Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Jay Frank

Publishing & Media

Jay Frank is the founder of DigSin, a record label that enables subscribers to download singles for free, for life.

Jay Frank is the founder of DigSin, a record label that enables subscribers to download singles for free, for life. Previously Jay worked as the senior music director at The Box Music Network and as the Vice President of Music Programming and Label Relations for Yahoo! Music, before becoming the Senior Vice President of Music Strategy for Country Music Television. He is also the author of Futurehit.DNA and Hack Your Hit, two books discussing the creation of hit songs.

DigSin — which stands for Digital Single — signs artists for a maximum of six songs each and releases singles as free downloads for DigSin subscribers. Revenue comes from singles sales on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify, where consumers can still choose to buy or stream the singles if they wish, supported by revenue from display ads on the DigSin downloads page.

1. Where did the idea for DigSin come from?

I started thinking about a label focusing on singles first, mostly because the economic hurdle at major companies is a system revolving around the album. But the consumer acts around a single. I figure the more you follow what the consumer does, your chance of succeeding increases. So building the business around the single first was a natural place to start. That presented a new set of economic problems, but I kept thinking about individual issues with the business model and found solutions. The more I did that, the more the idea became viable. Giving the downloads away for free was the last element. At first, I was going to charge a low yearly fee for the music. A great conversation with Bob Roback, a former boss from Yahoo! and a mentor, is what spurred me to consider the free model. Once I solved that business reality, and realised free was not a word to be scared of, the business plan locked in.

2. Do you feel your free download business model could be adopted by major labels worldwide and still offer the music industry a sustainable future, or does it only work in isolation?

I think bigger companies can and probably will adopt a model similar to mine. However, I don’t think everyone will. In fixing the major label system, people were looking for a replacement. I looked at it as an alternative. Ultimately, I think my model will co-exist with the traditional model and provide artists options.

3. Can you describe a typical working day?

I’ve also written two books called Futurehit.DNA and Hack Your Hit. So typical rarely describes my day. I do know that I get up early and run four miles every day to mentally prepare me. From there, I dive into emails and social networking first before I drive into the office. Then throughout the day I’m discussing music and marketing with my artists, setting up promotional opportunities with my team, organizing speaking engagements at conferences, and engaging as many people as possible on social networks as often as I can. Before I know it, it’s 11 PM and I’ve been at it almost non stop for 15-16 hours. I look back and the day mostly has a series of very tiny wins, but those are the steps that move us forward.

4. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on DigSin?

My wife will tell you that I don’t unwind, and that may be true. When you are working around music, there’s fun times happening regularly. How can I not enjoy going to concerts or listening to new music or helping artists become stars? I certainly spend time with my family, read business books and blogs voraciously, and play an occasional poker game. But overall I started in the music business to fully do what I love making nearly every day enjoyable.

5. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?

I don’t think it’s a secret, but you have to have an unwavering belief that what you do will change the world and succeed. It’s not a business as much as it is a mission. Frame it in those terms and you will make sure you give yourself the drive to succeed.

6. What drove you crazy when building your business?

Wishing things like cash flow could just evaporate sooner. No matter how hard you try or how much you plan, the amount of money initially spent will be high and the amount coming in will be low. That’s a huge mental hurdle as well, but it’s also a big motivator to make sure you don’t rest until that no longer becomes a worry.

7. What motivates you to keep going?

My artists. Each of them have put their careers in the hands of myself and the team. They have faith in the model and that it will help them gain notoriety and success. I can’t let them down and I will put in that extra hour to make sure I don’t every single day.

8. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I probably spent too much on marketing in the early days before we were really ready. I could’ve saved some time and money in the first few months by just focusing on the core. The marketing helped us, so there wasn’t a real negative to those efforts. But the money and time would’ve probably been more productive elsewhere.

9. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

By that point, we’ll have several hit songs under our belt. That should provide us solid cash flow to be a stable business. From there, I hope our mailing list is over 2 million strong, allowing us a great base of people to get exposed to the music we find. With a mailing list that big, I’d also love to put on a yearly DigSin music festival for members only. If I do that, I’d continue doing things I love while simultaneously diversify the business.

10. If you weren’t working on DigSin, what would you be doing?

I’d still be working at Country Music Television. It was a job that I loved that was tough to leave. The cable TV business still has a lot of life and would’ve provided me a great steady paycheck. But I also knew if I didn’t give this business a shot, I’d regret not trying. So in that regard, I don’t know if there’s anything else I would be doing right now.

11. Tell Springwise a secret…

Taking musicians to eat at Mangia in Nashville is an amazing experience that you have to do.

12. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Value your time more than your money. Every minute of your day is precious to get you to the finish line. The more you recognize that, you can avoid situations that drain your time resources and allow you to focus on the task of creating a business.

You can read more about DigSin in our article here, or visit the DigSin website here.