Business

Maestro Livestreaming Platform Raises $15M From Sony Music, Twitch's Kevin Lin & More

Courtesy of Maestro

Maestro, the white-label livestreaming platform which powered Billie Eilish's Where Do We Go? The Livestream pay-per-view concert in October, has raised $15 million in Series B funding to forward its mission of building the creator economy.

Sony Music Entertainment, Chinese internet technology giant NetEase and Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin are among the new investors, along with Acronym Venture Capital, Stadia Ventures and Moonwell Capital, the investment firm founded by former Activision Blizzard video game company executives Michael and Amy Morhaime. The round boosts Maestro's total funding raised to date to $22 million.

"The Billie Eilish stream was a major moment -- it [proved that] we could do a stream that big," Maestro founder and CEO Ari Evans tells Billboard. "From there, more of the music industry said, ‘We're going to see the dam break, and a lot more talent is going to be open to doing this.’ That has certainly happened."

Founded by Evans in 2015, Maestro allows artist and brand clients to build custom livestream experiences hosted on the website of their choosing, with the ability to add audience engagement tools like chat boxes and calls to action, and even integrate their merchandise stores thanks to a partnership with Shopify. Maestro charges creators in tiers based on usage, generally taking a cut of ticket sales plus a platform license fee.

After the pandemic-induced touring shutdown motivated the music industry to experiment with livestreaming, Evans says that Maestro more than tripled revenue in 2020, grew its team fivefold in the last six months and has paid out "millions of dollars" to creators who use its monetization tools (pay-per-view, subscriptions and e-commerce). Clients include artists like Melissa Etheridge (whose subscription-based livestream series through Maestro was reportedly raking in $50,000 a month in August), Erykah Badu, Sam Smith and H.E.R., along with companies like Epic Games, Microsoft, ViacomCBS, Universal Music Group and Adweek.

"We are pleased to be supporting the continued development of Maestro as part of our ongoing investment in new technologies that provide artists with cutting-edge tools and solutions for growing their careers," Sony Music Entertainment president, global digital business and U.S. sales Dennis Kooker said in a statement. "Maestro gives artists greater flexibility and control to build the most engaging and customized events for their fans, allowing creators at any stage of their career to put together a world class live stream event."

Added Acronym Venture Capital general partner Joshua Siegel: "Maestro is at the forefront of redefining the relationship of content owners and creators with their viewers. Instead of relying on incumbent distribution platforms, customers control the audience relationship directly and maximize engagement and monetization in a way that fits with their brand objectives. We are very excited by Maestro’s potential to be a fundamental driver in the growth of the creator economy."

The increased attention to livestreaming also upped the competition, though, spurring the launch of more than a dozen new livestreaming platforms into the still-nascent sector. Touring and tech giants are no longer sitting on the sidelines, either: Live Nation acquired a majority stake in Joel and Benji Madden’s popular platform Veeps in January, the same month YouTube launched its first paid access livestream with Blackpink.

So far, Maestro has set itself apart by emphasizing its tech know-how, five-year history in the livestreaming space and the easy-to-use, white-label format it terms the "Squarespace for livestreaming," positioning the company as a competitor to Twitch. Now, Evans tells Billboard that the new funding will go towards finding more ways to "evolve quicker than the competition"-- chiefly by expanding its customer base to serve artists at every level. "It shouldn't just be for the Billie Eilishs of the world." Maestro will introduce cheaper price plans ranging from around $20 to $100 per month, Evans says, and build out its engineering team to help make the platform as self-service as possible.

Evans argues that while the industrial revolution ushered in the business model of producing goods as cheaply as possible to sell to as many people as possible, today's creator-driven economy does the exact opposite: It allows creators to make a living doing what they love by identifying and then monetizing their core audiences. "If we enable that, I think it's such a powerful democratization," Evans says. "That’s the social impact that I want for our company."

To help spread that message, Evans will also direct the new funding toward scaling the company's sales and marketing teams. Finally, Maestro will soon announce new integrations with merchandise providers -- building on its existing partnership with Shopify -- and focus on helping artists create multi-day (or even multi-month) livestreamed events in place of one-off, flash-in-the-pan moments.

As for the impending return of physical touring, Evans is among a growing number of executives who predict that the music industry will adopt a hybrid model where artists add livestreamed experiences as separate tour dates, or simply offer tickets to livestream every in-person show. He emphasizes that livestreams give artists the ability to create experiences they never could with physical shows, from experimenting with augmented and virtual reality to selling exclusive merchandise and even digital memorabilia in the form of NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

"I think that you're going to end up with a more diverse and rich set of experiences that an artist can give you," Evans says. "You have your tour and then along the way, maybe once every six months or once a quarter, you're mixing in this different type of artistic expression."

Several existing Maestro investors also contributed to the round, including SeventySix Capital, The Strand Partners, Stadia Ventures, Hersh Interactive Group, Transcend Fund and technology executives Richard Gatchalian and Aaron Lewis.