A New Funnel for Music

Recent news from TikTok, ConvertKit, and Ditto reveal an emerging new funnel for music creators to directly acquire, engage, and monetize fans.

There’s a new funnel emerging in the music industry.

In the past week, several news events have occurred that may seem inconsequential on the surface, but when carefully examined, reveal a structural shift in the music industry that is gaining momentum: 

  1. TikTok launched a set of immersive music filters for creators to use in their content. 
  2. Newsletter publishing platform ConvertKit acquired FanBridge, a fan relationship management tool for musicians.  
  3. Music distributor Ditto enabled fans to buy shares of musicians’ sound recording copyright, and subsequently earn a monthly dividend, i.e. royalties. 

The best way to understand all of these events is to hang them together on a funnel:

  1. Top-of-funnel — discovery on TikTok
  2. Mid-funnel — re-engagement through email
  3. Bottom-of-funnel — monetization via NFTs

To be clear this is not a mainstream way to operate as a music creator. But in our view, we’re seeing early signals of an important shift. The new funnel will compete with the traditional music industry while empowering a new generation of artists to make a living online as part of the creator middle class.

To understand its significance, we’ll first trace the history of the old funnel, and then explain how and why it is being replaced.

The old funnel: Record labels controlled and monetized fan relationships

The old, pre-digital structure of the music business led to a fan relationship funnel with multiple gatekeepers, primarily major record labels. 

Artists used radio as their top-of-funnel channel, to get discovered. They subsequently went on tour as their mid-funnel device to re-engage fans through live concerts. And to make money, artists monetized fans at the bottom of this funnel at local record stores when they bought CDs. At each step of the way, labels had control.

This was the dominant practice up until 2000, when CD sales and the music industry’s fortunes were at an all time high. But things were about to change very quickly—digital consumption of music and widespread piracy led to a sharp decline in the music industry’s overall revenues. Digital downloads through the iTunes store, paired with the stylish iPod offered a glimmer of hope. But the real turning point was 2008, when Spotify launched its on-demand streaming service. Consumers transitioned from the ownership of physical CDs and Digital MP3s to accessing an unlimited catalog of music, for $9.99 / month (a price that has not changed almost 13 years later).

This is for a good reason: the streaming model works. Fans get access to every song ever recorded, and—for a nominal fee—music creators can have their songs available to them in minutes.

But this, too, presents a new problem.

Today’s funnel: An explosion of choice 

There is an overload of music. 60,000 songs are uploaded to Spotify every day. Over 20% of those don’t get streamed even once. The ubiquitous access to almost every piece of recorded music in history has led to a paradox of choice, promoting passive and playlist-driven music consumption and creating winner-take-all effects for the biggest artists. 

The advent of streaming in the music business was supposed to lead to a transition from selection by gatekeepers to election by listeners. However, streaming services are still choosing which music creator gets a chance to partake in these elections. The gatekeeper status has just shifted from record labels to streaming services. Major record labels like Universal, Warner, and Sony used to determine who became a successful music creator. Now its streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer.

Note: this is an oversimplification of the complicated commercial relationships underlying the music industry: Streaming services control music discovery, but major record labels own a substantial share in streaming services—essentially bringing us back to square one. 

How the new funnel could work: Creators in control

In the old music business, record labels controlled the artist-fan relationship funnel. In the current model, streaming platforms control this funnel. This led to a pressing need for artists to have their own and control direct relationships with their fans, and the recent news seems to be enabling this: 

TikTok and other social platforms are acting as potent top-of-funnel discovery channels for emerging music creators. ConvertKit’s acquisition of Fanbridge could help these newly discovered music creators re-engage fans. And recent developments around NFTs powered by platforms like Audius and Ditto Music could offer substantial and reliable monetization opportunities. 

Let’s look at these layers starting from the top: 

1. Top-of-funnel — discovery on TikTok

TikTok has proven to be a potent top-of-funnel discovery channel for emerging musicians. The platform wants to gain an even stronger foothold in music discovery, and has been shipping updates that reflect this strategy. TikTok recently announced its plans to launch a new set of immersive music filters that integrate seamlessly with its catalog of sounds. 

These newly announced creation tools enable strong network effects of creativity. This makes TikTok propel songs to overnight virality, and the artists behind them to overnight success. Here’s just one recent example: ever since #ShantyTok went viral, Spotify users have created more than 12,000 sea shanty playlists. Nathan Evans, the creator who was behind the viral trend, signed a record deal with Universal Music Group. 

This new medium of music discovery has already left a lasting impact on the message. Songs are being intentionally crafted to serve easily distractible listeners. Creative briefs given to songwriters often contain specific instructions to make the song ‘TikTok-friendly’. This entails adding a 15 to 30 second danceable bit that is conducive to content creation on the platform. Multiple studies also show that the average length of a pop song has significantly reduced over the years. 

Having said this, even though TikTok is a strong top-of-funnel, it is a leaky one. The same engaging characteristics that make TikTok so potent for discovery also lead to some of its main drawbacks. The ever changing flux of TikTok trends mean that fandom accumulated on the platform is fickle, and doesn’t last too long—fans just move on to the next viral trend. For music creators to have a more sustainable and long-term career, they need to optimize this new funnel by re-engaging with new fans before TikTok’s temporary spotlight fades. 

A small fraction of music creators have improvised to make the current funnel work for them, but these happen to be established names that don’t represent the burgeoning middle class of creators. Artists like Amanda Palmer, Jacob Collier, and Cautious Clay are proactive Patreon users. Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda frequently uses Twitch to ‘crowdsource creativity.’ Superstars like Drake, Travis Scott and Chance the Rapper use Fortnite as a channel to re-engage with their fans. 

Most importantly, creators need a way to solidify relationships beyond ephemeral streams in aggregation layers. ConvertKit’s recent acquisition of Fanbridge could enable music creators to do just that. 

2. Mid-funnel — re-engagement through email

ConvertKit has 300,000 creators using its email marketing software to run their paid newsletters and membership based offerings. Fanbridge’s ‘fan-relationship management’ toolkit enables these same things, but for music creator-specific needs. They have integrations that help their user base of 1000 music creators embed Spotify links, tour dates, fan giveaways, and so on.  

The acquisition will facilitate direct-to-fan (D2F) relationships, helping the long tail of music creators to not only have greater ownership over their fanbase, but also have the opportunity to monetize these relationships. It will enable music creators to establish  a direct communication channel with fans. This is highly valuable because streaming services don’t have the functionality for artists to communicate with their listeners. Artists have to rely on social platforms, which do not offer an efficient way to segment fans, or even communicate in a personalized way. It's also harder to integrate commerce in music. While it's a fun challenge to creatively plug a sponsor in a YouTube video, it's interruptive and inelegant to do so during a song. Creators would also have the opportunity to optimize deeper forms of engagement, which may include private lessons, Discord servers, Patreon memberships, and more. 

2. Bottom-of-funnel — monetization via NFTs

At the bottom of this emerging creator-centric funnel that we’ve outlined, NFTs could be a potentially lucrative way for music creators to monetize their relationships with superfans. If a creator re-engages their 1000 true fans via ConvertKit, their 100 true fans could then be encouraged to make an actual investment in the music itself.

Of course, NFTs are still nascent. One of the main problems beyond educating listeners on the basic mechanics is persuading listeners that a digital token will retain value over time. That’s why startups are experimenting with ways to mint NFTs with added benefits.

Ditto, a digital music distributor, is using NFTs to help music creators sell tokens that entitle owners to a share of revenue streams generated by a song, almost like a dividend-bearing stock. Music creators can sell shares of the copyright associated with their upcoming songs and obtain upfront cash. This cash could help them fund their new releases: hire a great producer, set up a paid promotional campaign, etc. Fans who purchase these NFTs are eligible for monthly dividends, i.e. royalties from streaming. By divesting a part of their copyright, emerging music creators could receive an intimate form of financial support from their most devout fans. 

Moreover, by enabling these transactions, Ditto facilitates the creation of NFTs tied to assets with tangible value. Music creators can monetize by letting fans have equity in their music, making it akin to classical investing. To be clear, this concept has been tried before. Sweden based Corite, and Austria-based Global Rockstar are some examples. Unlike Ditto however, these existing companies have not used blockchain as a way to power fan investments. Perhaps NFT fervor will help Ditto cross the chasm. 

This is reflective of a broader trend—artists want direct ownership over the relationship with their fans, and to be compensated based on how these fans interact with their music. Case in point: SoundCloud’s recent foray into ‘fan-centric’ payouts, Deezer’s continued experimentation with user-centric payout models, and the ongoing parliamentary inquiry in the UK on the economics of streaming underscore this shift. 

Today, platforms like Audius offer a blockchain-powered, decentralized version of Spotify, where fan-centric payments are inherently built in. Artists can set their own prices, retain control over their IP, and get transparent access to fan insights. Holders of $AUDIO also have the ability to give input on the platform’s strategy. A recently introduced feature also lets artists showcase their for-sale NFTs, and fans to display their already purchased ones.  However, unlike Spotify, Audius doesn’t have the major labels onboard, and is only restricted to a small set of early adopting music creators. This limits their catalog size and hinders listener acquisition.

Enabling fans to invest in creators raises questions around regulation—similar to how shareholders are entitled to certain information about publicly traded companies, should fans be entitled to a higher degree of financial oversight? Backend access to a creator’s Stripe perhaps? These are questions worth assessing in the future, as NFTs chug along Gartner’s Hype Cycle

Given these recent developments, it almost seems like the music industry has come full circle—it moved from the ownership of physical CDs and digital MP3s, to unlimited access to a vast catalog of songs enabled by streaming, and back again with the resurgence of ownership through NFTs. 

Irrespective of whether art is owned or accessed, from a creator’s standpoint—greater ownership over the relationships we share with our own fans is something every creative industry should aspire towards. 

Top Stories in the Passion Economy, 04/17/21

Facebook Is Testing Hotline—A Mix between Clubhouse and Instagram Live 

What Happened? 

  • Recently launched for public beta testing, Hotline allows hosts to livestream video to an audience, with Q&A features for room members—via text or audio. 
  • The interface shares significant similarities with Clubhouse, with rooms centred around hosts, who have total control over moderation. 
  • However, unlike Clubhouse, hosts on Hotline use video to communicate with room members. 

Substack Continues Courting Writers with Big Advances

What Happened? 

Pietra is Helping Established Creators Launch Their Own Product Line 

What Happened?

  • Pietra, a platform that helps creators design, manufacture and ship physical products, recently launched out of stealth. The company connects creators with product designers, manufacturers, and warehouse providers to do so. 
  • Pietra charges a flat fee for the first 500 units of any product, after which an incremental fee is charged based on the quantity of units sold. 
  • The company is backed by Andreessen Horowitz, and has worked with prominent creators like Hailey Sani and Ella Rose McFadin while in beta. 
  • Similar white-label services specifically built for creators with an established audience have made the news recently—Ramble for podcasting and Virtual Dining Concepts for food related offerings are two notable examples. 

Consolidation in The Podcasting Industry: Libsyn Acquires Glow

What Happened? 

  • Publicly traded podcast hosting company Libsyn, is acquiring Glow, a platform that helps creators monetize their podcasts. 
  • Libsyn hosts more than 75,000 podcasts, and Glow will give these podcast creators access to monetization features such as subscriptions, member-only private feeds, etc.

Snap Acquires Screenshop to Power Commerce 

What Happened?

  • Snap’s latest acquisition is like ‘Shazam but for fashion products’. Screenshop’s technology allows it to scan photos of clothing and furniture and redirect users to the retail websites that sell them. 
  • The feature can detect 10 million products from 400 brands, and will be embedded in the Snapchat Memories page, where users store their photos and videos for later. 
  • Screenshop’s business model works on a commission per sale basis depending on how many people were redirected to the retail websites. 

Triller Launches an NFT Marketplace with Jake Paul-Themed Token

What Happened?

  • Triller has partnered with consumer engagement company Amplify to launch an NFT Marketplace, on an audited Ethereum blockchain. 
  • For the launch, the platform will be auctioning off two Jake Paul-themed tokens—30 second highlight clips from his previous boxing battles. 

Esports Agency 100 Thieves Is Now Owned By Two Of Its Prominent Creators 

What Happened? 

  • 100 Thieves, a prominent esports organization and lifestyle brand recently announced that two popular gaming content creators, Rachell Hofstetter a.k.a “Valkyrae” (3.3m YouTube subscribers) and Jack Dunlop a.k.a “CouRage” (3.27m YouTube subscribers), are now co-owners of the company. 
  • The two creators join a group of big names on the ownership table: Celebrity gaming creator Matthew Haag a.k.a Nadeshot, rapper Drake, music manager Scooter Braun, and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.

Pinterest Announces $500,000 Creator Fund

What Happened? 

  • The creator fund will focus on promoting creators from underrepresented communities, providing creative strategy consulting, content creation budgets, and ad credits.  
  • The company also announced a host of other updates: a ‘Creator Code’ of content policy and a content moderation tool. 

MrBeast and PewDiePie Are Expanding Their Presence on Facebook and Snapchat

What Happened? 

  • MrBeast and PewDiePie, two of YouTube’s most popular creators, are planning to redistribute their content to leverage ad-supported platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat. 
  • Jellysmack, a company that specializes in the redistribution of content for celebrity creators is facilitating this process for them. 

Night Media Makes Second Foray Into Food Related Content and Products 

What Happened? 

  • Night Media, the agency that manages popular creators such as MrBeast, recently signed a deal with Gustavo Tosta, a famous food-related content creator. He runs two popular channels Guga Foods and Sous Vide Everything which have 2.4 million and 1.4 million subscribers respectively. 
  • Gustavo is also set to launch food and product lines this year, which will make it Night Media’s second foray into the food business, after their first success story with MrBeast Burgers. 

Twitch Viewing Hours Have Doubled Since Last Year

What Happened?

  • The latest report on the livestreaming sector states that the viewing hours for Twitch doubled from 3.1 billion hours in 2020 to 6.3 billion hours in 2021. 
  • This change corresponds to the amount of hours that were broadcasted as well—121.4 million hours in 2020 to 264.9 million hours in 2021. 

Passion Economy Financings: 

  • ShareChat, the company behind Moj, a short-form content platform that gained popularity after TikTok was banned in India, recently raised a $502 million funding round led by Snap, Twitter, and Tiger Global Management. The funding round values the company at $2.1 billion. 
  • AmazeVR, a platform that enables VR music experiences, raised a $9.5 million funding round led by Murex Partners, We Ventures, Bass Investment and Dunamu & Partners.
  • Yhangry, a platform that enables users to host private chef parties in their homes, raised a $1.5 million seed funding round led by prominent U.K. based angel investors. To date, the platform has connected 130 chefs to 7,000 people in London. 
  • Wonder Dynamics, a company that plans to offer AI-powered VFX to indie filmmakers, raised a $2.5 million seed funding round led by Founders Fund, Cyan Banister, the Realize Tech Fund, Capital Factory, MaC Venture Capital, and Robert Schwab. 
  • Finary, a platform that helps finance-related content creators form paid communities, raised a $3.2 million funding round led by Upfront Ventures.

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