It’s been almost a year since longtime music executive Steve Stoute launched UnitedMasters, an artist-focused music startup aimed at disrupting traditional record labels, which debuted with $70 million from big-name investors including Andreessen Horowitz, 21st Century Fox and Alphabet. The startup has made good on its word to stand out — announcing on Thursday a promotional partnership with the National Basketball Association that will see its up-and-coming artists highlighted to the NBA’s 1.5 billion social media fans.
Stoute, who was formerly an executive vice president at Interscope Records and president of urban music at Sony, tells Rolling Stone that his goal for UnitedMasters is to “put artists in a scenario they wouldn’t have been in” in an indie career or in a constrictive label deal. “Artists don’t want to be signed to record labels now,” Stoute says. “Artists are now looking at, how can I control my own brand, how can I take my music into my own hands? But somebody has to operationalize that — somebody has to operationalize independence.”
The partnership between UnitedMasters and the NBA will see a select group of Stoute’s artists — who currently receive tools such as social media analytics, brand marketing resources from Stoute’s ad agency Translation, and an online distribution platform — featured across the NBA’s digital products, which include NBA.com, the NBA app, and various league and team social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Twitch and Snapchat. The NBA will also link back to songs and artists directly in these posts. Jeff Marsilio, NBA senior vice president of new media distribution, said in a statement that his company can provide independent artists a “massive digital stage” upon which to share their music.
Stoute points out that the partnership represents the kind of disruptive thinking that he wants UnitedMasters to do, generally. While he previously described the company as an entity that would supplant the record label business, he says now that he sees UnitedMasters as “the next iteration of what a record label should be,” providing artists opportunities through any avenue that opens up.
“The NBA has always been interested in partnering with artists,” Stoute says. “And artists today are going to brand partnerships because that is where the money is. If you’re not going to make money from music, you can get an audience and utilize other ways. We want artists to be able to get money. Our goal is to manage young artists who want to control their destiny.”