For independent artists, breaking out in the music industry has never been more challenging. With an influx of songs uploaded every day, lowering attention spans of listeners, and algorithms that favor more of the same old same old over indie acts looking to push boundaries, the music landscape for DIY artists can seem a bit desolate. That’s where UnitedMasters comes in with their new partnership with the NBA.
“Tens of thousands of new songs go up a day on these platforms and it’s getting harder and harder to cut through and stand out,” says Steve Stoute, esteemed businessman, former record executive, and founder of UnitedMasters. “By having a partnership like this, it provides the artists coming through UnitedMasters the exclusive opportunity to be discovered and get the attention and gain new audience and fans on a global level through the National Basketball Association.”
The partnership in question is a unique placement program, wherein indie artists will have the opportunity to have their music featured across the NBA’s myriad digital properties, including league and team social media accounts. “The NBA is not only using the music in their highlights and clips, and all of their footage, but they’re tagging the artist,” Stoute adds. “They’re giving the artist the credit, the notoriety, and then they’re going to point their fans to the actual playlist where the song is at.”
“At the end of the day, I’ve always believed in the power of the music and the artistry,” he concludes. “If we’re successful with what we’re building at UnitedMasters, you’ll be able to make a great living off of your music and your career. So, you can just focus on doing what you love.”
With their new NBA partnership, upcoming brand deals, and playlisting services, it sounds as if UnitedMasters is one of the few distribution companies moving with artist interests at heart. Hopefully, indie artists can enjoy the fruits of their efforts sooner rather than later.
DJBooth’s full interview with Steve Stoute, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Break down the UnitedMasters and NBA partnership for me.
Steve Stoute: The NBA is obviously a global platform, and it’s a global content engine. They have a social media following of over 1.5 billion across all properties and platforms. What I wanted to do, and what they wanted to do, was give these talented, independent-only artists the opportunity to use the NBA to be discovered and heard around the world. The NBA is not only using the music in their highlights and clips, and all of their footage, but they’re tagging the artist. They’re giving the artist the credit, the notoriety, and then they’re going to point their fans to the actual playlist where the song is at.
What I’m seeing today, in this very crowded marketplace, is music is coming out daily. Tens of thousands of new songs go up a day on these platforms and it’s getting harder and harder to cut through and stand out. By having a partnership like this, it provides the artists coming through UnitedMasters the exclusive opportunity to be discovered and get the attention and gain new audience and fans on a global level through the National Basketball Association.
What’s the process for the artist to get an NBA placement?
They submit the music to us, and we evaluate [it] and notify them if their song has been chosen for the NBA.
By the numbers, what can an NBA placement do for an indie artist?
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I look at the NBA as the new MTV.
Why is it important for indie artists to establish this connection to sports media?
Sports and entertainment are linked and have been linked for many years, specifically the NBA. The synergy between what musicians want and what the NBA’s audience is, and the audiences of these artists… I see the synergies and the connections between them both. That’s the key reason why I think it works. The other thing is, truly the massive reach of the NBA and the amount of views, so the amount of attention that’s caused as a result. There’s a sense of shared values around audiences, as well as the global reach, as well as the amount of views and attention that they bring. Having your music played behind LeBron’s dunk, or Steph Curry’s three-pointer and the NBA pushing this out is powerful.
People often think that get slotted into a streaming service playlist is the best way to get exposure. How does this compare?
I think it’s both. Playlisting is a great option for sure, but if you go to any distributor, they’re gonna tell you, “Oh, we’re gonna work on playlists.” That’s fine, but playlists are not enough! You need much more of an effort in order to cut through than hoping to get on a few playlists. My hope is that between the playlisting services that we provide at UnitedMasters, and then having this partnership at NBA, and other brand partnerships that we’re bringing to the table, that we’ll be able to provide our artists with a specific service that will let them cut through, be heard, stay independent, but also build an audience. I think that’s critical.
Right now, we’re in a critical moment where artists are able to do it themselves, get their music recorded, and go on many different platforms to get their song out there. The more opportunities you get to get exposure to different audiences, and the amount of repetition to those audiences, gives you a great opportunity to succeed.
This partnership sounds like the future of fan acquisition, bridging the gap between artists, influencers, and brands.
One hundred percent. If we do this right, and I suspect we will, that would be the trifecta.
Beyond exposure, why should artists focus on licensing opportunities?
Where your music is heard—the context in which your music is heard—helps provide the audience a better sense of what the artist’s intent is. I know for me, anytime I would see a song played in a particular scene in a movie, I would always see that film and it would bring me back to that feeling. Placements or licensing, whether it be film or sports, actually gives you a sense of emotional connection that starts to get deeper. Much more enriched. Licensing and promotion, when you can get your music around moments, and align with what your song is about, is very, very necessary and a deeper opportunity to engage your fans like you never have before.
So the partnership helps add cultural context to indie music.
Absolutely. Outside of that… I’ve always believed in the power of the music and the artistry. The greatest artists, the greatest songwriters, the bigger platform they have to get their music out there, the more successful they could be. They could have an opportunity to focus on their craft. For an indie artist, they have to work a job or do two or three things in order to do what you love. If we’re successful with what we’re building at UnitedMasters, you’ll be able to make a great living off of your music and your career. So, you can just focus on doing what you love.
What else can UnitedMasters offer indie artists looking to grow their audience?
We’re focused on exposure and intelligence. We’re trying to get exposure, brand partnerships. Those are critical to young artists who are breaking in the industry. There’s no school for this, right? Starting off young, putting your music out there, you’re hoping that it catches a buzz, you’re creating a fan base. How do you keep that fan base? How do you monetize them? When should you be posting? What should you be doing? When do you start making merch? There’s so many questions that artists want to ask, and I firmly believe that if we are the place that they can go get some education, also get their music streamed and have an opportunity to get exposure, then we are a step in the right direction for you to do what you love.