Trying to make it big in Music City? There may just be an app for that in the works.
Chances are, if you’ve been following the country music scene in Nashville, you know the name Ruthie Collins - the rising singer-songwriter who’s played stages from CMA Music Fest to CMT’s Next Women of Country tour. Or maybe you know her as that shabby chic “Do-It-Yourself” co-host of A&E’s Home.Made, television segments that showcases her other impressive skill - repurposing vintage furniture into functional decor.
However you know her now, Ruthie Collins is a great model for brand extension. “It’s an example of a new artist leveraging a brand in order to grow, and not just be one of 18,000 women trying to be a country singer,” says Stephen Linn, founder of AmpliFLY Entertainment, a strategic artist development and branding company that helps clients create their brand and strategies, grow their digital profiles, and develop successful careers as artists.
When Ruthie Collins first hit the scene, however, her record label Curb Records wasn’t quite ready to send her music out to the masses. She needed to find an audience first. So Linn and his team took her through his branding process. “Ruthie was a DIY-er, one of those people who can take mud and an old refrigerator and make a Tesla out of it. That's who she is and what she does. So we built out all these platforms on the DIY side,” Linn says. “And we did it all through the prism of her music.”
Ruthie began to appear on digital platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, displaying her skills as a decorator, building a fan base out of people with similar interests. Videos began to appear with Ruthie renovating an RV trailer into a recording studio, all the while showcasing her music. “These DIY-ers would engage with her,” Linn says. “She is adorable and she’s great on air, so it all kind of tied back in to help build that brand extension, to build an audience for her to talk to. Then she can bring the music and continue to grow both.”
Part of Linn’s job is to carefully construct the build out of a brand like Ruthie’s, and he approaches his work with young artists at AmpliFLY as if they were small business startups themselves. “There are just so many artists now and there's so many different platforms and means of distribution that you must think of yourself as a business,” he says. “I tell artists when you're on stage you’re a star, but when you're not, you're running for governor, and it's running for governor that's going to build you a sustainable career.”
When he’s not working with developing artists, Linn serves as a mentor and advisor at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (EC), working with music and entertainment startups. He is also Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Project Music Portfolio, a year-round program hosted by the EC that brings music, technology and business leaders together to accelerate the success of music-minded entrepreneurs.
The EC developed Project Music in partnership with Country Music Association as a means to provide year-round, on-demand, custom-tailored support for entrepreneurs. Participants are mentored on how to find what they need most, whether it’s raising investment money, filing patents for new technology, or connecting to other music industry players to build brand awareness.
Participants in the program are assigned a personal Portfolio Manager, who then optimizes each entrepreneur’s experience by facilitating personalized and strategic business connections, implementing those strategies to help sustain business growth.
“We try to help these startups find out where they're going and then build the agenda to get there,” says Linn, who is thrilled to be assisting with this year’s program. The current Project Music program includes innovative startups like Ciari Travel Guitars, a company that designs a travel-sized electric guitar that folds in half and JamFeed, an app that lets users curate news and updates on all their favorite musicians (like Bleacher Report for music).
Past participants in Project Music include Jammber, a tech company that creates workflow tools for collaboration to help artists make and document their music with other writers, producers and record labels. After taking part in the program, Jammber went on to raise three and half million dollars in capital.
“We were shown massive problems in full-color, up close and personal, described by industry experts in intimate settings. Problems yielding profitable opportunities - long before potential competitors even knew they existed,” says Marcus Cobb, CEO of Jammber. “It was a game changer for us.”
And according to Linn, the game has changed. New technology and the plethora of streaming platforms out there have made it easy to consume new music but it’s created a deeper divide between developing artists and success. “The barrier to entry has been lowered and from an artist standpoint while that makes it easier to get your stuff out there, it makes it much harder to be noticed,” Linn says.
By focusing on the future of the music industry, however, Project Music is working to stay ahead of the curve. One of the participating teams this year is OnlyInVR, a startup tech company creating the world’s largest library of 360-degree, virtual reality music video content. “By 2021, more than a hundred million people in America will have VR headsets. They are banking on that being the next wave of how music will be distributed via technology,” says Linn.
“That's how this industry grows and survives,” he said. “By everybody helping everyone in general. And being able to help all these companies at different stages and help them grow, it's really satisfying as well.”
So whether you’re the next Ruthie Collins or an engineer with a brand new way to create music, it’s important to think of yourself as a small business, and seek out the guidance and support of Nashville’s entrepreneurial networks. And if you’re currently creating, launching or growing a music-centered startup, consider applying to Project Music Portfolio. Applications for the 2019 yearly program will be closing on January 18.
Are you a music tech entrepreneur looking to accelerate your business? Learn more about Project Music Portfolio and apply before January 18, 2019 at www.ec.co/project-music.