Friday, July 11, 2014

Russell Simmons' ADD52 Partners with Samsung's Milk Music to Develop New Artists

Glenn Peoples/Billboard

Music veterans Russell Simmons and Steve Rifkind are partnering with the world's leading smartphone manufacturer to help develop new artists.

ADD52, the A&R platform of Simmons, Rifkind and film director/producer Brian Robbins' All Def Music, has partnered with Samsung to release a single a week through Milk Music, the digital music service available on the company's Galaxy mobile devices.

Launched in March, ADD52 is a platform for finding and developing artists. The "52" in the title refers to the 52 singles that will be released — one per week, over the course of a year. The singles are culled from thousands of artist submissions at Popular tracks separate themselves from the others based on the number of streams, likes and shares.

A select few singles will results in a deal with Universal Music Group. ADD52 can sign its artists to contracts with any label in the Universal family. Rifkind says they hope three singles will turn into superstars and five will be "really great talent." ADD52 can help locate studio talent, too.

"It leaves the door open where we can find the next Pharrell,” he says.

Although Samsung doesn't have Apple's reputation as a music-focused company, it has made some inroads. Last year it gave away 1 million copies of Jay Z's album “Magna Carta...Holy Grail” album. In March, Samsung launched Milk Music, an ad-free radio service powered by Slacker.

Over the years, entrepreneurs have bet that fans want to find the next big thing. OurStage, a site that offers competitions and exposure to unsigned artists, has had modest success. Hello Music got its unsigned artists their own in-flight entertainment channel on Delta Airlines. But for the most part, these kinds of services have failed to connect with music fans.

The practice of taking music submissions online from unsigned artists has been around for years. The EMI Music website started accepting online music submissions back in 2007. EMI's "In Sound From the Way Out" blog did the same two years later, followed by the Roadrunner Records website in 2010.

The founders' power and credibility sets ADD52 apart from its predecessors. Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Records, and Rifkind, founder of Loud Records and SRC Records, are experienced executives that can easily attract undiscovered talent. Robbins is the director of the movies "Hardball" and "Varsity Blues" and co-founder of AwesomenessTV, a platform for budding YouTube stars. This isn't a group of technology experts that wanted to get into the music business.

Rifkind claims Milk Music is a good conduit for ADD52's unknown talent. "The research we're getting back is people who are coming to the station aren't necessarily wanting to hear Drake and all the hot records. They're there to hear the new records that nobody has ever heard before,” he says.

Both Simmons and Rifkind say ADD52 is simply a continuation of the work they've been doing for decades. They're in the business of finding good music and building brands. In fact, Rifkind says he had wanted to create something like ADD52 for years. He tried at his SRC imprint but Universal Republic Records, the distributor of SRC titles, "couldn't do it at the time."

The idea is to let artists focus on creating art. "From the days of [Kurtis Blow's] "Christmas Rapping" until now, in order for an artist to be discovered they had to do additional work besides be great," says Simmons. Artists needed to perform live, build a local fan base and manufacture records. The Internet holds the possibility that artists can be discovered without the heavy lifting that was previously required from artists.

Nevertheless, popular artists at ADD52 tend to already have some momentum. Simmons has seen this throughout his career. "We didn't discover Jay Z. Jay Z had been working and available to be discovered. Def Jam found him the way Polygram found Kurtis Blow."

And what happens after the 52nd single is released? Simmons couldn't speak about Samsung's involvement beyond week 52, but says All Def Digital will continue putting out music by "undiscovered artists.”

"There are too many artists that need exposure for me not to continue this process,” he says.

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