Scott Vener sits on a burgundy sofa at the Palihouse Hotel in Hollywood, sipping coffee while scrolling through emails on his MacBook. Robert Pattinson and FKA Twigs sit nearby, but Vener’s unfazed. He was the music supervisor for the TV shows Entourage, How to Make It in America and 90210. Before that, the 44-year-old Encino, Calif., native worked as a talent scout at MTV, where he struck up friendships with Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake.
Wearing a faded HUF sweatshirt and tired Adidas, he looks more startup than Hollywood. The curator-cum-entrepreneur strums his beard, green eyes crackling with energy. “Do you want to see the trailer?” he asks.
He’s talking about the preview for the long-festering Entourage movie, on which he also worked as a musical supervisor. Before he hits “play,” his iPhone hums with an incoming text. Vener scans it and his eyes go cartoon-wide. There’s a problem with one of the songs in the trailer: A sample hasn’t cleared, just days before the teaser’s release.
Vener adjusts his cap, dials a number, speaks with a beatmaker. Five minutes later, he puts down the phone. The song will be swapped out, the trailer recut. His attention refocuses. “What was your question again?”
We had been discussing Undrtone, a new music-sharing platform that Vener created. Vener’s a classic Hollywood hustler: One week, he’s making headlines by tweeting about Kendrick Lamar‘s new unreleased single. The next, he’s on-set supervising sounds for an Acura car commercial. Tomorrow, he’ll sit at a table in Las Vegas, competing in the World Series of Poker. “Scott has the ear of some really influential people,” says Entourage creator Doug Ellin, who has known Vener for more than 20 years. “They trust his taste and judgment. He’s proven over time that he has a valuable voice.”
Undrtone aims to be a social-media platform for music fans. Piggybacking on the libraries of the on-demand streaming services Rdio, Spotify, SoundCloud and Beats, it allows its community to easily share tracks and playlists with other Undrtone users and “favorite” songs with a visual simplicity much like Instagram’s. “What’s missing right now is that there’s no conversation collectively happening,” says Vener. “Our goal is to aggregate all the cloud services and create a place where everybody can have a conversation, no matter what service you’re using. A play on our app is the same as a play on their services.”
This startup was born out of a friendship between Vener and Ben Johnston, the co-founder of Australian design firm Josephmark. “I’ve always been obsessed with tech, always been a nerd with computers,” says Vener. He and Johnston met in Beverly Hills while helping reboot Myspace, a gig Vener took after Timberlake texted and asked him to curate the site’s look and sound. Around the time Vener was clocking in at Myspace, he started making and sharing mixtapes using the cloud service Dropbox. “Ten new songs in your inbox every week,” he recalls. People started forwarding the mixes to friends and commenting. That format was an early model for Undrtone.
Right now, Undrtone is available in Apple’s App Store, soft-launched with about 20,000 downloads. Vener’s far from alone, though, in the burgeoning field of music-messaging apps: Competitors like Rithm, Boomio and Soundwave mine similar territory. Undrtone thus far is completely boot-strapped, though Vener says he is open to outside investors. “We will need help equity-wise,” he admits.
Vener says he learned about the startup world from the failure of Myspace (he left the company in 2014). And he’s confident that the design skills of Johnston and Josephmark mean he won’t have to lean on his famous friends to push the app. Still, his Rolodex doesn’t hurt.
This article first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of Billboard.