Technology is constantly transforming how music is created, discovered, and heard.
From the rise of radio, to MTV, Spotify, Apple Music, and now TikTok, artists and labels have been forced to adapt to the latest tech to run their businesses.
“When you had radio, you could wine and dine certain people,” said Stefan Heinrich Henriquez, cofounder of the music creation app Mayk.it and a former TikTok exec. “You cannot influence that much anymore. All you have is a TikTok algorithm that you cannot really control.”
Some technological shifts are democratizing the music industry. Social media, for example, opened the opportunity for any performer to get discovered. It continues to be a mainstay for promoting music, influencing everything from artist discovery to record sales.
Other developments are shifting how music is made, distributed, and owned.
A new crop of startups like Mayk.it are building platforms that make it easier for the average person to create music. Companies like UnitedMasters and Epidemic Sound are developing new ways for music to be distributed. And some upstarts like Royal and Stationhead are helping forge closer ties between fans and artists — even allowing people to own pieces of their favorite song.
Insider asked readers and music-industry professionals to nominate the most innovative companies to watch for our inaugural list of music startups. Whether through tech, data, or social media, these companies are re-imagining what it means to produce and consume music.
The 14 startups are listed below, in alphabetical order:
Total funding: $2 million, according to the company.
What it does: AudioShake’s technology allows artists and record labels to extract stems from songs so that the stripped-down components of a track can be used for remixes, mashups, and other musical needs.
Why it matters for the music world: In an industry where songs are constantly tweaked to function in different contexts, be it a TikTok mashup or a documentary feature, the ability to divide a track into its individual pieces is more important than ever.
Cofounded by Google and Plaid alums Jessica Powell and Luke Miner, AudioShake’s technology works for all songs — even audio that was never multi-tracked — making it easier for artists, record labels, and their partners to sample, sync license, or even remaster tracks, old and new. Its content has been used in Netflix trailers, Taco Bell commercials, and in TikTok campaigns by artists like Green Day.
“It just opens up their entire catalog to all these new revenue streams that they couldn’t access before,” Powell said.
Total funding: Undisclosed.
What it does: Authentic Artists developed an AI engine that produces computer-generated original songs and live DJ sets. The company also creates under the brand WarpSound non-human virtual artists, such as an anthropomorphized bunny and reptile, that perform DJ sets on platforms like Twitch.
Why it matters for the music world: Technology has long played a part in music creation, and it’s likely to take on a bigger role in the coming years. Authentic Artists is tapping into a few trends on that front.
Computer-generated content has come into focus as AI tools like DALL-E and Midjourney have taken off in the visual world. Authentic’s WarpSound tech offers an audio-based solution that has the potential to create new styles of music.
“Sometimes we get output that a human producer, creator wouldn’t necessarily compose,” Authentic Artists’ CEO Chris McGarry said. “We get some weird stuff. I kind of think of it as alien music or robot music.”
Authentic Artists’ roster of virtual performers — another trendy category in media — could also help the startup monetize its AI tech.
“We’ve really focused on how we can present our virtual artists as vehicles for audiences to play with music and have a different experience of a music performance or music stream,” McGarry said.
Total funding: 110 million yen (approximately $760,000), according to the company.
What it does: CotoLab is a startup based in Shinjuku, Tokyo, that aims to digitize and market Japanese music to a global audience online. The company was founded in 2016 by Kenta Nishimura and Yuma Yamada, and currently has 10 full-time employees.
Why it matters for the music world: With tech, music proliferates globally. CotoLab offers a myriad of digital-marketing tools and consulting services for emerging Japanese talent to get their work heard outside of the country. It also offers services for musicians outside of Japan to break into its unique market and charts.
“We develop and operate innovative new marketing tools … while operating a music web media outlet that allows people to disseminate information on their own,” said Nishimura.
Total funding: $509 million, according to Crunchbase.
What it does: Epidemic Sound is a royalty-free music and sound effects platform where creators can gain access to use audio in their work for a fee. Cofounded by CEO Oscar Höglund, Peer Åström, Jan Zachrisson, David Stenmarck, and Hjalmar Windbladh, the company buys audio rights from artists outright and then grants access to its subscriber base, which the company said includes everyone from YouTubers like MrBeast to Netflix. If an artist’s Epidemic track generates revenue on a streaming platform like Spotify, Epidemic splits royalties with the song’s creator.
Why it matters for the music world: For creators, finding songs for videos can be challenging, particularly when platforms have different agreements with music rights holders. Epidemic Sound has offered a streamlined solution where the ability to use a song is paid for via a monthly subscription fee.
“All of our data tells us on a regular basis what music works online, what music are people playing, what are they downloading, what are the comments accumulating around the music,” Höglund said.
Total funding: $8 million, according to the company.
What it does: Laylo built a platform to help artists with drops, whether that means promoting a new album or announcing a concert tour. Artists and their teams use Laylo to gather contact information from fans ahead of a release, and then use the platform’s tech to message them via email, text, or Instagram DM when their promotion drops.
Why it matters for the music world: Laylo is simplifying the process for artists looking to build a targeted contact list in 2022.
The company is tapping into a broader trend in which young fans are best reached via text or DM on apps like Instagram, a shift that other companies like Community and Subtext have pursued. Laylo’s ability to help artists send direct messages on Instagram to fans is a differentiator for the upstart, as are its gating and segmenting tools.
“We make it dead simple for artists and creators to notify their fans when they drop stuff, and to own that data so that they can message them in the future,” Laylo CEO Alec Ellin said.
The company said it works with performers like Kodak Black, ODESZA, Flume, Bella Poarch, and The Black Keys, and that it’s integrated with platforms including Instagram, Spotify, and Acast.
Total funding: $4 million, according to the company.
What it does: Mayk.it is a music creation app that lets users with or without musical backgrounds produce songs on their phones. Creators choose from a library of beats and layer on their own audio with built-in voice effects. The app also features a discovery section for trending tracks, which can help its top creators get noticed.
Why it matters for the music world: The rise of TikTok and short-form video has changed how songs are discovered and heard. Tracks are now often listened to in short snippets and remixes or via covers and creator video collaborations rather than a full stream, a shift that Mayk.it cofounder and former TikTok exec Stefán Heinrich Henriquez is tapping into.
“During my TikTok time, I saw how a song just needs to be 30 seconds,” Henriquez said. “It’s all about the one hook and the one part that’s catchy. I think different rules apply now in this new world.”
Mayk.it plans to make money by allowing users to pay to promote songs in its app, as well as taking a cut of revenue from any Mayk.it-created songs that are licensed to streamers and other platforms.
Total funding: Self-funded, according to the company.
What it does: Rehegoo is a UK-based company that helps businesses and artists navigate music licensing. Founded in 2014 by Marco Rinaldo, the company currently has more than 100 artists in its roster worldwide.
Why it matters for the music world: Rehegoo works with unsigned, rising talent to promote their songs and get them played in businesses like retail stores, gyms, and spas. The startup touts itself as “the biggest independent music supplier to Spotify,” and claims its artist clients have seen a jump to their streams by as much as 500%.
For businesses, the company offers both a catalogue of free music to use and a one-time fee for individual tracks.
“Marco’s dream was to put music first and find a way to avoid all the hassle that comes from licensing,” Freddie Johnson, a consultant for Rinaldo and Rehegoo, said. “He always believed in the power of music, especially when it comes to businesses, and so he started Rehegoo, to make the world of licensed music simple, hassle-free, and fun.”
Total funding: $71 million, according to the company.
What it does: Royal is a music investment platform built on blockchain technology where fans can buy access to a percentage of future royalties of a song via a non-fungible token (NFT).
Why it matters for the music world: Royal, along with other music tech companies in the Web3 space, is offering a new approach for artists to fund their work. By selling a percentage of future royalties to fans, the company is opening up access to a small financial stake in a song to an artists’ supporters, and giving them more incentive to promote the performer’s work.
“How does it affect the entire dynamics of the music business when fans can effectively act in such a way where they are co-owners of the music with the artist and now are more incentivized to promote it to everyone they know?” said Royal CEO Justin Blau, who also performs and produces electronic music as 3LAU. “We believe in this kind of hybrid world where a combination of artists, labels, and fans all own music together, thus creating the best chance for that music to succeed.”
Total funding: $155 million, according to the company.
What it does: Splice is mostly known for offering a catalog of royalty-free music samples. It also offers artists intuitive software for building and remixing samples.
Why it matters for the music world: The company was founded in 2013 by Steve Martocci, who said that was a pivotal year for the rise of digital music and new kinds of artists. However, tech and resources had not caught up to the hype at the time. Splice currently offers 2.5 million royalty-free samples.
“We saw people held back by not having the same sounds and the same plugins as the pros, and we wanted people to know we had their back,” said Mortocci. “We knew how painful it was to lose your work, so we started Splice to keep creatives in their flow, to help them reach their full potential.”
Total funding: $21.8 million, according to the company.
What it does: Songfinch is a marketplace where users can commission original songs from artists and performers for a fee.
Why it matters for the music world: In the age of Cameo, where paying for custom content from creators is an increasingly popular revenue line, Songfinch has built a music-focused commissioning tool. Songfinch users buy personalized songs, often timed to an occasion like a wedding, birthday, or memorial. The average Songfinch creator earns about $25,000 per year, according to the company.
Artists currently retain ownership rights for the master and publishing of a track, while consumers get a perpetual usage license. Down the road, the company may explore other pricing plans that open up different ownership agreements.
“The future is artists getting closer to their fans from a collaborative standpoint,” Songfinch CEO John Williamson said. “We believe that we’re building this platform that can kind of remove all that barrier to entry.”
Total funding: $21 million, according to the company.
What it does: Stationhead is a group-listening platform that enables artists and fans to stream songs together. Users who tune into a station can also participate in live audio conversations such as a Q&A with an artist or chat about a new album with other fans. Stationhead users co-listen to songs by logging into their Apple Music and Spotify accounts via an API, which creates the added benefit of generating new streams for artists on those platforms. The company also has some built-in monetization features for artists, such as tipping.
Why it matters for the music world: Stationhead’s product is part of a broader trend in social media toward digital groups, be that on messaging platforms like Discord or live audio tools like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.
Digital engagement with fans is critical for artists, particularly when a performer is trying to release a new track or promote an upcoming tour. Artists like Coldplay, Cardi B, and Nicki Minaj have all used Stationhead to get closer to their fan bases.
“These super fans are the top customers in music,” said Stationhead COO Murray Levison. “They buy the merch. They buy the tickets. They buy albums 20 times just to support.”
Total funding: $170 million, according to the company.
What it does: UnitedMasters touts itself as the top music distribution app. Founded in 2017 by Steve Stoute, the company provides a gamut of services for music production, management, and promotion on streaming platforms. The startup is based in Brooklyn, New York, and has 340 employees in the US.
Why it matters for the music world: The company prides itself in its tech, and letting artists own their own music.
“There are other companies that offer music distribution, but UnitedMasters goes beyond distribution to create more ways for creators to earn and grow,” said Stoute. “We open up doors that were locked and controlled by the record label industry, getting artists’ music on TV shows, movies, commercials, games, and digital media.”
Stoute pointed to three major innovations in UnitedMasters’ app that sets it apart from others in the industry:
Total funding: $0, according to the company.
What it does: VYBEZ.xyz is a user-friendly web interface that allows anyone to easily create and remix beats. One can scroll through a short music library, and toggle with a track’s composition, like “energy” (speed), “crunch” (texture), and “melody.” It enables users to sync their account with their TikTok to then share their mash-ups online. “We’re trying to make music creation super easy,” said founder and musician Nadeem Daya.
Why it matters for the music world: Daya told Insider that he wanted to build a platform that’s akin to what early Instagram was for photography and photo-sharing. He wants to democratize making beats and allow non-musicians to play around with basic music construction.
“I was absolutely shocked by the lack of cultural relevance of things getting built in the music tech space,” he said. “We are artists first; [VYBEZ.xyz] is built by artists that have experience building tracks that influences culture.”
Total funding: $35 million, according to the company.
What it does: Yousician is a music-learning app designed to teach users how to play instruments like piano, guitar, and bass. The platform listens to users as they play, measuring accuracy and timing in a “Guitar Hero”-style interface. The company also has a courses feature where performers like Metallica and Jason Mraz teach users how to play their original songs.
Why it matters for the music world: Online learning and digital course platforms are surging, with companies like Kajabi and Maven raising tens of millions of dollars at high valuations. Yousician, which operates an instrument-tuning app called GuitarTuna in addition to its learning platform, has a head start in the space, telling Insider it has 20 million monthly users. The company was cofounded by Chris Thür and Mikko Kaipainen.