March 2, 2023

The 10 most innovative companies in music in 2023

Explore the full 2023 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 540 organizations that are reshaping industries and culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact across 54 categories, including advertising, beauty, design, and more.

Companies in the music industry have been trying to distinguish the signal from the noise this year, as a variety of economic indicators point in different directions. On the positive side, ticket sales for concerts are set to top $25 billion in 2023, notwithstanding all the drama surrounding the Taylor Swift-Ticketmaster debacle. And music sales, led by streaming revenue, are still projected to grow at a healthy clip over the next decade, according to Goldman Sachs.

But on the other hand, a sluggish economy could discourage consumers from signing up for a new music subscription service or splurging on some other music-related product. Even one of the great drivers of new music discovery in 2023—TikTok—faces renewed regulatory scrutiny and slowing growth; TikTok’s troubles have not hurt the music industry so far but could spell trouble as the year progresses.

Generative AI is one of the big stories across categories on this year’s list, and so it’s no surprise that the No. 1 Most Innovative Company in music is BandLab, a music discovery platform that debuted a generative AI-powered tool to help artists and amateurs alike create new music. The company, which is 8 years old, is now valued at $315 million.

Other music-related tech ventures round out the list, including Subtext, which lets fans interact by SMS message with their favorite artists; TuneCore, which helps acts distribute music across the web, including on TikTok and YouTube Shorts, while still getting those royalty payments; and Veeps, a growing concert-streaming platform.

The major labels have innovated, too. For example, Warner Music Group has a bet big on a series of NFT initiatives and other Web3 projects—as well as a partnership with Twitch—in a bid to keep its impressive catalog of artists, from Lizzo to Brandi Carlile, in front of as many digital-native listeners as possible. For more on the year’s most innovative hits, read on.


For doubling down on discovery

BandLab, a global platform for artists to create music and collaborate, leaned heavily into amplifying artist discoverability this year. BandLab introduced Boost, a new feature within its paid membership tier allowing users to turn their profiles and posts on BandLab into featured ads on the platform. On average, users may receive anywhere from 3,500 to 7,500 impressions on their profile per month through Boost. BandLab also partnered with Billboard and NME to help promote underrepresented artists through written features, playlists, and social media campaigns. For the release of Look At Me, a documentary detailing the life, career, and death of rapper XXXTentacion, BandLab teamed up with production company Fader Films for a competition inviting artists to upload their verse to an unreleased track from the rapper, with the winner receiving $20,000. In addition to helping artists get noticed, BandLab debuted SongStarter, an AI-powered tool for generating music ideas; as well as Studio, an online digital audio workstation for recording and sound mixing. BandLab grew its users by 10 million this year, bringing its total base to 50 million. The company also raised $65 million in a Series B, lifting its valuation to $315 million.


For being a hotline to your favorite artists

Subtext facilitates direct communication with audiences via text as a way to circumvent the clutter of social media feeds. While the platform is used by journalists, politicians, creators, and athletes, Subtext made considerable inroads in the music space this year by inking partnerships with Sony Music, Interscope Records, and Capitol Records. The result was 26 SMS campaigns from artists including Maren Morris, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Maggie Rogers, who used Subtext to offer their fans exclusive content and personalized interactions—and to promote sales. This year, Subtext introduced new features, including auto replies (automated responses to key word prompts); voicemail; and location-based segmentation (sending location-specific texts and collecting relevant audience information). Subtext grew its revenue by 700% and saw a 432% increase in subscribers.


For giving artists more avenues to release their music

TuneCore undercut the competition among top indie music distributors this year by giving artists more avenues to release music and by restructuring its pricing, a major change to its service. TuneCore’s new Social Platforms allows artists to distribute to TikTok, YouTube Shorts, Instagram Reels and Stories, and Facebook Stories, at no upfront cost. (TuneCore takes a 20% cut of revenue earned.) And TuneCore introduced Unlimited Release Pricing Plans, a series of pricing tiers with various features and options (daily trend reports, release date scheduling, etc.), but all with an uncapped amount of music uploads to streaming services. Historically, the company charged per upload to streaming services, most recently $9.99/single track and $29.99/album, with an annual renewal fee of $9.99 and $49.99, respectively. With its new pricing tiers, TuneCore now offers unlimited distribution to 150+ digital stores and social platforms starting at $15/year and going up to $50/year with more features throw in. Social Platforms and better pricing has opened TuneCore to a wider set of artists and user growth, most notably internationally in Latin America, which saw a 16% increase in new users, South and East Asia (20%), and Western and Southern Africa (36%). Since launching in 2006, TuneCore has paid out more than $3 billion to artists.


For giving credit where it’s due

SoundExchange, a nonprofit rights-management organization, made key partnerships this year in an effort to establish more equitable pay for artists, songwriters, and producers. SoundExchange worked with Veva Sound, an audio file management platform, to utilize Veva Collect, which compiles music-creator credits and the associated audio files to ensure fair compensation. Similarly, SoundExchange improved its monthly royalty distributions by partnering with global music-credits company Sound Credit and leveraging Sound Credit’s data on who contributed to a recording. SoundExchange also announced an initiative that allows creators to receive royalty payments through mobile payment apps, such as Zelle and Cash App. Since launching in 2003, SoundExchange has distributed more than $9 billion in digital royalties to music creators, including $238.9 million in Q3 2022.


For bringing the concert to you

Live-streaming concerts got a significant boost during the pandemic, and Veeps‘ goal is to turn the experience into an entertainment mainstay. Founded by Joel and Benji Madden of the band Good Charlotte, and acquired by Live Nation in 2021, Veeps released a suite of mobile and TV apps in 2022 that cover iOS, Android, Apple TV, and Roku. All are free to download with in-app ticket purchasing. Veeps and Live Nation also continued their work in equipping more than 60 venues in the U.S. with live-streaming capabilities. Veeps now powers around 10 to 20 hybrid concerts per month (i.e., streamed concerts that also had an in-person audiences), including for Christina Aguilera, Kings of Leon, Thomas Rhett, Brandi Carlile, and Phoenix. According to the company, the Veeps app has seen a 112% growth rate month-over-month since its launch.


For investing in music therapy

Universal Music Group is leveraging its weight in the industry to push for advancements in music-based treatments and therapies. In 2022, UMG partnered with digital therapeutics company MedRhythms on an FDA-approved prescription-music platform powered by UMG’s catalogue and data analytics. UMG also licensed its catalogue to Vera, an app that creates playlists for people with dementia as a way to use music to stir memories or aid in relaxation. UMG’s music technology incubator, Abbey Road Red, added to its roster MediMusic, a tech startup providing healthcare with music-based solutions. According to NHS clinical trials, the use of MediMusic resulted in a reduction in heart rate in patients with dementia by up to 22%. Artists also benefitted from UMG’s push into healthcare through a partnership with the nonprofit Music Health Alliance, which has saved more than 300 artists over $5.3 million in healthcare costs by providing them with insurance and benefits. Overall, the company continues to hum along, growing revenue 15.6% for the first nine months of 2022, to $7.8 billion.


For making music in the metaverse

Warner Music Group made a big push into NFTs and Web3 this year, most notably partnering with music marketplace Serenade to launch Digital Pressings, a new format that makes music released as an NFT chart-eligible. Through Serenade and Warner Music U.K., the band Muse’s ninth studio album, Will of the People, became the U.K.’s first No. 1 album to incorporate NFT technology. WMG also invested in Authentic Artists, a startup creating NFT collectibles and virtual artists who perform digital concerts. Yuga Labs, the Web3 company behind Bored Ape Yacht Club, announced a partnership with Authentic Artists this year to bring AI-generated music to Meebits, its other NFT community. WMG made inroads in more traditional spaces as well, with a partnership with Twitch, the first deal the live-streaming platform has made with a major label. Through the partnership, artists, including TikTok superstar Bella Poarch, viral rapper Saweetie, and breakout singer/producer Sueco, have launched Twitch channels featuring exclusive and behind-the-scenes content and original music programming. For WMG’s fiscal year (which ended September 30, 2022), the company generated $5.9 billion in revenue, an 11.7% increase over the prior year, and net income of $551 million.


For teaching music at a learner’s own pace

Yousician unveiled a new app and partnerships to further its mission of teaching aspiring musicians how to play instruments. To complement GuitarTuna, Yousician’s guitar-tuning app that’s been downloaded 140 million times, the company created the new GuitarTuna Play app, which allows users to play songs at their own pace without having to touch a screen. After selecting a song from GuitarTuna Play’s catalogue of thousands of compositions, the app is able to track how fast or slow a user is playing and scroll in sync to mitigate interruptions. Yousician also launched its first-ever partnership series of master classes from established musicians, such as Metallica, Jason Mraz, and Juanes, giving users beginner-friendly lessons to their most popular songs. Yousician’s deals with these artists includes an upfront fee, licensing royalties, and a revenue share model from customers who sign up for the course. Yousician formed a partnership this year with Amazon to offer customers who purchase qualifying instruments in Amazon stores 30-day free access to Yousician Premium+, the platform’s top tier, which includes lessons in multiple instruments, access to free songs, and the ability to share subscriptions.


For holding the music industry accountable

In 2021, the U.K.-based organization Black Lives in Music published a report that found 63% and 73% of Black musicians and professionals, respectively, had experienced racism in the industry. As a result of micro aggressions, harassment, bullying, etc., 36% of those surveyed said their mental health had declined. To combat this issue, BLIM announced the U.K. Music Industry Anti-Racism Code, a code of conduct addressing pay equity, inclusion, and safety for musicians and professionals of color. The code will be adopted in 2023 with the backing of the U.K.’s Independent Standards Authority. BLIM also partnered with the Royal Opera House to form a four-month-long mentorship program pairing members of the orchestra with budding musicians, ages 18 to 25, from underrepresented backgrounds. The program, which covers travel and meals, includes private lessons, rehearsal sit-ins, and mock auditions to aid in future applications.


For creating a music zine for the moment

In 2022, boutique record label Dance Cry Dance launched its audio magazine Dance Cry Dance Break. Published through the subscription newsletter platform Substack, Dance Cry Dance Break is a means to promote discoverability, distribution, and revenue for the label’s indie musicians and other creators. Each issue, which essentially is a podcast, pairs a Dance Cry artist with a writer who creates a short story or essay inspired by the music. For example, author Amber Sparks (And I Do Not Forgive You) wrote a series of vignettes about the end of a marriage, set to artist and producer MariGo’s dreamy instrumental track “Limitations and Space.” Dance Cry Dance Break’s free tier offers mini versions of the episodes. But for $5 per month or $50 per year, subscribers get full episodes and exclusive access to bonus music and content. Every artist and writer is paid a license fee upfront and also receives a revenue share from subscriptions. Although it’s currently a small-scale project with average episode streams under 1,000, indie artists, on average, are getting paid more through Dance Cry Dance Break than what they’d earn for 15,000 to 25,000 streams on services, such as Spotify, according to the label.

Originally posted at: Fast Company