No matter your level of musical expertise, it’s no doubt you’ve touched a piece of sheet music — whether at church, in school or just for fun.
“Music touches everybody’s lives,” said Jennifer Rosenblatt, co-founder of MusicSpoke. “If you didn’t grow up singing or playing an instrument, you have children who did or nieces and nephews. You have a neighbor who’s kid takes piano from the lady down the street.”
Rosenblatt didn’t grow up singing or playing instruments. But she did marry a musician, which composed a new business endeavor for the couple. In 2014, Rosenblatt and her husband — composer, professor and organist Kurt Knecht — launched MusicSpoke, which is an online sheet music marketplace for self-published composers.
While one may think sheet music as purely for seasoned musicians, Knecht said the sheet music publishing industry is worth over $1 billion dollars. And it’s one that rife with challenges for self-publishing composers.
When a musician works with a traditional publisher, they give up their copyright and are no longer own or control the work. Traditional publishers also take 90 to 95 percent of the profit when a musical score is sold, Knecht explained.
“The frustrating thing about that is I have music that a particular publisher won’t print anymore, but since I don’t own the copyright they won’t get it back to me,” Knecht said. “So, if you were to go and order it, you would be told it’s not available. The music basically doesn’t exist anymore.”
In 2013, Knecht began exploring self-publishing as an option. Although there are other online sheet music marketplaces — such as SheetMusicPlus — there was no central hub for self-published musicians. They discovered that the sheet music publishing industry trending toward self-publishing and that most musicians don’t have the time, money or know-how to sell their music online
Rosenblatt — who previously founded a Lincoln-based creative agency — and Knecht designed MusicSpoke as not only a way for musicians to make more money, but also to help teachers, conductors and institutions to easily view and purchase sheet music in bulk. The platform currently hosts music from over 100 composers with over 800 scores and has more than 7,000 buyers — up 500 percent from last year, Knecht said. It allows users to search by composer, mood or tempo, view and listen to musical scores and easily discover similar music.
MusicSpoke keeps 30 percent of the sheet music sales — which is high for a marketplace model, but low for the sheet music publishing industry. This is something Rosenblatt said she has to reiterate to potential investors.
“In the startup community in the Midwest, music tech is not well understood,” Rosenblatt said. “Sometimes I feel like unless you have corn or cows, then the Midwest startup and investment community won’t know what you’re doing.”
After spending a decade in Lincoln, Neb., Rosenblatt and Knecht set up shop in Kansas City in July of 2016. The pair believed that Kansas City would be a better place to grow MusicSpoke, without ditching the Midwestern hospitality.
“We love Kansas City. We actually did a tour of the Kansas City Startup Village in 2014, and we fell in love with it then,” Rosenblatt said. “Kansas City is better for the arts. When you have the Kauffman Foundation and the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts, what better city to build a music tech startup?”
Before the move, MusicSpoke participated in NMotion accelerator and has raised $120,000 to date. In January, Rosenblatt was accepted into Pipeline Entrepreneurs — a Midwestern fellowship program that Rosenblatt has had her eye on for several years before finally being accepted.
“This is our year of growth and expansion,” Rosenblatt said. “It’s amazing what can happen when you start to focus.”