Launched by industry heavyweight Steve Stoute in 2017, UnitedMasters has been making waves in the label services space with the value-add opportunities it offers artists – most notably through sync and brand partnership deals.
Dan Hostetler is Head of Marketplace at UnitedMasters where he oversees products at the intersection of artists and brands, and is focused on building a technology platform to facilitate and grow those connections.
Here, we catch up with Hostetler to learn more about the company’s vision, the development of its sync and brand services, and how it’s leveraging Synchtank to scale music licensing and get more artists paid.
At what point did UnitedMasters start working with brands?
At the beginning we focused on building out the quantity and quality of the artists on our platform, and building tools for them. We wanted to realize our vision of what a record label would look like today if you built it from scratch.
We launched our SELECT plan in 2020 which gave independent artists access to distribution and promotional tools. The highlight of the plan quickly became the brand deals that we were doing.
For example, we soundtracked the NBA2K franchise for a couple of years. Artists could submit their songs for consideration on our platform and we built promotional content around the ones that were selected, and ultimately they saw lots of viral growth from their music being in the game. That was our proof of concept of what this intersection of artist and brand could be.
Since then we’ve gotten independent artists synced with Apple, the NBA, Snap, ESPN, Beats by Dre, Warner Bros. for The Matrix Resurrections>, and a lot of other iconic brands. Most recently we did a great collaboration with the Big 12 Conference and BigXthaPlug.
Where did the idea for a licensing subscription come from?
We’re always thinking about how we can double or triple an artist’s income, and one way is by licensing their music for sync.
We looked at the market and realized that we have something really unique that a lot of other production music catalogs don’t have. We have a pipeline of new, fully cleared music where we are the distributor, we administer content ID, and so we can create this library of very unique, culturally relevant, independent music. We know brands on the rise are looking for artists on the rise, so it’s a perfect match.
So, we decided to curate music from the up-and-coming artists on our platform into a library for brands to pull from. Artists get paid, brands get unique music that makes their work stand out, and content makers pay a fair price for licensing. It’s a win-win-win.
“Artists get paid, brands get unique music that makes their work stand out, and content makers pay a fair price for licensing.”
We have three licensing offerings today. We have an enterprise bulk license deal with companies like ESPN and Overtime Elite who use a lot of our music. We also service inbound enquiries from agencies and music supervisors, anyone can go to sync.unitedmasters.com to search our catalog and license a track. And then we have our new subscription offering, built to give smaller brands and content creators who have hit production catalog fatigue a new pipeline of more relevant music for their videos.
We believe we can put these three offerings together and have a really valuable music library that a lot of people can use while supporting independent artists.
And you’re bringing authenticity to brands with those artists.
Exactly. If you look at our artists, they’re not all huge artists by any means, but they have real fans. That artist from Houston has a hundred or a thousand fans in Houston that love their music, and that’s really powerful. I was talking to a large YouTube content creator recently who does events in different markets and would love to use music that’s popular in those markets, even if it’s not popular elsewhere. We have the ability to enable that, whereas other libraries don’t.
How does Synchtank provide value to UnitedMasters?
Our number one goal is to create more value for artists. A platform like Synchtank works well for us because it can handle the volume of supply and give us back all the data we need to match artists with new opportunities.
“A platform like Synchtank works well for us because it can handle the volume of supply and give us back all the data we need to match artists with new opportunities.”
So as brands license their music, we can get all the data from Synchtank and ingest it into our app where artists get all their earnings data and analytics. It’s really rewarding for them and for us to see it come full circle like that.
How much of a game changer is it to be able to scale your licensing in this way?
I think it’s huge. About a year and a half ago we were clearing every song for every placement on a one-off basis, and so it was very hard to scale. Then we made a pretty big process change internally to do bulk clearance on tracks.
At that point they are sent over to Synchtank for commercialization and monetization so that we can continue to scale this process and package up the catalog in different ways. We have some artists who have said, hey, I just want promotion, you can use my music for free, some that are fully cleared, some that may require a little extra effort to clear. And we use Synchtank to keep all of that organized and then pitch it and monetize it in different ways.
How is your technology-driven approach changing music industry dynamics?
The traditional model for the major labels has been to take an ownership share, at least on the sound recording side, if not both. The capital requirement to create music and to distribute music is so much lower today that it’s not really fair to take an ownership share in somebody else’s creative work. So we don’t do that. We don’t own any masters or any publishing at all.
And when you can use technology to scale operations, it just means we can pay artists more. So when we do revenue share deals with artists, they are much more favorable than what you would see from others in the industry. We’ve had to rewrite some of our vendors’ standard contracts because the commercial models that they’re used to working with feel frankly predatory to us, and we’re able to offer much better economics to the artists.
How do you see your work with artists and brands expanding and evolving?
Our focus right now is really driving demand for the music in our catalog for a much broader base of artists. I think beyond music licensing specifically, we will start to look at all the other ways that an artist can work with a brand, whether it’s ESPN or a TikTok influencer or the pizza shop in your hometown. What are all the different points of connection?
“Where I see the opportunity is to create one platform that has all the artists and brands and does all of those things.”
Looking at the industry, there’s a lot of “feature platforms”, whole platforms dedicated to one use case. You go here for sync, you go here for custom compositions, you go here for influencer marketing. Where I see the opportunity is to create one platform that has all the artists and brands and does all of those things. So right now we’re laying the groundwork for a future platform where there’s a more direct connection between the artist and the brand.