Music streams only offer monetary value for artists when the royalty checks are cashed — often weeks late. Create Music Group (CMG) wants to change this. On Tuesday, the fast growing music distributor, publisher and marketer announced a beta program for Create Carbon, a credit card directly tied to its artists’ royalty revenue so that musicians can spend their earnings as soon as they get them. CMG has rolled out the beta for 100 of its artists and hopes to bring further waves of clients onto the program in the coming months.
Since 2019, CMG — which owns brands like the TikTok-focused Flighthouse and is the distributor for artists including Tekashi 6ix9ine — has touted its real-time royalty earnings service as a tool for artists and their teams to get a more nuanced view of revenue. Offering a credit card takes the concept a step further, cutting out at least a month of waiting time for artists. CMG’s CEO and co-founder Jonathan Strauss tells Rolling Stone that whereas typical nine-to-five employees might expect a regular check every few weeks, independent artists without major corporate help can’t always wait for a monthly payday and may need access to funds right away to pay for services like marketing.
“It’s very hard for any artist to get a loan because they end up working on 1099s,” Strauss says. “For independent artists, almost anything you do involves you being able to act instantaneously. If you want to invest in any type of marketing campaign, you can’t wait two months. When you look at the typical lifecycle of a track, when it starts to peak and gain momentum, you have to be able to use that revenue right away. That’s the reason you see artists switch from distribution companies to record labels. They get a trend going on a platform and streams go up, but they don’t have access to the revenue coming from that.”
CMG co-founder and COO Alexandre Williams also describes the credit card as a means of turning artists into more savvy, self-reliant businesspeople.
“We’re trying to get our artists to think like entrepreneurs and build their brand, to have a system where they can reinvest in themselves,” Williams says. “We built the program with being able to show daily royalties as a long-term experiment to see how indie artists are affected when they can see that every day. One of the biggest things we found was the output they’d done was so much higher than when they’d never seen their royalties framed that way, and we think the card will have similar results. We are moving into this new age where we want people to think more about how to continue their output and make sure they’re putting out the most efficiently.”
Over the coming months, as Carbon works through its beta, it will become a more robust credit system. MasterCard is serving as Carbon’s payment network, so the card can be used anywhere MasterCards are accepted. Carbon clients will get a black titanium card that makes a reassuring, wealth-conjuring clink when the card gets dropped on a table. In six months, CMG plans on transitioning users to bespoke bank accounts they can use to build credit and bolster their ability to get more typical loans. And, like any other credit card issuer on the market, CMG is also working to create a rewards system tailored for its music creator clients, though the company declined to comment on which sorts of companies or retailers would participate.
Among the CMG clientele in Carbon’s pilot program are Future, 6ix9ine, Funkmaster Flex and management company Homemade Projects, which works with several artists including Surfaces and Larray. CMG and Elliot Grange’s 10K Projects invested in Homemade Projects in 2019. “Create Carbon is an enormously powerful tool for independent artists,”Zach Friedman, co-founder of Homemade Projects, said in a statement. “The ability to access royalties as soon as they are earned gives our roster the power to fund new projects, marketing initiatives or tours without having to renegotiate for an advance or accept onerous loan terms. This financial tool is a revolutionary innovation from Create Music Group.”
While Strauss is most bullish about Carbon’s impact on independent artists, he says larger-scale artists can similarly benefit. “They can approve these massive marketing budgets, and doing it all through the card and avoiding having to go through all the money wiring is great,” he says. “For lots of people, we may not use this system where they get paid out daily, they may just use it for marketing, and that’s fine. They can see that day if they buy out billboards, there’s $6,000 spent.”
CMG’s new card-based service is unique in the music business — but it’s not as indiscriminate as industry outsiders might think. In a purely functional sense, music companies have long been investment banks doling out loans for artists’ works, to be repaid over a pre-determined period of time through the works’ earnings.
Hopefully, Strauss says, CMG’s card can bolster middle-class artists, empowering them to think of streaming royalties as their own tool rather than just the contents of a label’s check.
“Traditionally you either made it big or you didn’t make it. There was no in-between. Why can’t you have artists that are making eight grand a month, nine grand a month?” Strauss says. “Why can’t you have a middle America, an entire system of people, millions of people that are all making these royalties this way? I think that’s pretty freaking cool. It’s a long way to get there. This card does not solve that problem today, but it’s a piece of the puzzle that create wants to solve.”