Alphabet/Google leads $70m funding for startup aiming to challenge major labels

Many people predicted this day would come.

Today Alphabet, the parent of Google, was revealed as a heavy-hitting investor in a new US-based music startup which is not-so-subtly gunning for traditional record companies.

UnitedMasters has raised some $70m in an investment round that includes Alphabet, VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, and movie giant 20th Century Fox.

The firm has been founded by the one-time President of Urban Music at Interscope Records, Steve Stoute.

He more recently built an advertising agency specializing in music brand partnerships, Translation, which has worked with the likes of McDonald’s and State Farm as well as artists including 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, and Jay-Z.

In a nutshell, UnitedMasters is a digital music distribution and insights company which handpicks independent artists from its community to push to the next level – offering them financial and marketing support.

At the heart of its offering is a data tool which helps unsigned acts target their top fans with online advertising for tours, merch and records.

Although further details are thin on the ground, we do know that UnitedMasters’ model sees artists pay the company to digitally distribute their music and then for added services – but that, crucially, acts retains ownership of their masters.

If all of that sounds familiar, it’s probably because there are a fair few shades of existing companies here – not least Kobalt’s revamped AWAL platform, which gives artists in-depth analytics of who is streaming their music on the likes of Apple Music and Spotify.

A promotional UnitedMasters video, released today, tells artists: “You’ll be the smartest muthaf*cker out there; you’ll know every single one of your fans.”

Quite a bold claim.

Another key slogan on United Masters’ newly-unveiled website, directly addressing independent artists, says it all: ‘Your future has no labels.’

Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, has been named on UnitedMasters’ board.

In a blog post welcoming the company to the world, he said: “Steve thought: What if there were a platform that instantly enabled musical artists to market themselves globally as effectively as the top technology companies market to their customers?

“Such a platform would free musicians from dependencies on the old model while increasing their income tenfold. It would create unprecedented intimacy between artists and fans, while making artists truly independent.

“we recruited a phenomenal technology team with members from distinguished companies such as Facebook, Dropbox, and Pandora.”

“But there was a huge challenge. To build such a platform, the company had to be world class in three distinctly different disciplines: music, advertising, and technology. Steve already had the expertise in music and advertising, but technology was the key and that’s when he called me.

“Together, we recruited a phenomenal technology team with members from distinguished companies such as Facebook, Dropbox, and Pandora. I think that the UnitedMasters engineering team is one of the best in the technology industry, but you can judge for yourself.”

In an interview with TechCrunch, Stoute added: “It’s very important that an artist’s jobs is to be a great artist… The infrastructure around them should be helping them get more money at efficient rates, not owning their masters and taking from them.”Music Business Worldwide

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