LyricFind Founder and CEO Darryl Ballantyne talks about bringing the lyrics of music to all languages in the world

While in Singapore for the conference Music Matters, Larry Heath sat down with one of the event’s speakers, Darryl Ballantyne, the Toronto based Founder and CEO of LyricFind, “The World’s Largest Lyric Licensing Service”. Over recent months, the company has been expanding their services across six continents, not just offering lyrics for music of different languages, but also translating existing lyrics for different territories. We learn more about why and how they’re going about this – and what it means for the future of their business.

Welcome back to Music Matters in Singapore. You’re here on the panel, talking about taking your music globally. I feel like borders don’t exist anymore; the minute you put it online, it’s already global, isn’t it?

Its true to an extent. To the end user, borders don’t apply. The problem with borders is when it comes to the licensing aspect. For example, for us, trying to expand everything globally and support every country out there, we would have to do licensing deals in every different country and manage all the rights in territory by territory bases, which is a gigantic pain in the ass. Even though the ends user can access everything online, its not necessarily generating royalties or going to the appropriate rights–holder. Sometimes the royalties go to rights holder in a different country, when it should have gone to a rights holder within the consumption country.

There’s different laws in each territory in terms of where the money goes, isn’t there?

US radio is the perfect example where there is no royalty paid on that to the artist, only to the writer and publisher. There all these tracking issues and reporting all of that. On the broader global spectrum, the understanding of music in different languages and lyrics where if you hear a song and you think its good, but if you hear it in a different language, you don’t know what it’s about, what the meaning is, and working on the translations is something that we can use to make music more understandable by everyone in the world even if its not in their own native language.

As English speakers, we don’t really think about this a lot because pop music is generally in English. For the rest of the word, they might hear the latest pop music English song and have no idea what its about and what it means. But if we can provide translations for that, then they can actually connect to much deeper level with the song.

And that’s the only way to truly make music global, especially for English contemporary music. 

And also vice versa. The Spanish content, French content, German content, or Chinese, Japanese, Korean… all that should be accessible in English as well. Does anybody know what Gangnam Style actually was about? That was a huge global hit, but you could anybody in North America or Australia, very few would have any idea what the song was actually about because they only hear it in Korean.

France, I believe, is one of the first off the rank in terms of translation – how have you have found that country to engage with?

France has been a really good country in general to work with. They had a lyric project going on through CSDEM, the publishing organization there, that’s been underway for years; so lyrics have always been a really important part of the rights there and the consumption of content. With our partnership with CSDEM to take over that part and expand it to include content globally and make it accessible, and with Music Story who is representing us there, it’s allowing us to have a local presence there to get the lyrics into all the services. It’s been a really good relationship to have with them, it’s been a great experience. It’s a great project to be working on. France is a country that greatly values their culture, but is also eager to have that exposure to culture outside their country as well. Being Canadian, we have being Quebec as a French presence, so we get to see a very similar scenario within Canada.

In terms of language, there are some things, some words, some phrases, that just doesn’t translate across. Is there any interaction there with the original writers during translation? Take us through the process.

We are trying to have a more literal translation of what the meaning is, that captures any slang that’s in there to make there to make sure that the sentiments are transferred across. But the idea is not to rewrite the song; often when you are doing the translation for a recording of a song, the actual lyrics will change to make it rhyme or to make it match the rhythm. It’ll be a completely different song, like the Canadian national anthem’s French lyrics are very different from the English lyrics. That’s not the type of translation that we are trying to do, we want the original meaning of the original language to offer people a connection to song. It doesn’t matter if the translated lyrics do not match the beat, we want to get the meaning across.

So where are you going to go from here?

The big thing for us is expanding our language support within our team to other languages, Asian languages being a big part of that. We are currently supporting Japanese and Chinese, Korean will be coming up. We want to cover all the main languages to help build up the main bulk of the translation project with partners around the world. Working on the crowdsourcing aspect, and having that run through our team for validation. Its actually quite accurate, and it’s a really massive project of expanding that across our catalogue of lyrics. Turning a million songs turning them into 15 million songs by translating. It’s an exponential growth of our database, and it’s a lot of work, but we think there is a lot of value for the world in that type of availability of content.

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Interview by Larry Heath. Transcription by Michelle Ng.


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