CEO & Founder
Leftbrain and RYLTY
Years with Company: 4, Leftbrain; 1, RYLTY
Address: Los Angeles, CA
Web: useleftbrain.com; rylty.io
Email: [email protected]
Clients: Influence Media Partners, Doja Cat, Troye Sivan, J.I.D, Yeti Beats
Nicholas Judd created the artist management company known as Leftbrain in 2019. Services include budget forecasting, credit consultations, and royalties administration, the latter of which inspired a spinoff venture, dubbed RYLTY.
Finding a Niche
I knew I wanted to work in the music industry, but I could never be a musician. I went to Syracuse University, primarily because they have a strong music industry program, and then became a business manager. I started my career at a large firm. I fell out of love with business management, because it didn’t feel like I was providing value to the artist. So, I left the artist side and started a consulting firm, Judd Financial.
Business School Revelations
Before starting Judd Financial, I took the GMATs. I was like, “Maybe I want to go to business school.” They last five years before they expire. I said, “It’s about to expire. Let me swing for the fences.” So, I applied to University of Chicago’s School of Business to get my MBA, never thinking I would get in. I think there must have been another Nicholas Judd with a better resume than mine and they got us mixed up.
I’m sitting in class with some of the smartest people ever when it comes to math, yet they were very normal people. I know there’s going to be somebody in this room who creates the next billion-dollar company. Why couldn’t it be me?
I’m in the middle of my business school education while running my consulting company realizing I could do more. I went back to my earlier days in business management and thought about some of the problems that exist there.
At the same time, I met this incredibly smart attorney and entrepreneur, Josh Kaplan. Josh would go on to be the artist manager for Doja Cat and Tyga, but at the time he was primarily an attorney. I sat down with him for coffee. He had one client who was decent size who must’ve burned through two or three of the top business management firms. [This artist] was saying there’s no transparency. It’s impossible to get in touch with people. It doesn’t feel like there’s any value being created. That was the trigger for me. This is what I can do to go from being a footnote in the music industry history book to potentially getting my own chapter.
How could we rebuild business management through the eyes of the artist and the artist’s manager? We realized technology held the key. We would dive deep into a problem and then either build technology to solve that problem or find some preexisting technology we could customize.
The first thing we built was a client-facing app. We could give our clients access to QuickBooks Online, but there was no way the information was going to be well received by a creative individual. So, we built an app that takes the data from our accounting systems and [displays] that information in a way that’s receptive to creative individuals. We used a lot more imagery and honed in on the points of information a creative-minded individual could use.
Then there are internal tools. We have a tool that allows us to search across clients and track analytics. In two seconds, I could let you know the average response time to an email or text message, which allows us to create these metrics and KPIs that nobody else has.
The pandemic hits and touring goes away. Clients start calling. “You know that song I have? I don’t think I’m getting all the royalty payments from that.” The typical response from a business manager is, “We’ll look into it.” They’ll pull up the statements and see if the song shows up. And when it does, they’ll say, “Yep, you’re collecting on this.”
That wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted to go back to clients with certainty they were getting paid every amount they were owed. I hired Andrew Ullah. He would become one of my cofounders at RYLTY. He spent an enormous amount of time looking into what would prevent a song from being paid the full amount. He found results.
Now, we’ve identified a problem and found a solution. How can we use technology to make this commercially viable? The amount of time it took to analyze a musical work went from hours to minutes. We enrolled 30 of our clients and clawed back over a million dollars of prior period royalties. Because we were actually fixing the problem, those same clients saw a bump in their revenue streams that amounted to in excess of 10 million dollars. It was at that moment I was like, “We need to offer this to the world.”
Get a Lawyer
It’s important to have a qualified attorney on your team, one who specializes in music and has experience. While they won’t be able to prevent the types of errors that are causing you to not get paid, they should at least make sure you’re registered in all the right places.
A lot of people don’t know self-published songwriters have to register as a songwriter and a publisher. If you don’t register on both sides, you’re only getting half your royalties. That’s one [oversight] our technology would absolutely find.
Rather than registering your songs with the MLC, the PROs, and all that, go to Songtrust. It’s a no-frills, dirt-cheap service where you send them information on your songs and they make sure the songs are properly registered. They’ll do the administrative work surrounding collecting your publishing.
The only downside is they lock you into a one-year agreement. If your career’s taking off and you’re going to sign a publishing agreement soon, then it’s probably not the best move. But if you’re over a year away from talking with publishers, have Songtrust collect on your behalf. It’ll make your life a lot easier.
Problems With Royalty Audits
Royalty audits are prohibitively expensive. You’re looking at $30,000 to $50,000 without a guarantee of what they’ll find. It’s also narrowly focused. RYLTY finds problems across all revenue streams; with an audit, you’re only going to get a handful of those.
It also triggers audit rights, which means you have to wait a number of years before you’re allowed to do it again.
Third, if you took an advance and you’re deep unrecouped, you’re still going to pay. If they don’t find enough to recoup you, you’re going to come out of pocket and not see the benefit. You may recoup faster because of it, but you’re still paying for something that you’re not immediately benefitting from.