Industry Insider: Amuse CEO & Co-Founder Diego Farias On Modern Music Distribution

We chat with Amuse CEO & Co-Founder Diego Farias about distribution without labels.
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Diego Farias

Diego Farias

The world of music distribution is getting crowded. There are a lot of companies that offer very similar products, distribution and pricing, whether it is one price for all uploads, or pay per upload plans. Distributors have started to branch out into other services to try and draw in new clients and generate new sources of revenue. This has led to some new distribution companies like Amuse, which looks to do music distribution a little differently.

Amuse offers artists free music distribution at its most basic tier, with a Pro tier that costs $60 per year ($20 through November 2020) and offers no fee royalty splits, YouTube Content ID and possible promotion on Instagram, TikTok and more. Since February 2019, artists have been able to take out advances on their royalties through Fast Forward, which can be good for those strapped for cash on rent or necessities. 

Amuse also has a label system, where they sign artists using the data from its distribution service and artists get to keep 100% of their masters.

We chat for an Industry Insider interview with Diego Farias, CEO & Co-founder of Amuse about the company and his pathway in the music business. He got his start at an e-commerce company in Sweden and then went to work for Warner Music. Leaving there, he helped found Amuse, which has grown into the company it is today.

Magnetic: How did you get into the music business?

Diego Farias: I actually started out working for an internet e-commerce company in Sweden, which was later acquired by eBay. In 2010, Spotify had just entered the market in Sweden and Warner Music hired me to run digital marketing and sales. I think one of the key factors of recruiting me was that I came from a tech and marketing background, rather than a traditional music one. I was at the right place at the right time, a transformation was taking place in Sweden where the traditional record industry was shifting to a fully streaming one and I’ve stayed in the music industry ever since.

What is the problem that Amuse is trying to solve?

We started Amuse in 2015 with the ambition to drive change in an industry that was broken and plagued by legacy structures. We saw an opportunity to provide artists with access to tools and knowledge that can help them grow and manage their careers, on their own terms while keeping 100% of their master rights.

We’re passionate about building a new generation of artist services to address the financial and administrative pain points that self-releasing creatives face today - from getting music out in the smoothest way to giving quicker access to streaming royalties and making it easier to collaborate and share data among artist teams.

How is Amuse different from other music distributors?

I think the fundamental difference is our approach to technology and data and how it can be used to empower artists, fans, and creatives. For us, it’s a way to build scalable services that help artists of all sizes to lead their creative careers. We also use our access to the data generated by our distribution platform to discover, sign, and build rising talent.

What lessons did you learn from the major label machine, good and bad, that you have applied at Amuse?

We saw the major label machine as broken, for artists of all sizes, and it’s why we wanted to fix it. Artists are building their own careers, and for us, it’s natural that they should own their masters and have the opportunity to grow without having to sell the rights to their work.

Today, music discovery is increasingly taking place through social media instead of traditional label-led music promotion channels. There’s an entire generation of creators that have found success on YouTube and TikTok by themselves and signing with a label and forking over 70-80% of their royalties doesn’t resonate with them.

We’re focused on helping artists breakthrough, on their own terms. For example, rappers Lil Tecca and Flo Milli broke through with music released through Amuse, and Lil Nas X originally uploaded “Old Town Road” through Amuse, whose software managed to discover the track four months before its big break.

What is the future role of the majors?

Traditionally, being signed to a label has been seen as the next step of an artist's career, but that’s simply no longer the case. Independent artists can now do a lot of the things that only labels could 10 years ago and that makes them question traditional structures like selling their rights or losing control of their projects.

While major labels still dominate the charts to a high degree, we’re living in a moment of monumental change. For example, we are seeing a paradigm shift in Sweden where the share of independent music on the charts is rivaling that of the majors. In 2020, the share of independent music distribution on Sweden’s Spotify Top 50 rose as high as 38% driven by self-releasing artists, a majority of them Amuse users such as rappers Dree Low and Yasin.

For some artists, I’m sure that majors are and will continue to play a big role. However, they shouldn’t be allowed to dictate the rules of a whole creative industry. The way artists are creating and releasing is evolving, and the way fans find and engage with their music is too. We’re dedicated to helping build a better structure, where they have the possibility to thrive on their own terms.

What are some features that Amuse will look to add in the future?

We’re always working on improving our services - from adding more stores to our distribution service to making it even easier to track and understand how music is performing. When it comes to bigger features, we’re very much into finding ways to make it easier to navigate the industry for self-releasing artists and their teams. For example, we just re-launched our royalty advance service, called Fast Forward, to include collaborators.

 Our apps now allow eligible producers, managers, and other creators working with an artist to advance themselves future earnings on their royalty splits, which is crazy smooth when you look at other services out there. I’ve been really passionate about this, as collaborators are such an important part of the music creation and release process. I hope we can launch more functionality for them really soon.

What happens if an artist takes an advance out on future royalties and then never recoups? Are there limits on what one can be loaned?

It’s actually a very simple and artist-friendly service. Our algorithms use streaming data to calculate and serve each eligible artist with a personalized offer, ranging from as low as 50USD to 300,000USD. We don’t charge artists for any money they don’t make back, and since the risk is on us our system makes sure its calculations are on point. Artists are not able to move their music to another distributor while in an active recoup process though, but they still own 100% of their masters and can do what they want with their music rights.

How does Amuse decide who gets a contract?

Our label works with a global but curated selection of artists, ranging from Turkish trap powerhouse Serhat Durmus, to Latin Grammy award-nominated Colombian singer Soy Emilia and major players within the exploding Swedish hip-hop scene. Whilst the genres may differ, our signed artists tend to have one thing in common. They’re part of a new generation of artists, the internet is their playground and they’ve been able to release and build the foundation of their careers on their own.

Amuse was founded on the idea that if we could get a lot of breakthrough artists to use our distribution service, we would be able to use the streaming data they generate to discover breaking talent. Our digital A&R interface, Lil Data, (a homage to all the SoundCloud rappers out there) lets us monitor the talent using our platform and catch them just when they’re starting to make waves. We get in touch with them to see if our artists' services can help them grow even faster, and build a partnership rather than a traditional record deal.

When Amuse decides to offer an artist a record contract, what are some of the perks that artists get? What backing do they get?

Our label offers most artist services, from financing to playlist pitching. We always look at what each signed act is in need of and build custom partnerships based on that. Sometimes it’s just playlist pitching, sometimes it’s larger strategic partnerships that involve our global network of contacts and promoters. We also only work with licensing agreements and never buy artists’ masters.

How does publishing work with Amuse, notably mechanical royalties?

At the moment, we only work with royalty payments to the artist and don’t offer publishing services to our distribution users.

How does Amuse make money?

We have a free distribution tier, but on top of that, we offer additional paid services to help artists further build their careers on their own terms. Our label services and Fast Forward are two examples, as well as our subscription-based Pro tier, which offers more functionality to help artists and their teams grow their careers independently including royalty splits, team accounts, multiple artist profiles, quicker releases, and support.

How have you seen the pandemic impact your business?

It’s been tough to see how the pandemic has hit music, primarily the artists and live industry. We’re all relying on music and culture to soothe our minds during these crazy times, and it’s become very apparent how unfairly distributed revenue and power are across the industry.

However, the pandemic seems to also be accelerating many trends that we were already seeing in the industry around growth and democratization. Now with artists self-isolating at home, independent musicians seem to be creating more music than ever. We’ve seen a big uptick in music creation among independent artists. Our DIY artist uploads rose 300% in March 2020 compared to 2019.

Our focus has been to launch tools and resources so independent artists can continue to release music and build their careers, along with tools that facilitate collaboration so artists can finish projects or find new ways to work together.

What attributes and qualifications does Amuse look for in new employees?

We look for curious and passionate people that support our vision to redefine the future of the music industry. Even though our HQ is located in Stockholm, Sweden, we’re proud to have employees that hail from all over the world.

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