Roughly a year and a half since the company's launch, UnitedMasters has its first-ever president. Founder Steve Stoute has tapped music and tech maven Lauren Wirtzer-Seawood to head the independent distribution startup, Billboard can exclusively confirm.
Seawood joins UnitedMasters' Brooklyn headquarters after a three-year-plus stint at Instagram, where she focused on leveraging technology to help artists reach fans as the platform's head of music partnerships. Prior to that, she spent more than two years as head of digital at Beyoncé's Parkwood Entertainment, where she was instrumental in the surprise launch of the singer’s self-titled visual album.
But Seawood says it was just "a matter of time" before she'd end up collaborating with Stoute, with whom she first crossed paths years ago while both were working under Universal Music Group (Seawood at Def Jam; Stoute at Interscope). For Seawood, UnitedMasters' focus on artist empowerment — or "operationalizing independence," as Stoute has put it — felt like a natural fit.
"Over the last few years at Instagram, it became more obvious that an artist fundamentally has the ability to make that direct connection with their fans, and then monetize that over time," she explains. "UnitedMasters is essentially setting up exactly that. For those artists who are really looking for a way to manage their careers and take a different route from the traditional label model, UnitedMasters is providing that opportunity."
Intended as an alternative to the major-label system, UnitedMasters is distinguished by its promise that artists retain full ownership of their master recordings — artists sign up for free with UnitedMasters to distribute their music, after which the company collects 10 percent of royalties.
Since its November 2017 founding, the startup has partnered with emerging acts like "Shotta Flow" rapper NLE Choppa and even tapped 2 Chainz as an early test subject. Today, the company has more than 45,000 registered artists onboard.
“Lauren is a modern visionary in the music and tech industries," Stoute adds. "Her deep understanding of both ecosystems makes her perfectly suited to steer UnitedMasters as it rewrites the narrative of what it means to be an artist today. Lauren has always been a trailblazer and will be integral to the continued growth of UnitedMasters. I could not be more excited to welcome her to our team.”
As she settles in, Seawood will focus on generating awareness about the platform, "so we can amass as many users as we can." She'll also spearhead the launch of the official UnitedMasters app, and boost brand partnerships with the company's artists. Late last year, UnitedMasters inked a global deal to soundtrack the NBA's digital channels with music exclusively from UnitedMasters-distributed artists.
"We’re really trying to focus on getting as many artists that are interested in pursuing an independent model onto the platform," she adds. "It’s really an effort to establish the UnitedMasters brand as an industry alternative."