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Broadening Horizons with Roy Elkins

Roy Elkins. Photos by Jamie Strehlow.

Roy Elkins. Photos by Jamie Strehlow.

by Karen Wheelock (Download PDF of our July issue here)

I had first heard about Broadjam last year, and as a musician myself, I found it very intriguing. I explored the magnitude of the site and met people who had success with it. When I heard that Broadjam’s Roy Elkins was going to be at a music networking event and reviewing local music, I jumped at the chance to have my song reviewed. It was slightly intimidating to think about approaching the CEO of an international music website, but Elkins proved to be accessible, kind and very willing to give music advice. Over time, I learned just how much Elkins and Broadjam have helped musicians, especially in the Madison area.

I met Elkins in Broadjam’s recently relocated office in an old, yet charming industrial building on Baldwin Street. Dressed in a Broadjam tee shirt and shorts, Elkins was the epitome of a laidback interviewee.

Karen Wheelock: What is your background in the music industry?

Roy Elkins: I started as a songwriter. I moved to Memphis when I was younger and ended up getting a job at a music store there. I loved the technology and synthesizers – they were just starting to evolve. I was then recruited by a company that just started in Philadelphia; they wanted me to teach people how to build their store from the ground up. I grew in that company and took on many responsibilities over the years. Then was hired by Sonic Foundry here [in Madison] to work in the sales and marketing department, and I helped get that company going. When I left there, my wife and I loved Madison so much that we decided to stay here and create our own music business. So I took my love for technology and songwriting and created an initial concept of a website where musicians could store and distribute their music. I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to make my living in a career that I love. I’ve said for so long that I have the second best job in the world; the best job is to be on stage in front of thousands of fans.

Broadjam has been around for almost 14 years. It’s one of, if not the longest, running music licensing sites on the internet. There were other similar sites which Broadjam premiered in 1999, but they have all faded away since then.

KW: What are the different components of Broadjam?

RE: The primary function of Broadjam is to connect buyers and sellers with music acts for music licensing. A director might call us for a heavy metal song for a scary movie, we’ll post it, and our members will immediately start submitting songs for it. This is called “song plugging,” a concept that has been around for about 50 years. We were the company that pioneered it online. Not everyone will get licensed. Although we have a really good track record, it’s never going to be 100%, so we do other things like sell music software, hold contests, and let members sell downloads of their music. We have Top-10 charts, and we allow members to review music and get reviewed. We believe it’s one of the best social networking sites for musicians to communicate with each other.

KW: So, what is the likelihood of someone selling their music through Broadjam?

RE: Odds are probably a little better with us, or with a company like ours, than alone. We have about a 10% success rate in licensing, and typically in our industry it’s anywhere from 3-5%, so we are pretty happy saying that 10% of the people who sign up for music licensing get licensed. This has been consistent for years now. If you think about it though, there might be an ad agency that is only looking for one song; there might be a hundred Paul McCartney’s submitting, but only one will be chosen. It doesn’t matter how good the other songs are content-wise; what matters is how it fits with that commercial. Musicians may feel a little rejected by this, but it’s all about what fits that particular opportunity. Something unique about us is that we display which songs got picked, so the members who submitted can listen to them and see what the picked artists did right. Another key to success is to watch the top ten TV shows and listen to what kind of music is being played in them. What I love about our site is that for almost everyone who does get licensed through it, it’s their first time. Just last week I got two emails from people who were thrilled about being chosen for their first licensing opportunity. That’s why I started this – to help musicians.


KW: How else is Broadjam helping the local music community?

RE: We do a lot of things in the community – we provide the voting mechanism for the MAMAs [Madison Area Music Association Awards], for example. I’m chair of the board for it, so we also try to help with fundraising and guidance/organization. We do music networking nights over the course of the year and sometimes sponsor events that other music organizations are holding. Our rule for helping these organizations is that the events have to benefit local musicians or kids trying to learn to play music. We’ll have a lot of songwriting nights; we’ll judge contests. We also support the Launchpad program – a statewide competition for bands that high school students are in.

Not only does Broadjam hold events for the community, I have heard multiple accounts of Elkins sitting down with people and giving free one-on-one advice about the local music industry. He humbly admitted to this when I brought it up.

RE: What I try to do – I’m a little uncomfortable tooting my own horn – but… what I try to do is help somebody at least once a week. Most of the time, it’s a band that comes in and wants me to listen to their music, and I’ll help dissect it. Or it might be someone who is getting started in the music industry and wants to help bands but needs guidance. If I can help somebody push music further in Madison, I will.

KW: What are your goals for Broadjam?

RE: We’d like people to think about us when they put their music online. We’re not arrogant enough to believe that we’d be the only site musicians post their music on, but we want to be one of the choices. I’d love to continue to put more features on the site, connecting more people, growing it globally – about 65% of our current members are from the US.

KW: And what would you like to see happen in the Madison music community?

RE: I would love, love to see more opportunities to perform. Madison has a lot to offer. I think that living here, sometimes people don’t realize how many places there are to play. Madison is probably in the top ten per capita in the country for music venues. I would also love to see more events to educate the people in Madison about the music industry. Ultimately I’d like to have a monthly event like the MAMAs or a lecture about touring, publishing, etc.

KW: I recently went to an educational event that was applicable to the music industry, and it was free – but only about 15-20 people showed up!


RE: It’s really interesting – there’s some level of apathy… this has been around since I was “that guy”… we all go through that period, but we have to realize that at some point, no matter what career you’re in, you’re going to have to pay somebody to help move yourself forward. Whether it’s college, a booking agent, a publisher… whatever it is, there comes a time when you have to ask yourself “what am I going to do to further promote my music?” If a record company is spending a million dollars on a record, they’re putting $100,000 into actually making the record and $900,000 into promotion. What I’d like to impart to musicians is that the work isn’t in the studio – that’s the fun part… what are you going to do once it’s done? That’s where your work starts.

The days are gone when someone will drive up to your house and offer you a record deal. And the web is a two-edged sword – yes, it’s a great opportunity for exposure; the problem is that it’s for everyone else too. It’s about how you differentiate yourself. At some point you need to realize that you need someone to take over the marketing and promotion for your music. I highly recommend finding a friend who knows about marketing and making them the fifth or sixth member of your band. That way you can focus on your music and not have to worry about other stuff. You can’t be everything or everyone. 

KW: Well, (laughs) my next question was: what advice would you give to musicians starting out… you kind of already answered it though. Any other advice?

RE: (Laughs) Well, yeah. Focus on what you do well. Get someone to take care of your business. Read the book Outliers. If you’re thinking about making music all the time, but not doing it, something needs to change. And if you don’t have the ear, then you write. Write lyrics. Keep creating. Never stop. Save everything you do. You may have a daytime job, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do this. Everyone who ever made it had a job.

I left the Broadjam office feeling inspired. Roy Elkins is just the type of person you want to be around continually and to absorb his advice. It’s an honor to have him and so involved in helping out the Madison music industry.

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