#DigitalSkeptic: Sheet Music Strums Up Big Business, No Money
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The Web has taught Richard Gibson's ukulele to sing a sad song.
"I just wanted to share my love for music," said the southern Australia-based independent winemaking consultant, who also happens to be founder and namesake for one of the world's more popular ukulele music websites, Richard G's Ukulele Songbook.
"But with how sheet music works on the Web, I live in fear of copyright lawyers," he said.
Gibson has been exchanging emails and phone calls with me from the other side of the world for months, giving me a grim Digital Age rendition of hosting not a service that exchanges free music, but free sheet music. "I have always had a head for how songs are played," he told me. "So if I hear a song, in about an hour I can transcribe the chords and lyrics for that song for the uke."
"And over the years I have posted them online and they have received quite a following," he said.
All investors need do to see just what an unexpected hit Gibsons has on his hands is take a peek at, lets be honest, his rather modest uke music site, ScorpexUke.com. In spite of basically having nothing more than an archive of about 1,200 mostly classic Neil Young, Patti Smith or Rolling Stones tunes arranged for the ukulele, and some links to uke manufacturing kits, Gibson's site have been viewed more than 5 million(!) times since mid-2012. Many of those views are mine. I stumbled on Gibson's lyrical yet easy-to-play arrangements years ago as I was picking up the uke. His Long May You Run was a favorite of my dog Dexter's. That was the arrangement I played him waiting for the vet to show up when it was time to put my old friend down.
More mind-blowingly, at least according to online tracking service Alexa, average users spend an unheard-of-for-the-Web 16 minutes per session on these uke arrangements. And get ready for this: If the growth rates indicated on his Facebook page are accurate, Gibson is on track to hit 6 million views by the end of March and 10 million total views by year's end. "The ukulele makes it so easy to play the songs, you know that it has built a passionate global following," he explained. "And being part of this community has changed my life."
Except for one small detail: Gibson wanted to make it absolutely clear that he has never, ever made a dime off the site. "I do not feel comfortable being called the owner of ScorpexUke," he said. "We do run ads and some money does come in. But all that goes to hosting and keeping the database active.
"It would be a crime to try to make money from it."
That's because it probably is a crime to make money from it. "Uke music and resources sites are terrifically popular," he said. "But at least to my eye, most have to be illegal."