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Meet Jeremy Sirota, CEO of Merlin Network

March 2, 2022
6 mins read
Jeremy Sirota CEO of Merlin Network
Jeremy Sirota CEO of Merlin Network

Jeremy spent his childhood tinkering with his father, a civil engineer who has a similar calling in “figure-it-out-itis.”

Jeremy was a coder, a gamer, and an early adopter of Bulletin Board Systems and then the World Wide Web and BMX bike riding during high school.

Jeremy’s passion for technology and music has always been intertwined.

His personal North Star was, from an early age, how to place himself in situations where he is constantly challenged to learn and grow.

He applied for and was hired as a brand designer in a tech company, despite not having any experience in branding or design.

He started his career at Warner Music Group, and then he was an early hire on Facebook’s music team. Now Jeremy is at Merlin.

Jeremy Sirota was later appointed as Merlin’s CEO. He started his career in New York City back in 1999.

Although Merlin isn’t a household name in the music industry, it has a considerable influence.

Merlin is an independent digital music licensing partner.

Collectively, its members represent more than 15% of the global music market.

This includes tens to thousands of labels, hundreds, thousands of artists, millions of songs, and millions from every country and genre.

He has made exceptional deals with platforms like Apple, Meta, and Peloton.

To thrive in this highly competitive industry, independent labels and distributors must be more agile and have an entrepreneurial mindset.

Merlin still uses this mentality 15 years after its founding.

Sirota stated, “We have created an organization that is adaptable, resilient, and structurally structured to pivot faster into new paradigms.”

Our approach reflects this mindset, as we share the same goals with our members.

Our success is determined solely by our success.

Sirota graduated from UC Berkeley and UC Hastings College of Law.

Before joining Warner Music, Sirota was a lawyer at Morrison & Forster.

He also managed two Business & Legal Affairs sections for the iconic Warner Elektra-Alliance division (WEA) and Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA) independent label services arm.

Billboard Magazine has awarded Sirota four times: Indie Power Player (2020 and 2021), International Power Player (2021), Power List (2022).

What is the story of Merlin Network?

Digital music services centered their music licensing efforts in the 2000s on major record companies, such as Universal, Sony, Warner, EMI.

Independent labels had to make space for their artists within this new digital space.

Merlin was presented at the 2007 MIDEM conference. It is a vision of how this digital imbalance can be addressed.

Merlin’s mission was to negotiate licensing deals for digital music services, leveraging the collective value from the leading independents to obtain premium terms.

Today, Merlin holds 15% of the global market share.

Merlin has agreements with top digital services like Apple, Meta, and Peloton.

Merlin’s membership includes independent labels, distributors, rights-holders, and others.

They represent tens to thousands of brands and hundreds upon thousands of artists from all over the globe.

Merlin works with digital partners and delivers value to them.

We also seek to provide other incremental benefits for our members.

How do you stay productive?

My day begins with my 10-year-old daughter getting dressed, fed, packed, and ready to go.

A typical day starts with a series of calls with my team leaders, board members, members, and digital partners.

These calls are interwoven with strategic planning for the future, including long-term resourcing, branding, signaling, and other company needs.

My global team of 40 people tries to get at least one 1-on-1 every week.

My top productivity tip is to make time every week for planning.

I want to look at my weekly schedule, recognize my company’s goals and review my personal goals.

That means answering two questions: (1) What can I do to ensure my productive week? I plan for Sunday night.

Anot I want to make this week a success. Her tip is to get out of your apartment/office.

This is not possible for everyone. If you can, walk-and-talk can be very beneficial, either in-person or via phone.

I also use the time just to let my mind wander. It allows me to think creatively about new solutions to problems.

​How do you bring ideas to life?​

It was establishing a culture that encourages shared ownership.

This might be in the form of a cross-functional team for a tech company.

At Merlin, I broke down the concept of cross-functional teams into their core components.

Prioritize communication; encourage collaboration; ensure fluidity.

These concepts were repackaged into the company’s language.

They are called “strategicPods.” It is more inviting. More alive. More music.

We can now create strategic pods for a single brainstorming session or ongoing issues.

What’s your favorite trend?

My passions are music and tech. Their intersection is my professional North Star.

However, I am inspired by the next generation of entrepreneurs at a societal level.

They are committed to building successful businesses and contributing to positive changes such as climate change, better reproductive health, and sustainability.

My goal is to make a difference by running Merlin supporting our members and their artists.

We are a member-owned and member-led organization that functions as a not-for-profit.

​What habits make you productive?

When I have a new initiative, I have to slow down my pace in the planning stage.

To “paint the picture” first, I use a systematic approach. Before you set sail, everyone must be on board to understand where we are going and what the journey will take.

The classic saying goes, “If you don’t go fast, do it alone.”

Before I set the stage, I will consider making it a successful race.

I have seen the chaos caused by talking about V2 before we even finish setting the goals.

What’s your advice for the Noob?

Don’t be too hard on yourself. After that, I would recommend spending more time with people.

Until college, I was a largely introverted person. I usually read, write, program, or log into a BBS.

This meant that I had less experience managing different personalities early.

It’s like investing in a 401k early on–it pays more significant dividends over the long-term.

It only works if there is genuine interest in the other person.

The good news is that there’s always something to learn about someone.

You will realize that it doesn’t matter if you like or respect the person you interact with.

Recognizing that every person is unique gives you the ability to see the potential in others and become genuinely interested in them.

What is one thing we can all agree on?

There are no problems. Only challenges.

​What do you recommend as an entrepreneur?

First, you need to create a common language used internally and externally.

It is a way to talk about the company, values, and goals authentic to your culture.

Next, it’s repetition, repetition, and repetition. By being consistent, your team will reach its North Star.

It is done by demonstrating a belief in your vision and ensuring alignment.

What’s your rich strategy?

Find better ways to spot outdated assumptions and free the team from their old paradigms.

My responsibility is to remove any obstacles that hinder the team’s ability to do their best.

I also need to support them in instituting change, which invariably entails risk.

This kind of mentally helps to avoid over-using resources and helps you rethink how you can best support your clients.

How do you overcome Failure?

She was coming in hot! When I joined Merlin, I was determined to conquer the globe.

Because I had given a lot of thought to the role, I believed I knew what I needed to do.

Instead, I had to slow down and spend more time with my team.

This allowed me to learn all the details of the operation.

Slowing down allowed me to reevaluate and modify my approach.

I spent more time listening and probing into corners of the room.

​Can you share a business idea?​

Contact lenses that can see night. Three ideas are too good to pass up.

Two of them are slightly absurd, and one is more serious. You decide which one is correct.

  1. Text messages that say “Send Later” What about “Silent Send,” which is the sender’s version of “turn notifications off.”
  2. To move text messages up the queue, use “Priority send.”
  3. Coffee that hydrates.

What’s your recent best buy? ​

My 10-year-old daughter paid me for her fencing lesson and class.

My daughter began fencing when she was six years old, with Irene Gershon as her coach.

Since then, I have been a member of the Fencers Club Board of Directors, a 501(c(3)), and have attended numerous fencing competitions.

My daughter has also had hundreds of video clips of her fencing performances. There is no better way to use my capital than this.

What are your favorite Softwares or Apps?

Calendly is a life-changing tool. At Marlin, I chose not to hire an executive assistant or engagement manager.

Calendly has allowed me to manage my schedule and ensure my availability.

Calendly will enable me to set when I am available, whether in the morning or the evening and how much time I’m willing or unable to spend 15 to 60 minutes.

The “Snooze” function for email is an excellent way of keeping your inbox clear, not overloaded with lists, and pushing items to the right place in the future.

Which book would you recommend?

Cal Newport’s Deep Work was a great resource. We all know how difficult it is to keep up with the constant stream of information, devices, and demands placed on our time.

Our lives are fast. Unfortunately, I have never tried meditation or yoga.

To manage the daily deluge, I’ve taken many of Cal’s lessons to heart.

Mind Gym by Gary Mack has been a great help.

My daughter’s fencing coach recommended this book to me to understand her challenges better.

However, it is an excellent read for anyone who considers themselves high-performing.

​What’s your favorite quote?​

“Silence is becoming more critical as I get older. It’s essential for balance and to empty our brains.

Eating information is enough to make you incontinent.

Ryuichi Sakamoto

TL;DR; Jeremy Sirota could offer to Enterprenuer readers?:

It would help if you surrounded yourself with positive people who will guide and support you.

A productive team is empowered and inspired.

Treat your time as your most precious commodity.

Jeremy Sirota

Use tools and processes to maximize your time and avoid the time suckers.

Enterprenuer

Enterprenuer is a social interview and story publishing platform for entrepreneurs, founders, businessmen, businesswomen, startups, and anyone who inspires people globally.

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