Every music-tech startup, ever.

Music Startups Are Scabs: Don’t Pick Them

At some point this week, a music startup pitch will find its way into my inbox. Like most bad ideas, it’ll arrive around 3AM, right as the cocaine is wearing off. Not my cocaine, I assure you — the sender’s cocaine. I went to sleep around the same time our dear cocaine dealer (née: Blow Man) was getting his first text. This poorly worded email is the first thing I will read in the morning whilst sipping my coffee and chuckling to myself, “Wow, this motherfucker is for real?”

“Hey Shane, I’m Bryce, the CMO of BadMusic, a [really terrible] music startup that we’d like your input on. I’m familiar with your work from [a project I was tangentially involved in, but not really] and [a girl from Florida I slept with in 2009] had really great things to say about you.”

It’ll always end like this: “Get back to us soon. We’re looking to secure our second round of funding ASAP.”

While at first you’re probably delighted to hear that a woman you slept with 11 years ago still remembers your name, it’s Florida. It’s not like she was going to run across many better options in the 11 years since. Secondly, what’s this about getting a second round of funding? Second round? That implies there was a first round. Someone gave this cocaine-addled lacrosse haircut some money? Also, who is “we”? Is that the “Royal we”, the majestic plural referring to royalty? Rewind the tape a bit and I’ll walk you through how this happened.

Bryce is the Chief Marketing Officer of his own imagination, and before he was filling your inbox with his whimsy, he went to Tufts to learn creative things. He has a degree from Tufts that you can only get from Tufts, like Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Social Watercolor Art, and a Minor in Creative Internet Things.

The other half of this mayonnaise sandwich is Trent, the CEO of BadMusic. Trent hasn’t done much of anything his entire life aside from dropping out of a small liberal arts school, shortly after realizing he’d never work a day in his life. You see, Trent has something that can only fester deep in the plutocratic recesses of Connecticut: Obscene, but understated wealth. Trent’s trust fund has more superfluous commas than an e.e. cummings poem.

Somewhere along the line, Trent and Bryce became friends. Later along some different lines, while the two were doing enough lines to kill small livestock, Trent’s grand music startup idea came to him. Of course, at that moment, Bryce swore he’d support Trent. Why?

Because they’re bros, bro.

Anyway, Bryce woke up the next morning and realized Trent was dead serious about his music startup, but that didn’t matter. Bryce knew that money to Trent was a bit like the points on Whose Line Is It Anyway — completely irrelevant. Bryce realized instantly that Trent would pay him a stupid salary, it would make his parents proud, and he’d get to do what he’s really passionate about: Sharing art, bro.

Here’s something important to remember about all of this: There are no losers here. Trent gets someone who will pretend to be his friend for the sum of $120,000 a year, and Bryce gets to pretend he’s a successful entrepreneur.

Alright, now let’s get that first round of funding…

Bryce: Hey Trent, you got like, I dunno man, $2 Million?
Trent: Yeah. I mean, you think we need that much?
Bryce: Totally bro.
Trent: Cool man let’s do this shit.

Hey Bryce, thanks for reaching out to me. I’m always happy to hear that my work is respected, and pass my regards along to [name of a woman who I just started hoping doesn’t have a kid that looks like me]. I’d love to hear about your startup. Can you send me an NDA to look over before we start?

Most of these guys will have an NDA. I mean, they do teach you a few things in college, and Bryce isn’t an idiot. Make no mistake about it — I’m not saying Bryce or Trent are dumb. They’re just making terrible decisions in a space where they’re truly only consumers.

They think they’re Moneyball…

… but they’re really Superbad.

You see, music is a space where everyone thinks they’re an expert, even casual fans like Bryce and Trent. You’re supposed to have an opinion, because that’s what makes us so passionate about it. People are passionate about music in the same way they’re passionate about sports. Fortunately, it’s damn near impossible to get into professional sports, and unlike being a musician, you can’t auto-tune athleticism.

The same goes for getting involved in the business side of music, specifically in tech: It’d be damn near impossible for anyone with a garden variety trust fund to acquire an NFL/NBA/MLB team. However, in music, the threshold is lower, so you can fake it if you have the requisite number of digits in your bank account. That’s when you arrive in my inbox with wide eyes, still wet behind the ears.

Why are Trent and Bryce emailing me? I have no earthly idea. But they sure think it’s a good idea.

I am a tech person, who had the great misfortune of working in music for a tragically long time. That’s what happens when you’re good at it. Bad news travels fast, so usually I get people like Bryce and Trent, willing and able to share their terrible ideas with me.

Do you know what they want to offer me? A stake in their business. In fact, they’re willing to let me have up to 5% of their terrible idea, if I’m willing to work for free, for several months, on a project that they don’t have any plan behind. What they want to do is drink beer on Bryce’s dad’s boat, and every 30 minutes or so, call me with another feature that the app needs.

What exactly are they making?

Well… It’s a music discovery app, and it’s tied into Facebook and Instagram, and it’s gonna like, take your friends and mix their playlists. Also, you can buy concert tickets with it, or like, see what concerts your friends are going to, and then artists will all have this profile, because they like… sorta own it too, right? Because we pay better than Spotify, and our streaming service is a built in player, so you don’t even need Spotify anymore, just this. And then there’s the whole thing where you can add it to your Insta-story, or Snapchat, and BRO — check this out, you know how TikTok has music in it? Okay, so we’re going to have a thing where you can make a music video and then it goes right to TikTok.

Sick, huh?