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One of the most successful entrepreneurs in the music industry is, without question, Matt Pincus. He sold his independent music publishing company, SONGS, for $160 million five years ago. And now, the music holdings company he co-founded, MUSIC, just raised $200 million to invest in music and music-adjacent companies.
Though, Matt doesn’t see MUSIC as an investment fund, but rather a holding company. That’s because he’s takes an operator-centric role in the companies he funds. And unlike the splashy catalog acquisitions that’ve dominated the space over the past few years, Matt is looking forward with his investments and targeting brand-new growth opportunities instead.
In particular, Matt sees big opportunities in the technology sector, web3, and even record labels and publishing. At SONGS, Matt was able to spot and develop up-and-coming songwriters, inking early deals with the likes of Diplo, Lorde, and The Weeknd. He’ll be tasked with finding similar success at MUSIC.
Matt and I dove deep into a wide-range of topics during our conversation. Here’s a few highlights of what we covered:
[2:58] Why Matt created MUSIC
[8:07] MUSIC’s investment thesis?
[14:40] What Matt doesn’t like about the music business
[19:49] Recent inflow of capital into the music business
[21:15] Two lanes to entering music business
[25:15] Finding left-of-center opportunities among musical talent
[27:30] The structural problem of the music business
[31:35] Continuity was key to SONGS success
[33:34] The Weeknd as a business blueprint for other artists
[37:53] Sync business opportunities
[44:55] Have streaming subscriptions peaked?
[47:50] Tiktok brought back music frequency
[51:40] Matt’s five-year predictions
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Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co
Guests: Matt Pincus, @mpinc
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[00:00:00] Matt Pincus: Defensibility in the music business is not a patent or a technology or some special recipe you have someplace. It’s your understanding of music, the people that make it, and then your ability to develop relationships with people around the business and to keep your reputation such that people want to be with you. But the real key in, at least in the music technology side of it is you need to be able to spin the technology yourself and understand really how it works.
[00:00:37] Dan Runcie: Hey, welcome to The Trapital podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from executives in music, media, entertainment, and more, who are taking hip-hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:56] Dan Runcie: Today’s episode is with one of the most successful music entrepreneurs of the past few decades. His name is Matt Pincus and he is the founder and CEO of MUSIC, which is a holding company that invests in music tech and music-adjacent companies. MUSIC just launched a 200 million fund to invest in this space, so Matt and I talked all about it. He’s looking for companies that still have a clear understanding for how music gets made and understand the art behind it. He’s also looking for startups that have a true defensible moat that is something unique that they can do. And he’s also looking for the companies that have a huge total addressable market that can clearly grow and expand as we’re seeing things continue to grow in this space. Our conversation covered a bunch of topics in this space. We talked about sync and the impact of that. We also talked about how much further streaming can go. And we talked about a bunch of insightful music trends. Really fascinating conversation. I feel like every few months we have one of those conversations where people reach out to me and say, Hey, I took a bunch of notes in that conversation. Thank you for this. And I have a good feeling, I have a good feeling that this is going to be one of those conversations. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Here’s my chat with Matt Pincus.
[00:02:16] Dan Runcie: All right. Today, we’re joined by Matt Pincus, who is the founder of MUSIC, which is a holding company that invested music and music-adjacent companies. Matt, I’m really excited to have this conversation because you have had a very impressive career with what you did with Songs and everything that you had done in publishing specifically. And what always stuck out to me about you in this space is how you’ve identified opportunities where others didn’t see them. So I know when I saw the announcement for MUSIC and the $200 million fund you launched, I said, okay, he’s seeing something and he’s seeing an opportunity to dive in. So what did you see? What made you want to get involved with this?
[00:02:58] Matt Pincus: Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me. I’m a big admirer of Trapital and your work in general. And I’m really happy to be with you here today. So, you know, I started music, it was sort of an organic process. I sold Songs after running it for about 13 years. And it was a fairly abrupt end. So we decided to sell the company and neither me nor my two partners really wanted to run it for somebody else. So we decided that once we sold it, it was time to step away and it was fairly quick. So, you know, I ran the company for 12-plus years. And then 90 days after the sale, I was out in the street, like, what am I going to do with my life? So it was a bit of an organic process. It started with meeting a lot of really interesting founders of music businesses and companies that were around the music business. It’s obviously an interesting time in our business in a number of different ways. The streaming market has matured. There are a lot of music tech businesses with interesting founders cropping up over the past four or five years. The web three crypto business has, you know, started the early days of really coming online. And the way that labels, publishing companies, management companies reach audiences is really different than it was like, you know, six, seven years ago. So I met a lot of really interesting people. The first one was Steve Martocci, who was the founder of Splice. He and I hit it off particularly well. And I sort of said, listen, I’ve been, you know, doing talent deals with young people, you know, in the early twenties for the past 12 years, I think maybe the next chapter is working with founders of companies that are more like 10 years younger than me, as opposed to, you know, 20, early 20s. And taking the experience that I had in the last, like, four or five years of songs when we were trying to figure out how to really realize returns on the business and build on that to try to help people do the same thing. So I was out looking for, you know, are there interesting companies that I might be able to work with in some way or another? And the answer to that quickly became kind of yes, on the music tech side originally, in growth companies, when online music and music technology was shifting to a subscription-based backbone as opposed to a packet software business. And then also on the music side of it, you know, interesting independent labels, music companies operating in a different way. And so the first thing was, are there interesting companies out there? The second is, do they need capital and where would they get it from? And the third was, how am I going to get the money to invest in these businesses? So it was kind of a bit of a bootstrapping exercise where I would go find an opportunity to invest in a company, put some of my own money in LionTree, which sold songs for me and has been a partner and champion of mine since I sold the company, would invest some money too, and then we’d find some other people to round out the investment. We did that first with Splice, put about 20 million into the company over a period of time. We also did in the same way, made an investment in a company called HIFI, which is a FinTech platform benefiting artists in a bunch of different ways, and also with DICE, the ticketing business. And you know, they started, a couple of them did well and actually, they all did well. And so I decided that I wanted to raise some capital and have my own sort of, it’s not really a fund. It’s more of a holding company ’cause I’m less of an investor and more of an operator. And so the question became, how are we going to raise the money? Now Aryeh Bourkoff who runs LionTree is somewhat of a magic maker, and he took me on and introduced me to two families, the Schusterman Family and JS Capital, which is Jonathan Soros’s capital vehicle. And they agreed to invest in a four-way partnership. So it’s between me, LionTree, Schusterman Family, and JS Capital. And we formed MUSIC, which is a $200 million holding company. We do deals in a couple of different areas, music tech, which is sort of where I spent most of my time after Songs. We also invest in independent music companies like Songs. So labels publishing companies, management companies. Increasingly, a few of those functions are in one company, as opposed to when I was running Songs, it was like you were either a publisher or a label or a management company. And then we partner sometimes with a larger private equity firm if we are interested in acquiring something that’s, you know, of a larger size. And so we’re in the middle of one of those right now. And so we were able to find a bunch of interesting opportunity, a bunch of interesting ways, and it seems to me to be, you know, a really good time to be putting money to work in the music business.
[00:07:32] Dan Runcie: Yeah. It’s an exciting time to be investing in these companies and to be acquiring them too. And you mentioned something there about the types of companies you’re looking at and whether they are modern music companies or whether they are doing something that’s unique in the space. Can you talk a little bit more about your investment thesis and what you’re looking for, and specifically, because, as you mentioned, you’re not a fund, you’re a holding company, so you’re not necessarily just doing, you know, angel investments or early stage. You’re trying to make investments for the long haul. So how does that shape your strategy?
[00:08:07] Matt Pincus: Very good question. And I think the answer to that depends somewhat on the different areas of investment. So the first is in the technology side of the business, which is kind of where I started as an investor. So, you look for a couple of things there. So first of all, you need to invest in companies, not products. So some of the music startups can be sort of, it’s an interesting widget, but can it be a scalable business? So you need to make sure that you have a couple of things in order to know that you’re investing in a company that has the ability to grow. So the first thing is you need your own tech stack and it needs to be built to suit whatever market you want to be in. So for example, with Splice, one of the reasons, and there were several, but one of the reasons I invested in the company was because Steve had built this subscription stack from day one of the company. So it was a native SaaS company in a world where the rest of the market needed to move from the old way of doing business to the new way of doing business. Splice was always in the new way of doing business, so it was going to be ahead of the curve. And so you need to make sure that your technical capabilities and your technical assets are going to, you know, be where you want to go. The second is that you need to make sure you’re in a part of the market that has a big enough user base to make a real company out of it. You know, it’s great to make a widget that, you know, 1500 people love, love, love, but 1500 people is not a lot of people. So you need to make sure that the addressable market around the business has a lot of users. And again, in Splice’s case, you know, they are the content business in music tech. So they can be used in an infinite amount of applications across the business, which gives them, you know, a really solid user base. And so, you know, that’s kind of the second thing. And the third thing is that you need to kind of own where you live or have the ability to own where you live. So, you know, it’s great if you get into a category in the technology side of the business, that, you know, breaks some ground and shows everybody what can be done. But if then, you know, Apple or Google just says, thank you very much and does it instead of you, it’s not so great. So you need to have a defensible business that you can build and scale. And again, back to Splice, you know, they are the content leader and I’m a music publisher by trade, so content is the water supply in the music business. You know, in publishing, it’s the song that starts the whole conversation. Splice owns music. And so no matter where the market is going to grow, no matter where it ends up going, they have the supply that feeds the music tech business. And so it’s inherently defensible when it gets up to a certain level. You know, at this point they have 3 million works in their database. To catch up to them is, you know, difficult, if not impossible. And so you need to be defensible now on the music side of what I do, which is investing in music companies, there’s a couple of things I look for. So first of all, I don’t do catalog acquisitions. I invest in people. So the first thing is that you need to have really talented executives that understand music and know how to find repertoire and make it bigger. I tend to like businesses that give advances to artists. There’s a certain way, like at Songs, we built a catalog over a long period of time, but we built it through signing young writers and giving them advances. So I call it a mattress out of sheets. If you do that one after another, over many, many years and you do it well, all of a sudden you wake up, you know, 7 to 10, 12 years later, and you’re like, holy shit, it’s a big catalog. And so I tend to like businesses that advance money to artists and build catalog that way or manage catalog that way. There’s a certain magic to understanding how to compensate artists and doing it fairly. So I tend to look at that. You know, the music business has changed a lot. It used to be that if you wanted to be an independent, you needed to own your own vertical. And you know, at Songs, we had our global administration business that we owned and built. We had our own technology. So we were self-contained, standalone competitor. Now I think, you know, solutions have become available everywhere. There’s a lot of good publishing administration, a lot of good record distribution solutions. There’s a lot of off-the-shelf stuff you can get. It’s really about music. It’s really about understanding artists and the music that they make and connecting them with an audience. So I look for people who uniquely understand that. Now that can be, you know, somebody who has a geographical lock on a particular kind of music. It can be somebody that has a particularly unique understanding of how the studio works because I think if there’s one big change in the music publishing business lately, it’s that it’s gone really back to the studio. And the interesting companies are actually making songs in real-time in a studio environment. So it can be that. It can be that you have another business that you do and music is associated with it. So why not, you know, get into the music business while you’re doing whatever else you do, but you need to have some reason why you have access to a particular group of artists in a particular kind of repertoire, and you’re helpful to that in some way or another. And so it’s quite a different set of things that I look for on that side than on the technology side.
[00:13:34] Dan Runcie: And with the way that your firm is structured, too, I see parallels with the types of companies you’re looking at, right? You’re not just focused on one particular type of investment area. You have the music tech companies that you’re looking at. Splice is an example. You also have the companies that are working more directly in music itself, whether that is giving advances or companies that have a unique edge on who they’re reaching. And I think that translates as well when you’re talking about the types of companies you’re looking at because a lot of times, especially 10, 15 years ago, as you mentioned, there were more silos and now you’re starting to see companies have different types of roles that they do or different divisions to try to be this nebulous term that I’ve heard several times as broader entertainment company. And while I think that that’s effective, I could also see how that could challenge some of the challenges of being able to have a business that is defensible or having a moat and the focus that comes with that. So how do you balance that and what are the things that you look for when evaluating companies that are both trying to do it all, but also are trying to have something that they can be defensible with?
[00:14:40] Matt Pincus: Well, so on the music side of it, you know, it’s about relationships. You know, the good companies, their equity is their relationships with different people around the business. And it’s really a human-centric business. So, you know, defensibility often is correlated with reputation in the independent music business, at least. That was certainly true of Songs. One of the big success factors of the company and in fact, like, kind of our asset was that me and Ron and Carianne had really good relationships around the business that we built over many years, and that allowed us to punch above our weight class. You know, when we were a very small business, you know, we acted as a bigger business because we were able to get champions that helped us along the way, both in terms of the artists that were willing to sign with us, but also in terms of, you know, other people around the business that took us on and helped us out. Oddly enough defensibility in the music business is not a patent or a technology or some special recipe you have someplace. It’s your understanding of music, the people that make it, and then your ability to develop relationships with people around the business and to keep your reputation such that people want to be with you. You know, on the tech side of it, it’s a little bit different. You have to make sure that your innovation curve is constantly there. You have to make sure, like, I would not invest in a business that did not have a technical co-founder. You know, ideas are great. Everybody’s got ideas. You know, there’s an app for anything. But the real key in, at least in the music technology side of it is you need to be able to spin the technology yourself and understand really how it works, which when you get into the crypto side of it’s really interesting ’cause a lot of people understand the implications of it, but they have no idea how the shit works. They don’t actually use it. And they get kind of confused thinking that it’s much more complicated than in fact it really is. Or, you know, they get so fascinated with the technology that they don’t make a product that stands on its own bottom and has value to the end user. So it’s a little bit different in the different areas of the market that you look at. And one of the reasons why I like the field that I play on and I feel very lucky to be able to do the different things that I can do with music is because some of it is about sort of analytical, scalable technology-oriented investments. And some of it is just about people in tunes. And so you’re kind of mixing a lot of different things together. You know, the one thing that I don’t like so much about the recent music business is somehow we all slipped into talking about music as assets and fractional finance and cash flows and securitization. And I’m like, listen, if I wanted to do all that shit, I do it not here. You know, the music business is not assets and finance and cash flows and, you know, securitization. The music business is moving people, motivating people, creating an audience, assembling humans to want what you make, and distributing that and delivering it and all the rest of that stuff. You know, the fact like, listen, what I’m doing is either really smart or really dumb because either you can make a real investment business just out of the music business. And I think you can because there’s lots of different types of investments in music and there’s lots of growth and lots of possibility. But also, you know, it’s a pretty small business. And I live in, play, you know, a neighborhood, the size of a postage stamp. We’ll see if they can be done, but I think originally, you know, it starts with the creative and it starts with the means of delivering the creative to the people that want it. And then all of the rest of this stuff, you know, yield, debt payments, multiples on equity, bonds, all the rest of this stuff just is a happy accident that comes from doing your job well.
[00:18:35] Dan Runcie: I’m glad you mentioned this because there’s a version of what you do that could easily look more like a traditional private equity firm, where they are just going in and doing all of the things that you just mentioned and they’re coming more from that perspective, but in many ways, your defense is having this laser focus on music, but you’re going deep within all of the areas that it encompasses. And with that, I have to assume that this also maybe has a bit of a flavor on what your take is about the money that has come into the music industry and some of those other non-music companies or those that are purely looking at it for the financial opportunity or for the noncorrelated opportunities and how that in a lot of ways, even though on paper, someone that’s fundraising may see the money they can get from you versus the money they get from others. But I’m hearing it from the record labels. And especially the independent ones they’re getting reached out to all the time now about acquisitions. And a lot of those calls are coming from non-music related companies that are trying to make those moves. So it’s been fascinating to see how that shapes, but I do feel like you are going about this in a much more unique way than a lot of them are.
[00:19:49] Matt Pincus: Well, thank you. I really appreciate that. I will say that the recent, like, huge inflow of capital into the music business has one very good byproduct, which is it’s giving a lot of money to songwriters and artists. Some of these catalogs getting valued at 20 times, 30 times, you know, NPS where they would’ve been valued at 10, you know, four or five years ago, maybe 10 years ago. It just results in people that make great music, making a bunch of bucks. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that. On the catalog side of it, it makes a little bit more sense that some of these like larger capital vehicles are coming into the market and, you know, bidding things up and structuring the leverage in a certain way that makes sense. There’s a big difference between what’s going on now and what was going on when this first happened, like in 2006, 2007 timeframe because the people that are doing it now can afford it. They’ve got lots and lots of money. They don’t need big returns on that money. They have the ability to structure this stuff financially in ways that don’t make no sense. And so it makes, you know, more sense that people are doing that with the IP catalog acquisition business. When it gets to new music, you know, I think it’s still a human business. I think you got to know the people, you know, and you have to understand how it’s really about managing what I refer to as the working capital of the business. So, you know, you need to advance money, you need to collect that money, you need to reinvest the money. And so a lot of that, you know, it’s not a big enough business that you can structure it like a bunch of bonds. You need to kind of understand the market that you’re in, how many deals you could possibly get, and what about you ought to pay for them, and what kind of infrastructure you need to address all of that to do a good job. And that’s hard to know from outside of the business. It’s even hard to know, like there’s sort of two lanes in the music business. There’s people who came up through the building where they started at majors and they kind of built their career, you know, up from coordinator to director to senior director to VPs, SVP, EVP. And then they end up running the company, a lot of great people who came up that way. And then there’s people who kind of feed in the wild. Like, come outside of the building and need to figure out, like, what’s available. And there’s some real differences, you know. Sometimes they cross over like Ron Perry who was an instrumental person at Songs from, you know, the very beginning to through time we sold and now runs Columbia. So sometimes that happens. Or Carianne who, you know, also was my partner at Songs who now runs Warner Chappell with Guy Moot. It’s like there, you know, it happens, but there are really two lanes. And I think in the independent side, it’s a lot about systematic A&R so about looking at, listen, none of us are overfunded with tons of money. So, you know, everybody’s stretching the dough. And it becomes about how can I build this system in the world that I live that can do deals inexpensively, and then find the ones that are working and invest and push them forward. And all the great independent music companies, you know, Chrysalis, Jive Zomba, A&M Rondor, all the great ones throughout history sort of did that really effectively or were usually like the other ones. So everybody goes to the majors to get their offer. And then there’s these other cooler guys that are there, like, you know, kind of fucking with the majors by picking off all the left to center stuff that was us at Songs. You know, and all those other companies I just mentioned were kind of some version of that. But there’s kind of, all of these mechanics that come both from history, so understanding the history of the business, but also understanding the people and how they sort of work ’cause as much as the world is changing and it’s changing a lot, it’s still kind of about A&R. It’s still about creative in some way or another. I mean, Carianne’s superpower, which she’s got many, but the original superpower was understanding not only what works well to picture, but the people that choose music in film and television, advertisements, video games, she’s particularly uniquely talented at that. And that’s still a core skill that people need to understand. So, you know, I’m the guy that kind of pulls the pieces together. I don’t do any of those things. I, you know, originally hired some great people and now I try to invest in great people that do all that stuff, but it’s still about understanding it and if you’re coming purely from the outside, I think it’s challenging.
[00:24:22] Dan Runcie: Yeah. And I think your career experience speaks a lot to this, right? You mentioned being able to find the left-of-center opportunities when you’re at Songs, whether it was Lorde or The Weeknd. And you saw how those turned out. It worked out brilliantly. I’m curious to hear what you think about the way things are right now because, especially with the way that TikTok is and so many of the companies, whether it’s the major labels or the independents, they all have access to the same information. So the cost of acquiring and being able to find and develop those same artists is much more expensive. So what do you think those left-of-center opportunities look like today in the current environment where it feels as if there are more and more outlets to find different types of people, but the way that people are going about it, it does seem like a lot of people are now playing a pretty similar game.
[00:25:13] Matt Pincus: You mean like a moneyball…
[00:25:15] Dan Runcie: Yeah.
[00:25:15] Matt Pincus: …type of, yeah. So, you know, again, I go back to like, there’s sort of in the building and there’s outside of the building way of thinking. So in the major system, it makes logical sense that they want to sort of hang back, see what reacts, and go and get it when it reacts, the more predictable something is the more you’re willing to pay for it. That makes logical sense. There’s nothing wrong with it. They’re not idiots for doing that. It’s just the way that they traditionally operate. And now it’s about, like, seeing the shiny pennies and then grabbing them right away, whatever the cost, because music is much more efficient than it used to be. It used to be that you’d have to, like, release a whole album and sink a bunch of capital into seeing if something works. Now you can kind of tell pretty quickly if something’s going to work. So it makes sense to pay a lot for something predictable, as opposed to, you know, paying a little bit for stuff that is wildly uncertain. So, you know, that makes total sense. I think on the independent side, and I really count in that like A&R mentality, like people who are finding artists and developing artists. So it’s not just like, you know, independent labels, but it’s also like, you know, Electric Feel is a really interesting company that does this, Hallwood. You know, APG is obviously the really great example of this, of finding artists really early and developing them into something or representing people who do that. A lot of, you know, that is about iteration and about understanding, you know, what makes a good story in a particular market. Now, part of that is the music itself. Part of that, most of it is the music itself, but part of that is also all the other stuff around it. You know, how you unfold the narrative, how you stage market entry for an artist. You know, all of those things, again, I come back to the stick to your knitting thing where it’s like, as much as the world changes, it kind of remains the same to some degree. So, you know, the interesting and frustrating thing about the music business for people that run companies like I did at Songs is that there’s just not that many good, really good, talented people, you know. If there’s one structural problem in the music business is there’s not enough, really good A&R people, promotion people, you know, creative people.
[00:27:29] Dan Runcie: And why do you think that is?
[00:27:30] Matt Pincus: I think it’s hard, for one, I think it’s hard. And as much as people try to play moneyball, now I’m a big believer in systematic A&R, which some people would consider, you know, moneyball. So in other words, like having a funnel that gives you a group of things that might work, that I’m a big believer in that as a starting point, but that only gets you like 51% confidence. That’s not much more than a coin toss. The rest of it is really doing the work of developing the product itself, the music itself, and then the story around it. And it’s just a hard business, plus you got to know everybody, you know. So it takes a while to develop those relationships and those skills. One of the things that’s interesting when I look on the music tech side of it that I think is one of the great things is that the technological development in music production is allowing people to learn how to use the gear quicker. So you’re going to have hit singles coming from 13-year-olds within no time at all. And that used to not be possible because it would take you four or five, six years just to learn how to twist the knobs on a board. Like, it was hard. Now with like, you know, presets, with things like Splice, with AI-assisted creation, you know, anything that makes it easier for an artist to get what’s inside of them out, the learning curve is becoming less steep. And that’s a good thing because talent shines in that environment. You know, it’s one thing to be able to, you know, have a knowledge-base to tweak things. It’s another thing to just be a talented and expressive artist with urgency. And so maybe some of that will happen. And on the executive side, like on the A&R side, as things like radio, you know, radio’s been so monolithic and so hard to penetrate. And now maybe it’s loosening up a little bit, but it still takes a while to figure out what’s going to work. It’s very hard. And it is one thing to be a fan and be like, this is good, this is not good. It’s another thing to take a look at something that doesn’t yet exist and be like, this is what it will look like if we can pull it off. I don’t have that talent, you know. I’m not an A&R person, but I watch people do it and it’s pretty miraculous. And it’s not just A&R, it’s also promotion, which is an undervalued piece of the equation and increasingly, marketing, digital marketing, like the first cut of it was just, you know, sort of advertising on Facebook. Now it’s much more sophisticated than that. And so I feel like it’s just hard and I wish there were, you know, there’s also the part of the problem in the music business is nobody trains anybody. There’s no HR infrastructure. You know, I went to Columbia Business School and I had been in the music business. I didn’t have one single meeting about a job that came through the school.
[00:30:14] Dan Runcie: I’m not surprised. That wasn’t the case for me either.
[00:30:17] Matt Pincus: That’s what I’m saying like, nobody trained you. I mean, I remember going on a job interview when I was like 21 coming right out of college or 23 coming right out of college with a guy at ICM. And he said, what do you want to do? I said, I want to be an A&R .He said, great, find a band. That was it. That was the interview. And so it’s like, it’s that kind of business, which is kind of wonderful in its own way, but it doesn’t train people really. And so that’s also part of the reason. We don’t develop our talent, executive talent pipeline in a really great way. And that’s why people like, you know, Mike Caren at APG is so special. You know, the LVRN guys are so special because they bring along executives in a really concerted kind of way. And I wish there was more of that in the business in general.
[00:30:58] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think that’s a huge opportunity for it. And I think you see a lot of it play out when there are executive shake ups and who gets picked for certain things and why people get picked for certain things. And to some extent, you see this in other places too, whether there’s a mix of internal hires versus external. But one thing that I have noticed is the units that do tend to stick together, or there is some continuity there. You do see a lot of success happen if they understand what works, everyone’s into it. And I think some of these other places where it could be a bit of revolving doors with who’s in leadership, who’s trying to get where it’s very tough to have that infrastructure.
[00:31:35] Matt Pincus: And that was one of the great blessings for me at Songs, which is not, doesn’t speak well for the industry, particularly, but, you know, Ron and Carianne were two of the most talented people of their generation for sure. And the business didn’t know what to do with them. The fact that I could get the two of them and we could all stay together for 12 years and build a company is like a miracle. And that was a big part of the reason why it all worked is because we knew each other really well and people knew us as a unit. We had different things we did. It’s a little bit like, you know, kind of what’s going on with the professional sports a little bit too, is, you know, it’s great that all these individual players are celebrities. And again, great that athletes are making more money, but great teams don’t stay together in the same way that they did before. And I think that’s changing a little bit now because you don’t have to do a deal with a major and get your money the traditional way in order to build a company. And that’s one of the reasons I exist as MUSIC, is because there’s opportunities to bring outside capital into the business under terms that look a little bit more like sort of venture capital or private equity, which is in a way more fair than the traditional music business has been on a per transaction basis. There’s natural reasons why the major music companies finance the music business for as many decades as they did, and it’s not to rip people off, it’s because nobody else would do it. But now it’s a different world and so hopefully some of these things will change. You know, when you have really great entrepreneurs that own their own business, as opposed to, you know, in some JV with a major that’s really a compensation agreement, then it’s in their interest, like it was in mine when I was running Songs, to bring along really talented people and find new ones. And so that’s one of the things that I’ve sort of hoped for in some way.
[00:33:24] Dan Runcie: Are there any artists that stick out to you as examples of yes, they’re building their business and they’re doing this the way that could be a blueprint for what we’ll see more frequently moving forward?
[00:33:34] Matt Pincus: Ones that I talk about all the time is The Weeknd, which we were involved with, you know, from fairly early on. And Sal who’s, you know, has been his manager for a very long time, and Cash. You know, I think you’re going to see what they did with XO happening in a lot of different ways going forward, where you get a group of people that form a partner and distribute responsibilities between artist, manager. You know, there’s people like La Mar Taylor involved with those guys that does all the visual. There’s a lot of cooks that need to be in the kitchen to make something really successfully work. The label model of sign to a label, they’ll do everything that existed in, like, the nineties is way long gone. Even management where you sort of have somebody who’s a commission person that’s just doing the business of an artist, that’s not true of the good ones anymore. The good ones get in it with the artist and really help them build an entrepreneurial life. I mean, to be an artist now, you need to, like, be like a 140-character joke writer. You need to be an accountant. You need to have a corporate entity. You need to deal with all these different vendors. And you need to be like, you know, P. T. Barnum, like, step right up, step right up, check this out, you’re going to love it. It’s a complex skill set. And so I think one of the things that you’re going to see in the talent representation business, like the management business is I think you’re going to see more entity partnership formation, where people are going to go into partnership together. Managers and artists will be like Sal, Sal and Abel have been together for, how long now? Like, I mean…
[00:35:08] Dan Runcie: It’s at least a decade, right?
[00:35:09] Matt Pincus: Yeah. And they’ve been able to scale and grow and make a lot of money and still be together. And that’s because everyone provides value. I’m sure they adjust their relationship, however, over time, I don’t know. But I think you’re going to see that approach because it takes a village in a way to make really durable stuff. I mean, if you’re talking about a viral hit that’s here today, gone today. That’s one thing. But if you’re talking about really building a franchise over a period of time, it requires a lot of work from a lot of people. So I think you’ll see sort of, you know, entity formation with partners that include business people and artists in with interest aligned. You know, Diplo’s another one. I mean, you know, TMWRK and Diplo have been together for again, going back to since I started working with them. So that was 2011, you know? You look at firms like CRUSH, Jonathan, Daniel has built franchise after franchise of artists that stay with him forever. And he works with him as a partner and that’s why it works. So I think you’re going to see more of that going forward and and I think that’s a good thing.
[00:36:13] Dan Runcie: Yeah, definitely. The Weeknd’s a very good example because even from the origins of his career, you could see the mentality of where he saw things. Drake famously offered him the opportunity to come on OVO Sound. They had the whole Toronto connection, Drake put him onto that blog post and everything, but then he was like, no, I don’t want to be under another artist when I think I can be just as big as that artist, even bigger and do my own thing and look what he’s been able to do now. So I think a lot of it…
[00:36:41] Matt Pincus: And by the way, the record deal is a distribution deal.
[00:36:43] Dan Runcie: Right.
[00:36:44] Matt Pincus: You know, I mean, there you go. And so in terms of distribution of value, you know, if you can do it, if you’re smart enough to have a cool head and plan like those guys did, you know, you can have a much larger enterprise than you normally would. So I hold them up as an example of, you know, what I think is going to happen and is happening really in lots of different areas of the business now.
[00:37:07] Dan Runcie: One of the other areas that has gotten a bunch of attention right now has been syncs, and this has been growing, I think, especially given what we’ve seen with people, especially from outside the music industry, trying to get more involved, but especially this past summer with Kate Bush being featured in Stranger Things. This conversation has been happening more and more. This is another example where it’s a mix of that art and science of what does finding a good sync looks like and what happens with it. And I think so much of it, there’s maybe a little bit of luck with just how the internet works and how things take off, but there’s also a good amount of work that’s put into finding the right type of placement for the right type of artists that could make all those things work to make it happen. So how do you view the opportunities for sync right now?
[00:37:53] Matt Pincus: You know, it’s interesting. I was sort of a student of Carianne. She taught me the sync business. I literally remember she had a binder where she kept every single interaction she ever had around a song and a placement. And she not only showed me how it all worked, but then we made a software platform out of her own process of how she did it. So I was trained by the best. One of the interesting things about sync is how it always comes back in cycles. You know, when we started Songs, it was like 2004, sync was the whole game. Like, between 2006 and sort of 2009 timeframe, it was the most important thing in a pitch. You know, it was responsible for a lot of our really early successes. And then when it became a largely pop business there in the early days of streaming, it was like sort of radio and super reactive and viral repertoire. It sort of stepped to the background for a minute. And now with the way that kids are bouncing around on a playlist from like, you know, Taylor to like a hip-hop track to, you know, Kate Bush back to Metallica and they don’t care. It’s become all of a sudden, perhaps one of the top, most important ways repertoire gets discovered now. It’s amazing the enduring power of synchronization over time. The thing about sync that I think is interesting is part of it is selection. Like, is this song going to work to picture? But there’s a lot that goes into making the deal happen. I mean, that Kate Bush deal as my understanding, I was not involved, but my understanding from, like, just hearing about it was that it took ’em forever to get the clearance done. So a lot of it is not only just is this going to work the picture? Is it the right BPM, the right mood, you know, the right tonality, the right cultural notes, which is a very special thing that music supervisors are particularly good at, but it’s also the real politic of like getting the fucking thing cleared. And one of the things that I look at, I tend to have thesis sort of areas when I look at investing in the music business, and one of them is just how fuck the sync business is. That, you know, there should be a buy it now button in the music business if you want to use something for your film, buy it now. And if it was easy, people would pay more. But the problem is they have to roll around a glass to clear a copyright, getting the same deal with 13 songwriters and the master side and it’s horribly inefficient. So I think part of the interesting thing with sync in the next generation is how do we do right by the music by making it more usable. Because there’s also a couple of different ways this sync business cuts. So, you know, you have stuff that’s used in a more traditional sense, and that has a real, like the standard pairing of like, it matter, it makes a huge creative difference and it’s very hand selected. Front title and title, you know, big placement in a film television advertisement, but then you have this huge blanket sync business where a lot of the new promotion platform are AV platforms. It’s technically synchronization, TikTok, YouTube, you know, Instagram it’s technically sync. And I would argue that if there’s one element of the business that gives radio a run for its money, it’s AV platforms because what happens is people use it in so many videos that you end up hearing the song a thousand times, however many times it takes for you to be like, oh, my God, I have to hear it again. That’s really the only place it happens and that’s sync. There’s a couple of different ways it cuts. You know, the great, like, placements of all time, and we had quite a few of them at Songs that sort of are like, you know, really make a song and make a film. Those are works of art. But also a lot of handling everything else is like maybe 50, 50 at best creative to handling. And so a lot of it is understanding, having those relationships, understanding how to price things, understanding how to clear repertoire, getting permission from the artist to do it. There’s a lot of process that goes into it.
[00:41:49] Dan Runcie: Is there a sync from your days that song that you look back on that you were like, yeah, that’s the one. It took some work, but looking back that’s the one.
[00:41:56] Matt Pincus: Wow. That’s really, that be would a really better question for Carianne than for me. In terms of like the stuff that really made a difference to us as a business, one of the things that I think was meaningful was when Lorde did the Hunger Games soundtrack in the follow-up movie. That gave us a really good look at how music can be a content element in overall entertainment. The Weeknd did a similar thing with Black Panther where, so it was those sort of tie-in, you know, big-ticket where our music was woven into the substance of the film or the ad in some cases. That I think are really the special moments. Those are two that pop out. There’s always like the random one where you have a relatively smaller artist and you get them a sync and, you know, it changes their life. It gives ’em more money than they ever thought was possible. There’s also the ones, we had an artist who had a very high level of ethic and I won’t name the artist, but independent artist, good earnings, but not a pop artist. And we got a $90,000 ad and for very good ethical reasons, he said, fuck, no, it’s not going to happen, not going to approve it. And as much as I was like, it was to do early days of the company, it would’ve made a huge difference to write 90 grand into my books in a quarter. There’s some beauty in the level of control that artists have over their own work in the music business that they don’t in a lot of other media that I was like, you know what good for him, I guess we’re saying no. There’s this artisanal component to it that’s really special.
[00:43:32] Dan Runcie: Yeah. Being able to have that power and knowing when it isn’t right. I’ve heard similar things as well from other podcasters I’ll talk to when they get pitched with certain deals and stuff, and they’ll be like, you know what, that’s just not a product I’m willing to do, or that’s just not an endorsement I’m willing to have. And it could have been a game changer for them and their business and everything. But I think we’re going to see more of this with creators as they just are leveraging their own independence and being able to make their own decisions.
[00:43:59] Matt Pincus: Yeah, exactly.
[00:44:00] Dan Runcie: Yeah.
[00:44:00] Matt Pincus: Exactly.
[00:44:01] Dan Runcie: I want to close this conversation out talking about streaming ’cause I know this is a topic that you’ve shared a number of insights on over the years. And one of the things that you’ve said before that has always stuck out to me and resonated is this path that streaming has been on where it has been growing year over year, but a lot of people, especially in recent months, have started to question how many more subscribers out there are willing to pay the full price for streaming services and even if there is growth in some of these other regions where the revenue coming in is only a fraction of what it currently is now, what does that growth necessarily look like? So I hear that there’s two camps there. Some people are skeptical about the future, but others are looking at smartphone adoption and just the way that things are trending as an indicator of where things are going. But how do you view the opportunity and especially streaming’s growth from here on out.
[00:44:55] Matt Pincus: Okay. So I think there’s a couple of different things there. You know, one is just on-demand streaming and what the growth curve looks like for on-demand stream. I think the broader question is what does overall growth look like for music consumption going forward? And I’m not sure those are totally the same thing. So, you know, listen, Spotify’s done an epic job growing that business. It’s a difficult business from just the word go, you know, you’re relying on content licenses, you’re inherently undifferentiated. Like on paper, it looks like this is impossible. And yet they build an unbelievable business out of it. And I really, you know, sort of think it’s worth, you know, whatever opinions people have about streaming, to take a step back and realize that the people who did this originally, you know, Larry Jackson and Apple Music, the people who did it originally did a really fucking tremendous job of making it work. It will mature. There’s some debate over whether it may have already started to mature in some distinct ways in Western, you know, sort of developed economies and even maybe in some of the larger sort of secondary territories. The really interesting places that we used to see at Songs in our own data are high population, low discretionary income countries, Indonesia, Philippines, a lot of the African continent. I’m not sure it’s necessarily in all of those places going to be an on-demand streaming function that, you know, ultimately wins the day. There are people fucking with a model in a bunch of different ways over mobile. Boomplay in Africa is doing a buyout model. You know, it can be woven with other kinds of entertainment in a bundle in a bunch of different ways. So the question of where on-demand streaming goes, it is a little bit like anyone’s guess, but there are different opinions between reasonable people about how the growth curve looks. You know, one of the things that I really love about the web three thing, and I think it’s in the early days of really grinding the gears to figure out what actually works, ’cause like this sort of, you know, sucking on the laughing gas tank and you know, watching your crypto go up or over now. So it’s entering into like a moment where people actually like have to figure out how it works. But the thing that I think is true is that it’s unlocked a premium, that people are willing to pay over the cost of consuming music permanently. How big that premium is, we’ll see. I think it was overinflated and inorganic in some of the early times of crypto, not a lot, humans are doing it and they’re doing it for high ticket prices, you know, but if you look at some of the stuff, for example, that’s going on in Asia, where people are throwing money at artists they like just because they want to you know, people paying sort of eye of the beholder price to be associated with an artist that they feel strongly about, that they love early in their career. Like, that’s not going away. So whether, you know, the subscription fatigue is a reality, whether effective penny rates, times units of consumption are going up, flattening, going down. You know, we’ll see. I mean, the Goldman Sachs people think they’re going to go up forever. I’m not sure I totally agree with that. But what is true is that the willingness of people to invest in artists they love is increasing. And I don’t think that’s going back to zero, so it may not be, you know, that subgrowth continues on forever and on-demand streaming, but it may be that there are other ways that people can figure out how to engage with artists that keep the value, you know, exchange going up. Now, the one thing about streaming that’s interesting is that, you know, the TikTok thing, in ways that people, like, talk shit about it all the time, whatever, but the thing that’s interesting is that it did introduce frequency back into the equation. And one of the things about music that’s unique is that you need to hear a song a number of times before you like it. Like at first you’re like, I hate that. And then you hear it like five times and you’re like, maybe I want to hear it again. And then by like, whatever end time you hear it, you’re like, I can’t get it out of my head. I got to hear it. It’s like, Barry Weiss used to call it a record finding its bottom, where it would kind of come out and people would spin it, and then it would drop and then at some level would start to rise again. That’s a function of promotion. That’s a function of frequency. And in the early YouTube time and on-demand streaming time, you didn’t really have that. Like, the people couldn’t make something frequently play. And the AV platforms, not only TikTok, but also Snap and Instagram changed that equation and that music needs that. The thing that I’m wondering where it will happen, where it will come back into the equation though, is the music press, which has largely disappeared. And so I’m looking for who, on a consumer level there, people like yourself covering the business, part of it, that are doing an extraordinary job, but who sort of tells people what’s good, gets it in front of them, filters it and what does that look like? It’s probably not printed on a page. It’s probably, it’s sort of associated, I think in some way with what’s going on with the NFT world, you know, with getting people to buy in, getting a community of people bought to projects, but it’s still that same mechanism of filtering. And so I’m wondering where that’s one of my thesis areas that I have my on. Where’s the next one of those?
[00:50:08] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think this is a role that, of course, MTV and so many other places own and were able to do so well decades ago. And now the commonality I’ve always referred back to is that TikTok in many ways is the new MTV, but it’s more so in the broader sense of just the cultural appeal, but not in that solo aspect of yes, if you want to know what this group of people are pushing, or what is the thing that’s in, this is the place to go to find that. And I think it’s very tough, the way that things are right now, just with how fragmented things are. But people are always going to want to feel like they’re part of what’s in or feel like they know what’s in that desire also isn’t going away. So I think there were always be a space for this, no matter how fragmented.
[00:50:53] Matt Pincus: And people don’t always know what they like. I mean, who knew that all these people love Kate Bush?
[00:50:58] Dan Runcie: Right.
[00:50:58] Matt Pincus: We all understand why. She’s amazing. Song’s amazing, but people don’t always know what they like until somebody shows it to them and repeats it. And then all of a sudden they can’t get it out of their head. And that’s the magic of music. So how that happens, you know, the cool kids like it up from the bottom, you know, like to be selective, know about the stuff first. The general audience likes to hear things multiple times and then, you know, be addicted to it. And I think that those things will reinvent themselves in a bunch of different ways going forward.
[00:51:27] Dan Runcie: For sure, Matt, before we let you go, do you have one big prediction for us on where you may see things in the next five years or one thing that you think will change from where music is right now to where things will be come 2027?
[00:51:40] Matt Pincus: Well, I think as I touched on before, I think younger and younger people are going to be making music that the world reacts. And that is going to be miraculous when it happens. And not necessarily in like a sort of criss-cross Whip / Nae Nae type of way, but in a real, like expressing the core thoughts and feelings they have and getting them out there in a way that sounds good to the world. I think that’s going to happen in a bunch of different ways. I think the way that repertoire moves across the planet is going to be revolutionary in the next five years. If there’s one thing that’s really going to change, you know, it used to be that sort of music went west to east and technology went east to west. Now, I think that’s all scrambled eggs right now. If you look at stuff, like, you know, some of the music that’s coming out of West Africa right now and how it gets into the global culture. It’s not like in a, you know, used to be like you had like a world music business. Like, that’s ripped up and thrown away. And so I think, you know, the way that the in-country community relates to the diaspora community in around the globe is going to be really different. You know, I think if there’s one thing I have my eye on, it’s sort of how all that stuff travels. And obviously, there’s some obvious examples like BTS. But I think this is going to happen anywhere and everywhere. And one of the things that I heard somebody say the other day that I felt was really interesting is that the music business thinks about countries in its marketing. You know, they’ve Europe and Asia and Australia, Canada, US. It should be cities because music is about scenes and it’s going to travel that way. And so your Amsterdam strategy is going to be different from your Seoul strategy is going to be different from your São Paulo strategy. And so if there’s one like broad thing, I think we’re going to look at the way that music travels around the planet in a completely different way.
[00:53:37] Dan Runcie: That’s spot on. Look at the way we think about music here in the US. That should be an indication of how it should be looked at elsewhere, right? We know what Atlanta hip-hop sounds like compared to what you may hear in LA or even the New Orleans bounce sound. Like, it’s so different place to place. So you look at a country like Nigeria, which is soon going to eclipse the US in population. What you may hear in Lagos would be completely different from other parts of the country. So that’s a really great point.
[00:54:05] Matt Pincus: Yeah. So that would be like, if I, you know, sort of, if I had to obsess about something, it would be that.
[00:54:10] Dan Runcie: And I think a lot of people listening probably will too. This is a good one. I think that you got a bunch of notes for people to jot down. So Matt, thank you for making the time for this. This is fun. Thanks for coming on.
[00:54:21] Matt Pincus: Thank you so much. I just really appreciate your thinking to me. And it’s a pleasure to talk to you about all this stuff.
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