The World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies In Music

The most exciting acts in the music industry are embracing the best of what technology has to offer and some fresh new takes on traditional marketing.

1. Shazam

For naming that tune. All the time. The “Pop-up Video” for everyday life, Shazam has become the de facto method to identify that song on the tip of your tongue. In 2013, it introduced Auto Shazam, an opt-in feature that keeps a diary of your day’s playlists without you even noticing. The company has also started working directly with artists, allowing them to provide exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and unplugged versions of their tracks. With no interruptions, the guarantee that no audio will be stored, and the opportunity for companies to reach consumers based on their TV show or commercial engagements, Shazam has moved from cool party trick to major music-industry player.

2. YY

For reclaiming karaoke and taking it online. While YY started in 2005 as a hub for hardcore gamers, it’s evolved into a karaoke haven and cash cow with $198 million in revenue. Vocalists perform for thousands of viewers live, and popularity leads to rewards. Viewers can give virtual goods to the vocalists, which can be redeemed for cash after YY takes its 60% cut.

3. Columbia Records

For staying up all night. A label more closely identified with the old-school music business made two strategic bets in 2013. Without any previous promotion, Beyonce's surprise self-titled release dropped at midnight on December 13th and sparked a downloading frenzy that rocketed it to No. 1 on the sales charts. On the other end of the spectrum, Columbia showed deftness in the campaign behind Daft Punk’s new album, creating a stir with short teasers on Saturday Night Live and at Coachella, hitting overdrive with a clip of Pharrell and Nile Rodgers performing “Get Lucky” and releasing a series of “Collaborator” videos.

4. Spotify

For saving the music industry, one stream at a time. Spotify’s influence can hardly be overstated. The company has essentially trained roughly 25 million people to pay for streaming music rather than pirate it for free. And more than 6 million of them are now paying $10 a month for the ad-free experience. In 2013, Spotify extended its reach to 55 different countries and became the second largest source of music revenue, only behind iTunes. It also invested in music data by acquiring The Echo Nest, which has compiled over 1 trillion data points about more than 35 million songs, undoubtedly giving Spotify a leg up when it comes to providing users with more personalized recommendations and radio playlists.

5. Mad Decent

For shaking up how music goes mainstream. The Harlem Shake meme defined the early part of 2013. And it was all because of how Mad Decent, the record label behind the artist Baauer, deftly reached the masses. The viral sensation sold more than one million copies and reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, but Mad Decent reportedly spent less than $5,000 marketing the track--initially giving it away for free. The label also continued expanding its popular Block Party events, debuting in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa.

6. VEVO

For mastering the magic of music videos. Once inextricably linked with YouTube, the music video portal took steps toward becoming a standalone musical monolith in 2013. Now, 40% of its streams come outside of YouTube and half of its 5 billion monthly views come from mobile devices. Part of that uptick on mobile comes from VEVO’s newly redesigned mobile app, which allows users to create video playlists that save to the cloud.

7. Macklemore LLC

For leveraging major label power intelligently. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis's "Thrift Shop" received major radio play in 2013, holding court at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks and selling more than 10 million copies since its 2012 release. But it was the strategy behind the artist's own label, Macklemore LLC, that led the track to radio success. After the release of The Heist in 2012, the duo hired the Alternative Distribution Alliance, an arm of Warner Music Group, to expose the track to markets outside their hometown of Seattle. With the rights to the music in their back pocket, the two could license it without losing creative control or splitting revenue with a label, making the endeavor an unrivaled success.

8. SoundCloud

For going pro properly. The audio platform expanded its reach with a new way for creators to bolster their presence on the site. Partnering with acts like Snoop Lion and The-Dream as well as The Guardian, Blue Bottle Coffee, Red Bull and the Nerdist network, Pro Partners get a more robust profile and the ability to place images along certain recordings. And in a surprise move, Bruce Springsteen streamed his newest album, High Hopes, on the platform before its release showing the influence of SoundCloud’s openness.

9. Ultra Music Festival

For bringing the world’s music to the rest of the world. In 2013, the Miami-based dance music festival expanded to two weekends (though it's scaling back to one weekend in 2014), which saw a spike in ticket sales and continued its global expansion to Santiago, Chile; Split and Hvar, Croatia; and Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa. Ultra’s move beyond the United States to countries where dance music is even more popular, while adding other, non-electronic acts to the predominantly dance-focused lineup makes it one of the biggest festivals in the world. The company's ability to consistently book the best acts has led to almost immediate sellouts. Earlybird tickets for 2014 sold out in just four minutes.

10. YouTube

For growing up. YouTube held its first annual awards show in 2013 to recognize the best acts in music videos. Live-streamed and often chaotic, the event was directed by Academy Award winner Spike Jonze and hosted by Jason Schwartzmann and Reggie Watts--a musical YouTube star in his own right. But YouTube has become more than a place for artists to reach fans directly, it is also paying the artists who are using the platform--more than a billion dollars in 2013. With music streaming up 32% from 2012, the payout for artists will rise too.

[Image: Flickr user daspunkt]

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6 Comments

  • Luke Walker

    Very sadly misleading. Of course it's written from the tech world perspective instead of the music industry perspective. I'll just quote the great words of Mr. DEAN KAY, which more accurately connotes what's happening then any Silicon Valley magazine:

    "Tech companies and criminals have made billions supporting the illegal exploitation of our cultural past while ruthlessly pursuing the dismantling of incentives creators need to fashion our cultural future"

    Lastly, Yes youtube paid out "more than a billion dollars in 2013", but they should have paid out more like 5 billion. All the while they are spending countless sums on washington lobbyists to reduce their payouts to the music industry even further. Skylar makes it seem like youtube is saving something. It's all bs - don't believe it.

  • Skylar, you are going all the way baby!

    When the team at Columbia read this they will put you at the top of the guestlist for their SXSW afterparty and you will get to try on Pharrell's hat.

    Except... maybe you overdid it? Maybe your sycophantic cheerleader act is actually a bit embarrassing? Maybe you need to stay behind the rope.

  • This is perhaps the least informed article I've read in Fast Company, and I've been reading since 1998.

    The tone seems to suggest that it's all good in the hood, that the music industry as we know it isn't continuing to suffer a decline the likes of which we've rarely if ever seen in modern history. Okay, it doesn't say that explicitly, but the polyannaish voice the article takes is sadly misplaced. Even if the article is factually accurate, this list would represent the best of the worst.

    And the facts are dubious at best. I tried to go into detail about the Spotify, Ultra, Shazam, and Columbia listings in particular, but the comments are limited in word count so I got cut off.

  • Wait...crediting Mad Decent for Harlem Shake? Really? Come onnnnn. The innovative company, in relation to Harlem Shake, was Billboard. If they hadn't augmented their methodology for determining hit records, the meme would have been only that, a meme.

  • Huh? No sources or references, no logic behind the ranking system, no real insight...

    My favorite is this: "The company has essentially trained roughly 25 million people to pay for streaming music rather than pirate it for free. And more than 6 million of them are now paying $10 a month for the ad-free experience." -- roughly trained people to pay.. so this excludes free users? Is Spotify's pricing the same globally as it is in the US?

    I understand Monday morning deadlines, but this is... ouch.