The music industry’s revival continues, as its digital transformation creates new opportunities for merchandising, personalization, improved audio quality, getting artists paid, and even a change in how vinyl records are made. Here are the 10 companies we felt epitomized the innovations taking place in the industry, pushing it forward once again after its long post-Napster slump.
For mobilizing (and monetizing) music fans
South Korean entertainment company Big Hit Entertainment is the machine behind K-pop group BTS and its international chart-topping takeover, due in no small part to employing a marriage of tech, data, and marketing savvy. In June, Big Hit launched the e-commerce platform Weply, as well as Weverse, a social media app, both targeted toward the fan communities around Big Hit’s roster, including TXT, GFriend, and BTS. Big Hit’s aim is to become a one-stop music service, giving fans a dedicated social platform to engage with each other and the artists, as well as a streamlined pipeline to sell merchandise. With more than 2.5 millions users on Weverse so far, Big Hit is well on its way.
Read more about why Big Hit Entertainment is one of the Most Innovative Companies of 2020.
For elevating artist merchandise into highly coveted keepsakes
Merch has long been touted as one of the principal ways in which artists make money, and that trend isn’t slowing down: Universal Music Group revealed that revenue from its merch sales nearly doubled in 2019. And Bravado, UMG’s merch division, is elevating the market with a bespoke approach around artists, as well as upping the marketing and quality beyond concert T-shirts. Consider Billie Eilish’s line Blohsh, which has become a streetwear brand in its own right. Bravado also acquired competitor Epic Rights, gaining access to artists including Billy Joel, Britney Spears, Madonna, and David Bowie.
Read more about why Bravado is one of the Most Innovative Companies of 2020.
For taking your memes to the next level with licensed song snippets from major labels Universal, Warner, and Sony
Social platforms like Instagram and TikTok have incorporated licensed music into their suite of tools—and Songclip wants to fill the void for texts, dating apps, and more. Through the Songclip API, users can comb through the catalogs of artists within major labels, including Warner Music Group, Sony Music, and Universal Music Group, and add a clip of a song to their message. The result: a new avenue for music discovery—and a more interesting text message.
For rethinking record deals to put more money in artists’ pockets, and making strategic expansions from Brazil to Nashville
BMG set a new standard in how record deals are constructed: Instead of the typical deal where labels retain upwards of 80% of the profits, BMG typically retains only 25%, leaving the lion’s share of the revenue to the artist. BMG has continued to push its artist-first approach by recently partnering with music sampling and licensing platform Tracklib to offer its artists a new revenue stream. BMG also expanded its global presence last year with a distribution deal with Mexican label DEL and its 15th international office, in Hong Kong.
For ushering in a new wave of Asia-imported hip-hop
88rising has become a vital artery connecting Eastern youth culture to Western audiences. Part label, part media company, and part creative agency, 88rising has helped Japanese, South Korean, Chinese, and Indonesian artists break into mainstream hip-hop and R&B by inviting hip-hop and R&B into Asian culture. Viral videos such as rapper Playboi Carti trying the Japanese soda Ramune, Snoop Dogg mentoring Chinese rappers, or Lil Yachty playing the Japanese game Beyblade have ingratiated 88rising into the hip-hop community and expanded the reach of its artists. In 2019, 88rising artists, including Rich Brian, Joji, Niki, and Keith Ape, generated more than 7 billion streams, 3 billion video views, and over 20,000 attendees to Head in the Clouds, the label’s own L.A.-based music festival. 88rising was also tapped to program its own stage at Coachella 2020.
6. Gold Rush Vinyl
For revolutionizing vinyl production by making records three times faster than the industry average
The resurgence of old-school vinyl in the music world seems antithetical to digital culture, where if you can’t click and own something in a minute or less, that something ceases to matter. But the demand for the pop-and-crack auditory pleasures of vinyl continues to grow—and Gold Rush Vinyl has found a way to get artists’ records into the hands of fans three times faster than the industry standard, cutting turnaround time from four to six months to four to six weeks. And it’s doing it while reducing plastic waste and using less energy than traditional vinyl factories, thanks to the company’s custom boiler, heat exchanger, and water systems, which recycle water back through the factory. (Think of it as the Tesla system of record pressing.) The ecological cherry on top: Gold Rush Vinyl’s plant rejects only about 2% of its vinyl due to defects, as opposed to the 33% chucked out by most pressing machines.
For pushing past surround sound to create a new way to record and listen to music
Dolby Atmos Music marks a major leap forward in the recording and production of music, which has been operating in the two-channel stereo format for decades. In this new system (already used in movie theaters for film soundtracks), producers can work with Dolby Atmos Music’s native surround-sound technology to create an “immersive” audio experience that supports up to 128 individual vocal or instrument tracks. Users can then manipulate those tracks as they choose, whereas previously all tracks were ultimately fed into stereo’s left and right channels. Listening to these recordings on an Atmos-compatible sound system (for the moment, via Amazon Music HD and Tidal Hi-Fi), plunges the listener into a 360-degree sonic environment in which sounds seem to move through space, all around the listener. Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group have both partnered with Dolby to make new and classic recordings available in the Atmos format. Universal has already released an Atmos version of the Beatles’ Abbey Road, along with projects from Elton John, Lady Gaga, and Marvin Gaye.
8. Nvak Foundation
For globalizing access to resources for overlooked artists in such countries as Armenia and Malawi
If music is a universal language capable of uniting people and cultures around the world, Nvak puts that principle into practice. Tamar Kaprelian, a 2015 Eurovision competitor, launched the nonprofit in her home country of Armenia to support young artists (primarily women) struggling to break into the music industry. Through a variety of programs, Nvak (which means “to play music” in Armenian) offers music and songwriting instruction, mentorship, and business education to help emerging artists in places that are usually overlooked by the entertainment machine. Now operating in Armenia, Malawi, and Israel with a community of more than 500 musicians, Nvak is the first music industry nonprofit to partner with a major label—Warner Music’s ADA—which released four Nvak singles in 2019 and will distribute a compilation album of several artists, including Armenia’s Brunette, whose single “Love the Way You Feel” was featured on MTV’s series Ex on the Beach. Nvak reinvests royalties from these releases back into the communities it serves (the foundation also raised $215,000 last year through a network of private and corporate donors), and in 2020, it plans to expand its presence into more countries facing, as Kaprelian describes it, “social, political, and/or cultural difficulties.”
For using the startup accelerator model to empower musicians
In 2019, startup accelerator Gener8tor extended its traditional accelerator model for startups to artists and musicians. Each artist receives a $20,000 grant to help build their careers, with Gener8tor taking no equity, royalties, or revenue share. Artists do, however, still have access to Gener8tor’s network of entrepreneurs and resources to help create a more sound business model for monetizing and growing their rising careers.
For extending its Music Genome Project algorithm to podcasts to give personalized recommendations
Pandora has been a major force in music streaming since the early aughts, and in 2019, the company made the savvy choice to expand into podcasts, one of the fastest-growing sectors in the entertainment space. (In the U.S., one in three people listen to at least one podcast a week.) Podcasts on Pandora uses the company’s Genome Project technology to curate thousands of shows and more than 500,000 episodes, identifying key characteristics (out of more than 1,500 attributes, including MPAA ratings, topics, and hosts) and then pairing shows with listeners most likely to enjoy that content, based on their own listening and likes/dislikes history.
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