Media

Three music startups on the upswing

kaplan

SAN FRANCISCO — With the old revenue models falling apart, musicians and media folk have needed to get entrepreneurial.

At yesterday’s SFMusicTech conference, attendees discussed new ways to make money for artists, particularly those with a social media presence and a loyal community of fans online.

Many of the entrepreneurs in attendance were struggling musicians. The goal is to make it easier for future generations of indie artists to make a living.

The conference invited me to give feedback on the startups who pitched their apps, and I was impressed by the caliber of the pitches. Here’s a selection of some of the most memorable startups at SFMusicTech:

Patreon: ‘Anyone can be a patron of the arts’

Pomplamoose

Above: Conte with his Pomplamoose costar, real-life girlfriend Nataly Dawn

Bay Area musician Jack Conte [above] made his name on YouTube. Thousands of people have listened to his music — “imagine several football stadiums filled with fans,” he says — but Conte can barely afford a Big Mac with the money he makes through ad revenues.

Who are the founders? Conte is one half of the indie music act Pomplamoose and has sold over 100,000 songs online.

His desire to fix the industry’s “revenue problem” and earn a living through his music led to the creation of Patreon. His technical cofounder is Sam Yam, a former roommate from Stanford University.

How does it work? Music fans may donate as little as $1 to their favorite acts. Inspired by crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, backers or “patrons” can receive rewards, like a private Google Hangout with the artist.

What’s cool about it? The additional boost in cash helps musicians with production costs, and potentially even earns them a small income. Conte makes about $4,000 per YouTube video, and posts about one per month. “Patreon is not for people trying to get to a goal before they make something,” he says. “It’s for artists who make content regularly and want to keep doing it.”

Distrokid: Get your music on iTunes

kaplan -- sfmusictech

Above: Fandalism founder Philip Kaplan.

Entrepreneur Philip Kaplan announced a spin-off of his social network for musicians Fandalism. On new site Distrokid, musicians can get their songs on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Amazon in a matter of hours.

Who founded it? Kaplan is best known for Fucked Company, a site that chronicled failing companies, which he launched in 2000 after the dotcom bust. He also cofounded the social shopping site Blippy and ad network AdBrite.

How does it work? Kaplan’s presentation caused a stir at SFMusicTech, particularly among the record label execs in attendance. The idea is to cut the middle man and help artists get 100 percent of the royalties from downloads of their songs.

What’s cool about it? It’s affordable. With DistroKid, artists pay an annual fee of $19.99 and get unlimited uploads. But it’s unclear whether DistroKid will last — particularly with the lack of curation. What’s to stop someone from uploading offensive hate speech to iTunes?

Playground: The Social Pandora

playgroundPlayground, the app that launched six months ago, offers a new take on music discovery. The beautifully designed free iPhone app lets you access curated playlists from your friends and professional DJ’s.

Who are the founders? The app is the brainchild of Austin Soldner [right], a designer and DJ, Vivek Agrawal [middle], a web developer who co-produced the award-winning soundtrack for hit flick Slumdog Millionaire, and Mehul Trivedi, an Apple-trained engineer [left].

How does it work? Download the app and you’re immediately prompted to log in with Facebook. You’ll then be offered a selection of music playlists created by the Playground community, such as ’90s hits or Indie Rock.

What’s cool about it? The team behind found a way to give you unlimited free music on mobile without paying those pesky royalty fees. Increasingly, they intend to support amateur and professional DJ’s, and promise to announce new music-mixing features in the coming months.

Kaplan and Conte images via Michael O’Donnell/ @photo