The Man Who Guided Nas’ Career Has $70 Million To Help Hip-Hop Artists Keep Their Masters
Master recordings are coveted in the music industry. In the 1980s and 1990s, many Hip-Hop artists signed contracts that gave away ownership of master recordings to record labels. With resources, relationships, and infrastructure, they would generate songs that would hopefully turn to hits, and the artist’s star would rise.
That guard is well past changed. Artists such as JAY-Z have made owning one’s masters a status symbol of freedom and savvy negotiating. On “We Made It,” Hov’ rapped, “I own my own masters, you know I ain’t missin’ no royalty statements.” Today’s elite MCs from Kendrick Lamar to Chance The Rapper boast their independence, creative control, and artistic ownership. In many cases, parent labels have become distribution arms to a declining market in physical sales.
Steve Stoute is one music mogul with a deep understanding of the changing industry model and artist’s needs. He previously headed the Urban Music divisions at Interscope and Sony Records and managed the careers of Nas, Will Smith, and Mary J. Blige at pinnacle (and pivotal) points in their careers. Stoute has worked closely with Jay and Beyoncé in recent years, and moved into publishing (The Tanning Of America) and served as CEO to Carol’s Daughter hair products line.
Today (November 15) it has been announced that Stoute has raised $70 million to build UnitedMasters. The money comes from Google’s corporate umbrella, Alphabet, 20th Century Fox, and VC firm Andreessen Horowitz. According to Tech Crunch, his latest venture allows artists to get a better relationship with fans on streaming platforms, through revenue sharing. “Artists pay UnitedMasters a competitive rate to distribute their music across the internet from Spotify to YouTube to SoundCloud, and they split the royalties while the artist retains the rights to the master recordings. Then UnitedMasters sucks back in all the analytics, identifies the listeners, builds artists a CRM tool, and helps them re-target their top fans with pinpointed ads for tickets and merch,” explains the report. The last part addresses some of the resources that a label once allowed through Marketing and Promotions, but does so through the modern music destinations. “Finally someone built a way to deliver ads for what artists do sell to people who’ve listened to their album 50 times for almost nothing,” Stoute tells Tech Crunch.
Presently, companies like TuneCore provide similar services. While Spotify has a merchandise and physical product section on many artist pages, other platforms do not. Per the report, Stoute, a veteran of bringing Hip-Hop to corporate and mainstream America, sees bigger possibilities.”UnitedMasters wants to be the missing data layer for the music business,” surmises TechCrunch‘s Josh Constantine. “That could allow it to find a huge fan of an artist on Pandora earning them just fractions of a cent per stream, retarget them with ads on Facebook, and get them to buy a signed poster or VIP ticket package.” Meanwhile, fans of Puff Daddy can be marketed his latest Ciroc vodka product, which is not something currently available.
Backer, and high-profile entrepreneur Ben Horowitz sings the praises of UnitedMasters. “Such a platform would free musicians from dependencies on the old model while increasing their income tenfold,” he said, with news that he’d be joining the company’s board. “It would create unprecedented intimacy between artists and fans, while making artists truly independent.” Reportedly, Google co-founder Larry Page (also a drummer) was personally and deeply involved in getting Alphabet behind UnitedMasters.
UnitedMasters is up and running currently. At present, it allows artists to connect the service to YouTube and Soundcloud accounts.“Being able to operationalize independence was the goal of UnitedMasters. There needs to be 250,000 Chance The Rappers,” Steve Stoute says, referencing the Grammy-winning DIY artist who does not sell his music.
Whether artists looking to build a fan-base worthy of touring, or those transitioning from labels to DIY, UnitedMasters is the latest option in an increased effort to put the power back in artists’ hands.