On this episode of How Music Charts, we talk with Joel T. Jordan, Founder and President at Synchtank. Headquartered in London with offices in New York City and Los Angeles, Synchtank offers a range of cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions for managing digital entertainment assets, intellectual property, metadata, and royalties.
Getting his start in the music industry at the ripe age of 13, Jordan started one of the hardcore punk scene’s seminal labels, Watermark Records, with his brother Jason in 1991. It was there in New Jersey where the visually-oriented Jordan began his career as an Art Director, which eventually led him to co-found the creative design firm earthprogram in New York City, where he served as Lead Designer and Creative Director from 1996 to 2008.
It was then when Jordan founded Synchtank, where they serve over 150 high profile clients including Disney, Sony Pictures, Warner Music Group, CD Baby, Spirit Music Group, Reservoir, Primary Wave, BT Sport, Warner Media, VICE, peermusic, and many more.
In Part 1 of this two-part episode, we get into Jordan’s punk beginnings in the business, and weave a narrative through the world of music licensing that translates his punk rock, do-it-yourself ethos into a sector with surprisingly similar DNA: technology.
Starting with a Punk Rock Ethos
Jordan's current status as a sleek tech entrepreneur belies his rebellious teenage years as a punk rock pioneer in south New Jersey of the early 1990s:
My brother and I had founded a very popular hardcore punk label out of our parents’ basement in south Jersey called Watermark [Records], and all of these seminal bands and collectible records came out through that label, which is how I got my start in graphic design and art direction. So Jason was the mastermind behind signing the acts, and I was the mastermind of everything else.
But the do-it-yourself nature of punk rock is very much alive in Jordan's way of putting together something out of nothing:
We really just scraped together $800 when we were 13-14 years old, and we put out our first record, and it was terrible. But we learned a lot from selling records for $3, postage paid. We basically managed to reinvest that money over the years into other records that got more sophisticated.
From Early Days in Music Synchronization to the 21st Century
Even though Synchtank started in the late 2000s, Jordan's experience in music synchronization ran back into the 90s. Having to deal with disparate sources of data including cue sheets from TV productions, songwriters' hundreds of audio assets, and various legal documents for different rights in different countries and timeframes, he learned first-hand what a pain the world was.
But there were bright moments that made it all worth it, including placing synchs on legendary American TV series Lost and some of the gaming world's first forays into music synchronization:
But if our true goal was to get records heard, then we should probably go for a wider audience, and that was through film, TV, and other avenues.... We were one of the first in video games: We were on Gran Turismo — the first one — on Playstation back in  ... but I do remember it was a huge check ... because it was based on a million video games sold and the mechanical rate was like 7 cents a record.... The math was insane.
Over decades, Jordan came to a place where instead of pitching some of his own artists' work, he devised Synchtank's software concept with a computer engineer friend, so the software did most of the work for him. He describes the company's status as a "helper business":
I feel like I’m a Levi Strauss, where I’m making belts and pickaxes and dungarees and tents. And I’m pointing people to the hills and going, ‘There’s gold! There’s gold!’.... I’m not directly benefiting from gold mining, only from the selling of all the equipment involved ... and that’s what being a helper business is. It’s a good feeling to have that ability to help the smallest and biggest guys, and they’re all in the same race.
Music Synchronization Advice for Emerging Artists
Towards the end of our Part 1 conversation, Jordan references Netflix's July 2020 teen movie release, Kissing Booth 2. Its July 24, 2020 global premiere date shows obvious positive cross-platform effects (though interestingly, no effect on their Facebook or Twitter) for American rock band Walk the Moon, whose 2017 track "Lost In The Wild" was prominently featured in it.
Jordan's independent label experience and creative business approach very much aligns him with an artist-first mentality. While music synchronization continues to be a part of the music industry that is somewhat gate-kept by music supervisors and TV/film producers, Jordan advocates it as being a potential revenue stream that every emerging artist should strongly consider as a goal:
Synch is an important part of anybody’s career.... Anyone that has a track that drops that has a coinciding synch: It’s like magic.... Some songs have been sleeper hits.... My daughter was dancing around to [a track from Netflix's July 2020 release, "Kissing Booth 2"] ... she knew every lyric, and it’s by Walk the Moon.... This song kicks the shit out of [previous hit “Shut Up and Dance” (2014)] ... and now I’m into that song ["Lost In The Wild" (2017)].
But at the end of the day, it starts with great music, according to Jordan. Only then can artists take practical business steps into the music synchronization realm:
That’s the most important thing: Make good music that sounds good and is recorded very, very well, because otherwise, you have no chance.... Getting noticed is almost next to impossible unless you’re getting noticed alongside somebody else that already has value ... so finding a synch agent or finding someone that can pitch and place your music and then does an admin deal if it’s placed — that’s a place to start.... Once you get that first synch, then you have a story to tell.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our conversation with Joel T. Jordan!