The music industry isn't dying; the old way of doing things is dying. Just ask these 17 movers and shakers, all under age 30, who are changing the game and keeping the music biz alive and well. None of them is a professional musician; they're all power players making an impact through other avenues. Some are inventing novel ways of distributing and consuming music with forward-thinking technology. Some are making old formulas new again by embracing the beauty of vinyl, or throwing dance parties – in the morning. Some are shaping the tastes and trends of rappers and ravers to come. All are bringing a fresh dose of blood, sweat and tears to the creation, discovery and sharing of music, and all see a future wide open with possibilities.
Ten years ago, Jamal Edwards was a kid uploading videos of his friends rapping and singing onto YouTube, like millions of teens everywhere. Today, he's a multimillionaire with his own entertainment company, able to fondly recall the time his website crashed because so many people had searched his name in the wake of a Google Chrome ad. SBTV has more than 537,000 subscribers on YouTube, and its self-produced music videos, exclusive musical performances and artist interviews rack up millions of views.
Edwards says SBTV was born from a desire to create a community around the London grime scene he loved – the SB stands for Smokey Barz, his own grime performance name – which wasn't being represented by the mainstream. "Many people just saw kids rapping on [public housing] estates," he explains. "I saw Grime, and to me it was more than that: a lifestyle, an outlook on life. I found it very interesting."
In more recent years, SBTV has started presenting more pop fare, like an Ed Sheeran video that's gotten over 8.4 million views, and launched a record label under Sony called Just Jam. To hear Edwards talk, the more SBTV takes on, the better. "I would love to see some of the larger corporations working with younger creatives in a less patronizing way," he says. "If we are intelligent enough to build and sustain audiences, I'm sure we can execute some of the larger branded campaigns out there. Some of the big corporations try to treat people like myself as just talent, but we are the media businesses of tomorrow."
Co-founder, Next Big Sound
Alex White spent two summers interning at Universal Music Group, but still he wondered, "How does a band go from playing in their garage to headlining a nationwide tour?" He set out to solve the mystery with data. Over $7 million in venture capital later, Next Big Sound is the leading provider of music analytics and insights, used by individual artists and multinational conglomerates alike. It pulls information from social media, Wikipedia and artist websites, as well as streaming platforms like YouTube, Spotify and iTunes, and crosses it with concert, press and demographic data. Next Big Sound predicted the success of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis years before they hit it big, and Billboard now publishes two charts based on the company's numbers.
"We now have six-plus years of data and trillions of data points and can finally build a statistical model of the music industry, as well as access a kind of 'social crystal ball' about which artists are likely be popular in the future," says White. The result, he hopes, will be a more transparent music industry. "Knowledge is power and the more data that's available to artists and the music industry, the better they are able to make smarter decisions and build long lasting careers."
Founder, Jett Plastic Recordings
What were you doing at age 14? Jarett Koral was creating his own record label. The Detroit native started Jett Plastic Recordings in 2012 when a local indie band was looking to put out a 7-inch. Koral volunteered and funded the first $2,000 pressing by selling off some of his own record collection. Since then, he's put out LPs by 12 bands, including Macaulay Culkin's the Pizza Underground. Koral – whose mom is label president, since technically he isn't old enough to own his own company – is firmly devoted to the "tangible" over the digital, and his offerings hearken to the glory days of vinyl. He's taken full advantage of the medium through such creative collector's items as a transparent "decoder" record that can be looked through to reveal hidden song lyrics on the album sleeve.
The teenager has grown up steeped in Detroit rock. His uncle owns a local record shop, and one of his favorite musicians is hometown boy Kenny Tudrick. "There are so many great bands here that are virtually ignored in other areas of the country," says Koral. "I'm trying to remedy that." He presses much of his vinyl at Archer Record Pressing in Detroit and dreams of a future in which other old plants can reopen.
That future, he hopes, will also involve more independence for artists. "It'd be great to give bands and musicians the ability to run their own careers without being held down by the beastly behemoth that is the music industry," Koral says.
Founder, Electric Circus
A content manager for Solange Knowles' Saint Heron website and the founder of Electric Circus, an artist development consultancy, Shabazz is a go-to for tapping into cutting-edge talent, such as Migos, iLoveMakonnen, OG Maco, Tink and Rae Sremmurd. Vogue spotlighted her in the magazine's "Brooklyn's Finest" feature last summer, and Eddie Stats, Editor in Chief of Questlove's Okayplayer.com, calls her "a key connector and gatekeeper within a certain young-gunna Black Arts renaissance happening in Brooklyn right now."
What lies beyond the gate? Shabazz foresees more surprise album releases, the continuing rise of streaming services and "more social media influencers and socialites turning into music artists." "People have figured out that it's about more than talent these days, [and] more about the brand," she explains, adding, "I have to say this doesn't excite me for what's to come, sonically." Overall, Shabazz says, "Everything will merge more than ever. Lifestyle will go hand in hand with music like we've never seen before."
25, 26 and 27
The tweet appeared last Wednesday night: "Head to Dubsmash for my new single #BBHMM!!" wrote Rihanna. A flood of amateur videos soon followed, of fans lip-syncing to the 10-second-long song teasers. Dubsmash, a video message lip-syncing app, is the brainchild of Germans Roland Grenke, Jonas Drüppel and Daniel Taschik. The trio had previously suffered through two duds in the iOS app store; Dubsmash, though, became a Number One hit in Germany one week after launching in November of last year. It has since been released in 29 more countries and is available in Android. And of course, the Rihanna tease has led to a load of new downloads.
"We noticed that people were having more and more mobile conversations daily and that video serves as a new layer of communication to those conversations," says Grenke. "The result will surely be more creative ways for artists to distribute and promote their music. There is a clear trend toward a more social interaction between artists and their audiences. In the future, technology can help to enrich this relationship, enabling fans to participate in the distribution or even the creation of new content."
YouTube superstar, host of Sirius XM's YouTube 15
Jenna Marbles is perhaps the poster child for YouTube fame – 14 million-plus subscribers, 60 million-plus views and an avid fan base of mostly teenage girls. She built her following on kooky, irreverent video riffs on pop culture, makeup tips and puppies, but last year she brought her clout to the music world with the YouTube 15, a weekly series on Sirius XM's Hits 1 channel. It's an hour-long show featuring the top tracks trending on YouTube, and as such, features oddball viral hits alongside mainstream pop fare. It's been so successful that the station has now introduced another similar show, the YouTube EDM 15.
Asked by Variety last year what it takes to be an influential presence on the Internet, Marbles said, "You have to be a presence. You have to give a shit about what people are asking and want to know. Because if you don’t, you won’t last online."
It's been more than 20 years since Pearl Jam unsuccessfully sued Ticketmaster for monopolizing ticket sales. Ticketmaster is still going strong, but now the would-be Pearl Jams of today can sell tickets and merch directly to fans courtesy of CrowdSurge. Matt Jones founded the company in 2009, inspired in part by the work he did as a teen in the U.K., promoting then-unknowns like Adele, Ellie Goulding and Mumford and Sons.
"I had the epiphany that artists should be empowered to sell tickets directly to their fans," Jones says. "If fans were finding out about shows through the artist's own channels, then why couldn't they buy a ticket right there instead of going to a third-party website?" Through CrowdSurge, bands can not only keep service fees low, but also interact directly with fans in other ways like special promotions, or open votes to determine performance locations. In the process, the bands also gain valuable data and analytics. CrowdSurge reported revenues of more than $15 million last year, and has worked with acts like Paul McCartney, Kenny Chesney and Jack White.
Founder, Majestic Casual
YouTube has become a major player in the world of streaming music, and one of its biggest channels for EDM is Majestic Casual. It's a one-man shop founded in 2011 by a press-shy German who says to call him Nick. "A person should not be in the center of the brand but the artists and their work," he says via email. His channel promotes artists by pairing music uploads with an evocative image – usually a dreamy, sun-drenched shot of an attractive woman – and this simple formula has garnered it more than 2.28 million subscribers, an average of 32 million plays each month and an estimated yearly revenue of anywhere from $75,000 to $1.2 million. "I like having what we call 'Kopfkino' in Germany: listening to a track and imagining a movie scene. That's what I try to give my subscribers," says Nick.
In the process, he's given invaluable exposure to artists like Perseus, Cyril Hahn and Julio Bashmore. Last year, Miami's Ultra Music Festival featured a Majestic Casual Stage where those musicians nd more performed, and the brand also put on a public showcase at London's Village Underground last May.
Nick says he created Majestic Casual because "I found myself in a world of commercial music, the same tracks running on the radio over and over again, cluttering people's ears. I took the chance to show people the music I love, music which enriches my soul and not necessarily music that sells millions of records."
How does one win the undying loyalty of Kendrick Lamar and Wiz Khalifa? Bust your ass producing a bunch of sell-out shows for them back when nobody knew them from a ping-pong ball in a cup of stale beer. Claire Bogle and Sascha Stone Guttfreund did just that when they were still college sophomores at UT-Austin. "They're the first ones to bring me to Texas for some rap shit," says a youthful J. Cole in a video on their site, alongside numerous other now-big artists. Bogle and Guttfreund's company ScoreMore – whose tagline is "Your Favorite Rapper's Favorite Promoter" – has thrown 600 events since 2009 and covers 11 college markets, including Nashville, Ann Arbor, Oklahoma City and Austin. They also produce the Neon Desert Music Festival in El Paso, and similar shindigs are in the works.
"Touring is more important than it's ever been," says Bogle. "With so much music readily available, it is our job as promoters to listen to the consumer, identify the voids in market places and partner with artist and consumers alike to build experiences that cater to the culture."
Guttfreund agrees. "The concert side of the business is not perfect," he says. "It's destined to feel oversaturated in the big markets while the markets that really would appreciate the experiences are being skipped. For us it's about discovering opportunity, not trying to shove a square peg in a round hole. More cities deserve art and the experience of live music."
President, Lyric House Music Publishing
Jessica Cole was a CU Denver music business major interning at the Country Music Network when she started wondering how music gets onto TV. After side stints in artist management, then songwriting in Nashville, she returned to Denver and arrived at an answer with the founding of Lyric House. It started out as a songwriting association formed with people she knew from school, but has since grown into a full-service music publisher specializing in song placement for TV, film, trailers and ads. Now primarily based in L.A., Lyric House represents more than 100 bands, artists and songwriters, and has placed songs on channels like Showtime, NBC, ABC and MTV, and with brands like Verizon and Acura.
"Synchronization has become the new radio in many ways," says Cole, referring to licensing deals that allow music to be played with a movie, TV show, video game, etc. "Consumers are turning on their favorite television show and discovering new artists. These music discoveries leave the consumer wanting more out of the experience, leading them to seek out and purchase concert tickets, vinyl and merch. Going forward, the future will continue on this path and transcend even deeper into brand partnerships."
Hard partying and late-night substance abuse go together like, well, sex, drugs and rock & roll, but Matthew Brimer is out to break that link. "There's already nightlife, but where is the morning life?" he asks. Hence, Daybreaker, an early morning, alcohol-free dance party that "aims to transform both your physical and mental well-being." The bar is stocked with coffee and juice, and the music is a mixture of local DJs and live bands. Hula hoops, dancing carrots and dudes in the corner writing free haikus have also been known to appear. Since Daybreaker's first party in New York City in 2013, Brimer has added events in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Atlanta, London, São Paulo and Tel Aviv – and more are on the way.
"People have been dancing and engaging in participatory music experiences in communities for thousands of years, and in many ways modern nightlife has lost a lot of what I think is so important and powerful when it comes to music and dance," says Brimer, who, in case it wasn't apparent from that sentence, was a sociology major at Yale. "I'm convinced that we're just on the tip of the iceberg as a society when it comes to how people connect with each other in real life, getting them off their digital devices and being humans together."
Co-founder, Cool Managers
Some people just seem fated to be cooler than the rest of us; such is life for Imogene Strauss, daughter of legendary New York City DJ and producer Justin Strauss. After graduating from college in 2011, Strauss started interning at MoMA PS1 and by the fall had been hired to produce Kraftwerk at MoMA, among other music commissions. (She still consults for PS1's trendsetting Warm Up summer music series.) At the time, she was also working in management, handling day-to-day for Solange Knowles and Devonté Hynes. In 2013, she decided to strike out on her own and co-founded Cool Managers, with Knowles, Hynes (as Blood Orange) and Majical Cloudz as its first clients. The current roster includes the latter two along with Dawn Richard, Tim Hecker, Dubbel Dutch, Nguzunguzu, Ian Isiah and Feral.
"I wanted to be able to work in a way that better suited the artists I worked with," the young tastemaker says. "My goal is always to help visionary artists do things their way and make a living doing it."
Manager (Kygo, Thomas Jack, Riff Raff); Co-founder, EDM Sauce
Myles Shear studied music production at Full Sail University, and his career has zipped along at full sail ever since. At 19, he co-founded popular music publication EDM Sauce – which was named the Number 13 Most Influential Music Blog in the World by Style of Sound last year – and, partly through running that, he became aware of an Australian artist named Thomas Jack. An immediate fan, Shear got him to come to Florida and booked him a tour. "[Jack] actually came and lived with me, in my college dorm, on my futon," he says.
Through Jack, Shear learned about then-unknown Norwegian DJ and producer Kygo, whom he reached out to and started managing. Less than two years later, Kygo's remix of Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire" has 26 million plays on Soundcloud, and Chris Martin has asked him to create a remix for Coldplay. When we spoke with Shear, the phone line buzzed with the background sound of Kygo's entire family hanging at Shear's home fresh after the musician's performance at Miami's Ultra Music Festival. "It's kind of crazy how this all started with being involved in blogs," says Shear.
The EDM power player was also high off the success of signing a deal for Thomas Jack to host a monthly tropical house show on iHeartRadio. He believes that "next level marketing" is the future of the industry. "I'm constantly thinking, 'What am I gonna do [for my artists] tomorrow?' OK – so and so on the Kardashians, or whatever," Shears says. "Constantly thinking of ways for people to pay attention to artists is a huge challenge, [but that's what] the music industry will be revolving around."
Once upon a time, starving composers looking for work had to brave the wilds of Craigslist, a lawless land of unverified identities and unpaid bills. Now, they – and the companies who seek them – can turn to ScoreAScore, an online marketplace for music, voiceovers and sound design. The site was launched by then-22-year-old Jordan Passman in 2009 out of his parents' Los Angeles house. Today, the company reports 2014 revenue of $1.3 million and boasts clients ranging from Netflix and Nokia to Nintendo and NBC.
Passman believes that technology will continue to shape the music industry and that the future is bright. "There will be more music creators, more listeners, more ways to discover talent, and more platforms for interaction between members of the musical community," he enthuses. "The 'A-list' artists may not earn as much as they did during the golden age of music, [but] I think there will be more artists making a living via the industry than ever before."