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MAX Co-Founder George Howard Sounds Off with Cheddar Media

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Below is an excerpt of a live interview between Cheddar Media and MAX Co-Founder George Howard. This has been briefly edited and condensed to accommodate the new medium. Watch the full 8:00 minute interview here.

Cheddar: Hey, guys, welcome back to Between the Bells. Music artists are looking for new ways to make money off their work now that most music is streamed online, and our next guest has developed technology that he says will allow artists to create sustainable careers on their own terms. George Howard is the Co-Founder and Head of Music at Music Audience Exchange, a.k.a. MAX. Thanks so much for being here today. So, George, for people that don’t know, break down exactly what MAX does, because there’s a lot of things you guys do.

George Howard: It’s great to be here. Thanks so much for having me. Music Audience Exchange is, at its core, a company who believes that artists should be more in control of their own destiny, that there should be more opportunities emerging for them where they can connect more efficiently with their fans. And our thesis around it is that what can really power this is alignment between artists and brands. Forever, artists and brands have tried to come together, but they’ve done it in a really sort of ad-hoc way without a lot of data, and, arguably, without providing a lot of benefit to the brands, the fans, or most importantly, the bands themselves. So we’ve developed this amazing technology that allows us to much more efficiently connect the artist with the brands.

Cheddar: If there’s a company like TWIX or one of those companies you already work with, Ford or Dr Pepper... When they come to you and say ‘Hey, we want to be connected with artists,’ take us through that step-by-step process.

George Howard: We actually have 2.4 million artists in our database, so kind of everyone. If you’re in a band, we got you, right? And we’ve mapped those artists across 765 genres, all with, 200-some consumer attributes. So when TWIX comes to us, or Dr Pepper, any of the many brands we work with, we actually use this really robust technology… I’ve spent 30 years in the music industry working with artists at the highest levels from Carly Simon to big labels, so I know how artists think. And we map it together, and we go out and provide value to the brands and the artists by doing these very robust campaigns, both online, activations from the stage, social media, as well as ad spots on streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, etcetera. So we really believe this is revolutionary.

Cheddar: So what are the types of branding options that are available for some of these brands with the artists? Are we talking about music festivals, social media opportunities, live performances? Break down what are the potential options that they can pair up with the artists for.

George Howard: All of the above. It’s really true. We’re in a world now where people are engaging from a 360 perspective... Engagement happens in a lot of places, from the festival-level to the social media realm to YouTube. What’s really been best for us is the ROI of it for both the brands and the artists is just astronomical. These brands come back to us repeatedly, which tells us we’re doing something right.

Cheddar: George, let’s talk about the broader music industry for a second. In your opinion, would you say the proliferation of tools that essentially allow music to be more accessible - I’m talking about, like, online distribution, along with streaming - perhaps fractured the industry in some way?

George Howard: I believe we’re all sort of put on planets for one specific purpose and everything else is byproducts. At 19 years old, I started my first label in a dorm room, and I realized at that point that I’d been put on this planet to help artists create sustainable careers on their own terms. And the byproduct of that for me, 10 years ago, was building a company called TuneCore that helps artists get up onto iTunes and Spotify without a label. Now what I think of as my crowning gesture is this Music Audience Exchange that, to use a big kind of current word, that disintermediates, that takes out unnecessary middlemen, so that artists can connect with these brands or streaming services without unnecessary layers of middle-people. So I don’t see that as a fracturing. I see that as a way where brands and artists, and specifically artists, can actually gain more direct control over their careers...

Cheddar: Is this primarily, though, for new artists? Are those really the artists that you’re looking to pair with these brands? Or would you sometimes tap into more established artists as well?

George Howard: Very early on we worked with some well-known artists like OK Go and others. But we sort of hit that sweet spot of artists that are really beginning to emerge and gain traction, and we provide them rocket fuel. So one of the joys of this company, for me, is that it’s almost impossible, if not impossible, for an artist who’s not signed to a major label to get any material radio play for a whole host of reasons - payola, etcetera. It’s just there are too many blockages. But we have worked with artists where we do our campaigns, we buy media on the radio stations, and then those radio plays that are at first bought as an ad via our program, then the phones light up and people actually start calling in and requesting it. And then those radio stations start adding these artists. So we’ve seen that happen, and that’s like magic to me. It’s something like a miracle. We’re definitely in this sweet spot of working with these artists that are hungry and that are tied in with these brands and we give them rocket fuel.

Cheddar: Well George Howard, thank you so much for joining us today, Co-Founder and Head of Music at MAX. We really appreciate it - very exciting stuff.

George Howard: Yeah, it’s fantastic. Thanks for having me.

Watch the full 8:00 minute interview here.

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