How Disruptive Is Music’s New Power Generation?

At the end of last week, Billboard released a list of whom they consider the top 25 innovators in the music business.  Before looking at it, figure out in your head what “innovation” and “disruption” means to you.  I think about Airbnb as a innovative company that disrupted the hotel/lodging industry.  The innovative Uber disrupted the taxi industry.  Tesla disrupted the auto industry, especially the luxury market, with innovative batteries and powerful technology.

In music, Spotify comes to mind.  The recorded music side of the business is thriving now after over a decade of losses, and much of the credit goes to Spotify, a tech company housed in music (interestingly, Spotify took the place of Apple, which was Spotify before Spotify through the innovative and disruptive iTunes, which monetized single-track music downloads until Spotify and streaming became dominant).

While Stubhub and Eventbrite may have started revolutions in the ticketing world, Ticketmaster has been more than capable of disrupting on its own through Verified Fan and the company’s embrace of new technologies.

(FYI – It’s important for you to know where Billboard got its headline from.)
So if you look at this list, after reading the headline and this blurb, your expectations are probably pretty high that the humans occupying it are truly a unique grouping of disruptors in music and entertainment.  Unfortunately, those expectations aren’t met by this article.  There are two likely reasons:1)  Billboard created this headline and list to get you to read the article and tell people about it.
2)  These people really are crazy innovators but the publication didn’t give enough space to make the case for each of them.It’s probably both.  And I don’t understand why.  For #2, while there is still a printed version of Billboard Magazine, space limitations are a function of the economics of actually producing a physical product.  It costs a lot of money to print a color, glossy magazine every week.  The more pages, the more it costs.  There are only so many advertisers who can afford to support this periodical.  So short blurbs in the printed version make sense.However, in the digital version, why not just let the writers write?  If there’s only 350 words of content about somebody, fine.  But if Si-Hyuk Bang or Wassim Saliby is worth 2,500 words, give them the space.  Without that, we get rough outlines of these people and generic paragraphs like:

“We do our own marketing and promotion — we want to show that it’s possible.” Not easy, though, says (Vicente) Saavedra, who operates by gut and often seals deals with a handshake: “Frankly, it has been hard, honest work.”

Any DIY/wannabe artist out there is doing his/her own marketing and promotion.  They’re all working really hard.  So what separates this disruptor/innovator from the band that played a house party across from Temple University on Friday night?  That’s where this list of 25 fails.  It gives you names and their successes, but it doesn’t drill down and tell us how these people achieved their successes and in what way they disrupted the status quo.  It’s hard to learn from generalities.  As promoter Bill Graham used to say (I’m paraphrasing), “You give me sizzle but I want the steak.”

This article is missing the steak.

Speaking of sizzle, let’s congratulate Billboard on its great headlines.  These are smart people.  Did you see this one?

Why 16-Year-Old Rapper NLE Choppa Turned Down A $3 Million Record Deal To Partner With UnitedMasters: Exclusive

Who’s not going to read this?  It’s got the young, unsigned artist.  The lure of $3 million.  The phrase “record deal.”  It’s an exclusive, so you can’t find this information anywhere else.  And, apparently, this kid turned his back to the money to partner with UnitedMasters.  Cool.

But as you read, you once again find there’s a lot more sizzle than steak.  There’s a very bright man in the recorded music industry named Steve Stoute who’s done some cool stuff with Interscope and his own company connecting brands to artists.  The guy is a promotional genius, a big personality who can back it up with his accomplishments.

This article is another one of Steve’s accomplishments.

As you read, you don’t see any quotes from the rapper until deep in.  The kid got a paragraph.  Stoute is quoted multiple times throughout (who do you think suggested to Billboard that they use the word “Exclusive” in the headline?).  You see quotes from Steve.  And then you realize the article is really an ad for his company, UnitedMasters, disguised as information.  It’s really just very good PR that work.  We’re communicating about it right now.

UnitedMasters is an aggregator, like CD Baby or Tunecore (more about Tunecore in a moment) or Distrokid.  But like SESAC on the performing rights end, UnitedMasters is invite-only.  They’re backed by $70 million in Alphabet (parent company of Google) and venture capital money.  The services they provide are likely a step above the services of other aggregators.

Since they’re invite-only, one would think that they have fewer artists and the quality of those artists could be higher than the artists found on other aggregators.  With higher quality, the hope (or the marketing of the hope) is that there may be more synch opportunities for these artists via UnitedMasters.  Or more streams.  The service takes a 10% commission off of everything, so the more streaming money that comes in, the bigger that 10% number becomes.

Is it better than its competitors?  They’ll say yes.  The other services will say no.  Personally, I’ve used four: Tunecore, CD Baby, Level (owned by the Warner Music Group) and Distrokid.  Over the weekend, I pulled a release for an artist off of Tunecore because its main focus as an aggregator was iTunes downloads.

iTunes.  Who the hell cares about iTunes anymore?

If you’re a DIY artist, you don’t.  Or shouldn’t.  Yes, there’s more money for an artist and songwriter from a download than a stream (a lot more).  But streaming is the dominant configuration.  Aggregators will get your music on iTunes, so you’re not turning your back to downloads if you use Distrokid (where I moved the release from Tunecore).  But you need simple tools for a new release, like the ability to offer pre-saves of your streams to the world.  You want followers of an artist on Spotify, for example, to be able to click when they see a link and pre-save that stream.  The fan will likely forget when your “streetdate” is for the new song.  But if they clicked and saved your song, the chances increase that they’ll stream it.

Even better, Spotify will know that people are pre-saving your song.  That’s a good thing, because their algorithm will recognize that your song is worth adding to a playlist or three.  Maybe the New Release Radar of your followers and the people who pre-saved the song.  Maybe Discover Weekly.  Maybe another playlist they run that we don’t know about.  At this point, it doesn’t matter if you’re on Distrokid or UnitedMasters.  If the song starts to take off on a streaming platform, it’s happening because of the song, not because of the distributor.

Although there’s this: Spotify has taken an equity position in Distrokid.  Does that mean Spotify’s algorithms favor Distrokid a little bit more than the other services?  Since a “good song” is so subjective, do Distrokid songs have a better shot at getting more streams than any other service?  I’m sure neither Sppotify nor (or it is or?) Distrokid would ever admit to that.  But if Distrokid is as good or better than its competitors (I think it is), to me, that’s reason enough to start using Distrokid.

Steve Stoute is running UnitedMasters like a disruptive company.  But do you think it’s any more innovative than Distrokid’s alliance with Spotify, the top streaming service?  Your turn to answer.

Meanwhile, did you know – Over 200 Music Biz 101 & More Podcasts Are Up?

Yeah.  We didn’t know it either.  We’re at 201.  We recently uploaded our interviews with Jake Posner (see the pic at the very top), Atlantic’s Michael Parker, Live Nation’s Harvey Leeds, music biz attorney George Gilbert, Columbia Records’ Kari Keller, Ultra Music’s Miles Franco, and Catalyst PR’s Jen Appel (leave the last L off for savings).  Go and listen to everything on SoundCloud, iTunes, and/or Spotify.  You’ll be glad you did.


For full details about the Music & Entertainment Industries Program, including courses, the minor, and our MBA, click HERE.


For full details about the WPU Pop Music Studies Program, including courses and audition requirements, click HERE.


Professor David Philp is Assistant Professor Music & Entertainment Industries and Popular Music Studies at William Paterson University. He is the co-host of the only FREE advice college radio-based music & entertainment industry talk show in America, Music Biz 101 & More, which airs live most Wednesday nights and is available as a podcast HERE every night (days too).  Your favorite professor is also co-author (with Dr. Steve Marcone) of Managing Your Band – 6th Edition.  Reach him at or find him on LinkedIn HERE.

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