Maker Studios was created to change how video is made in the YouTube era. Now the company has taken its biggest step into music.
Musician Mike Tompkins, a songwriter and interpreter of Top 40 pop hits, is the first musician to partner with Maker Music Network. His new single, "Stand Up," is featured in the marketing for the documentary "Bully." The song is available through the Maker Music imprint at iTunes and other download stores and streaming services.
Tompkins is unusual in that he creates entire songs using just his voice and mouth. It's an effective approach on a platform that often rewards novelty, but Maker isn't looking for just flash-in-the-pan artists, says Courtney Holt, the former president of MySpace Music who joined Maker Studios last year. "We're looking at long-term artist development. This isn't just about who's hot or something viral."
Founded in 2007 by Dan Zappin, Lisa Donovan and Ben Donovan, Maker has grown to over 600 million views per month from over 400 channels. Its featured talent includes RayWilliamJohnson, Kassem G, The Game Station, NicePeter's "Epic Rap Battles of History" and actress/comedian LisaNova.
Partnerships with Maker allow artists to use the company's production facilities and receive development help and marketing support. In return, artists get an unspecified share of the advertising revenue generated on the YouTube channel.
The company's track record and potential has won it some powerful supporters along the way. Maker had three channels when YouTube announced it would put $100 million into 96 channels of original programming last November. Venture capital firms such as Greycroft Partners and GRP Partners have put $4 million into the company. "They know this model of YouTube production and distribution better than anybody else that I've met in my five years in Los Angeles," GRP Partners' Mark Suster wrote on his blog in December.
YouTube has changed how artists on a budget can build a following and attract corporate attention. Epic Records signed Karmin after the U.S. duo built a huge YouTube following with covers of well-known pop songs. The Back Dorm Boys, two roommates at a university in Guangzhou, China, started gaining attention back in 2005 for their humorous lip-syncing videos of songs by the likes of the Backstreet Boys and Chinese artists. Public appearances and endorsement deals in their homeland followed.
YouTube videos have evolved since the Back Dorm Boys taped themselves singing along with "I Want it That Way." Maker can help artists turn out inexpensive, effective music videos because the company is entirely built around production, says Holt.
"Everyone's making [something] every day," he said. "We produced Mike's video with our team. And because we've got teams of people that are experts in production, we can do high-quality production for lower costs. We have studios. We have a music studio. We have all the resources you would need to go end-to-end with a project."
But an artist will need plenty of momentum before partnering with Maker. Tompkins amassed 77 million YouTube views and over 465,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel joining the company. "We look for people who have both something we can make better and bigger, and vice versa -- someone who can understand what role Maker plays in their world," says Holt. "Maker is really good at helping you take a platform you already have and making it that much bigger and that much better."