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Homegrown Success: In Conversation with Ray Williams of Music Marketing

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"Homegrown Success" is a new series that champions the entrepreneurial journeys of Members of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, showcasing the behind-the-scenes stories of local business leaders who have significantly contributed to Toronto's vibrant economic landscape.

Our first feature highlights Ray Williams, Founder & President of Music Marketing.

Early Beginnings and Pivotal Moments

"My background is in science and music," Ray begins, smiling with nostalgia. "I started music lessons at five, thanks to my father." His exploration into music technology began with early computers like the Vic 20 and Commodore 64. "I wrote my own programs to create songs. It was primitive but I saw the unlimited potential if computers kept improving."

Music Marketing officially launched in 1991 when personal computers were still a novelty. "The ability to have a computer play all the parts of a band was revolutionary. It allowed one person to create the effect of a full band, which was a game-changer for musicians," Ray recalls.

A significant turning point came in 1997 with Ricky Martin's hit "Livin' la Vida Loca." Mixed using digital technology Ray helped pioneer, it demonstrated that high-quality music production was achievable outside traditional analog studios. "It was a huge problem for the industry because it meant anyone could make a professional-sounding record with just a computer," Ray explains.

"Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you have real thick skin, if you can take a lot of 'no’s'. All you need is a good idea, good people and good execution. Hard work, focus and patience are essential."

— Ray Williams, President and Founder, Music Marketing

Scaling Up and Facing Challenges

"After 1997, demand for digital music technology surged," Ray recalls. Music Marketing expanded its team, invested in new technology, and formed key industry partnerships. Transitioning from physical CD sales to digital distribution was crucial. "By 2005-2006, selling software on CDs became obsolete. The rise of the internet and digital piracy posed significant threats. We had to innovate to stay relevant," Ray explains. This led to the creation of the XCHANGE Market Platform in 2009, a digital marketplace that revolutionized the industry. "It allowed small companies to access the global market instantly. And it was built and developed entirely in Scarborough."

This period of disruption also led to the creation of the International Music Software Trade Association (IMSTA) in 2002. "IMSTA aimed to educate our user base about the importance of supporting the software they use. Our slogan, 'Buy the software you use,' helped foster a community that values the work behind music technology."

Choosing Toronto: Hometown Advantage

Remaining in Toronto, despite pressures to move to tech hubs like California, was a strategic decision for Ray. "We had some special people here in Toronto, talent that could create anything we imagined. We believed we had the talent here to do anything." Ray also credits the Toronto Region Board of Trade for helping elevate Music Marketing’s profile. "The Board has been pivotal in connecting us with the business community and helping us share our story," he says. "Hosting events and participating in Board activities has been incredibly rewarding."

Looking Forward: Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Ray’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is rooted in his own experiences. "Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you have real thick skin, if you can take a lot of ‘no’s," he advises. "All you need is a good idea, good people and good execution. Hard work, focus and patience are essential."

Looking ahead, Ray sees exciting trends in the music industry, particularly with AI and global digital collaboration. "AI tools are enabling more people to create music, which is very exciting. We're also seeing a recognition that the world doesn't stop at North America and Europe. There's a massive global market out there." Ray’s vision for Music Marketing is to continue leading and guiding the industry. "We sit at the center of a lot of digital traffic and trade. We feel we have a responsibility to help guide the industry to where it needs to go."

In Reflection

Reflecting on his journey, Ray shares a pivotal personal anecdote. "I was working in a wine store on Queen Street and met Jack Korman, a suit business owner. Korman dismissed the idea that the music industry was hard to get into, saying, ‘Every industry is hard to get into. However, If you make a contribution to an industry, you will be rewarded.’ That mindset shift was a game-changer for me. In fact, when I look back, everything we developed were contributions to our beloved music software industry."

Ray Williams’ journey with Music Marketing is a powerful example of innovation and resilience. From basement beginnings to global influence, his story is an inspiration to all aspiring entrepreneurs. Thank you, Ray, for sharing your remarkable journey with us.

Homegrown Success: Championing Toronto's Entrepreneurial Spirit

"Homegrown Success" celebrates the remarkable journeys of Toronto's entrepreneurs, highlighting the power of perseverance, community support, and the unique opportunities our city offers. Through candid interviews, we delve into the motivations, strategies, and personal anecdotes that have shaped their paths to success. This series aims to inspire and connect aspiring entrepreneurs with invaluable experiences from those who have navigated the entrepreneurial landscape before them. Join us as we honor the achievements and insights of Toronto's business pioneers and explore what makes our city a thriving hub for innovation and growth.