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How Mixlo, a Utah startup, is trying to make streaming music more local

When they were trying to be musicians on Utah’s concert circuit, Hunter Derrick and Brandon “Bowie” Roy said they had trouble finding out who else was playing around them.

“The majority of people showing up at these [local] shows — and who are aware of what the local music scene is — are just the friends and family of musicians themselves,” Roy said.

It was “crazy,” Roy said, that there wasn’t a way for people to discover music by location.

That idea, and Derrick and Roy’s firsthand experience as musicians, is what inspired them to create Mixlo, a startup mobile app that offers a location-based approach to streaming music.

Roy, the Salt Lake City company’s chief product officer, said Mixlo melds location-based software — like what he said the dating app Tinder uses to find prospective partners in your area — to a music platform, connecting people with music produced by bands and performers where they live.

The app’s main selling point is its hyperlocal focus.

“We are the first platform to do location-based music charts,” said Derrick, Mixlo’s CEO. “Rather than trying to collect artist data and then saying ‘This is Salt Lake City’s charts,’ we start at the source.”

The app, which is still in beta testing, will be driven by the user’s experience — connecting people not only to “like-minded music fans” where they live, Derrick said, but with music supporters and enthusiasts worldwide.

Another aim of the app is to give artists support in their career, such as connecting them with relevant people in their communities, Derrick said. He said the app could help provide a stepping-stone in a musician’s career — something Derrick and Roy didn’t have when they were working musicians in Salt Lake City.

The networking idea is also how Mixlo, which Derrick and Roy started working on in 2018, has developed.

“A lot of Mixlo is about networking and connection,” Derrick said. “We were able to tap into some of our networks and pull some really good people from around the country who were interested in helping.”

Part of that networking is getting musicians and app developers on the same page, Roy said.

“When we thought of these ideas in the first place, it kind of clicked with us that people who know about the need for it — the musicians — don’t have the means to make this kind of app,” Roy said. “And the people who have the means don’t really know what the musicians are going through.”

One admitted blind spot on Mixlo’s “team,” as shown on the company website, is that all of its employees are men. Derrick said the company is encouraging more women to apply for jobs there.

(Mixlo) Hunter Derrick, CEO of Salt Lake City-based startup Mixlo, demonstrates the Mixlo mobile app on his phone.

Plans and payments

So far, with the app scheduled to launch in late fall, around 100 artists have uploaded their work to the beta version. Now the question arises: How much will they get paid?

In the era of streaming digital music, that’s a contentious issue between artists and platforms — with the amount an artist gets paid often determined by the platform’s revenue model.

According to the website Headphonesty, Apple Music plays a penny, $0.01, per stream, and Spotify pays a third of that — $0.0033 — per stream. Also, for a stream to count, the song has to play for at least 30 seconds.

More often, streaming services use a royalty-based system — and that can vary based on what an artist’s record label sets up, according to a story published in February in the music trade paper Billboard. The way labels calculate those royalties, Billboard wrote, “is hidden behind an opaque process and non-disclosure agreements, frustrating artists and some labels who feel disadvantaged by an uneven playing field.”

The result is that many artists make next to nothing on streaming platforms — no matter how devoted their fans are.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily the fault of the companies who are streaming,” Derrick said. “It’s how the model works, how it realistically plays out.”

In the days of CDs, he said, “if you take 10,000 albums and sell them, you were making thousands and thousands of dollars,” Derrick said. “But now, if you have 10,000 album streams with ten songs, you’re going to be between $400 and $500.”

Those problems are worse, Roy said, for artists whose popularity remains on the local level.

“If you’re a small artist who has maybe 1,000 fans, if they’re super dedicated, why should your monetary value from your streams be capped at a super low value?” Roy said.

It’s important to Mixlo, Roy said, for artists to be able to succeed at any level of popularity. That’s why Mixlo plans to pay artists per stream — somewhere between 20 and 138 times more than other streaming platforms, Derrick said, based on their projected numbers so far.

And the company is planning to offer an incentive to “boost” artists, Roy said. “Basically, you give them a boost, they get more exposure and more money as well,” he said.

For this all to work, though, Mixlo itself must succeed — and that’s not a sure thing in the world of mobile apps. Depending on which expert one believes, the success rate for start-up apps ranges from 1 in 10 to 1 in 10,000.

indie and beyond

Mixlo bills itself as a hub for indie music, in particular, which ties back to its Utah roots. “Indie is the most dominant in certain areas of Utah,” Derrick said.

“When I think of indie, I think of independent, those people who do it themselves and usually don’t have a big backing behind them, like a label,” Roy said.

The company is thinking bigger, though — offering an array of genres when it’s released, and eventually expanding to such music hubs as Nashville and Austin.

One example of an artist Mixlo is helping, Roy said, is Young Yankee, a Salt Lake City hip-hop group that not only uploaded its music to Mixlo but has been a guest on the company’s podcast. The goal of the podcast, Roy said, is to get to know musicians better, and learn what’s important to them.

Mixlo is “not just another project,” Roy said. “It’s something that we all realize can be big and can really make a difference for musicians everywhere.”

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.

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