Amanda Byers is the wise and impassioned Managing Director of Tunefind, the most comprehensive search platform for music placed in film and television in existence. Entering this venture from a background in corporate social responsibility, Amanda deployed her sharp business acumen with the intention of growing Tunefind into an invaluable resource for avid entertainment fans and seasoned industry players alike. Presently, Tunefind attracts more than 5 million visitors per month, who come to join the conversation and scour their extensive database, which hosts detailed playlists of more than 1,200 television shows and 1,500 films. In our informative discussion, Amanda speaks on the benefits of fostering an engaged community surrounding Tunefind and her daily grind to serve the global streaming audience.
Can you tell us the story of how Tunefind was born?
Like all great ideas, Tunefind began on a couch. Back in 2005, our founder, Matt was hanging out, watching television. He was watching an episode of Scrubs, heard a song and loved it. He wanted to go and buy it - this is 2005, remember. People still bought music! - but he couldn't figure out who it was. Later that same week, he watched an episode of The West Wing and the same thing happened. He thought, “This is crazy. This should not be a problem in this day and age. I'm trying to buy these people's music and I can’t." Obviously, this was before anything like Shazam existed. It was also before Spotify existed, so there were no playlists.
Music was becoming a really prevalent part of what people were experiencing on television. Matt sat there and said, “I think I can fix this." He did it as a hobby while he worked as a renewable energy developer in the daytime. Tunefind was his passion project on the weekends for fun. It started off very small. In the beginning, there were only 10 shows on the site and everything was completely manual. Initially, he was watching shows and hunting down the information. Matt realized that he was definitely not alone in wanting to access this information and a community slowly built up around Tunefind. It was completely organic and people started coming out of the woodwork to help out and contribute.
He started to build features to help support that crowdsourcing system and get more people out there, hunting down the music and sharing the information with other fans. Fast forward to today, the site has over 5 million visits a month. All motivated by people looking for that song they just heard.
How did you initially become involved with Tunefind?
It’s a totally random story. Matt is a very long-time and dear friend of mine. Over the years, I had let him know what shows I thought should be included on Tunefind and gave him some ideas as to how to expand and grow the site. A few years ago, I happened to be overseas and needed a job that I could do from anywhere. Tunefind had gotten to the point where a million people a month used it, and Matt said, “This is no longer at the point where I can just do it on the weekends. This is a real thing. People are actually using it and it needs more time devoted to making it even better.” So, I came on board to do exactly that: help take care of the community, expand our coverage, make improvements and hopefully, continue to grow the site.
What was your professional background prior to running Tunefind?
My background is in corporate social responsibility and responsible investing. I was looking at environmental and social issues around investment processes. It was my role to understand how things like climate change and governance practices could impact investments. So, it is obviously a totally different area. I came into this purely as a fan and have learned everything on the job.
What are the core competencies of the business and how has it grown over time?
First off, I think it’s really interesting to look at the landscape. Not only is there a massive amount of new content being created, both in film and television, but music is being used a lot more overall and in a lot of creative ways. Combine that with a lot of indie artists that are under the radar and sometimes hard to track down. Plus a lot of music supervisors are using unreleased and pre-released music. All of that together means that a service like Tunefind can really shine.
If a song is not released or it's not available on one of the major distribution platforms, those sound recognition apps aren't gonna find it. On top of that, when we’re looking at sync, you've got people marrying music to picture. There's often dialogue or action sounds, which can be make automated recognition harder. So, we’re able to go out there and really give the people a more complete listing. It’s been audited by humans and gives details about the exact scene where the song appeared. Fans can then go straight to that artist, or that track and buy or stream it on major legal streaming and download services.
The fact is, Tunefind isn’t doing this in a mechanical way. We’re verifying the content. We do that in two different ways. One is by working directly with music supervisors to try to get official song lists right from the source. The other way is through viewer submissions because we cover so much content. We've got over 1,200 television shows worldwide and another 1,500 films. At any given time, about 250 of those TV shows are putting new content out weekly and then we're adding about 10 movies per week. So, it’s a lot of content, about 3,500 syncs are added to the website every single month.
For the shows where we don't have that direct relationship with the music supervisor, one of the things that Matt did early on was to create a community to collect this information and build out some crowdsourcing features. We use an algorithm to help ensure quality standards for the data listed on the site. We know that if something is submitted directly by a music supervisor or an official source, then it's verified. Anything that comes in through one of our users has to go through a verification process. Other users vote on it and Tunefind keeps track of how accurate they are at identifying songs. Over time, if a user is particularly accurate and consistent, their actions on the site count for more. If a person hasn’t built up a track record, their vote doesn’t count as much. It’s a bit of meritocracy. The better you are, the more influence you have on the site.
Mistakes do happen, often with unreleased music or obscure covers. The most common occurrence of misidentification happens with library music. It can be really hard to pinpoint and often times, it features similar characteristics to the biggest, most well-known songs. Sometimes, a song recognition app misidentifies a song and a fan doesn’t actually double-check before posting it, but other users can vote that song incorrect to remove it from the site.
How many people are involved?
Matt built Tunefind to scale up without a lot of manual intervention, which I think was a really smart thing to do. The team is just me and a developer (sometimes two), plus Matt part-time. We do everything. Every aspect is built to scale and built to automate as much as we can, in order to provide the coverage we do.
It's funny because Tunefind world headquarters is wherever I'm sitting at a particular moment. It has some obvious benefits. I’m able to work overseas without any challenges, and so is our developer. We have a ton of flexibility to manage the company from wherever but this job also requires you to be on top of things. The curse of that means no boundaries. Like any small business owner, you’re working 24 hours a day and on the weekends.
The developer works full-time on a whole slew of projects, everything from systems and managing our web servers to implementing new features and functionality. I’d love to have five of him but we’re a small shop and we try to be super efficient.
People are always shocked given the scope of what we do. They're always asking, “Where's your team?” Tunefind has grown an enormous amount over the last few years. My wishlist is so long that it sometimes makes me sad. I know that I have to prioritize ruthlessly, but I also think it's a great sign that there's a ton of opportunity. There’s so much more we can do to be helpful to our users and for the broader sync and music community that uses Tunefind.
How does Tunefind make money?
It’s two things. There is affiliate revenue, which comes through the links that are on the site. For example, if you go on to Apple Music and sign up, or iTunes or Amazon and buy something, then we get a little piece of that. Then there’s advertising. For guest users and logged out users, we show ads. If you're logged in, we don't show ads.
Who have been the biggest champions and beneficiaries of Tunefind?
Some of our biggest champions and beneficiaries have been actual artists. We have always advocated for artists and we want to continue to help them. These sync deals are paychecks and it’s great for them, but that’s just the start. Their song plays for 30 seconds, or maybe it’s the big 3 minute end montage, if they’re lucky. Through this brief little moment, they have an opportunity to build their fanbase and connect with new fans. That’s when we’re excited. This all started because Matt was sitting there with money in hand, ready to buy music he heard on a TV show. Making that connection between the fans and the artists has been at the core of Tunefind.
We have a ton of active artists on the site, who speak with their fans directly. Through our site, they can find out if there’s demand for an unreleased song and put it out there for the fans. It’s exciting for me to see that kind of engagement and offer the artist some feedback as to how people are responding to their music. I love it when we see fans and artists interacting on the site.
Are there any artists you admire that have recently gained prominence through placements?
There are so many artists who are putting together really compelling careers thanks to sync. I would have to mention Ruelle, a Nashville singer-songwriter whose real name is Maggie Eckford. Ruelle is the number one artist on Tunefind. She gets the most traffic and interest. Everything she does, people are coming out of the woodwork trying to find it. She's also written a bunch of original songs for specific shows too, which I think is a really interesting component. It’s even more impactful when original songs get close to the storyline and the characters, dovetailing nicely into the context of the scene. Her sound resonates well for the shows she works on like Shadowhunters, The Shannara Chronicles, The Originals, and Cloak & Dagger. She’s had enormous success with her dark electronic, strong female vocal sound.
Aron Wright is another artist we've worked with for a really long time. I love that he's super engaged with fans on the site, making the most of his sync opportunities. We did an article with him that was about how to make the most of your 30 seconds of sync fame. The idea was to say, “You got a sync! Congratulations! But you’re not done yet.” He described what else you need to do to really maximize that opportunity. I like to think he’s half businessman, half artist. He came through with amazing tips and tricks for an indie artist to really make the most of every sync. Funny story: Aron recently had a song on Lucifer that happened to be unreleased when the episode aired - very unusual for him. Everyone was looking for it and there was a lot of speculation. We were able to get confirmation from the team at Chop Shop that the song was Aron’s, but it wasn't available anywhere. About a week or so later he popped up on the Tunefind Q&A and he's like “Sorry, guys. I just had a baby. I'm just catching up now.” It was so great because all the fans were like, “Aww, congratulations! I love your song. Thanks for releasing it!” I love when things like that happen on Tunefind.
What is your advice to artists who are hoping to get more placements for their music?
To get placements, work with a reputable sync agent who has relationships with music supervisors. Research artists who are similar to you on Tunefind, check their sync history, and figure out who reps them. And please, please, please, if you are going to pitch a supervisor yourself, do your research! It’s all there on Tunefind. You can tailor your pitch to point to similar music the supervisor has used, and only send the tracks that will be most interesting to that supervisor and their active projects. They’re working on a futuristic sci-fi thriller with a heavy electronic bent? Then don’t pitch them your emotional ballads. It’s not rocket science, but I’ve seen so many artists walk up to a supervisor and give them a completely generic pitch, having no idea who they are or what kinds of projects they work on. Supervisors get so much music pitched to them every day. Generic won’t cut it if you want to stand out and have a chance of getting that placement.
If they do get a placement, how can artists make it easier for people to discover their music?
First, you need to get on Tunefind because thanks to Google, we’re going to be right up there at the top of the page when someone tries to hunt down a particular song. We source a lot of stuff direct from music supervisors but it’s up to the artists to make sure their info is listed correctly and showing up the way they want it to. For example, we’ve had a ton of cases where the supervisor licensed the song under a certain band name - and listed it on Tunefind that way - but by the time the show airs a couple of months later, the artist has changed their name. We had a case of this on Shadowhunters where there was a ton of interest in a particular song, but the artist was completely missing out because they hadn’t updated everyone on that change.
Secondly, you have to make some noise about it. When a sync deal comes through, often times, it’s months before the air date. You might not be aware of when an episode will air or a movie will be released, but that's your moment. If you want to capitalize on it, you should take the extra five minutes, figure out when people will be hearing your song, and make sure you’re posting on Twitter and Instagram. You need to be out there hustling when the attention is highest.
And most importantly, please release the song. Release the song! We have so many people who are scrambling to get a song at that moment after a sync airs and if it's unreleased, you've lost that opportunity. You have about two days before they lose interest forever. We can see it through our traffic and clicks of our users. After two days you’ve lost them. A little longer with movies. But don't be silly. Get it done within two days cause after that people don't care and they won't come back. If you release it three months later, they're done, they're gone.
Take Leo Soul. He had a sync on Power and no one could find it, so I Twitter stalked him and said, “Hey, you gotta go release this song.” He had completely forgotten about the sync because the deal had been done months ago. He ended up putting the track out that week on iTunes and it jumped straight to the top of our chart because he had released it in time to reach those fans.
How would you describe Tunefind’s relationship to the field of music supervision?
When Tunefind started, most of the general public didn’t know what music supervisors were and didn’t understand that there was this whole profession around how music occurs in film and television. Music supervision is an important role, an important element of the storytelling. We’re happy to have been able to shine a light on that and contribute to a greater sense of recognition. We work with Billboard on their monthly TV music chart, which is great, high profile exposure for the shows that are really engaging fans around the music. Those music supervisors are doing great work and it's a nice opportunity for them to get some kudos. I'm also excited that the huge audience we have at Tunefind loves the work that music supervisors are doing and we get to give people a peek behind the curtain via our own blog and interviews with supervisors.
We get new supervisors reaching out each week to become active on the site and I’ll also contact supervisors when we have a lot of interest in a particular show or movie. Every time I reach out to a new music supervisor they say, “I love Tunefind. I use it all the time.” I love that reaction! The fun thing is, they use the site to do research on where a song may have been placed previously. That information might be important to them for any number of reasons. For example, it might be part of the ethos of a show to try and break new music, or it might be important for them, or their showrunner, not to use a piece of music that people will have an association with from a previous scene in a film or movie. In the advertising space, a brand might have concerns about where a song may have been used previously. Sometimes, music supervisors will reach out to each other if they can’t track down someone to license a particular song. They can see on Tunefind where else an artist’s songs have been licensed and reach out to that other supervisor for the the contact information.
We also have the ability to give supervisors some insights into the music, which I think is a really fun aspect of what Tunefind does. We know how fans are reacting to the music they’ve featured, and which songs have been most popular. Supervisors have used our stats to help validate which songs to include on a soundtrack album, or which songs or artists would be the best highlight in the press or to connect with fans through social media. Our data is useful to music supervisors and beyond.
Finally - and this is a big one - we’ve become a tool for the artist and sync licensing community, to understand what kinds of music is being featured in different projects. They can research exactly what songs and artists a music supervisor has used previously on a particular show, so they can make sure their pitches are on point. Hopefully that's saving supervisors time and energy, by getting them better content in those pitches.
To date, what have been your personal film and television sync highlights?
That’s a hard one because I feel like every week, I find a new one just by virtue of what I'm working on and what I'm paying attention to through Tunefind. Though it means my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist is a hot mess. One recent show I was really into is Killing Eve on BBC America. It features this really eclectic set of music that's a lot of fun. Everything from story to the acting to the music, the whole scene really comes together for me. We even did an interview with the music supervisor and composer. You have to watch it!
It's so funny because the things that still stand out are those big moments you remember from when you were growing up. I’m going to date myself now, but I grew up in the age of Dawson's Creek and One Tree Hill. For me, those were early influences and helped me find a lot of great music when I was growing up. Like John Cusack holding that boombox playing “In Your Eyes” in Say Anything. I feel like people connect to these songs on such a subconscious level and they stick in your head forever. I was reading a study a few months ago that described having a period in your life around your teenage years where you cement your musical taste. What you love and what you will always gravitate towards from then on is defined by that time in your life. I’m not sure I completely buy that, because I think it’s so fun to keep discovering.
I just came across this British composer named Oli Julian for Amazon’s Catastrophe and Motherland. Both of those scores are so fresh and fun and upbeat. Motherland used a lot of horns, which is super uncommon for many scores today. It immediately stood out to me as something different and new. I don’t know why I just highlighted three British shows! I love American shows, too!
This job is wild because your entertainment and your work are co-mingled constantly. It can become a drag because there are definitely times where I’m sitting on the couch, making my husband pause the show every 5 minutes so I can go off and research something I’ve just heard. My husband is like, “Oh, can’t we just watch the show?” There are some shows where I refuse to work because I want to enjoy it in the moment and it totally interrupts my flow if I’m constantly trying to figure songs out. It’s really why people love Tunefind. They don’t want to sit there, trying to figure out the music while they’re trying to enjoy the show. They want to enjoy watching and then be able to look up the show after and see the song they loved listed right there on Tunefind.
The alternative is people ripping the audio from the broadcast. Fans try to strip out the vocals, loop it to make it into a longer song. It’s frustrating because it happens every single week. Just release the damn song and make some money off it. I don’t know why they don’t. We just had three separate cases this past month of songs that probably would have been on the monthly TV Music Chart we do with The Hollywood Reporter / Billboard, if they had released in when the episode aired.
Where do you hope to take this company in the near future?
Bigger, faster, further. As I was saying, I think there's still a lot of room for growth for us. We already have unprecedented coverage, but there’s always more to do. Every day, we receive new requests for more coverage, especially from overseas. A lot of local content within countries overseas can be difficult depending on the market. The concept of a music supervisor may or may not exist, or may not be available to us.
If we want to expand to another country and expand to cover new content within it, we need to have a critical mass of users in that country in order to support the crowdsourcing function. So, it's always a delicate dance. Recently, we added a show from Turkey because we've had a growing user base there who had requested a particular show. When we hit that point where we feel like we could sustain a new region, we add it. From that point, we get more requests and it snowballs from there. Every time we’re contacted, I have to make a judgment call and evaluate what makes sense for us, allowing us to continue to leverage all the automation and features we’ve built in there. It’s been fun to watch different communities embrace Tunefind.
About five years ago, Tunefind’s traffic was roughly 60% U.S. and 40% other countries around the world. Now, it’s reversed. We’re still growing in the United States but we now reach a global community. With the way that content is being distributed now, the borders are just falling away. Content that used to be considered a local show in Germany can now be picked up by Netflix and released globally. The concept of a series being exclusive to one country is antiquated now. I’m constantly trying to make sure I have a pulse on what the great shows are across the world and get an idea of what streaming services are going to pick up. For example, we can examine the traffic and demand in a particular country, fans who are watching and loving something while it’s airing over there. Three months down the road, it hits Netflix and suddenly, the entire world is watching it. We try to work smart to support the community and reach out to music supervisors so we’re getting all the music in there during the original airing. Then later, this huge global streaming audience is happy because we’ve got the music lists for them all ready to go.
A big part of this - and a focus for me - is cultivating our music supervisor relationships and offering them support. Tunefind is such a great resource for the larger community of viewers and music fans, but it's also a great resource for the music supervisor community. It’s been really fun to connect with them, learn more about how they do their work, and how we can help them.