Interview with THOMAS RICHTER, senior director of content services at German ringtone company Jamba - Feb 20, 2006
“We decided to put out a ring tone by Sir Mix-a-lot in the USA and it sold more than half a million in the first month. People were asking: “How did they put that guy, who was gone for years, back in the public eye within a month?”,… says Thomas Richter, Senior Director of Content Services at Jamba, a German based ring tone company with offices in 26 countries. They own the trademark Crazy Frog and release 5 to 10 tracks of unknown music per month.
Read the interview on how their own A&R department works with new music, what is required from a ring tone producer and how they can break songs as a ring tone before they enter the sales charts.
What do you do?
My role here at Jamba is content licensing. I’m involved in formatting and developing new products and innovating ways to sell and distribute music. I’m not doing the creative part, I’m capable of selling stuff. Finding new markets for pieces of music like real music ring tones or long ringers.
What new projects are you working on at the moment?
We are enhancing our ring tone and real music portfolio. Moving away from just doing the top 100 charts towards having a large searchable database where everybody can find a certain song. If you have an old song that you like but you’ve never found as a ring tone, and it’s not mainstream – we’re striving to have a database where you can find it.
Is it complicated to make a ring tone out of a song?
It depends. Sometimes it’s just those 20 catchy seconds that are perfect for a ring tone. But sometimes you have songs that are only good if you listen to them full length. So deciding on which piece should be the ring tone is hard. There are songs that do very well in the charts but not so well on the ring tone charts, like many ballads for example. They are very hard to translate into ring tones.
How many ring tones are being released per week?
It’s in the high hundreds. A high 3-digit number. That’s only ring tones. With real music tones it’s more, about a low 4 digit number…
How many slots are there for unsigned new stuff?
There is space for new songs. We do custom-music for our own characters. We did some of those 3d characters as our own IP. That’s commissioned music, so we actually search for fresh stuff and that’s been going on for a while. We have a lot of enlisted musicians who just forward their ideas to us. We look at them of course with a look towards the ring tones and make sure that it sounds cool on a limited system.
So you have an A&R department?
Definitely. There are musicians that work for us part- time who send in their ideas for review. And then we have a few people inside who do music licensing and formatting. It’s about 10 people who come together to listen to the stuff and decide what they want to take.
When it comes to a new project, or when we have a new character or a new idea for a marketing spot, we listen to certain music and think about whether it fits or messages the style. Sometimes you have pieces of music that don’t quite fit in those projects but are cool anyway, and they are produced as well.
What are the ingredients of a good ring tone?
It has to be catchy with a good rhythm, because the loudspeakers are still very limited, so it can’t do a lot in terms of harmonies. It also has to have a good personality to it.
Does it have to be linked with animations?
A lot of the stuff is animated. It’s audiovisual. It’s a very fast pace market and to grab attention you have to be everywhere, so its better if it is backed by some visuals.
Do you release new music and make record deals with the artists?
No, we are not acting as a label or publisher yet. It originates in the ring tones, and it might go into real music like it did with the Crazy Frog
- that was a ring tone first, and after that they moved into the traditional music business.
How much new unknown music do you put out?
It’s about 5 to 10 songs a month.
Are they advertised somehow?
Yes, if they are coupled with a project and there are visuals to it. Take the Sweetie TV spots, the animated cartoon that sings. That’s all our own music. That’s something that is very usable for marketing purposes.
If you have a song with no visuals to it, and no idea of what to do with it, we might still put it out, but it is hard to market it as fresh content. If you have 15 seconds to explain to people that they should buy a ring tone, you’re going to have a hard time explaining something totally new to them.
How did it work with Sweetie?
We made the character first, then created the story and thought about what kind of music we would like. We knew we want some kind of beat to it. It should be easy to listen to with a sweet voice. Based on that we started listening to projects that were submitted to us.
What advice would you give to somebody who has a good idea and wants to get into the ring tone business?
Send it to us! Have a clear idea of what you want to do with it, and not just a character but like a story that is short and catchy and fits into a TV spot. There are a lot of ideas coming in everyday and you need to filter this, because there is very little stuff that actually works.
For how long do you air a new release until you give up?
There are standard test procedures. There’s a number of TV airings of different channels, different times of the day. Then we draw our statistics and we know very well from the statistics what potential that sound has.
How long is that test procedure?
It really depends on the country and the number of channels involved, but usually just a few days.
Are the single charts the most important source when you choose what to release?
You have to look at the charts definitely. As I said: some songs do especially well as ring tones and there are songs that do not so well. There are actually a few songs that are first on the ring tone charts and then later on in the real charts.
Do you have a deal with record companies that they pay you a certain amount of money and you market their artists?
I can’t comment on that, but yeah we are flexible and we are in constant talks with all the major publishers about things like that, because by now they actually care how the ring tone industry will react to certain stuff. Look at the Crazy Frog. There was no artist at all at first. It got so much airtime, people kept buying it and with the airtime it gained popularity.
Did you think about launching artists over Jamba as a label?
That’s possible and probably interesting, but at the moment there are no plans to do that.
How involved is Jamba in the international market?
We are in 26 counties today including the US, Australia, Singapore... it is as global as it can get I think.
What is the biggest market?
It’s still the home market in Germany.
How could a new Crazy Frog or Schnappi become successful again? What would have to be different or the same?
If we knew we would have done it already! With the Crazy Frog everybody was surprised that it worked so well. I’m not sure whether it will happen again at all, because the market changes, the market mechanics change, novelty factors are not there anymore as they were a year ago. But Crazy Frog shows that the edgy stuff with personality to it works best.
It’s like with boy groups - they all are mediocre. The real superstars have personalities.
How important is the name to a character like Crazy Frog? From the beginning it was called “The Annoying Thing”…
We laughed ourselves at The Annoying Thing, because it is annoying. But our marketing people advised strongly that in the global market the name is just too difficult. For a German or Italian for example it’s quite hard to pronounce it. Crazy Frog is much more simple. It’s understood everywhere. Since we were the first to came up with Crazy Frog, we secured that name. It’s very valuable to build a thing like this from scratch. We have to be very thankful to the creator, Erik Wernquist, for building such a genius character.
What will happen in the future, when all the mobiles have real tone and you can download a song directly onto your mobile?
Convergence of technology. Everything will work everywhere someday, obviously. We are prepared for that. The monophonics went away, the polyphonics almost went away. They’ve been replaced by better technology. But the notion for the customer is still the same. They want good music on their phone. As long as we can cater for that and Jamba stands for good stuff for your phone, we’ll do fine.
If this business falls apart, what are your plans?
We’re prepared. That’s the only thing I can say. It doesn’t fall apart; I prefer to say that it evolves. It evolves fast but it is a foreseeable technology driven development.
1 or 2 years from now you will have phones which are as capable as the I-pod. You will have phones with 4 to 8 Gb available for mp3’s. They got Acc + and Windows Media DRM on the phones so everything that is usable on your PC will be usable on your phone. Maybe via Wide area LAN, maybe via bluetooth 2.0. It will all be interchangeable. So we are closely watching the technology changes and thinking about the business model evolving with the technology.
What collaborations do you have, except TV?
It’s strong in the online business. The Internet portals have become very strong. Germany’s portal is one of the most visited portals in the country. A lot of online marketing backs that obviously into the special interest groups. We have Jamba banners online pretty much everywhere and these banners link directly to the interests of the viewer.
If you click a banner on a hip-hop page, it links you to the hip-hop categories that are at Jamba, preselected content. We do print in various countries. We have WAP portals in Germany and other countries coming very soon.
But TV is the most important marketing tool?
For music, yes, for games no.
How much money do you spend per month for TV marketing?
I can’t comment on that.
How do you license the music?
We make agreements with the publishers. The agreements are very complicated and are based on the common notion that our marketing power leads to some sales, which the music industry needs. It’s a win-win situation, because they get their money, and we get our money out of every sell. We get money for every ring tone we sell but we don’t earn anything when a cd is sold.
How are the societies for musical performing and mechanical reproduction rights involved?
They get their share according to what the law says.
Is there something like this for pictures, too?
No, there’s nothing like that for pictures. Depending on who made the original character the agency or the creator is paid. With Crazy Frog, Erik gets a share out of everything we sell with his character on it. If it is created in house we keep it all.
Are there any sales charts for ring tones?
None that are officially for sales throughout the whole country.
How big is the competition in the ring tone market?
There are still a lot of companies and obviously there is competition. Some of them are quite big and successful, like Zed, MonsterMob or 1-2-3 Multimedia.
How big is Jamba’s market share?
That’s something everybody asks, but we seriously don’t know, because nobody publishes numbers. Hopefully we are the biggest…
What is your best-selling product?
Considering content type, it’s music in all its formats.
What has been your greatest moment in your career concerning music?
It’s cool when you are surprised by the market. Last year when Crazy Frog became a hit, people made Crazy Frog mock-ups on the radio in England. Listeners had to do an imitation and then they’ve were given CDs or something. That was the point where you knew you had created more than a basic tone, you actually had created a public hype.
Another thing was our release of Sir Mix-a-Lot. he had a hit in 1992 with a song called “Baby Got Back”. I happened to be in USA in school at that time. Somebody sent in that song as a remake, a special ring tone with changed lyrics called “picks up your phone”.
I remembered that song but nobody else knew it. We decided to put that out in the States and it became a huge hit and sold more than half a million in the first month. People were asking: “How did they put that guy, who was gone for years, back in the public eye within a month?” Again, that was a feeling where we knew we had done it right.
Who sent it to you?
Versaly, a company specializing in mobile content, who had links to Sir Mix-a-lot. He still works as a producer and he got into ring tones and thought he would at least give it a try with that song.
Do you listen to unsolicited material?
It depends. If somebody sends something in that is made on his home PC and it is extremely good, we’ll definitely find a way to work with him. But 99% of the stuff comes via publishers. We have very good relations with them.
What are the main publishers you work with?
The 4 large ones – Warner Chappell, EMI, Universal and Sony BMG.
To contact Jamba for submissions, call +49 30 69 538 100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Interviewed by Jan Blumentrath
Next week: Interview with Souldiggaz, producers for Missy Elliot
Read On ...
* Crazy Frog creator Erik Wernquist on how his character became a chart phenomenon without any marketing or business knowledge