Starting a new business is hard enough. Leaving an entire life behind and moving to a foreign country in order to do so would be nearly unimaginable for most of us. And yet that is exactly what Yael Benamour did. “Every single day of this process was a leap of faith,” she says. “Nothing was easy.”
So what made her do it?
Yael Benamour began her career in France as a singer and songwriter. “After performing for many years, I decided to become a producer. I’d always been interested in the production side of the business and having had the experience and perspective of being a performer ultimately made me a better producer.”
So Benamour worked as a producer for several large studios as well as smaller independent labels. “While working in-house, I was approached by Marie Paule Belle, a well-known French singer. She had become disenchanted with the music industry, and asked me to manage her career. I had no intention of turning down such a wonderful opportunity, but I couldn’t do it while working at another label. So in 1998 I created my own label, Beny Music.”
During a holiday party, Benamour met Christel Gidouin. “We immediately hit it off, and soon Christel joined me at Beny to head up marketing and publicity.” The partnership proved successful and Benamour operated Beny Music from 1998 until 2011. But she became restless. “I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the state of the music industry. I felt there was not enough being done to support individual artists or their fans. Also, Christal and I were keen to see the business become more tech-savvy.”
Benamour soon learned of a new French music platform that was getting a lot of attention. This platform allowed artists to crowd-fund their albums; in other words, fans who wished to support an artist financially could do so online. “We thought the idea was really interesting, and it was creating major attention for a few artists. However, as much as we loved the idea, we thought the execution could be better. It occurred to us that we could take this concept and substantially improve on it. Then we even took it a step further and started researching whether a platform like this existed in America. To our surprise, we found that it didn’t.”
Benamour and Gidouin realized that they had a rare opportunity: they could bring something completely new to the United States. “We’d seen the rapid success of the French music platform, and knew it wouldn’t be long before someone in the U.S. launched a similar financial crowd-funded platform. Crowd funding in general has become increasingly popular in America, so we believed a financially incentivized model – a model wherein investors shared in the actual profits – would not be far behind. If someone was going to do it, we wanted it to be us.”
Although neither of the two women had ever lived in the United States, moving there was the next logical step. “We considered three U.S. cities – Los Angeles, New York, and Miami. After doing our homework, we decided that Miami was too dance-centric, and New York was a little too Broadway-focused. But the music history of Los Angeles and the rich entertainment opportunities made it ideal for us.”
Moving to a new country is never easy, and this move was certainly no exception. “We left our entire lives behind. English was not our first language; neither of us had ever been to America for any extended period of time. We sold almost everything we owned and rented a place in Los Angeles before we’d even secured our visas. We just felt it had to work out.”
They knew they needed to create a solid business plan. “But not having ever lived in America, much less launched a company here, we had no idea what a business plan needed to do or say. So Christel literally bought a “How To Create a Business Plan” book,” Benamour laughs.
Benamour and Gidouin initially funded the business through savings and the money they’d made selling their possessions. In addition to their living expenses, they were paying legal fees and other start-up costs. One particularly serendipitous afternoon they called their landlord over to their apartment to make some repairs. “He casually asked us about our business and when we had finished explaining it to him, he looked at us and said, ‘You two are sitting on a gold mine.’ He became our first major investor.”
In March of 2011, Your Music Company, or YMC, was born. It was the first state-licensed, crowd-funded music model in America that paid royalties as a reward to investors. Fanvestors, as they are known, are invited to choose an artist from YMC’s roster and buy shares in that artist. A fanvestor can buy one or more shares for $10 per share. If the funding goal is not reached, the fanvestors receive their initial investment back. But if the funding goal is reached, fanvestors collectively split 25% of all net profits from album and single sales, with the proportion based on the amount of investment.
The money invested by fans pays for the recording of a CD for commercial release, and the filming of a music video. Once the CD and video is completed, Your Music Company funds and implements a marketing campaign, which includes traditional PR, social media marketing, radio promotion, video promotion, tour support and film/TV Licensing. They way Benamour sees it, it’s a symbiotic relationship that benefits both the fans and the musicians.
“Our ‘fanvestors’ hail from over 70 countries, and we’ve already produced our first success story, musician Georgia Jane, who not only reached the funding goal of $100,000 but is charting on the pop charts!” The first round of royalties, totaling $10,000, has already gone out to those fans who invested.
Benamour believes that motivation and determination have been the main keys to her success. And while she has says she has no regrets, there are some things she might have done differently. “Given that this was the first time I had ever lived in a foreign country, I was very focused on how to fit in as far as culture and behavior. Now I see that I can use my differences as a strength, rather than covering them up. Also, there may be a certain discrimination that exists against women in the business world. I say, forget about it and just be yourself. There were people who flat-out told us that we were dreaming and would never make it, but your only focus needs to be on following your project through to the end and making your dream a reality.”