Trailblazers is an MBW interview series that turns the spotlight on music entrepreneurs with the potential to become the global business’s power players of tomorrow. This time, we speak to Kakul Srivastava, CEO of prominent sample marketplace, Splice. Trailblazers is supported by Believe.
The market for royalty-free beats and samples exploded alongside the rise of the DIY artist and bedroom producer during the pandemic.
One of the key players in the space is music creation marketplace Splice, which offers subscription-based, downloadable beats and samples “in any style imaginable” as well rent-to-own plugins including workflow tools and software instruments.
The boom in the beat-making sector also caught the attention of the investment community, with financial confidence in the space becoming clear when Splice reached an approximate $500 million valuation after closing a $55 million round of Series D funding in 2021, led by Goldman Sachs’ GS Growth.
Splice’s Series D attracted additional investment from Matt Pincus’ MUSIC joint venture with Liontree. Splice’s total raised now stands at over $155 million, including a $57.5 million Series C funding round in March 2019.
Established in 2013 by co-founders Steve Martocci and Matt Aimonetti, Splice claims to be used by over 4 million people, and its catalog of royalty-free Splice Sounds samples have become popular with both bedroom producers and producers for superstar artists.
Splice underwent a leadership change in May last year, when Martocci transitioned to the joint role of Executive Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer, with Splice hiring Kakul Srivastava as the platform’s new CEO.
Srivastava had served on the Splice Board of Directors since 2021, and joined Splice from Adobe, where the exec was responsible for end-to-end experience for the tech giant’s Creative Cloud business.
Before Adobe, Srivastava was the VP of Product & Marketing at Github. Srivastava was also the GM of Flickr and helped it grow to over 100 million users. Prior to that, as VP of Apps at Yahoo, according to her appointment announcement, she “led the biggest re-architecture of Yahoo Mail”.
She was also behind Tomfoolery, Inc – a company that Splice says “built apps for the future of work”.
The firm’s first app, Anchor, was designed to help teams run better through more open, human interactions. Srivastava was co-Founder and CEO of the company which was later acquired by Yahoo.
Now, Srivastava is looking to bring the experience gained at those tech giants to Splice, with the goal of making “software that is transformational to music creation”.
Srivastava joined Splice at an increasingly competitive time for the music-making and consumer-based sample-buying market.
Also operating in the space are the likes of Singapore-based BandLab, which claims to have over 60 million registered creators on its service, up from the 50 million milestone that it surpassed in June last year.
Other players include music production marketplace and distributor BeatStars, which revealed last summer that it had paid out $200 million to date to creators worldwide who license and sell beats and sounds via its platform.
Commenting on Splice’s differentiating points in the music-making landscape, the company’s CEO claims that “Splice has two advantages that really set us apart from the market”.
“One – the musicians, producers and processes that help us continuously craft the most vibrant library of Sounds in the industry.
“Two – the powerful AI technology that is constantly trained on this ever-evolving body of sounds to be the best at helping creative people find similar, complimentary sounds to curate the best ideas of their music creation.”
Commenting further on Splice’s technology, Srivastava tells MBW that the company has “only publicly released a small portion” of its tech and is “excited about what’s to come in 2023”.
Last year, Splice showcased its AI capabilities in the form of ‘CoSo’, an artificial intelligence-powered music app that uses what Splice calls its ‘Complementary Sounds’ AI technology to create music “in split-seconds”.
The company claims that its app, available on Android and IOS, can “unlock billions of musical outcomes” using its catalog of samples.
Commenting on AI’s future in music, Srivastava argues that it’s “not about replacing musicians”, but “enabling them with more quality and more speed and less drag”.
“Our sounds are part of the water supply for music.”
Splice, which has previously reported to have paid out over $30 million in royalties to musicians to date, has confirmed to MBW that its users are downloading 30 million sounds per month.
Srivastava offers a somewhat elemental analogy for this vast stream of content.
“Our sounds are part of the water supply for music,” she claims. “Young creators I talk to say that they start their creative journey with Splice – it’s where they come to listen, to explore and to be inspired.
“Splice plays a big part in the biggest songs by the biggest artists every year, but I also love that there are millions of young people with new ideas and Splice can help them express themselves in meaningful ways.”
Here, Srivastava tells us about her ambitions for Splice, her predictions for the music creator space, and her forecast for the impact AI will have on the music industry…
You’ve been CEO at Splice for over six months now, what were your goals going into the role?
My career has been about building tools for creative people – helping them bring to life what they imagine and to imagine even more audaciously. I’ve done this at GitHub, at Flickr, at Adobe, and more. At Splice – I see the same potential and magic that made each of those companies so iconic. I was on the board for two years before taking this role – I see it in our people, our technology and in our ambitions.
So, I’m here to make software that is transformational to music creation. I know building tools that unlock creativity is really hard, because I’ve done it. But – it’s never been a better time to do this – we are in a renaissance for creativity with new capabilities coming to life every day. The things creators will be able to do tomorrow, they cannot do today.
How will your previous experience in the tech business at the likes of Adobe, Github and Flickr inform your approach and decision-making at Splice?
Whether you’re writing code, creating a new graphic design, or bringing a melody to life – creative work is some of the hardest work we ever do. There’s an enormous amount of imposter syndrome for anyone who wants to bring forth a new idea. And our tools either enable and empower us, or reinforce that we were never meant to do this. Removing friction from the creative process – by building better tools – is a radical act of compassion.
“In the past twenty years, we’ve seen technology almost over-serve the design and engineering communities but access to music creation still seems to exist in a walled garden.”
Here’s where music is different – in the past twenty years, we’ve seen technology almost over-serve the design and engineering communities but access to music creation still seems to exist in a walled garden.
We know musicians and creatives respond to technology and that music technology will only be really powerful when it’s actually in their hands. Artists who embrace technology have always delivered tangible, culture-defining results. We want to make it as easy as possible for artists to tap into these tools now.
What are your ambitions for the Splice platform in 2023?
Splice is here to make digital music creation accessible to the over 300 million musicians worldwide and to do that we need to continue to remove friction from creative work.
We want music creators to have an endless supply of the highest quality sounds to bring their musical ideas to life. We want our users to be able to explore and find sounds in a way that’s fun and inspiring – our Similar Sounds AI technology (and our CoSo App) start to show how AI can be used to serve creatives to do this.
“We want music creators to have an endless supply of the highest quality sounds to bring their musical ideas to life.”
We want creatives to know using Sounds from Splice unlock doors – and don’t create challenges down the line. We’re the first in the market to allow our users to download sample licenses which will allow distribution platforms to better support creators using samples.
Our Gear platform is still the best and most affordable way for Creatives to find the best DAWs and Plugins for their creative work – we want to make sure that anyone can get started with music creation by making these tools accessible. Digital software shouldn’t be so hard to use.
What are your predictions for the future of the music creator space?
AI-assisted music creation will make it easier for people to engage with their creativity and we will start to see remarkable change when this technology actually gets in the hands of people. I can’t even predict what artists will do with this new technology but I’m incredibly excited to see what happens. There are still a lot of challenges for this technology.
“AI-assisted music creation will make it easier for people to engage with their creativity and we will start to see remarkable change when this technology actually gets in the hands of people.”
There can be incredible bias in the training sets used to create AI models. We really are just starting to scratch the surface of rights management in the generative AI space, and there’s a real fear around replacing human creativity. But I think the role of the human creator will remain constant, despite any AI advances in technology.
It’s going to be an important year to learn about the potential, but also the problems with AI. At Splice, we’re going to stay focused on the needs of the very human creators out there – and stay focused on helping them bring their ideas to life.
We’ve been following the use of artificial intelligence in the music-making space closely, and know about Splice’s own machine-learning-powered tools including Similar Sounds and CoSo. What are your predictions for AI’s role in the music-making space and what would you say to the AI skeptics?
Artists have always used the technology available whether it’s Michaelangelo or David Bowie. At Splice we’re focused on human creativity, finding ways to assist musicians in producing the music they want to make. We know artists want to push boundaries and be creative on their own terms and I think creator first AI will help them do that more than ever.
“From a distance, it might look like AI is tomorrow’s songwriter, but that’s not where it’s going. AI can still be about suggestions, acting as a partner in the creative process.”
From a distance, it might look like AI is tomorrow’s songwriter, but that’s not where it’s going. AI can still be about suggestions, acting as a partner in the creative process.
It’s not about replacing musicians – it’s enabling them with more quality and more speed and less drag… turning a voice memo into a basic demo, things creators want to be able to do.
Tell us about the industry’s reception to CoSo, and what are your ambitions for this tool?
That little app is magic. We’ve learned so much from releasing that tech but the real opportunity will come when we can integrate this technology across the Splice experience and we’ll start to see this experience across our surfaces this year. This is what we’re focused on.
Are there any plans to expand the company’s footprint with further product launches?
We know our users want easy to use software. You’ll see the new Sounds Discovery AI come to life this year, and we’ll launch successive products and updates that improve the experience for our customers.
My job is to set us up to go faster. And In some areas that means we have to do less – we’ve recently started to shut down our Studio feature, which has been bittersweet in the short term but I know it will help us serve our customers better over time.
You helped Flickr grow to over 100 million users. What are your ambitions for Splice’s user base?
There’s a market of over 300 million musicians worldwide and only a portion of these are using digital tools. But Flickr wasn’t just for photographers: everyday ordinary people felt like they could see their world in a different way. All of a sudden things they captured on their phones could be art.
“There are new technologies we might not have even thought of and my job is to get new technology into the hands of creatives everywhere.”
They saw the world in a different way, and they were opened up to the rewards of creating. Future users of Splice might not play an instrument, they might only make music on a phone. There are new technologies we might not have even thought of and my job is to get new technology into the hands of creatives everywhere.
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be and why?
I would like to stop making it seem like a magic trick. Creativity is one of our rights as humans. We have to break up the idea that creativity in music is something that has barriers to entry. I want to make it easier for everyone to make music and have access to opportunity.
“We have to break up the idea that creativity in music is something that has barriers to entry.”
There’s nothing wrong with people finding big audiences, all artists need champions, but I believe we also need to give people the chance to build and share their own stories no matter what their commercial goals are. With more creative voices, we make the whole ecosystem richer and this is exciting for all of us.
Trailblazers is supported by Believe. Believe offers advice to independent artists and labels, in addition to distributing and promoting their music through a portfolio of brands including TuneCore, Nuclear Blast, Naïve, Groove Attack and AllPoints.
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