Shav Gargo and Connor Lawrencethe CEO and COO of indify respectively, met in the fourth grade when both played on the Little League championship baseball team in Scarsdale, NY. A decade later, in 2015, the pair, along with Lawrence’s pre-K classmate and future indify chief technology officer Matt Paviafounded the company in the basement of Garg’s childhood home and over the next seven years grew into one of the most disruptive and improbable successes in the music business.
Indify is an angel investment platform that matches strategic investors with songs from emerging talent who, using proprietary data, have identified as ready for a breakthrough, but in need of financial and marketing resources. Investors in the company include: Kerry Trainorthe former CEO of SoundCloud and Vimeo; Anthony Saleh, the manager of Nas and Kendrick Lamar; and Courtney Stewartwhich Khalid manages through Right Hand Music Group. Josh Feshbacha partner in artist management and financing company Thrice Cooked Media, and Golden Kids Group Management CEO Nick Mueller are among those who have invested in talent.
Unlike labels, indify doesn’t require acts to sign long-term contracts or give away ownership of their songs. Instead, artists give their investors a percentage of streaming royalties for the songs they collaborate on — often just one song — and indify takes 15% of the investor’s share of the profit after repayment.
While indify has a relatively low profile, some of the biggest names in finance and music are boosters, including Reddit founder and one of indify’s early investors, Alexis Ohanian, who regularly posts raves on the platform in support of shock pop singer Leah Kate. Her song “10 Things I Hate About You” has earned over 43 million Spotify streams since its April 22 release.
Garg’s partnership with Ohanian also began at a sporting event: an elevator pitch at the US Open. “I remember seeing Alexis tweeting something like, ‘I wish I could invest in Lizzo Enterprises’ on Twitter,” he says. “So I tweeted back to him, and I was like, ‘Invest in the next one on indify!’ A mutual friend of Garg and Ohanian’s pointed out the tweet to Ohanian, and Garg was invited to make a five-minute pitch at the tennis match.”I told Alexis that investing in music can be safe, and he told me I’m a madman.” person,” Garg says with a laugh.
Indify was initially capitalized by the $25,000 prize that Garg won at a Colgate University incubator program, but the idea was a byproduct of the then 21-year-old trio of friends and their love of music discovery. As they delved into 2DopeBoyz, Good Music All Day, Ill Roots, and other music blogs, they felt the need for a more democratized way for A&R executives to find new artists without those artists needing to know “the right people.” During an internship with Warner Music Group, Garg said he saw his supervisors use spreadsheets and manually monitor social media and streaming activity for a handful of new acts, but he was shocked that there was no better way to track and manage the data. prioritize.
The first iteration of indify was a business-to-business product marketed to label A&R departments promising to discover musical betting bubbling beneath the charts. Indify has since been repositioned as a platform designed to support independent acts rather than labels. After all, Garg is one – a singer-songwriter working on the handle of prettyboyshav.
“Artists are expected to do so much more for themselves, so in a way they become their own CEOs,” he says. “Artists on indify earn six, sometimes seven figures a year from their music, and they built that business themselves with strategic help. We think indify is a deal that is much better suited to today’s artist.”
Many companies claim to serve independent artists. What distinguishes indexing?
One thing that sets us apart is that I’m still an artist putting out music. My own music has always guided our vision. Seeing that artists were not discovered based on the merit of their work, but on who they knew, it felt so wrong. I also see Connor and Matt as artists in their own way – Matt’s technological skills and Connor’s writing skills are art too. So we built the company as young artists with a mission to help young artists.
Who was the first artist to discover indify?
In October 2015, a few months after Matt built the first version of indify, which followed 40,000 new artists, Connor said, “Shav, you should check out this artist at #55.” His name was Kai!, and we were like, “Who is this kid?” We had his music on repeat in the basement. He was at 60,000 SoundCloud plays and had less than 1,000 followers, but our tool noticed he was growing organically across the platform. We found his contact details and called him. He says, “I’m 17. I live in El Paso, Texas. I’m recording music on my cell phone. I uploaded my first song to SoundCloud about 25 days ago.” We helped him get into a Pigeons and Planes [blog] story we did call something like “20 artists that are going to explode.” He was super excited. Then he went to Atlanta; met his manager, Courtney Stewart; and changed his stage name back to his real name: Khalid.
What were some other early finds?
We had Billie Eilish at age 13. We had Post Malone in 2015. We were some of the first to release SoundCloud rap. We were some of the first to use bedroom pop as a genre. Eventually, most major labels subscribed to the tool, and it got to a point where we basically helped create bidding wars for certain artists. I remember a hip-hop artist whose deal was increased sixfold the next day after being featured on indify. That was the highlight of the first product, but it still didn’t feel like enough. That has brought us where we are now.
Why did you evolve from a business-to-business data tool to an angel investment platform?
We started to see that the artists who were in the top 100 on indify often had the same marketers behind them, the same access to funding, the same management teams, the same lawyers, and so on. We had helped democratize discovery, but it wasn’t enough. We hadn’t helped to equalize resources, and that’s always been our goal. We started looking at artists who were at an even earlier stage in their careers and what resources they needed. The best performers still didn’t beat those who had funding and marketing help. In reality, seven years ago, we talked about much of what we do today in the basement. AngelList was a beacon for us. We dreamed of a platform where strategic investors, similar to venture capital funds in technology, could directly support artists.
Who was the first artist you teamed up with to secure funding and resources?
Pink Sweat$. He’s currently in the top 500 in the world on Spotify, but when we met him, he hadn’t released any music yet. We knew he had a sharp manager who was great at marketing and finding talent, but we helped them find a financing partner. That was our first deal, but it wasn’t technically on the platform. We didn’t know what this was going to be at the time, but we learned by helping their team how important funding is to digital marketing and [digital service provider] pitching was for an early stage performer.
Many of your investors have a background in the music business, but what makes an investor like Alexis Ohanian strategic for an artist?
The two types of strategic investors who have worked for indify thus far are music professionals and people of influence. We don’t really see Alexis as a person of great capital. He clearly has, but we see him and Leah Kate as proof of concept that can help those with influence at a strategic level bring audiences to emerging artists. Alexis is more than an investor – he’s exposed Leah to an incredible number of business professionals and to his online audience. Their pairing has created so much respect for Leah Kate as an independent businesswoman, which she is.
What does a typical indify deal look like?
We have three principles that are at the heart of the platform: First, artists always own their music. Second, artists always keep 50% or more of their music royalties after the initial investment is returned. And three, artists always keep creative control.
Are you planning to replace major labels and traditional label deals? Or do you just see yourself as an alternative?
We believe that every artist should have all options available to them. We’ve proven that indify is the best option for early stage performers from traction to mid-level stages – say, zero to 50 [on a scale of career establishment] — and that indify’s partners are the best people to build with because they provide more strategic value than distributors at prices lower than distribution agreements. Now what we’re interested in is the 50-to-100 level to see if we can build independent superstars through this alternate route.
What do you have to offer to get an artist from 50 to 100?
For us, it’s a long-term vision, but it takes bigger capital partners, bigger actions than what we’re already working on. We’ll get there when we get there. One thing we get excited about is what happens when a young artist is posed with the choice to either sign his rights away from a major label or keep their rights and have the option of entering into a strategic investment partnership with a cultural leader like LeBron James, Serena Williams or Kanye West?
When an artist signs a traditional label deal, the label often wants to absorb the popular songs that the artist has already released. How do you work out that transfer for indify artists?
We want artists to have every option on the table, so going upstream to labels is something we’ve done successfully multiple times at this point. It’s no different from how artists flowed upstream from distributors before. In general, there could be a buyout or an override, depending on the case. We will never tell an artist what to do. We’re still building roads for artists to move upstream to major labels. Artists deserve that option if they want to go to a label, and we’re making sure our technology can get them there, but we believe that artists should remain independent.
This story originally appeared in the June 4, 2022 issue of Billboard.