Below is an excerpt of Jeff’s conversation with Chris.
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When Billie Eilish uploaded her song ‘Ocean Eyes’ to SoundCloud at the ripe old age of 13, she had no idea it would ignite her career. Now, she sits atop the charts and is considered music royalty.
But as Jeff Ponchick, VP and Head of Repost at SoundCloud will tell you, the service is more than just another uploading platform. With a mission to help artists quit their day jobs and pursue music full-time, SoundCloud has become the largest community of artists, bands, podcasters and creators out there.
LA Startups talked to Jeff about this evolution in the music space, the challenges of starting something new, and how you too can be a rockstar.
LA Startups (LAS): Okay, tell us the origin story. How did you end up at SoundCloud?
Jeff Ponchick (JP): I was actually a video editor in the television industry. I used to edit for reality TV. Eventually, I ended up at a startup called Fullscreen, which was a multichannel YouTube network. I was very early there, and I initially started in a production editing role to make YouTube content.
Fullscreen grew and eventually was acquired, and the mandate then was: Make money for these creators off of YouTube. So I was working with some of the largest YouTube talents in the world, effectively making better content. That’s when I realized I had a knack for dealing with talent.
This led to a talent management role on the music partnership side, and that’s how I fell into the music industry and became an expert working with some of the largest influencers in the music space.
LAS: But what prompted the next step? How did you move from being a talent manager into launching a tech startup?
JP: Frankly, I was just blown away by how much money was slipping through the cracks for my clients. I like to joke that you practically have to be a lawyer to understand how to pick up every penny in the music industry because it is so complicated and the tech is so outdated. I saw a massive pain point for artists that I wanted to solve.
So at the time, in 2015, SoundCloud was rolling out monetization for the first time ever. So you could put an advertisement in front of your song and your channel could generate revenue. And there was a backend rights clearance process associated with all that. Super sexy stuff.
We built this portal where you musicians could log in, connect your SoundCloud channel, and it would bring in your tracks. You’d enter in the rights info, things like who wrote the song, who owns what percentage of what, and we’d register that for you. That was the technology piece that allowed people to generate revenue from their content on SoundCloud. That didn’t exist when we built it, so it just completely exploded, and Repost quickly became one of the largest rights holders on SoundCloud. It was us and the major labels and rights holders and we were two guys in a cubicle. A wild ride and great times.
Then we tacked on YouTube services. We tacked on Spotify services, which led us to pivot into a digital distributor. We became experts at finding artists on SoundCloud and distributing them off the Repost platform.
Then SoundCloud acquired the business almost exactly a year ago, in mid-June 2019.
LAS: You touched on it, but what did SoundCloud see in you?
JP: Together, we saw a huge content opportunity. There’s so much music on SoundCloud that isn’t on Spotify or Pandora. So we asked, how can we be the ones to shepherd the content there and build an at scale distribution product where anyone can pay a SaaS fee and get distributed everywhere. This would lead of course to more income for artists.
Another aspect we did was to create a label service and marketing division. So for the artists who were really blowing up and starting to see commercial success, and getting to that point where they can actually quit their day job and make music full time, we provided more services to provide value. We call this Creator Services internally, things like a $10 million accelerator fund for musicians to help put even more money into artist’s pockets. It’s more white-glove support, release planning, and making sure that artists take the correct next step in their career.
So we were building value, one step at a time.
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