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Apple and Others Invest $50 million into Music Distributor UnitedMasters

Apple quietly acquires companies with products and teams that complement its own offerings all the time, but it’s not often an investor, which makes the company’s recent investment in UnitedMasters notable. As reported by Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch, Apple is joined by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and A16z as leads in UnitedMasters’ $50 million Series B round.

Historically, artists’ relationships with music distribution companies have prevented artists from connecting directly with fans. UnitedMasters’ goal is to change that providing artists with access to data and allowing them to retain control of master recordings and sell merchandise, tickets, and more directly to fans.

As Panzarino notes, the investment comes as the music industry is changing:

We are currently at an inflection point in the way that artists and fans connect with one another. Though there have been seemingly endless ways for artists to get their messages out or speak to fans using social media and other platforms, the actual business of distributing work to a community and making money from that work has been out of their hands completely since the beginning of the recording industry.

UnitedMasters’ mission is to assist artists in making the transition to music’s future. If UnitedMaters’ objective sounds familiar, it’s likely because, as Panzarino explains, it bears a lot of similarity to what Apple Music Connect could have been:

In music, Apple is at the center of this maelstrom along with a few other major players like Spotify. One of the big misses in recent years for Apple Music, in my opinion, was Apple’s failure to turn Apple Music Connect into an industry-standard portal that allowed artists to connect broadly with fans, distribute directly, sell tickets and merchandise but — most importantly — to foster and own their community.

The streaming music industry is moving fast. Over the past several weeks, Spotify has introduced a long list of features to attract new listeners to the service. Apple Music seems to be evolving slowly compared to Spotify, but Apple’s investment in UnitedMasters shows that the company has its eye on the industry’s future too. Which new features stick with music fans remains to be seen, but judging from the first three months of the year, 2021 will be another interesting one for music streaming services.