Make Music, Get Paid

Gyld champions indie artists online.

Gyld champions indie artists online.

Fifteen years ago, in February 2001, Napster, the first popular online music-sharing service, reached the pinnacle of its performance, as a record 27 million worldwide users shared music across the Internet. That moment heralded a paradigm shift in the way people learn about, access, listen to and purchase music. Things would never be the same.

Much has evolved in the world of online music—convolutions of free streaming and paid subscription services, automated algorithms and celebrity entrepreneurs, music blogs and YouTube—but we’ve yet to arrive at an equitable online model that assures artists are easily discovered, tracked and paid for their music. Even as more music is more accessible to more people than ever before in human history, making a living as a musician remains a struggle.

One of the few things music-industry experts agree on is that Internet streaming is the way forward, and the billions of plays logged by the big four streaming companies—Apple, Google, YouTube and Spotify—bear this out. Those companies function like online big-box stores, where the most established, top-selling acts (think Macklemore, Katy Perry, Kanye West and Drake) are marketed to mainstream consumers. Meanwhile, the millions of smaller artists and bands who comprise the bulk of the online-music ecosystem are mostly invisible and thus less likely to profit from streaming.

Now a new Seattle-based venture called Gyld is aiming to service those lesser-known bands and the listeners who love them. Part record label, part record store, part streaming service, Gyld hails itself as an artist-focused “online speakeasy” that will connect active listeners with a curated crop of artists and bands. Users are solicited by invitation only; to join they pay $5 per month to access music exclusive to Gyld. For every dollar spent on Gyld, 65 percent goes to artists and the rest covers the company’s operating costs. The service launches this month with 30 local artists on its roster.

“The operative word is niche,” says Justin Pinder, one of Gyld’s founders and a Seattle rapper who goes by J. Pinder. “We can afford to do things the way we plan to do them because we’re not catering to mainstream musicians who are used to making a lot of money or catering to consumers of that kind of music. We’re focused on a set of people who want a specific thing, and that’s a much smaller number.”

Pinder envisions growing a bracket of middle-class musicians who yearn to work hard and make $60,000 a year, like a regular, decent job. Selecting the right, upwardly mobile artists is essential, which is why Gyld will launch with a roster limited to Seattle. Its A&R team, which consists of veteran hip-hop producer Jake One, veteran rock producer Steve Fisk and former Chop Suey talent buyer Jodi Ecklund, has been deeply involved in the local music community for years and look for the kind of work ethic—and quality of music—that will excel within Gyld’s heavily curated format.

For their part, artists are expected to contribute a piece of music that will remain exclusive to Gyld for 18 months, whether a single song, video or album. Artists are welcome to remain on the big four services and other free streaming sites like Bandcamp and SoundCloud, mainly because Gyld’s founders believe that artists will find their service far more valuable and efficient. Gyld will pay out artists every month, based on stream count and the number of fans they bring to the site and convert to subscribers. Additionally, Gyld provides bands free, detailed metrics about who’s playing their music, which songs they’re playing and where they live—information bands can use to better route tours and plan releases.

“The whole approach to the Internet until now, especially where digital content is concerned, has been thinking like a venture capitalist,” says co-founder Christian Fulghum. Gyld, he says, has a handful of angel investors but isn’t looking for venture capitol, which would only tilt the service away from enriching artists and listeners and toward enriching shareholders. As a tech entrepreneur and former record label exec, he refuses to allow profit motive to ruin creative intent. There is no Gyld office; the seven full-time staffers work remotely.

The days of giving music away for free as a matter of course, Fulghum says, must end: “If we create a space for artists who are creating new music, we can make something this size viable—for the artists in it and the people who want to support it.”

Says Pinder, “We’re trying to bottle the Seattle music scene because there are a lot of people interested in that one thing. And then we wanna do that for 32 other markets across the country.”