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MusicDish Speaks to Paul Schatzkin, aka The Perfesser, on the Shut Down of Songs.com
By Margee Fagelson
(more articles from this author)
2001-01-04
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Friday, December 22, 2000 - Another one officially bites the dust. We knew that Songs.com was going down in flames, but at least they seemed to be burning slowly. On this auspicious day, an email went out from Michael Camp, announcing that the switch would be turned the following day.

Dear Friends,

It is with sincere and honest appreciation that I write to you at last with official confirmation that Songs.com will be going out of business, effective midnight Saturday, December 23rd. This comes at the request of its parent company, Gaylord Entertainment here in Nashville, Tennessee.

What a wild ride it had been. Below is a transcript of an interview with Paul Schatzkin, aka The Perfesser, founder of Songs.com

"Songs.com was an idea whose time had come and gone. We sold the business to Gaylord Entertainment because there were basically three of us doing all the work and we were pretty well burned out on maintaining the site that had been started in 1995 with flat HTML and hadn't really improved the technical underpinnings since then. We needed to deconstruct the whole thing and build it back up and needed more technical support than we had internally. So, Gaylord came along and made us an offer that included doing all the things for the business that we thought the business needed to have done. It sounded great going in, but started going to hell the minute we got there.

"There's always a risk when you sell a business that your new 'partners' are not going to have the same priorities that you do. Ideally, you've traded the loss of control for improved resources - and a healthier bank account - but if the new owners decide they don't want you around anymore, you're toast. That proved, unfortunately, to be the case when Songs.com was sold to Gaylord Entertainment.

"The way I see it, last summer 'the parents discovered that the kids who were running the candy store, had used the entire year's allowance in just six months.' The whole situation just became very contentious. We got none of what we really needed and a fair amount that we did not need, i.e. budgets and staff… But the fundamental thing that we needed was to reconstruct the website around a database. And we hired a webmaster in April who moved down here from Detroit, who had "tarred" up the whole site onto a CD and was ready to put it onto one of Gaylord's Windows 2000 NT servers so that we could start rebuilding it as an ASP site. And they told him not to. They told us, 'Wait for Blue Martini.'

"Frankly, at that point, it was over. We could see sites like CD Baby that were doing it right. They had learned everything we had learned in the previous 5 years, but were implementing those lessons as well. We knew what needed to be done, but these guys wouldn't let us do it.

"And there were personality conflicts beginning to surface. I was-frankly - "the Yankee, pagan bull in Gaylord's Southern, Christian, china shop."

"Within Gaylord Digital, when the financial shit really started to hit the fan, they took from us this webmaster, this developer that I'm telling you about and they 'repurposed' him within the Gaylord Digital IT department. So we no longer had a Webmaster. They told us at that point that Songs.com would remain in a 'steady state' 'til they got Blue Martini working. And I don't need to tell you, that, in the Internet space, a "steady state" means you are "steadily falling behind."

"By the end of June, Gaylord Digital is going ninety miles an hour down a dead-end street. They ran out of money in June. Then they asked me whom I was going to fire. And that's where I came up with the analogy of 'the engineers coming back into the coach and asking the passengers how were WE going to stop the train wreck?'

"Anyway, there are these two scenarios unfolding. In the first scenario, Songs.com is dead in the water and Gaylord Digital is grinding to its own halt. What we didn't know from our limited perspective was that the entire company, Gaylord Entertainment, was in some serious trouble.

"Terry London, the young new CEO, who had risen up through the company, starting as an accountant somewhere and had been with Gaylord for twenty years. I guess the board of directors was beginning to express some impatience with the company's recent un-profitability. We'll never know if Terry London resigned of his own free will or was fired but his term came to an end, abruptly, on July 31, 2000.


Chris Clarke, former Senior Website Editor, Songs.com: "As the former Senior Website Editor for Songs.com, I'm sad that such a promising business has come to this end so quickly. The mistakes that killed this company were NOT Internet business mistakes. My opinion is that Gaylord never 'got' the Songs.com mission, and simply never dedicated its resources to our division. Independent touring artists like the 400 or so who entrusted their web business to Songs.com are closely connected to their audience, and have little vested interest in today's record business. Songs.com was a bridge between talented artists and a discriminating, inquisitive and loyal audience. We could have been the research lab for the first generation of online music delivery, but this was not to be."

Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby is willing to do whatever he and CD Baby can to make a transition as smooth as possible, for all those interested. CD Baby has a very easy sign-up process but Sivers wants the Songs.com refugees to know they not only have a home at CD Baby, but an ear as well. Any Songs.com members with questions, concerns or in need of assistance can email derek@cdbaby.com. If anyone can make it all better, Derek Sivers can.

"I love how Songs.com would only accept artists who they believed in. And because I love and trust the people that ran Songs.com, any friend of theirs is a friend of mine. Artists who were on Songs.com have been calling my home phone, my cell phone, and it's been great to get to know these great artists. It hurts to have a company you were depending on pulled out from underneath you, and we want to help in any way we can. So we've been waiving our $35 submission fee, and taking the time to walk them personally through our sign-up, getting to know their plans, their concerns, and their music. CD Baby doesn't depend on investors or advertising, so we're going to be around for a long, long time. And we love you very much."

Linkography

CD Baby - www.cdbaby.com
cdstreet.com - www.cdstreet.com
Gaylord Entertainment - www.gaylordentertainment.com
Gaylord Digital - www.gaylorddigital.com
Songs.com - www.songs.com


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