Last week, online file transfer service WeTransfer unveiled a new platform for streaming music, entering an increasingly crowded marketplace dominated by the likes of Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music. On the surface, it seems like a bizarre move for the Dutch company, known more for providing an easy way to send large files — a la Dropbox — than its association with the music industry. But with a global reach of 85 million users per month, WeTransfer wants to create a marketing platform to complement — rather than compete with — the giants of the streaming world.
The biggest hurdle facing most streaming services is the prohibitively high cost of licensing deals, which has kept the likes of Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud and Pandora operating in the red even as their reach explodes. But WeTransfer hopes to sidestep that requirement through targeted, curated campaigns, working closely with artists and labels themselves rather than maintaining an open, user-generated streaming service. “This whole licensing world is a very tricky one,” says Maarten Kadiks, VP of marketing at WeTransfer. “But the fact that artists are choosing their own content to display to our audience is very different from us, without notifying them, grabbing their content and running with it. That’s not what we do.”
Announced Nov. 25, the company is aiming to get the new platform off the ground in the first quarter of 2016 with an ambitious rollout plan, having reached out to Madonna and Justin Bieber to lock down exclusives and using Troy Carter — who manages Charlie Puth, Meghan Trainor and more — as a key connection to facilitate artist relations (Carter is an investor in WeTransfer). Billboard spoke to Kadiks about WeTransfer’s plans for its platform, how the service differs from the SoundCloud model and why streaming music can help WeTransfer as much as it helps artists
Can you explain the service in your own words?
We’ve been around for six years now, and basically from the beginning we worked together with musicians, photographers and illustrators and we’ve given away backgrounds that advertisers normally pay for. I would say it’s the sort of bread and butter of our brand and it creates a really nice way for you to transfer your files to whoever you want. But we also found out very quickly that we are part of the creative workflow for musicians, so whenever they finish a project they will send it to the label or the studio to master their files, for example. Those are really the users that used us from the beginning, really our core audience.
So we’ve been working with the music industry for a long time already. And now the last six months we’re more and more working together with partners in the United States. Sometimes we offer them aesthetic backgrounds when they have released a new track that they want to showcase to our worldwide audience of 85 million users per month for downloads. But of course, as the whole world is moving more and more into streaming, we got a lot of questions like, “Hey guys, it would be great if you could also build a music player.” And based on those questions we started building that over the past month and now we’re moving closer to releasing that in Q1 of 2016.
So what is the music player? It’s basically a new feature to support music creators, so it’s a proprietary streaming solution that hosts streaming audio directly on WeTransfer.com. Over the years we’ve become a very powerful music distribution channel for music creators. For years, we’ve partnered with major as well as up-and-coming musicians and labels to feature downloadable content, and now the music streaming solution provides another distribution option for a music creator so they can choose whether or not they want their content to be downloadable or only as a stream.
In such a crowded field like streaming, what are you able to offer to creators and listeners that others can’t?
The best way to explain the difference is that these collaborations that we set up with artists or management agencies or labels, are curated collaborations that we pick. You could see it as a campaign around the announcement of a new album or a new mixtape, focused only on that with a beginning and an end for a few weeks, for example. So it’s really complementary to Spotify and SoundCloud; it’s not like we’re trying to build a competitive service. You could see it as a marketing channel — even though I don’t really like to use that word — a marketing channel for the creator. Artists get a focused campaign to deliver their content to our audience, and if they announce a new track or a new mixtape to our worldwide audience, they see how impactful we are as a media company.
It’s not like you have a search bar where you type in the new track from Adele — which is a funny example actually, sorry for that — and then all of her songs pop up. It’s more like, if Jamie xx is releasing a new mixtape and he’s looking for some extra attention, we’re a very good place to release that mixtape on top of the presence it has on all the other platforms that would already have it.
You’ve mentioned that your aim is not to make money off this service. What is your aim, then?
Well, first of all, we’re a commercial company, so in a way with all the activities that we do there’s always the goal to be profitable. But we don’t want to make money out of this music streaming service. Why? In Europe, WeTransfer is a big household name, especially in the music industry. And we see it a little bit the same in the United States, but because the country is so much bigger, we have more growth ambitions in the U.S. at the moment, and we think that this player could help us showcase who we are. And I think this is a good way to work on those goals for us without the need to make money, because we already have two ways of making money, and that’s a plus account for $10 a month, or the advertising revenues that we have. So we’re really not looking for a third revenue stream.
This is launching in the first quarter of 2016. What are you looking for in terms of growth for this product?
First is that we launch with a series of artists that we both value highly and to, of course, let people know that we’re there as a streaming solution. But of course, if we see that we’re really happy with it, we got the right feedback, we’re always looking to build it into maybe a more advanced product. But for now, that’s really not our focus. Our focus is really to release this player as soon as possible and to have the right artists on board, that are appealing to our audience, and that we can really help spread their new tracks on our platform.