user’s subscription ends, are you not worried that people will take advantage? Theoretically, they could subscribe once and download your whole catalog.
We’re not too worried about that. While it is certainly a possibility, it would be a lot of effort!
Seriously, though, we’re catering to professionals. We think that people will be more than willing to pay the subscription because we’re providing an easy to use, affordable service with constant updates and an ever-growing catalog. Our current subscribers seem to think that Art-list is worth the annual subscription price, and we do too; we just have to maintain our quality of service, and I believe that we’ll be safe from being abused.
How much music is currently available via Art-list?
As it stands, we have over 200 artists and 1,000 tracks across 40 categories. We get contacted by new musicians all the time, but we don’t want just to accept anybody. We aren’t looking for any particular genres, just brilliant music that will work across a broad range of film styles.
When it comes to sourcing tracks and artists, quality over quantity is everything. Art-list will never devolve into an enormous collection of unchecked music—that was the mindset behind old stock music sites, and we do not see that type of service having a part to play in the future of music licensing.
Do you have any plans to implement loop tracks?
Currently, no. Our music is created by musicians. What they produce is whatever they wish to create, whatever feels right from their artistic standpoint. The only thing that we ask of them is quality—though we have been giving them pointers on adjusting their recordings to cater to video editing. Really, we’re just looking for the best of the best, regardless of format, so that filmmakers can have complete creative freedom.
Have you been receiving many examples of movies made by your users, using your music?
Yes! We’re getting some, but we want more. As a filmmaker, seeing what our customers have managed to create using our music and which direction they have chosen to take it is the very best part of my Art-list experience thus far.
We’re planning on the establishment of a submission space so that we get to see more projects that have incorporated our tracks. Some of the show reels we have received so far have been awesome. In fact, we’d really like for any of your readers that have used Art-list in their projects to show us what they’ve done!
Awesome. Thanks very much for speaking to me today Ira, I’m glad we finally got a chance. I am enjoying using Art-list, as are a lot of people, so thanks for providing the service! Before I let you run off, one last question—if somebody is interested in getting news and updates from Art-list, how should they go about it?
Thanks to you too Tom, and to cinema5D and all of its readers for seeing the potential that Art-list brings to the industry—and I hope that we can continue communicating as we have done. Also, thanks to Sebastian, Johnnie, and Nino, for using our tracks in cinema5D’s video content; we really appreciate it!
To answer your question, people can keep up to date with Art-list via our Facebook page, or via our mailing list. We’re looking into starting a blog on our website, which will not only give our users news about Art-list but guides on just about everything related to filmmaking—especially things to do with post-production audio!
Thanks to Ira and the Whole Art-list Team!
I’ll be honest. I am a massive fan of Art-list. The subscription model is affordable, every track I’ve listened to has been worthy of a project, and the team behind the scenes all seem really passionate about bringing Art-list to fruition.
It was a pleasure speaking to people that have founded a company around their passion, who have a clear philosophy of what their service is and where it is heading. Start-ups can be fleeting, but I know that a lot of filmmakers are supportive of what Art-list are doing—and you can add me to that list, too.
If this is the first time you’ve heard of Art-list, or you haven’t checked them out yet, visit art-list.io – you can listen to the music without a subscription, and get a feel for the quality on offer.