Songwriter Bruce Roberts and Tech Adviser Greg Mertz, Business Veterans, Shepherd LANDR to Success
Music-industry veterans know Bruce Roberts as the socially connected author of songs recorded by Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand and Dolly Parton, and the songwriting partner of former Warner Music Group owner Edgar Bronfman Jr.
To Justin Evans, the co-creator and Chief Creative Officer of LANDR, one of the most buzzed-about DIY music production apps on the market, Roberts and his business partner Greg Mertz are “super disruptive advisers.”
Launched in 2012, LANDR is drag-and-drop software that masters songs in minutes or less and costs $39.99 a month for unlimited usage. According to Evans, more than 2 million songs have been mastered using the app, including the dance remixes for Lady Gaga’s Oscar-nominated “Til It Happens to You” and Gwen Stefani’s “Make Me Like You,” a song that required last-minute post-production before it was used in a Target-sponsored live music video during the Grammy Awards telecast. That 2 million figure should be jumping upwards soon following SoundCloud’s May 25 announcement that subscribers can sync their accounts with a LANDR microsite, master their songs for free and upload them to the streaming platform.
Roberts and Mertz weren't involved in the Soundcloud deal, but Evans gives the duo mad props for the music industry's rapid adoption of his company's tech. “We wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are right now without them,” he says.
In January 2014, LANDR was a six-employee start-up about to raise its first round of venture capital when Evans gave a lecture about the app at Stanford University in California. Mertz, who is Warner Bros. Records’ lead adviser for technology initiatives as well as a partner with Roberts in the tech consulting firm Chalkboard Music, was on campus "looking for early-stage investment opportunities," he says. (Roberts and Mertz have strong ties to Stanford, particularly its Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics).
Mertz sat in on Evans' lecture and liked what he heard. “Greg called me after the lecture and told me about the company’s AI and it blew me away,” says Roberts, whose credits include Streisand and Summer’s duet “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” and Laura Branigan’s “The Lucky One” and three solo albums of his own. "I recognized the impact it could have on our industry, and we immediately became active in developing the opportunity with Justin."
Chalkboard operates out of Warner Bros. Records, and Roberts and Mertz brought Evans and his technology to the attention of CEO Cameron Strang, which led to Warner Music Group becoming the lead strategic investor in the company's Series A financing round. (LANDR is hardly WMG's only tech investment. The label group has been similarly forward-thinking in its investment in the high-resolution audio format Master Quality Authenticated, or MQA.)
Roberts and Mertz were then asked to come on board as early advisers to LANDR, and Evans says the duo has "been incredible door openers for us," helping the company establish relationships with Walt Disney Records, composer Hans Zimmer's Remote Control Productions, Interscope, Glassnote Records and ASCAP.
"With something as disruptive as what we're doing, the adoption curve is the hardest, and they've been pounding the pavement with us," says Evans, who now employs 60 people. "They were super strategic about who they put us in touch with, but they also lent us credibility by being in the room with us."
Roberts and Mertz tell Billboard that they are currently working with two other start-ups: the virtual reality distribution service Littlstar and Incoming Media, an Intel-backed mobile video-content transmission technology. In 2015, they also created, with Strang, the Stanford Warner Music Leadership Initiative, a fellowship program which fosters tech innovation for the music industry.
Roberts recalls that Chalkboard's relationship with Stanford is the result of a chance encounter at the Vanity Fair Oscar party a few years back. "We saw a woman parading around in strange futuristic glasses that had a light flashing at intervals." When the men approached her to ask about the eyewear, she explained that they were a prototype for a new product that her husband, "an engineer at Google," was working on. The songwriter says that when he and Mertz told her about their "mission to create a tech-forward path within music, she offered to help. The woman, Roberts says, turned out to be "Anne Wojcicki, the then-wife of Google co-founder and Stanford alum Sergey Brin."