Seb Jaeger was working as a composer in the advertising industry when he first had the seed of the idea that would become Filmstro. Working every day with creatives who weren’t musicians themselves, yet recognising the power of music to communicate ideas, he became acutely aware of the difficulties caused by not sharing a common language.
As his clients often lacked the technical vocabulary to provide him with an accurate brief, projects would often involve several rounds of experimentation and feedback before the client began to hear the score that they had imagined. In an effort to break down these communication barriers, Seb began thinking about using a simplified language to describe music theory, creating a video, Seeing Music, to explain some of his ideas.
Inspired by the positive reaction to the video, Seb started to think of other ways of empowering non-musicians and giving them an experience of the process of making music. What if you could give film-makers a library of music with which to soundtrack their creations, combined with a way for them to manipulate the simple factors explained in Seeing Music?
Soon, he was spending all of his evenings and weekends working on the idea, alongside friend and future CTO Chris Young. By October 2014 they had developed a working prototype of the Filmstro software, and a music library of original compositions. A few months later they had set up a limited company, with three full-time staff working from a home office.
At this time, Seb was experiencing several challenges that are typical of the founder’s journey. With the business yet to start bringing in revenue, he was forced to cover its start-up costs out of his own pocket while supporting his family, including a new-born baby. Many of the people he spoke to loved his ideas, but convincing them to get on board and join the business during these bootstrapping days was a different matter.
Over the next year the team continued to grow incrementally while operating out of various workspaces. Seb had been a student at the University of Sussex when the Sussex Innovation Centre first opened its doors in 1996, and Filmstro’s first three employees were all alumni. When the company were looking for a new home in the summer of 2016, the Centre was an ideal fit for their needs.
“We were expecting rapid growth as we released updated versions of the software, so the flexibility to increase our office space when necessary was a big plus,” says Seb. “Since moving in, we’ve also appreciated working with Sussex Innovation’s staff. When you’re based at an incubator you can sometimes feel talked down to, but here the relationship is friendly and professional rather than forced. The team are there when we need advice, but it doesn’t feel like they’re setting you homework or telling you how you should run your business.”
By this time, Filmstro’s desktop platform had changed considerably. By speaking to potential users, collaborating with other musicians and constantly iterating, the team had simplified the software even further. Now, users were provided with just three key parameters to adjust and synchronise with their film: momentum, depth and power.
As the business kept going from strength to strength, Seb took up the offer of meeting regularly for a ‘sounding board’ session with a senior member of the Sussex Innovation team. Having run a business herself, Claire understood the unique stresses involved and provided a supportive space for Seb to decompress, reflect and resolve management challenges every fortnight.
Filmstro’s range of products have now been downloaded more than 25,000 times with not much more than word of mouth. Users range from teenagers using the mobile app to soundtrack 30 second clips on their iPhones, all the way up to the BBC, who have a licensing deal for their film-makers to access Filmstro Pro. The market-leading film editing software Adobe Premier Pro CC now offers a Filmstro plug-in that Filmstro released in January 2017 as part of their official Adobe partner affiliation.
“Our ambition is to become the next SoundCloud, and for the Filmstro brand to be synonymous with affordable, adaptive music,” says Seb. “As a former freelancer, I know first-hand how low the income is from writing traditional library music, so it’s really important to me that we remain a community platform and provide a fair deal for musicians and composers. And ultimately, we want to democratise music production, so that our users can experience the joy of controlling an orchestra with their index finger.”