If online profiles can lead to marriages, maybe they can also lead to record deals. On Thursday, independent music-distribution service Distrokid launched a new initiative called Upstream, which functions as a matchmaking service for artists and labels, with Universal Music Group’s Republic Records signed on as the first partner.
When an artist decides to opt in to Upstream — and only if they decide to opt in — they can create an Upstream profile that houses their music links, genre info, streaming data, geographic location, demographic information on listeners if available, social media information, and links to related artists. Upstream does not require a fee from Distrokid members, nor does it ask for any portions of rights or earnings as a form of alternative payment. Artists can also choose to opt out at any time, say, if they decide they’re no longer comfortable with sharing their data. On the label side, executives will get a dashboard, as well as some basic filters that enable them to organize their findings by location, genre, and other key details.
“Millions of artists rely on DistroKid and often ask for help getting noticed by record labels,” DistroKid Founder and CEO Philip Kaplan said in a blog post. “And record labels have approached us about finding efficient ways to identify talent in the DistroKid community. With demand on both sides, it made sense to play matchmaker. And by forming a relationship with the industry’s leading labels, DistroKid artists are able to identify potential partners who can accelerate their careers.”
Music industry veteran Ché Pope — whose career has included gigs as a Warner Music A&R and COO at Kanye West’s label, G.O.O.D. Music — will head Upstream, serving as a liaison between artists and interested companies.
Prior to this tool’s existence, there were already numerous success stories of artists starting out on Distrokid and, on their own, graduating to the next stage of their careers after enough trial and error. Arizona Zervas released 30 tracks through Distrokid before signing to Columbia, and 21 Savage released two tracks and two mixtapes there before Epic came knocking. Upstream seems geared at simplifying and streamlining that discovery process, and providing a leg up over a particularly daunting wall. And while the platform is the first of its kind, this is the second time in recent months that a music company has lauded the yenta approach.
Not all artists who use Distrokid will be seeking a record deal; there are plenty of musicians who choose to remain independent for the sake of having complete control of their art and livelihood. Upstream is for the ones who are only releasing music independently in the hopes of building enough traction to capture a label’s attention, Pope says. He adds that it “opens a window into a cache of data that can help identify promising artists early in their career” and calls the service a “game-changer” for both parties.
Avery Lipman, president of Republic Records, said in the announcement that the label will combine Upstream’s artists insights with “existing sources of data and insights to cast an even wider net with respect to identifying great emerging talent.” However, he added, “data only gets you so far and our success has been based on our unique ability to identify passion and translate that into worldwide creative and commercial success for our artists.”
While the timing of this announcement may feel particularly apt in a concert-less era that has forced A&R executives to judge talent without seeing live shows, Upstream is not a reaction to the pandemic.
“Both indies and majors have been after this kind of data from Distrokid for a number of years,” a source close to the matter tells Rolling Stone. “Philip really felt it had to be done right, with artists opting in and with it being absolutely no cost to them. Republic is the first partner during beta, but it’s expected that lots of major and indie labels are going to sign up.”