Matt Urmy’s career as a singer-songwriter was growing when he recognized a flaw in the music industry.
“We were starting to take meetings with more sophisticated potential business partners, artists, managers, and agents. And the more of those meetings we took, the more we realized that despite having growing attendance at shows…we hadn’t yet put together the fundamentals of a business in the back office,” Urmy told Hypepotamus. “I realized the only way me or any of my friends were going to succeed at being artists was to start behaving like entrepreneurs.”
It’s not enough to hope a music video goes viral or a song hits a top Spotify playlist. Artists today have to think about themselves as a “one-person media company,” said Urmy.
That’s the space where Artist Growth initially got off the ground. The prototype and beta version of the app went out in 2012 to help indie artists manage their careers. But Urmy, serving as the founder and CEO of the Nashville startup, realized an even bigger opportunity. Large media companies and management agencies also deal with painful workflow problems. In order to keep track of all the artists they work with, major labels need a single place to track promos, schedules, and marketing growth.
Household names across the music industry have taken note. Artist Growth, serving as a cloud-based, single source of truth “HQ” for a company’s operational data, has attracted large clients like Sony, Universal and Warner Music Group.
That data is key for big labels, added Urmy.
“A record company is very much like a venture capital investor,” he said. A record label needs to not only be able to track spending, but know exactly how that budget is translating into growth on a market-by-market basis in order to figure out how to scale an artist successfully.
“They’re looking at engagement,” he said. That might be digital or in-person engagement created by a content creator or artist they’ve signed.
Creating a hit in Nashville
While Urmy sees a lot of overlap between the music industry and the entrepreneurial scene, he admits the transition into a startup founder was still difficult.
“Feeling like I was abandoning my creative side as an artist by starting to focus on the business stuff…that was really uncomfortable initially,” he told Hypepotamus. But once he recognized how necessary it was to bring fundamental business mechanics to creatives, he knew it was something he had to dive into full-time.
While the team is currently focused on the enterprise side of the music industry, Urmy says the team is hopeful that soon it will be able to bring a lot of their services back directly to smaller artists.
“[To be] able to serve the the artist community, now broadly referred to as like the Creator Economy, we had to have a sustainable business that wasn’t 100% dependent upon those cash strapped artists as the entire revenue base…but one day we’re going to be able to circle back to this artist community and offer them a lot of this for free.”
The music industry has been flipped on its head with streaming, social platforms, and the rise of Web3 and interactive media. Anyone can create music on their laptop and distribute it via a smartphone. That makes it even more important for artists to have strong business fundamentals in order to build a strong brand.
“I think the lines are now really blurred between the music industry, the live entertainment industry, and the digital media industry. Artists who might 10 years ago have just been singer songwriters, now are filming for YouTube or Tik Tok,” he added.
Venture capital has followed that trend and money is pouring into the wider creator economy sector. For Artist Growth, that includes taking on a venture round in 2021 and a seed round in 2013. The wider creator economy has brought in $2.5 billion in venture capital funding, according to The Information.
Urmy says that as the Creator Economy expands, Artists Growth’s mission becomes more important.
“For me, it always boils down to no matter what tools are available to [artists] to promote themselves, to connect with audiences, to make music, to make art…ultimately won’t be very effective if [artists] don’t understand the basics of what it means to run a business,” Urmy added. “If they’re not looking at it through that lens, they’re always going to be starving and always dependent on other people to help them get there. And that’s a really scary place [to be] if our world’s artists are the people who shape culture and they shape our society’s views in so many ways aren’t empowered to do things their way because they’re dependent on others. That’s a really risky future.”