Note: This story was updated on Oct. 27, 2021, to correct the spelling of musician Omayya Atout's name.
Husband and wife Omayya Atout and Ellen Hodges were living in a "closet-sized" apartment in Brooklyn six months ago trying to figure out how to make a living as musicians in an already competitive environment made tougher by a pandemic when an idea formulated.
Months prior, they'd been asked to compose a personalized song for a friend's wedding and had been somewhat surprised by the positive feedback they'd gotten, and they thought, "Maybe other people would like to have a song created just for them.
"To be honest, it was kind of shocking the response and the thought of someone actually listening to your song was pretty amazing," Atout said.
Out of that, they created Songlorious, a place where customers could request a personalized jingle or song based on criteria chosen by the customer. The original idea was that the couple would write and record the songs, but almost immediately other musicians reached out wanting to be a part of it, perhaps seeing the potential to make some money. Quite a bit of money, it would seem.
"Put it this way," said Carlos Rising, a 2017 Lee University graduate with a degree in music business, "I make more doing this than I did working full time for a church."
Songlorious has taken off so well, in fact, that Hodges and Atout were able to leave New York and move to Chattanooga and devote their full attention to Songlorious. Hodges is also a Lee graduate, so the two were familiar with the area.
"We decided to move 10 days ago and moved five days ago," he said last week. "We love Tennessee and Chattanooga is beautiful."
Hodges said living in New York is cool, but with the virus, "it's not worth the cost. Here, I'm close to my family and the mountains, and we are able to live next to a museum and an aquarium and have space to live and work."
She was a barista and he was a civil engineer with Amtrak in New York, but now they both are focused on their new enterprise.
Customers and the more than 100 musicians have come from all over the world. In just the first two months, Songlorious had 80 musicians write and record songs for more than 1,500 customers who requested everything from 30-second greeting cards, which cost $45, to 3-minute songs, which can go for $205. To date they have put more than $150,000 into the pockets of more than 100 artists, Atout said.
Rising said another benefit for him is that he can do as many or as few songs per day or week as he chooses. He averages about five a day, creating original country, pop or R&B songs. Other artists focus on other genres.
Customers go on the Songlorious website and answer a few questions about what they want mentioned in the lyrics. Many of the customers are looking for something special for a loved one and Rising said these requests typically want the lyrics to include a name, the place where the couple met, the date when they met and something special to them, like a favorite food or pastime.
Customers are more interested in getting a song that is personalized than a hit song, he said.
"They could go on Spotify or wherever and find a hit song that is meaningful to them," he said. "They want something very specific to them."
He said he occasionally chooses a request to write a song for a co-worker or a boss and those can sometimes be more snarky or funny. He also said he always tries to create an original melody rather than rewrite lyrics to a recognizable song by someone else.
Both musicians themselves, Hodges and Atout said they realized early on that they would need to be aware of copyright laws and potential issues and as such enlisted the help of a lawyer.
"The artist keeps the copyright to the song, but we license it to the customer for personal use, so they can both go out and make money on it if it becomes a hit."
To date, Atout said about 98% of the requests on Songlorious are personal, with about 2% being commercial or businesses requesting a jingle for their company.
Customers can download the completed work, usually about four days after the request is made, and they can get it on a USB drive that looks like a cassette tape.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.