With a background in sales and a longstanding career with both major labels and production music, George Macias has seen many sides of the music business and currently serves as co-CEO of MatchTune, a company that develops AI-powered audio & video tools for content creators. I was recently able to speak with him about the work he’s doing in the music-for-visuals space, as well as his past work at places like Xerox, APM Music and EMI.
– Hi George. Nice to be speaking with you. Given your initial background in sales, how did you get your start in the music business?
I got my start by selling copiers at Xerox as a door-to-door salesman in Chinatown and downtown LA. I eventually worked my way up the company, and by the end of my time there was running the entertainment division on the West Coast. That was my first opportunity to interact with record companies, but then 9/11 occurred and it made me re-examine what I wanted out of my career. I left Xerox soon after, and despite having no prospects, I knew that I wanted to work with music and was good at selling things, so I aimed to combine the two. A friend of mine was doing sales consulting for APM Music, and that’s how I met Adam Taylor. He’d been hired as the President two months prior, and I was brought on as the National Sales Manager in 2002. After meeting my colleagues on the first day, I remember going into my office and thinking, “I know nothing about music licensing, but I know how to sell things, and since we need to sell music, I’ll figure this out “. That was the start of a great relationship. Adam and I have been friends for over 20 years, and I was at APM for about half of that time.
– During your time at APM, what was your primary contribution to their operations?
My first role was focused on sales, as well as building a team that could take a unique approach to that. The production music business at the time was mostly concerned with inbound sales, meaning a client would call in with a music request for his TV show or film. You’d search your catalog and hope that whatever you submitted fit their needs. The commercial record business still works that way today, where most of the sync placements at record labels come from inbound requests. My contribution at APM was to institute outbound requests by hiring a sales team and implementing a similar strategy to what I used at Xerox. This meant having each salesperson focus on their own departments so we didn’t have video game people calling up ad agencies. As a result, each team member could become an expert in their field and grow their industry relationships.
– Rumor has it your sales strategy helped increase APM’s sales from single digits to double digit percentages. Is that true?
Yes, it is. When I started in 2002, the business was not doing as well as leadership wanted, but Adam and I were able to turn that around quite quickly. APM is now the dominant production music destination in North America and they continue to grow worldwide, so Adam’s done an amazing job.
– You moved from APM to EMI Publishing in 2009. What were some sales strategies you implemented there? And why did you leave?
I left because I wanted to get more experience on the publishing side of the business and APM didn’t have that because their focus is on production music. Part of my goal at EMI Publishing was to duplicate the sales structure we had at APM and apply that to the sync division. I was responsible for a global overhaul of how our teams worked, as well as their go-to-market strategies. I was also on a committee that helped determine how EMI’s sync operations would integrate with the label side that was merging with Capitol. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and the company ended up being sold to Universal, but it was a great experience to engage with senior management, many of whom I’m still close with. It made me realize that I wanted to hone my skills even more, which made me go back to school and get a Masters in Business.
– Once EMI was sold, what did you do next?
I wanted to try my hands at running a company, so I created a startup called Chess Box Media. The idea was to develop a streaming service similar to Spotify but in an underrepresented part of the world, so I began in India with the intent of expanding across Asia. I still think it was a great idea, but the timing of 2011 made it hard to raise capital due to the economic crash of 2008. However, my idea was validated by another company founded at the same time and on similar ideas; it’s called Hungama and has a valuation of over $3 billion. So my idea was great, but the experience taught me that entrepreneurship isn’t just an idea – it’s a formula that includes the idea, execution, timing and the right amount of luck.
– It seems you ended up at Vanacore Music in 2013. What was the focus at that company?
Vanacore is probably the largest producer of original music for reality TV in North America. It was started by David Vanacore, the composer of the theme music for Survivor. He parlayed that into a successful business of his own and brought me on to help scale the company. By 2013, I’d developed a structure to formalize sales and marketing through the hiring of sales teams, and I was able to utilize this methodology at Vanacore. I was there for three years and it was a wonderful time. They’re the largest company of their kind in North America and I’m still good friends with David, but I had a defined job to do and it was time to move on once that was accomplished.
Vanacore has branched off into other areas since I left. They now have a sync division for film and trailers called Champagne Breakfast, a distribution company for streaming, and are more actively involved with indie artists.
– In 2018, you became the SVP and Global General Manager for Universal Production Music. What was the thrust of your work during that time?
Going to work at Universal marked my return to production music. It was a different role than at APM because it was more global in nature. We had offices all over the globe and I oversaw operations for all the different territories. Similar to my role at APM and EMI, I formalized the sales and marketing departments, and strove to make our strategies more consistent globally whilst retaining the ability for local territories like France or Sweden to do their own marketing. So basically, I was responsible for everything from our finances to content creation strategy, branding strategy, and marketing strategy.
– Can you give an example of how you were able to streamline UPM’s operations?
Sure. When I started at Universal, something that didn’t make sense to me: they had acquired numerous production music companies in different territories, but each of them retained their original names and operated separately in spite of being owned by the biggest music company on the planet. Universal had the largest brand recognition in the business, but weren’t utilizing any of that on the production music side, so one of the biggest things we did was rebrand all local operations under the Universal Production Music name.
During all of this, I worked very closely with my boss, Michael Sammis, who’d spent the prior 20 years as Global CFO of Universal Music Publishing. One of our focuses was to make sure we captured all the revenue streams, not only for the company but also for our composers. So we were able to expand our work with neighbouring rights in territories outside the US, and formalized that process so the money came in consistently. We ran UMP for three years or so, and all the work we did went very well.
– You’re currently the Co-CEO at MatchTune. Tell me about the company’s founders and how you transitioned from Universal to your new position.
The company was founded by two guys: Philippe Guillaud, an incredible strategist and technician who still codes even though he’s on his forth company, and André Manoukian, a French jazz musician who was a decade-long judge on Nouvelle Star, the French equivalent of Idol.
Regarding my transition, there’s always challenges when you work for a large company with many layers and employees, and one of the things I wanted to do more at Universal was leverage entrepreneurship. We achieved a lot, but there were always limitations and I knew when it was time to move on. I took some time off and later learned about MatchTune through Rodolphe Plisson. Through ongoing conversation with Philippe and his team, I became interested in the chance to be truly entrepreneurial at MatchTune, as well as put to practical use some of the ideas I’d had over the years.
– Since Philippe was already the CEO, why did MatchTune opt for another CEO rather than create a unique position for you?
I asked Philippe the same thing before I joined (laugh). Having two CEOs isn’t typical, and there’s practical reasons why the decision making usually rests with one person, but we’ve seen companies like Salesforce and Netflix successfully experiment with co-CEOS in recent years. MatchTune did it because the company was founded in Paris but has aspirations to grow globally, which required two things: someone to establish a strong presence in the US and to complement Phillipe’s skillset. That’s what I was brought in to do.
I’ll never forget what someone at Xerox said to me long ago: “If two people agree on everything, you don’t need one of them“. The great thing about Philippe and myself is that we form our own opinions but still have a great way of interacting. We have debates and discussions, and it allows us to make better decisions.
– What are the issues MatchTune is trying to address in the marketplace?
We’re trying to do some ambitious things. For fifteen years I’ve thought the way we search for sync music has been difficult. First you need a certain musical vocabulary to input the right search terms, then you have to connect what you’re hearing to what’s on the screen. You also have to know what’s possible from a rights and clearance perspective, plus manage your budget and the expectations of the third party you’re working with, like an ad agency. They might want to use AC/DC’s “Back In Black” for a Porsche commercial, but that’s a very expensive song to get. So one of the things MatchTune tries to do is change the workflow around production music, but without disrupting people’s ability to make a living.
– Can you break down MatchTune’s technology and platforms? What software tools have you built to aid your goals?
At its core, MatchTune uses AI to do a number of things: the first is to analyze and extract a video’s subject matter and pass that on to a music recommendation engine. Most search engines for music require you to manually type in keywords like “happy”, “R&B” and “female vocal” to produce a result, but our system is different – it uses the analysis results from the AI engine to match the video’s attributes with suitable tracks. You’re then able to demo the tracks in real-time with your video, which is a feature that differentiates us in the market. Also, you don’t have to know anything about music, video or how to sync them – you just drag a video into our system and it handles the rest, including posting the final video to social media or a website. Our hope is that when MatchTune presents its music options, people will find the right choice after the first few tracks. It’ll save our clients a lot of time and will also allow people to tell stories in a more cost-effective way.
All of the above is done in MatchTune’s “Studio” platform, which is our flagship product. The iOS app is having tremendous success and there’s also an Android version. We have a web app for PC and a MacOS version that comes with additional features, as well as a widget that makes it usable in editing software like Final Cut or Adobe Premiere.
– You also have Tuneblades, which seems to be an audio processing tool. Is that right?
Tuneblade is the technology inside of Studio that automatically re-edits your track. If you upload a 30-second video, Studio isn’t pasting 30 seconds of static music under the images. Tuneblade will intelligently do source separation to split the instruments, compare video analysis data, and re-edit a track to fit it in seconds. So what you get is a track with a beginning, middle and end to match your video.
– How did MatchTune build up its music library? Did you have to license an external catalog or did you have your own?
We used open source catalogs that are available on the Internet. An example is the one from Google, which has a million tracks in it that an AI system can use for learning. We’ve also had partnerships with music providers like BMG Production Music. We used a lot of music from those two sources to teach our system.
– MatchTune’s technology seems like something other music companies would benefit from. Will you ever license it to others?
We’ve been approached by pretty much everyone about licensing our technology, but we’re purposely not doing that because we want to create our own environment where music creators can participate to earn revenue.
– Since you’re not licensing your tech, are you looking for other ways to work with companies in the B2B space?
Yes, we’re developing the tools that’ll let us offer value in that world. Take a company like ESPN, one of the largest users of music on the planet; they have great relationships with music providers but face a similar challenge as everyone else: they have employees who are skilled with media but don’t want them to spend time and energy making an Instagram reel that lives for only 24 hours. So MatchTune can help by facilitating the music side of that.
There’s also platforms where video isn’t utilized enough, like Airbnb. When you visit their site, you see many property pictures, but what if a home-owner could walk around filming a 30-second video, add music using our technology and post it to their listing? It’s a way for us to deliver value in places where video is worth more than pictures by letting you see the entirety of a product or service.
– What are MatchTune’s thoughts on the royalty free model?
Our music isn’t royalty free – I’ve never been a huge fan of that term because it sounds like you’re taking something away from someone. All the music we have is pre-cleared and our composers participate in every usage of their music.
We have a subscription model for our customers and share the revenue amongst the composers. Whether it’s a large catalog with thousands of songs or an indie artist who gave us one song, everyone gets paid if their music is used. Because the system works through AI, it picks whatever tracks it picks, so everyone has an equal opportunity to land in a video.
– What are your thoughts on using AI-generated music to sync with videos in Studio?
There’s a place in the market for AI, but the emotion around music can’t be recreated by a machine. You can use AI to creatively re-arrange music but we prefer to use real music as our starting point.
– Philippe mentioned in one of his past interviews that MatchTune’s composers get paid relatively quickly. Is that still the case?
Yes, it is. When music gets synced to a video, we know all the details of what track got used and where the video ended up, so our goal is to pay composers in a timely manner. The interval is currently every three months, but we hope to eventually do it monthly. That said, if you’re an artist with music on our platform, you can log into our portal and see what your usage is.
– Thanks for talking to me, George. It’s been great to learn about your career and MatchTune. What’s next for you?
We’ll continue rolling out our technology on new platforms as well as growing our partner network. We’ve also started an Artist Music Program where indie artists can upload their music and have it on our platform without the burden of doing things like meta-tagging. We’re also in discussions to onboard companies that own a lot of indie music. We already have a partnership with TuneCore which gives us access to thousands of artists, but we want to grow those partnerships. TikTok has taught us that music gets discovered in all kinds of new ways, so maybe one day MatchTune will help discover the next Lizzo or Bad Bunny.
(Below: George Macias)