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Techstars Music Demo Day 2020 Goes Virtual to Showcase New Class of Startups

Techstars Music Class
Matt Fang

Techstars Music Class of 2020 CEO's. L-R: Andrew Beck - Elastic Audio; Tiffany Guan - Delta; Grant Dexter - Fanaply; Dani Van de Sande - ULO; Blaise Thomas - Splashmob; Ian Simon - Strangeloop Studios; Greg Delaney - Entertainment Intelligence; Armen Nazarian - Audigo Labs; Aivar Laan - Fansifter; Tom Impallomeni - Tribe XR

The annual event streamed exclusively on Billboard Pro on Tuesday.

On Tuesday (May 5), Techstars Music’s fourth annual Demo Day went virtual. Held every year at Neuehouse Hollywood to an audience of investors and music industry executives, the invite-only event showcasing 10 music and audio-focused startups was forced to move online for its 2020 edition due to the novel coronavirus. But the remote format couldn’t dampen the often dazzling feats of innovation on display.

Broadcast exclusively on Billboard Pro, the 90-minute streaming event featured presentations by the Techstars Music class of 2020, all of which were just off a three-month accelerator program that gave them access to capital (each startup received a $120,000 investment from Techstars Music) and over 300 mentors across the music, tech and venture ecosystems.

Watch the full Demo Day event here.

In kicking off the presentation, Techstars Music managing director Bob Moczydlowsky gave a shout out to the accelerator program’s member companies: Bill Silva Entertainment, Q Prime, eOne, Warner Music Group, Rekochoku, Peloton, Concord, Sony, Royalty Exchange and Avex. Representatives from each of these companies also made brief appearances during the streaming event.

“Our member companies…are not just sponsors of the program,” said Moczydlowsky in his opening remarks. “They’re investors in our fund and [are] our partners in running the program. They mentor…provide pilot opportunities, give advice [and] help us select companies.”

Later on in the presentation, Moczydlowsky announced that Amazon Music would be coming aboard as a member company for the 2021 program.

Since the first Techstars Music accelerator took place in 2017, participating companies have raised more than $88 million in follow-on capital. These successes include 2019 program graduates EmbodyMe, Replica and The Music Fund, all of which quickly completed seed rounds following their presentations last May.

Which companies from the 2020 class will make waves this year? Below, you can find a brief rundown of each of today’s presentations.

Strangeloop Studios

The visual content production company, which has collaborated with artists including The Weeknd, Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar, sparked to the possibilities of creating so-called “virtual artists” after working with masked performers Marshmello and Deathpact.

“It made us realize that fans identify as much with the persona and the idea of their favorite artists as they do with the human behind it,” said Strangeloop co-founder and CEO Ian Simon during his presentation. “Characters are bigger than any one person and they’ve become the most valuable properties in music.”

Now, Strangeloop is working on creating an entire universe of virtual artists that will be backed by 100% human-made music. During the accelerator, the company enlisted pre-existing Strangeloop clients Nosaj Thing, Justin Baretta and Autry Fullbright to craft music for the first round of characters, dubbed “Spirit Bomb.” Their hope is to create dozens of similar “universes” containing hundreds of virtual performers backed by established artists who will “go on tour,” spawn merchandise and be made available for licensing to other mediums.

Strangeloop hopes to draw audiences to these characters by enlisting artists with built-in followings, who will also benefit by generating new revenue opportunities outside their main album cycles -- all while leaving the hard work to their virtual alter-egos.

“Our artists can stream on Twitch 24/7, they'll get tattoos based on what you vote on social media,” said Simon. "We can't wait to see the efficiencies of a virtual artist coming into every single major market in a single night."

Audigo Labs

Former Tesla engineering manager Armen Nazarian founded Audigo Labs with the intent to make the process of recording, editing and sharing music easier and more portable than ever.

By integrating portable wireless microphones, a mobile app and a cloud-based data management platform, Audigo -- which also counts Bolt as an investor -- will allow performers to record professional-quality audio and video directly from their smartphones without the need for expensive equipment.

The technology has already been put into use; Nazarain’s presentation included footage of Audigo being utilized by popular podcasters the Sklar Brothers, rapper/producer Heno and Nigerian artist Teeklef, along with a demonstration of how the technology can be used to facilitate remote sessions between musicians.

Audigo plans to offer its recording technology at an affordable rate of less than $20 a month, with an option to scale up depending on the number microphones, amount of Cloud storage and level of collaboration.

Entertainment Intelligence (EI)

Entertainment Intelligence (EI) allows clients to build their own granular data sets based on data culled directly from streaming services like Spotify, YouTube and Pandora, as well as record labels and distributors including Sub Pop, Concord and Secretly Group (the latter category already collectively pays EI to manage their data to the tune of more than $500,000 a year).

During his presentation, EI founder and CEO Greg Delaney noted that the company will offer free data management for other music companies beginning today, with the goal of managing data representing 20% of the U.S. music market. “At that point, our machine learning model will extrapolate to a whole market view,” Delaney explained, which will then allow EI to market its product to labels, artist and tour managers, streaming services, brands and more.

On the back of that data, EI plans to build a model based on subscription products, deep-dive consultancy, bespoke development and the offering of a premium API for clients who aim to build their own data products to better target their music.

During the presentation, Delaney put forth a hypothetical scenario: A record label looking to market its Broadway soundtracks to listeners in the Philippines. By accessing EI’s data, the label would know who was listening, what platforms they were on and how to reach even more consumers in that specific market.

Elastic Audio

Described by CEO Andrew Beck as “a flexible, high-performance platform for creating rich, real-time audio,” Elastic Audio aims to provide a tool that can do for video game sound what real-time development platforms like Unity and Unreal Engine have done for graphics used in the gaming industry. Beck estimates a total addressable market of $2.3 billion annually.

“The driver behind this growth [of real-time development platforms] is that it's easy to create dynamic, universal graphic assets that you can use in any environment,” Beck explained. “We don't have that for sound.”

Beck added that the work of sound designers in the video game industry is overly time-consuming and complex, due to the fact that all of the tools at their disposal “live in walled gardens that don't talk to each other.” Using the company’s subscription-based desktop application, sound designers in the gaming industry can utilize plug-in architecture to insert Elastic Audio teach into the audio stream of each of those previously siloed tools, allowing for seamless, real-time updates between them.

Appearing during the presentation to vouch for Elastic Audio was award-winning sound designer and audio director Andrew Lackey, who noted that Elastic Audio would allow sound designers "to iterate rather than rebuild the systems that we've been building over all these years.”

Fanaply

With digital collectibles and virtual goods on the rise via such platforms and games as Twitch, Fortnite and Animal Crossing, Fanaply aims to do the same for the sports, music and entertainment industries.

Presented by CEO Grant Dexter, Fanaply helped prove out their model at last year’s Coachella, where they served as the festival’s official digital collectibles partner. That activation, which gameified the festival by making digital collectibles accessible inside the official Coachella app, garnered the participation of over 60,000 festivalgoers and awarded over 40,000 digital collectibles.

“Coachella called it the most successful first year digital marketing campaign in the company's history,” said Dexter, who noted that Fanaply will be returning to this year’s Coachella, which is now slated for October after being moved from its original date. (It has also conducted pilots with Ariana Grande and Travis Scott, among others.)

To generate revenue, Fanaply plans to partner with celebrities and athletes who wish to create official collectibles, which Dexter estimates would bring in anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 per partner. They’ll also continue licensing their technology to festivals, sports teams and others who wish to build it into their official apps, with the potential for $250,000 in licensing revenue per year.

Unidentified Landed Object (ULO)

Formerly an employee at Snapchat, where she worked in augmented reality, Unidentified Landed Object CEO Dani Van De Sande said her company will provide a global platform for short-form immersive experiences that can be used as promotional tools by artists, brands and more.

These proprietary, low-cost “micro experiences,” which can fit into a 1,000 square feet space (including merch and lobby area), are described as interactive shows featuring multi-sensory digital content projected into the real world. Van De Sande reported that a recent pilot with a major real estate company sold 1,000 tickets over the course of ten days, with ULO taking a 10% revenue share.

In addition to upfront fees and revenue shares, Van De Sande noted that revenue will also be generated by clients who buy ULO systems to house on their own properties and pay a recurring monthly content fee. She noted that digital versions that can be streamed over smartphones and other devices can also be developed for those who aren’t able to attend the experiences in person.

Van De Sande said that ULO is currently in talks with major labels, artists and locations for a 2021 rollout.

Tribe XR

Tribe XR is described as a virtual studio that can simulate the experience of learning how to operate DJ equipment. Anyone with access to a VR headset can enter this virtual space, along with a teacher, in order to learn DJ skills that are applicable to the real world.

Tribe XR customers can also collaborate on music with others inside the studio, upload it and even perform it virtually through integrations with Twitch and other livestreaming platforms. “You can play from a VR headset to anyone on any device,” said Tribe XR CEO Tom Impallomeni during the presentation.

Since beginning with Techstars Music, Impallomeni reports that Tribe XR is now up to $30,000 in monthly revenue from 16,000 customers and has been growing at 8% per week. “By the end of this year, we’re gonna hit a million dollars ARR as we launch our Tribe Pro subscription offering,” he added.

Impallomeni went on to point out that Tribe isn’t just applicable to DJing but can be adapted to virtually any practical skill, from musical instruments to dance to acting to filmmaking to fashion design. By 2024, the company plans to scale up to 15 skills, with revenue goals of $100 million annually in the next four years.

Splashmob

Splashmob plans to turn “distractions into engagement” with its self-serve second-screen experience platform, which allows artists to build unique, interactive audience experiences for viewers who tune in remotely to live or virtual shows. Through the Splashmob platform, artists can customize fans' viewing experiences using a variety of engagement tools, including polls, links to merchandise pages and social media accounts, games, lyrics and more.

As described by CEO Blaise Thomas, Splashmob employs a pay-per-use subscription model for the platform, which begins at free before offering a variety of upgrades that allow for increased customizability and add-ons.

To further entice clients and investors, Splashmob will be offering livestreams this afternoon and throughout the week to offer a closer look at what the platform has to offer.

Fansifter

This fan data management platform allows managers, labels, promoters and other rights holders to upload data sets for their artists that, when combined together, offer insights for those looking to target their advertising to their most valuable fan segments, down to the most granular level. This, said Fansifter CEO Aivar Laan, allows for greater cost efficiency in marketing spends.

Laan noted that Fansifter (which claims to be compliant with all privacy laws) is now conducting a pilot with the band Pixies, which is currently plotting a tour behind their latest album. “For the promoter, this gives lower cost, better performing ad buys against highly-targeted lookalike audiences in all tour cities,” said Laan. “And artists and labels can target music and merch to fans who go to these shows.”

The more data sets that are uploaded to Fansifter, the more valuable the platform becomes for culture marketers. “Imagine a car company who wants to hyper-target a video ad to dads who love ‘90s indie rock, went to three-plus live shows last year and also listen to Cardi B with their kids,” said Laan. “Only Fansifter will be able to create these hyper-accurate segments, and therefore capture a huge portion of the market.”

In the first phase of the rollout, promoters, labels, merch and ticketing companies will pay a monthly fee that can be scaled based on their needs. Once enough data is collected, the second phase will kick off, allowing consumer brands and other end users to, in effect, “rent out” audience segments for their ad campaigns through an “audience segment marketplace.” Eighty percent of money generated from these sales will go to the owners of the data, while Fansifter will take a 20% revenue share.

Delta AI

This startup’s technology is based around the idea that video remains frustratingly difficult to search, with only hashtags and keywords giving brands insight into who is engaging with their intellectual property.

“This is a huge problem,” said Delta AI CEO Tiffany Guan. “It means marketing teams can’t see what’s happening inside videos. It means they can’t accurately track trends or learn how audience are interacting with their products. And for IP holders, they don’t know the true volume of their copyrighted content that exists on platforms.” She noted that this lack of visibility wastes an estimated $20 billion in advertising spend each year.

Through Delta AI’s proprietary machine-learning technology, the company can spot audience engagement with brand logos, products and characters in any video. Delta AI’s “computer vision” technology can even “see” human movement, which would conceivably allow marketers with dance campaigns on platforms like TikTok to gauge the true scope of the campaigns’ success in a way that wouldn’t be possible with a hashtag search.

A recent pilot around the dance campaign for The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” dance challenge found that Delta AI was able to capture six and a half times more video than that turned up by metadata alone.

The company plans to charge a tiered monthly subscription for the use of its platform based on the number of IP assets being monitored and number of platforms that it searches, with a revenue potential of an estimated $36 million from the entertainment field alone. A beta launch is currently being targeted for early next year.

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