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Why Toronto was the right place for this music company to go global

The lyrics to Adele’s new song, Hello are shown on a computer monitor beside Darryl Ballantyne, CEO of Toronto-based LyricFind.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

With the Internet, the lyrics to almost every song you could imagine are a few clicks away – but until recently, the websites that hosted them often violated copyright. Displaying song lyrics usually requires a license, so that songwriters and publishers get the money they deserve. But for a long time, lyrics websites didn't bother with licensing.

For more than a decade, Toronto's LyricFind has been a leader in organizing this mess. The company works with more than 4,000 music publishers, acting as a worldwide intermediary between them and lyrics websites to legally monetize the latter. Last month, LyricFind announced its latest success: a new partnership for French lyric distribution, with music-metadata company Music Story and France reproduction-rights collective SEAM.

The Globe and Mail visited LyricFind chief executive Darryl Ballantyne at his midtown Toronto office to discuss the company's growing global footprint.

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How would you describe LyricFind's reach right now?

We're now supporting 100 countries, and we'll roll out to the remaining hundred or so in the very near future. We have licensing from over 4,000 publishers, almost all of which are global licenses. Part of our international expansion is managing all of the rights to know what the [royalty] splits are for a song in every country, because they will vary from country to country. Who owns what and how much do they own? It's a ridiculous data problem.

But it's progressed a lot. And we have staff in the U.S. and the U.K. now, so that obviously helps. Our VP of international publishing is based in New York, so he travels around everywhere getting all these licensing deals done. And our chief revenue officer is based in London, so he's working on the sales side. It's nice to have that global footprint from a people perspective, too.

How did the partnership in France come about? Was this your first foray into French lyrics?

We'd been supporting French lyrics for a while. We have a deal with [the Quebec music publisher association, APEM] as well, that we did a couple of years ago. And we've been generating French content for many years now. French and Spanish were our first two non-English languages. But up until now we only really had rights for content that might be French, but it's controlled by the major publishers, or other large international publishers. The deal in France really brings in all of the local publishers and all of that additional content.

The people France's local publishers were licensing to domestically wanted a broader catalogue of lyrics and the ability to expand licensing beyond France – which is an area that we excel at. So by doing a partnership with them, we were able to allow their clients to expand into the rest of the world and give them a much larger database of lyrics. And it gives us a foothold into the French market, to be able to have a domestic presence there.

For any country, the majority of lyrics revenue comes from outside of that country. So it's really important when we go around the world doing these licensing deals that we have the global rights to be able to bring in revenue to them from the rest of the world. There's always more money outside of the domestic market than inside.

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It really works out quite well that we were able to give them a bunch more revenue for their content, and we're able to give them a bunch more content to generate revenue from.

Did Canada's nature as a bilingual country help you get into France?

It certainly helps. And I think the multiculturalism of Canada is a huge, huge asset to us. If you look around the office, we have eight to 10 different languages here, and it's all been sourced within Canada. We're able to do all of this in Toronto because of Canada's multiculturalism. Oddly enough, the most difficult language for us to recruit to the content team is French, because it's in such high demand within the rest of Canada – there's lots of competition. But we're able to find people of all different nationalities and languages within Toronto with a fairly high level of ease.

That's what makes us able to survive here, and able to maintain the vast majority of the company in Canada. If we were in other cities, or other areas, we might have to set up satellite offices in other parts of the world to get the expertise in different languages.

How many languages do you work with?

Right now we're working with English, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese and Japanese. We're shortly adding Russian, Korean, and Hindi in the not-too-distant future. Virtually all that is those people you see here. [He gestures into the main room of the office.] It was a little bit crazy during the Euro Cup, with divided loyalties among the staff.

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You see so much of people going down to Silicon Valley to find the talent to be able to compete. For us, I don't think we would have been able to compete if we were there, because we need that multiculturalism. Our international presence is just localized sales and business development and licensing. From a geographic perspective, it's easier to go and do sales deals locally. But the core of the business is content and technology, and we can get the content for every language we want here. It's a great city to be building this company. And it's nice to pull money from elsewhere in the world and keep it here.

I can't imagine being able to pick up the company and move it to anywhere else and have that same ability to recruit people for the content team without either having to massively overpay and break the model, or set up separate offices in various parts of the world, which would be very expensive as well.

How else do you see LyricFind expanding globally?

One of the projects we're working on and clearing rights for is lyric translations. So that's one of the big global expansion projects, and possibly the biggest one we could do for a global scale. Particularly for non-English-speaking countries, being able to have translated lyrics allows the rest of the world to understand what a song is about and connect to that song on a much deeper level. When you hear a song in a different language you don't understand, all you can think about is what it sounds like.

Being able to include the translation while you're listening to the song really creates a much deeper connection. By having a matrix of translations into all different languages, it really creates that deeper understanding and attachment to a song and the ability for it to really blow up more, globally.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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