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Apple led a rare $50 million investment in UnitedMasters, which has made a music distribution platform for independent artists.
The platform is aimed at democratizing the music business, enabling emerging artists to earn money and get distribution across a wide range of music platforms, from Spotify to Apple Music.
The round included participation from existing investors Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Andreessen Horowitz. Founded in 2017 by Steve Stoute (founder of the ad firm Translation), United Masters enables artists to maintain full ownership over their work while expanding their economic opportunities and introducing them to millions of new fans.
I spoke with Stoute about this in an interview and joked that things would have worked out better for Taylor Swift if only she had discovered this platform before she lost control of her music library in a record label dispute. While Stoute, a former Sony Music executive, said it would be wonderful to have such famous artists, the platform was created for artists aspiring to be the next Taylor Swift — people with the dream of making a living through music.
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“I believe in the independent creator, the next Taylor Swift, because we’re playing a long game,” said Stoute. “Were changing an industry and giving an opportunity to independent artists. I’m not thinking about the Taylor Swift that exists that we all know and love. I’m thinking about the next young girl who plays a guitar and could write a song that wants to be Taylor Swift.”
This deal kicks off a strategic partnership with Apple, which will create dramatic new opportunities for UnitedMasters artists.
“Steve Stoute and UnitedMasters provide creators with more opportunities to advance their careers and bring their music to the world,” Apple executive Eddy Cue said in a statement. “The contributions of independent artists play a significant role in driving the continued growth and success of the music industry, and UnitedMasters, like Apple, is committed to empowering creators.”
Stoute said that going all the way back to Steve Jobs, Apple has been a big supporter of music artists over the years.
“Apple has been a company whose values have always been to support the artists and creativity,” Stoute said. “They’ve always been that company that unapologetically understood the creator and the artist. And when I was speaking to Eddy and the team over there, we really wanted to see that artists did not sign their rights away to major labels.”
Stoute said his team has signed up a million music artists for the platform, but his company’s job is to create opportunities for the artists to get discovered. For instance, he said the NBA will play the music of indie artists during its games, which could prompt people to listen to the music on platforms such as Spotify and generate more revenue for the artists, Stoute said.
Under UnitedMasters’ business model, music artists can pay a subscription fee of $5 a month and get access to 100% of their music royalties through the platform. Or they can skip the payments and get a 90% share of their royalties, with the remaining 10% going to UnitedMasters.
As an industry alternative for independent artists, Brooklyn, New York-based UnitedMasters provides premium music distribution services and facilitates partnerships between artists and the world’s biggest brands, thanks to partnerships with the NBA, ESPN, TikTok, Twitch, and more. Stoute has relationships with those brands because Translation represents them.
“It creates a marketplace because brands want to be on the front end of discovery,” Stoute said. “And artists who are creating culture are the future. When you have a marketplace in which brands and artists can work together and work out sponsorship deals, then you have an ecosystem.”
Creators can release music to all the major streaming services from their iPhone or Android device — and with UnitedMasters’ platform, creators can check their streams, access fan analytics, and keep track of their earnings.
Stoute said he pitched his company to Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz, and Horowitz proceeded to invest in the startup. Stoute said that in the past, artists were so happy to get a record contract that they would sign away their rights to things like their image, digital likeness, and intellectual property.
“That would be the equivalent of an angel investor owning a startup’s patents,” he said. “But in music, it works like that. I wanted to change that idea.”
Stoute said his firm can supply the technology that enables artists to distribute their art to multiple platforms and help them get noticed. UnitedMasters isn’t yet selling albums as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), as music artists like 3LAU (pronounced “Blau”) are doing with limited edition NFT-based songs.
“We are doing distribution and brand services with technology,” Stoute said.
He said the company will use the new funding to invest in international growth and double down on its tech research and development and invest in finding talent. Right now, the company has about 250 people.
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