A Data-Driven Music Startup Wants to Matchmake Artists With Their Dream Teams
The other week, Kanye West launched a sustained Twitter assault against two pillars of the modern music industry — major labels and unfair record deals. He announced his intent to build a world where artists “have the power and transparency to be in control” of their future. “No more shady contracts,” West promised. “No more lifelong deals.”
Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, saw West’s tweet and tapped out a response: “We’re already working on this with indify.”
Started in 2015, indify is a data-driven platform that helped the music industry identify promising artists early. But the company is now pivoting to create what it sees as a new marketplace, connecting talented musicians to the supporting players — funding partners, management, marketing, legal representation — required for sustained success, while simultaneously bringing a new level of fairness and transparency to deals.
“Often you see that it’s not that the best partners and the best teams are working with the best artists, it’s that the people who reached out first are,” explains Shav Garg, one of indify’s three co-founders along with his childhood friends, Connor Lawrence and Matthew Pavia. “So we want to build a marketplace where if you need managing, funding, a lawyer, you come to indify, put together your team, and ensure that all the contracts are done in a fair and completely artist-friendly way.”
“The alternative is so inefficient — you just look through Instagram DMs,” Shav continues. “There’s a massive gap between artists and early supporters.”
For a young artist with potential, entering the music industry can be like hopping on Tinder, except the consequences of a bad decision could last for years, handcuffing you to an unworthy, duplicitous partner while also requiring you to forfeit the rights to your car and your apartment. indify wants to make sure artists’ potential dates are worthy of attention. The company has already facilitated a number of partnerships under its new mission, helping rising acts like Kirby, BMW Kenny, and Jess Benko, among others.
The company’s pivot has been years in the making, but it’s well-timed: Rarely has the idea of bettering the music business occupied such space in the cultural conversation, thanks to West’s Twitter megaphone and new tools like CreateSafe’s recently released Record Deal Simulator, which lets people preview different splits and contract terms.
But indify’s new approach is one of the most concrete attempts at changing the way artists are treated. The company is providing the “infrastructure to rebuild the [music] industry in a way that a lot of people have been talking about for a long time,” says Ohanian, who now invests in artists through indify and is an investor in the platform as well. And crucially, “the people who would have the most leverage in this new model are the artists.”
In its early days, indify focused on ushering talented acts into music. As a college student, Shav interned at Warner Music Group and at Saavn, a major Indian streaming platform. Before entering these buildings, he assumed that A&Rs, who are responsible for signing new artists, “must have crazy rocketships full of information” to help inform their decisions. “I get there, and it’s like, ‘yeah, we use these blogs,'” Shav recalls. “I was shocked.”
Shav already harbored his own artistic ambitions — he releases music under the name prettyboyshav — and he was pained to learn about the “random, arbitrary way that artists are being discovered.” “There’s no way I would be found unless I had relationships with the right bloggers or a cousin in the music industry,” Shav says.
That spurred him to talk to Lawrence and Pavia about designing a platform that used information from YouTube, SoundCloud, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify to predict the next generation of successful artists. They started the project during their senior year and won a $25,000 grant from an incubator program called Thought Into Action shortly before graduation. The three men spent the next two years building indify, largely in their parents’ basements.
“The first two years, we didn’t even get a contract,” Shav says. “It was like getting punched in the mouth over and over again. Our friends had real jobs. It’s like, ‘what are we doing?'”
But by the end of 2015, they had a working version of the platform that incorporated data on 40,000 up-and-coming artists. Lawrence started sending out a daily newsletter about promising acts to label A&Rs “one a day, like a vitamin,” as Shav puts it. indify’s profile rose when it placed Khalid, then known as Kai, on a list of artists that were on the cusp of reaching a wider audience. Labels started to sign up for indify’s services, eager to identify another star at a similarly early stage; soon the company’s daily bulletins were sparking industry bidding wars.
Despite indify’s success, Shav found himself struggling to maintain motivation. The company was good at flagging artists with potential, but that turned out to be only a small part of democratizing opportunity in the music industry. Some acts still didn’t get the necessary pieces required to transform talent into an enduring career, Shav says. “So it became about not just discover, but discover, connect, and fairly transact.”
Josh Feshbach, who manages the singer Pink Sweat$, was one of the first to use indify as more than just an artist-identification system — he located an investor through the platform who was willing to cover recording costs for a new project from Kirby, another one of Feshbach’s clients, then best known for having co-written “FourFiveSeconds” for Kanye West, Rihanna, and Paul McCartney. That investor was Ohanian.
“If we had gone to a more traditional company to raise that money, we could have had to give up a tremendous amount in the deal,” Feshbach says. “Even if you look at a distribution company, their standard investment agreement is a 70-30 split and a 10-year license. That’s not a bad deal, but giving up 30% of a project is a lot. indify is changing the norm for the way a deal is supposed to look.”
Before its formal pivot to connecting musicians with support systems, indify already served as a matchmaker, identifying the strengths of rising artists and potential partners and trying to design good fits between them. When BMW Kenny first started experiencing success on TikTok with “Wipe It Down,” indify helped connect the singer-rapper-songwriter-producer to the company Against the Grain (ATG), which is known for its digital marketing efforts.
Omid Noori, one of ATG’s co-founders, says his company had to complete several successful marketing campaigns to win indify’s approval. “After that, they were like, ‘we want to refer artists to you, because at least we know they’ll get a shot,'” Noori says. ATG was able to help “Wipe It Down” earn more than five billion views on TikTok. Thanks to indify, ATG also started managing Benko, whose song “A Soulmate Who Wasn’t Meant to Be” has quietly amassed more than seven million streams on Spotify alone.
Karl Fowlkes, an entertainment attorney who frequently uses his Twitter account to call for increased transparency around contracts, has found four clients through indify as well. “I push for artists to be focused on building sustainable businesses; I’m not a guy you go to if you want to just sign to a label tomorrow,” Fowlkes says. indify sends him artists that have similar mindsets — “they don’t give me people who are just trying to sell quick.”
A growing number of distributors are now joining indify, where they can send deals to artists directly through the platform. Record industry contracts are notoriously long and dense, but on indify, they involve just four terms: “The amount of money that goes to the artists, the content that’s being licensed, how many years it’s being licensed for, and the percentages that go to the artist until recoupment and after,” Shav says. “The three rules are, there are only 50/50 splits or better for the artist, they retain ownership of the masters, and artists get creative control.”
Indify is actively working to find more potential partners. While they don’t yet have a Khalid-like story for their latest phase — still in beta — both Kirby and BMW Kenny were able to repay their investors within six months just thanks to streaming income. That has fueled indify’s efforts as the company actively tailors more partnerships. “They’re bringing a lot more opportunity to a broader range of creators,” Ohanian says.
The music industry is not known for its quick embrace of the new, but Shav is not overly worried. “Connor and I won a fourth grade little league championship,” the CEO says. “We’ve been winning together for that long.”