Daniel Waithe, a former music business exec and long-time technologist, recalled growing tired of the “Google maze” when looking for emerging talent. Why wasn’t there a platform to minimize the excessive barriers of introducing artists to people who want to pay for their work? A need was found. Kovered was born.
Kovered offers a two-way platform for artists to monetize their work, serving as both social media network and marketplace. It is a LinkedIn, of sorts, for musicians who want to connect with companies and marketing agencies. Kovered’s technology streamlines search through a host of categories, while also making it easy for creative directors and producers to find the perfect artist or track to license for their next campaign.
For Hypepotamus, Waithe and his product development and marketing leaders, Larry Stewart and Dameon Pope, discuss how they are leveraging their robust careers to create a music matchmaking service that empowers both creatives and companies.
How did Kovered come together?
Daniel: It all started in New York. The original idea was, born through frustrations I felt when I worked in the music business. I was trying to find new artists, new amazing acts, and found myself stuck in a what we call the Google maze, which is Googling, and just getting lost. It was long and ineffective. I, thought, there has to be a better way to do it.
So, I started by building a product that solved this pain point, and then we pivoted, and pivoted, and pivoted. I began to build a strong management team that included my college roommate, Joe Smart and my long time friend Rodney Cummins, both of which had many years in the music business. I then moved the business to Atlanta and brought on Larry Stewart, who’s an entrepreneur and [has been the] head of product for many companies. He then introduced us to Damian Pope, who’s a marketeer, with twenty years in the business with some big brands.
How does the platform work?
Dameon: Kovered has two primary parts to the platform. One is the part that allows people to be able to go in and actually find emerging artists. It is sort of like a LinkedIn of sorts where people can go in and look at profiles and see people’s experiences and value. We see an artist’s true value as more than just their body of work, but also in the campaigns they’ve been apart of, the project they created and even their appearances.
On the other side of the platform, we have the ability for marketing agencies to be able to actually go in and manage the process that’s required in order to facilitate a full licensing agreement, as well as other complex components that go into actually building out creative campaigns, ads and other stories that need music to come alive.
There’s two parts, there’s discovery and there’s a workflow management piece.How have people been using it so far?
Daniel: So, right now, I don’t want to call it a private beta. But, we are in beta. So, what we have been doing is hand selecting artists that we find are really amazing. Some of our favorite local emerging bands, that are doing really cool things as well as other very strong emerging artists. We then use our brand relationships to make a connection. So, the way people are using it today is in a very guided, hand held experience. What we’re finding is early validation that there’s tons, and tons of opportunity in the market. Brands are constantly looking for artists, and artists are constantly looking for ways to make money. And our platform, as we’ve learned, is the first to actually bring those two together. And we’re seeing some really good early traction.
Dameon: So, when I talk to some of my clients and brands that are out there. The first thing that they say is “Oh, my god, I can’t believe you actually realize that this was a problem …”
Before something like this came along, the approach was very manual. It was beyond the Google searches. It was also being in the know with every record label, and every talent show that was in the market, to be able to find and see what the next big thing is, in terms of artists.
So, we’ve been able to streamline that and simplify it in a way that I don’t think anyone’s seen before. Not yet anyway. So, as we start to roll this thing out we think there’s going to be a lot of attraction pretty quickly. To be able to [put] people on to the platform and then actually get people to be able to use it to search for artists that they’re looking for.
What’s your road map to getting the word out about Kovered?
Dameon: So, I think the easiest way to kind of think about it is that we’ve got a pretty significant push strategy to be able to get as many artists onto the platform as possible. So, we’re actually sourcing the market, looking at all the different artist associations, looking at all the different labels, and we’re finding what we consider is one of the best of the best talent. Curating in a way, that we have a ton of artists for people to be able to go on and search.
On the other side, with the agencies as well as with the brands and some of the other folks that we’re talking to. It’s sort of a similar approach, there are only probably thirty agencies in the country, that are ultimately doing what we look for them to do. But, they’re commanding over $347 million a year of licensing agreements that they’re responsible for. Negotiating is all part of their work.
And so, going out to reach them is ultimately a matter of a phone call and a conversation with the right people, at the right level to be able to get them on board and get them excited.
There’s some things we’re doing in New York as well. In terms of sponsorships. We’re actually going out and connecting with influencers who are connected with artists, from DJs to producers, and some of these other guys who are subject matter experts in this space. We’re saying to these trendsetters, “Hey, make sure your artists are coming onboard. Make sure they are aware of us, because we’re actually giving them opportunities to be able to find new avenues to be able to make money.” So, the propositions are pretty easy.”
Our job is going to be pretty easy. In terms of letting people know, why this thing exists and what it’s all about.
What’s your revenue model?
Daniel: We have several streams in which we plan to collect on. Number one is we’re going freemium for artists. So, artists can join the platform and use it successfully without any cost. But, if they want to opt into some of our more premium features and get higher exposure, they can pay for it at a very small price point.
Beyond that, we do take eight percent of all engagements that we do. And any renewals on engagements we take five percent of.
For SMB’s looking to use the platform to access our curated database of artists, $299/month gets them access.
So, why Atlanta? Obviously, New York has a story, but then Atlanta has a great music history too.
Daniel: It does, and I mean it’s one of the meccas, right? You can’t ignore Atlanta, when you talk about music!
I’m from New York. That’s where it started. You can’t ignore New York either. I mean, reality is, California, New York, Atlanta and Memphis are the areas we think about when we think music. We have a presence in New York, we have presence in Atlanta, so those are really key for us. Three of our founding members are here in Atlanta … So, it’s important, obviously that we have strong stake here. But, music and Atlanta are synonymous, right?
Dameon: And I think what’s powerful about the platform is that it’s able to breakdown a lot of those distributional, regional walls, that exist in music. Where in one point, if I were responsible for finding talent in Atlanta, the only place I would probably look is Atlanta; but, we’re actually giving people the opportunity to go and find talent in LA, and New York, and in Chicago, and Philly, and anywhere else the talent might be. I think it’s powerful that we are giving them access to be able to work with agencies, that are not necessarily, or brands that are not necessarily in their market.
You guys have a really strong technology background, can you speak a little about how that’s playing into the building of this?
Daniel: Yeah. Really, really good question. I believe collectively we have well over thirty-five years in technology.
We’re leveraging all that we’ve learned working with much larger companies, like Oracle, CitiGroup, and even some startups here in Atlanta. We’re looking at best practices and we’re leveraging them. Our CTO, is located in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He has over thirty years himself. He’s built out a strong development team, which we’re leveraging. So, we actually have eight full-time resources building our application every single day. We have a proven track record of delivering code quickly. Being fast and flexible are some of our major tenants as a company.What was it like to transition from successful, and, daresay, comfortable careers into entrepreneurship?
Larry: Just to say that, so where I got to the point when I was like, “Hey, I’ve always wanted to go back to being in an entrepreneur space.’ I’ve been an entrepreneur before; I’ve owned businesses. This is probably one of four that I’ve juggle around. I was like, “Wow, I need something that is substantial.” Getting me onboard was kind of easy, thinking, That’s great, I think there is a lot of runway that we can build with this. Then getting [Dameon] on was really interesting. We talked to him as an advisor. I was like, “Hey man, I just want you to feel out our idea for us.” And he made the point, at that point, “Hey, I’m not really the guy that you want to be on this. I’m cool with making my corporate money and I don’t need a check.” So, when he finally flipped the switch to, “Hey, I’m thinking about coming on board” And I was like, “Wow.” So, that was kind of a day where I was like, we really do have something. The guy who said he didn’t really want to do this is now interested, and sees the potential for it. I think was kind of the turning point to say, “All right, I think we actually have something that we can take to market.”
Dameon: What was interesting was, after talking to these guys, I started to talk to the creative directors and other folks, like the producers and some of the folks in the space. And I started to realize that, “Wait a minute, these deals are between ten thousand and a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a pop.”
And for each one of these deals, there’s somebody getting a percentage or a portion of that that’s out there. We started digging into this space of branded entertainment and realized just how huge it was. It’s 1.4 billion dollars space with a large sliver of it that’s focused on just music alone; and so, for me it was exciting to be able to say, “Wait a minute, this is … This thing could be real. This isn’t just sort of a nice to have. This is something that has a strong business around it.”
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2016?
Daniel: End of 2016, we need one million dollars in seed money. We want to bring ten thousand cultivated and amazing independent artists onto our platform.
Larry: We’ve built out the matching component of our platform. We still need to add in others. There’s a legal component, so a modular contract that happens on the platform. A payment system that needs to be built out, is another component of that, I think, once we get passed that, we’ve talked about probably the music side of this, but we want to go beyond music. This is a platform for creatives. Making sure that we’re able to do this for the different types of creatives is key.. What provide value for photographers, actors, and other people who produce content that we haven’t explored yet. So, that research still needs to happen, and we need to start building out the application to make sure it accommodates all the different types of creatives that we want to add.