“Damn, I swear sports and music are so synonymous // Cause we want to be them, and they want to be us.”
Drake’s words could not ring truer: there truly a special relationship between athletes and musicians — which is why the NBA’s new deal with music startup, UnitedMasters is not only a huge deal but one that simply makes too much sense.
UnitedMasters is a startup headed by former president of Interscope Records Steve Stoute, with the aim to help artists have a more direct relationship with their customers and fans and, more importantly, retain more control over their actual recordings.
Founded in 2017, the company has already been able to raise $70 million with help from Google’s corporate umbrella Alphabet, prestigious venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, Silicon Valley investors Floodgate, and entertainment giant 20th Century Fox.
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With this new partnership, UnitedMasters artists will be able to have their music played across all of their properties around the world, including digital properties like NBA.com and its apps. In an interview with Tech Crunch, Stoute said,
“We’ve seen that there are a lot of synergies between the music industry, sports leagues, and individual personalities across athletes and musicians. The overlap between UnitedMasters artists, their fans and the NBA’s following provides a mutually beneficial opportunity to tap into an artist pool that is also a target consumer for the NBA.”
You don’t have to be a huge NBA fan to see how much the two cultures of hip-hop and hoops compliment each other.
Currently, there are two NBA players, in Damian Lillard and Iman Shumpert, that have legitimate rap careers, the NBA has rappers as owners, in Nelly, and even as team spokespersons (i.e. Drake in Toronto) so, involving artists more is beneficial. Stoute continued,
“The real value is the artist and who they are – they’re NBA fans, they’re fans of the product they’re soundtracking. You can go from watching the game to soundtracking its highlights. This is truly democratizing and removes any barrier from getting your music heard. You can watch something through the NBA, be inspired, create music and then upload it to UnitedMasters for the chance to be heard by 1.5 billion people.”
What makes UnitedMasters different from other record labels is that it does not take your masters, but, rather, makes money on royalties and distribution. This ensures that the artist still owns their music outright while still being able to reach audiences they wouldn’t normally have been able to.
So what does this look like in the NBA?
Just like music artists who want free-range to engage with their fan-base with as little licensing and endorsement interference as possible, The NBA, too, wants to engage with artists who have that freedom, for the sake of their fans, and players. SVP New Media at the NBA, Jeff Marsilio, explained to Tech Crunch,
“The breakthrough in this structure is that it’s a unique example of a brand or league providing a global distribution platform for artists — something UnitedMasters and the NBA are singularly positioned to do. The artists will have the opportunity to have their music heard on a global digital stage, while our fans will now have a new way to discover music while they enjoy NBA highlights on our social and digital media. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”
As artists smarten up, and as more examples of successful independent acts are shown, don’t be surprised if more and more artists continue to utilize the UnitedMasters platform.
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Furthermore, don’t be surprised at more partnerships between companies and artists with this kind of freedom become more common, too.