One Friday morning in February this year, Laxcity – a UK-based musician, producer and DJ – opened up Twitter, and his day went from ordinary to extraordinary in a heartbeat.
Laxcity, whose real name is Joshua Mbewe, had been creating short loops of drum beats and synthesised melodies and uploading them to Splice, a music creation platform that allows subscribers to license them, royalty-free – a stock library for the building blocks of music.
The service has become a hugely popular source of inspiration for some of the world’s biggest artists. “I heard about Splice from another musician and just decided to put stuff up there because it’s such a respected platform for most producers to use,” Laxcity says. “It has turned out to be a really useful source of samples, and you can get instant access to a massive library. I feel like it’s a very easy platform for anyone to find the killer sound they’re looking for.”
When he logged on to Twitter, Laxcity was cheerfully informed by a fan that one of his loops had been featured on “Running Over” – a track on Justin Bieber’s number-one album Changes. After Laxcity tweeted praise for the album, Bieber responded by thanking him and telling him he was “now a part of it”.
Splice was founded in 2013 by Steve Martocci and Matt Aimonetti, driven by a belief that the ecosystem around music needed to be more open. The company’s products include a rent-to-own payment model for creative software and Splice TV, which provides music education content via Twitch.
“We have a lot of different products, but primarily we’re known for our library of royalty-free samples and loops,” says Martocci, who is also CEO. Anyone can subscribe for $7.99 a month and gain access to the library and up to 100 downloads a month that they can use in their songs with no obligation to pay any further royalties.
The creators of the loops are compensated according to how many times they’ve been downloaded. By the end of 2019, the company had paid out $25 million to creators, whose samples have been used on everything from adverts to hit singles. Its success has been fuelled by internationally renowned musicians; Lil Nas X’s hit song “Panini”, featured a sample from Splice.
Before Splice, Martocci set up the messaging app GroupMe. When that sold to Skype for $85 million in 2011, he knew his next company would be based around music. “One of the things you come to realise as a software developer is that we have this amazing ecosystem. You hear these terms like ‘open source’ and how collaborative things are,” he says. “And it seemed like with music and music production there was really a lack of that same ecosystem. It’s hard to find resources. It’s hard to find tools that enable collaboration.”
Splice has raised $104.5 million in venture funding since launch. During the coronavirus lockdown period, it reported a nearly 50 per cent increase in daily sound downloads, to 1.1 million. The royalties it pays represent a new revenue stream for musicians at a difficult time for the industry, according to Martocci. “In addition to that, it’s also made careers for people,” he says. He mentions Karra, a dance/electronic artist who was working at a sandwich chain when she made her first sample pack for Splice, and has now featured on Grammy-nominated tracks and secured a record deal. “It’s been an incredible journey for her,” he says.
The company has placed a significant emphasis on female producers. Four per cent of Splice’s user base was female at the end of 2018, double the industry norm, according to the company. More than 20 per cent of the audio packs released on Splice’s marketplace so far in 2020 are from female producers.
It’s also helping new types of music reach a global audience. Musicians from around the world can put together Splice sample packs. Martocci points to its Senegalese series in which local musicians “record their instruments, their native sound, and then have a great producer, Iss 814, who fuses the sounds together… and each of these packs has an educational charitable aspect,” he says.
As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to cause hardship – and decimate live music – industry insiders are mulling over how to support musicians and help them find crucial new revenue streams, and Splice could play a key role in this. It also represents a change in attitudes in the industry.
Musicians have never really opted to share their samples in the past. “It was their secret sauce,” Martocci says. “The way that they got ahead. We showed them a better way to bring this stuff out and put the right monetisation behind it. Once we got some bigger artists to start sharing their process, everyone wanted to.”
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