Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “Record labels are obsolete.”
One of the most persistent—and idiotic—narratives in a post-Napster music industry is that record labels are dinosaurs who refuse to die. This myth endures despite the fact that labels do more than print CDs and ask an artist if they wanna coordinate a press tour while recording an album. Thankfully, those old reptiles will soon meet their maker: United Masters.
Today, TechCrunch revealed that Steve Stoute is looking to—pardon my french—“disrupt” the record label business with a $70 million investment from Alphabet, which owns Google, to create United Masters. How exactly is Steve Stoute, the former president of major label Interscope, planning on leading the project? Glad you asked: Stoute provided a short YouTube video to introduce the company:
I learned little from that sizzle reel, except that it was uploaded to Josh Constine’s YouTube account, who is the author of the TechCrunch story—a great first step for Stoute’s nascent company. Glaring conflicts of interest aside, Constine writes:
“Artists pay United Masters 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 United Masters sucks back in all the analytics, identifies the listeners, builds artists a CRM tool, and helps them target their top fans with pinpointed ads for tickets and merch.”
Now, David, you might ask, doesn’t that just sound like Spotify’s fan insights, or Bandcamp’s new artist and label app, or the basic services of distributors like CDBaby or TuneCore? Yes. The answer is yes.
Nothing about the venture is different from any other music distributor, except that it has big names like Alphabet and 20th Century Fox attached to it. The company also received investment from the firm Andreessen Horowitz, who, five years ago, invested $15 million into Genius (Neé Rap Genius). Marc Andreessen even described Genius as a “Talmud for the Internet” in a blog post after his company invested. (Full Disclosure: I’ve written for Genius, but it’s certainly no Talmud of the internet.)
Despite the paragraphs that Constine devoted to this start-up, absolutely nothing about it sounds new, revolutionary, or even that particularly artist-friendly.
Meet the new music boss, same as the shitty old boss.