I met Jonathan Master in person for the first time hours after Drake debuted More Life on Beats 1 Radio. No article was in the queue, but as I sat in the lobby of downtown Austin’s JW Marriott, I took mental notes of what I would ask the then-head of A&R and marketing for EMPIRE Distribution’s New York division.
Given Master’s experience in the business, and our phone conversations in the months prior, I was eager to pick the 30something-year-old’s brain about his day-to-day dealings as the manager of Grammy-nominated producer !llmind, and how the landscape for major record companies and independent artists might change over time. As our conversation continued, comments of how he might run a record label, if given the chance, surfaced.
A year later, he got such an opportunity. In June, Master announced the formation of his Sony-backed joint venture, Same Plate Entertainment.
“The relationship between record label and artist is pretty broken,” Master said.
First on Master’s agenda as president was to alter the untrustworthy stigma that looms over the major label system its operations. It's a tall order for one startup, but the company is rooted in transparency and committed to creating an open dialogue between the artist, label, and consumer.
Additionally, the Same Plate stays away from offering 360-deals — a contract that entitles a label to profit from multiple streams of an artist’s revenue — and prefers to establish partnerships with artists. (The team even goes as far as abstaining from using the term “deal” when discussing artist agreements.)
It’s a model that has helped them sign a handful-and-a-half of budding musicians, including singer-songwriter Eza, alternative R&B crooner Ro Ransom, and lyricist Marlon Craft.
“The thing I’m actually most proud of at this point is that our artists are happy enough to where they’re telling other artists to sign here,” Master boasted.
Once artists are officially a part of the roster, they are immediately introduced to everyone on the Same Plate team, specifically commerce manager Gerard Rice.
Rice's role is integral in a business where streaming sites became the digital messiah that saved the music industry from financial demise. He produces streaming and social media analytics reports, and meticulously explains his findings to each artist on a daily basis. Analyzing and explaining data may sound drab, but the long-tail effect is more streams, fans, and ultimately more money, over time.
Working in lockstep with Rice is digital promotions manager Andrew Master. He shoulders the responsibility of producing digestible content on the label and artist’s behalf, from vlog episodes that give glimpses into Same Plate's daily affairs to social media campaigns.
Such is the case for their one-minute video series, “By the Numbers.” Powered by social video analytics platform Delmondo, each clip colorizes the history and numerical trajectory of their artist’s songs.
Despite Same Plate's access to global distribution from The Orchard, and the opportunity to partner with Sony and RCA on select releases, the company's boutique feel is the catalyst that draws each artist to their roster.
Such is the case for UK-based artist/producer ROMderful, who recently signed with the label. He admits that one of the deciding factors was the amount of patience the Same Plate team exhibited, even through months of contract negotiations. He welcomes the idea of working with an upstart that focuses on capitalizing on a content-heavy and data-driven era.
“I feel like they’re definitely going to be very, very big pioneers if they pull this off,” ROMderful said.
Though Jay Z once compared the music business to an incessant game of musical chairs, Master hopes each artist and current staff member is still with the company in five years.
“That would really mean we built a culture where staff and artists alike feel supported nurtured, cared for and loved, and also feel like they have the ability to grow and live out their dreams.”