Dinner with Anna Wintour, racing with Anja Rubik
I told you muthaf*ckers it was more than the music
–Kanye West, “Cold“
Nearly 30 years ago Steve Stoute saw something that changed his life: He went to see RunDMC perform at Madison Square Garden. During the show, as they began the hit song, “My Adidas”, Run took off his Adidas sneaker and hoisted it into the air. Spontaneously, nearly everyone in the audience took off their Adidas and responded in kind.
At that moment, Steve realized that great musical artists meant much more to their fans than just music. They moved their fans. They moved the culture.
Steve could not get this thought out of his head: Cultural influence was real. It was a real, tangible, valuable thing. He became so obsessed with the idea that he quit his prestigious job as president of Interscope Records. Despite having zero experience in the advertising business, he quit to found an advertising agency dedicated to translating cultural influence into market influence for brands and transforming cultural capital into financial capital for artists. He appropriately called the company Translation.
Translation went on to achieve great success building massively successful ad campaigns for companies such as McDonald’s, Anheuser-Busch, and State Farm while creating wealth for artists like 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, and Jay-Z.
In the meantime, the music business was changing. The Internet decimated the old business model as music moved from CDs to streaming. At first, this obliterated the earning power of artists, but ultimately enabled the smartest artist to think independently and seek to control their own artistic and financial destiny.
This gave Steve another idea. Musical artists themselves were brands. Brands that were just as important to their fans as comparable corporate names like ESPN were to their customers. But there was a problem: In a world where leading-edge companies like Facebook and Google knew every detail of their customers, right down to what they read in the last five minutes, even the biggest stars in the world knew embarrassingly little about their fans. In fact, most artists didn’t even know their fans’ names.
Steve thought: What if there were a platform that instantly enabled musical artists to market themselves globally as effectively as the top technology companies market to their customers? Such a platform would free musicians from dependencies on the old model while increasing their income tenfold. It would create unprecedented intimacy between artists and fans, while making artists truly independent.
But there was a huge challenge. To build such a platform, the company had to be world class in three distinctly different disciplines: music, advertising, and technology. Steve already had the expertise in music and advertising, but technology was the key and that’s when he called me. Together, we recruited a phenomenal technology team with members from distinguished companies such as Facebook, Dropbox, and Pandora. I think that the UnitedMasters engineering team is one of the best in the technology industry, but you can judge for yourself.
Today I am pleased to announce the unveiling of the platform they’ve built and the company behind it: UnitedMasters. I am excited to also announce that Andreessen Horowitz has invested and that I have joined the board.