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Making Music During a Pandemic: The British Music Startups Which Thrived to Champion Creatives

Elmira TanatarovaLists
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Musician performing in London. Image courtesy of Tim M via Shutterstock.

There is no question that the pandemic has hit certain industries harder than others. Some, such as the food delivery sector, have found themselves flourishing, while others have suffered - some past the point of recovery.

One industry that took a major hit with the pandemic is live entertainment, and specifically musicians who rely on concert revenue. That isn't to say the music industry as a whole has suffered. On the contrary, the way we consume music has made it into such a diverse industry that it's unclear what the true effect on the sector is as a whole, especially in the UK.

One the one hand, live music plays an imperative part in British culture. On the other hand, the UK has comfortably dominated the streaming scene, which has been booming for the past few years and continued to grow over the pandemic.

According to a report by The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP), over 300 British artists are already achieving more than 100 million global streams and one in every 10 songs streamed around the world in 2020 was by a British artist. The report says that the share of global streaming (10.1%) is more than four times greater than its share of global GDP (2.2%).

The Org looked at three British music startups that thrived during the pandemic and are worth keeping an eye on going forward.

Pirate Studios

Born in Bristol in 2014 and raised in London, Pirate Studios is now an international operation with more than 700 24-hour studios around the world for producers, vocalists, DJs, band members, dancers and podcasters. Pirate has locations in major creative hubs across the U.S. as well, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

While clubs and live gig opportunities have been if not unfeasible then illegal, Pirate has been able to keep going by championing creatives and giving them COVID-safe spaces where they can explore making content and art in an atmosphere designed to stimulate them. It has also championed online musician communities.

A 2021 report by the company found that some 70% of DJs have had to retrain in another job skill to make ends meet during the pandemic, with 67% of DJs turning their hand to music production while others turned to platforms such as Twitch to live stream their sets.

Co-founder David Borrie told The Org that moving forward the company wanted to do much more charity work and build the brand as one which gives back to the many communities it serves.

“The pandemic has been a difficult time for the creative community. With venues closing and gig opportunities on hold, a lot of musicians, DJs, producers and dancers have lost their primary source of income,” he said.

The company has partnered up with Small Green Shoots, The National Lottery and Sony Music Social Justice Fund to launch The National Youth Studio Fund - a joint initiative that provides studio access to charities who use music as a tool to improve young people’s lives. The fund will provide studio time, tools and teaching to promote the accessibility of resources in the arts and creative industries.

Lickd

This digital platform is helping YouTube creators use good music legally by providing commercial music from labels for licensing without getting a claim on their content. Lickd is the first ‘claims-free’ chart music licensing platform for social video creators, and it also works alongside musicians to make sure they are paid fairly for their work.

The platform allows creators to legally license music for use in their content whilst its underlying proprietary software, Vouch, works within the YouTube API to discern between unlicensed usages and legally licensed usages.

In October of last year it partnered with the independent record label EMPIRE, which has worked with acts such as Snoop Dog, XXXTentacion and Tyga. According to the latest data available Lickd has over 25,000 chart songs available and has seen 100% month-on-month growth in creator sign ups and an 89% growth in licenses over the last quarter.

“With UGC platforms growing in number year on year and more and more influencers emerging across all of them, the need for legal licensing structures for music in content is clear and Lickd is at the forefront of this movement,” Lickd CEO and co-founder Patrick Sampson told The Org.

He added that over 8,000 labels and publishers have now partnered with Lickd to “enable legal licensing for UGC for the first time” including Universal Music, Warner Music Group, BMG, Empire, Kobalt and “thousands of others”.

“By the end of 2021, Lickd will have in excess of one million chart music songs live and available for license for the first time,” Sampson said.

After a seed funding round in 2018, Lickd secured a £1.7M investment with BMG in 2019. Sampson said the company’s current round received investment from “various industry luminaries” and, like the company’s previous rounds, it is being led by the Nick Mason Group.

Cuesongs

Cuesongs is a sync licensing company which represents hundreds of labels, publishers and independent artists for music licensing.

Director of Music Justin 'Commie' McMullen told The Org that during the pandemic the company was able to slow down and reassess its future.

“Being a young company that works on cash-flow, and having the funding and revenue suddenly looking much more insecure led us to look at the bigger picture and start negotiations with U.S. based company Songtradr, which is the world’s largest B2B music licensing marketplace,” he said.

He said working with Songtradr had really helped the company focus on growing the business in areas the team was passionate about, and it gave them the support they needed to capitalize on it.

“We are all too aware that the pandemic has been unbelievably challenging for people in our industry so we feel very blessed,” he said.

Cuesongs was Songtradr's first acquisition after closing its USD$30M Series C funding round in August 2020. In June, Songtradr also completed its oversubscribed USD$50M Series D funding round which brought the company’s total funding to date to over USD$100M. The company is now valued at over USD$300M.

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