180 – The IMDb of the Music Industry – with Vasja Veber of Viberate

by | Feb 13, 2020 | Podcast

Do you wish there was a comprehensive online database of artists, venues, events and festivals? Are you looking for a forward-looking, technologically driven platform to help you grow your career as an artist?

In this episode of The New Music Industry Podcast, Vasja Veber of Viberate shares what the platform is all about, how it was developed and what they plan to achieve with it.

Podcast Highlights:

  • 00:34 – What is Viberate?
  • 05:17 – What’s new with Viberate?
  • 06:55 – How can an independent artist take advantage of the platform?
  • 10:44 – Is blockchain the answer to the music industry?
  • 14:39 – The music industry – an endless field of business opportunities?
  • 18:22 – Copywriting and creative processes
  • 19:44 – What are the greatest challenges you’ve overcome?
  • 25:22 – What are the greatest victories you’ve experienced?
  • 28:23 – Are there any books that have helped you on your journey?
  • 29:59 – Is there anything else I should have asked?


David Andrew Wiebe: Today I’m chatting with co-founder and business development director at Viberate, Vasja Veber. How are you today Vasja?

Vasja Veber: Good. How are you?

D.A.: I’m great. Thanks so much for joining me.

Vasja: Awesome.

D.A.: I think we’re going to have a good conversation today about the IMDb for the music industry. You know, it seems like people are only just beginning to understand the value of data in the industry. It’s a foregone conclusion in some of the other sectors out there, but I think its value isn’t properly understood in music. So, tell us about Viberate and why it was created.

Vasja: So, it was first created as a band project because our background is in music management. So, myself and my other co founder, we’ve been managing a world-famous techno DJ, UMEK, for years.

It’s when it was still in the times of Myspace and Google+ so it was quite a long time ago. We were advertising a lot. We’re investing a lot of money into his presence.

Back then, Facebook was still a very effective place to be and to invest money in. But we couldn’t figure out how those investments are actually reflecting in the DJ’s career.

Was he more popular because we invested money into advertising? That’s why we started a simple social media managing website. It was called topdjs.com back then.

We were measuring just simple social media metrics – how many followers a certain DJ is getting in a day, or a week, or a month. We did this for a thousand DJs that we entered manually into the data.

So, we’re measuring Facebook, Twitter. Like I said, back then it was still MySpace and Google+ and Instagram. And, it just took off. So, we opened up the database.

In a matter of over a year, we got 30,000 user-generated profiles. So, people were adding new DJs into the database because they wanted to see how they’re performing in terms of popularity. And then, we saw an opportunity. We followed the market and we raised some money.

At the beginning, our angel round was $1 million. We went away from just measuring popularity of DJs. We said, “Okay. Let’s go to all genres.” That’s why we created Viberate. The name is actually derived from rating the vibe. That’s why the extra “e” in the middle.

Yeah. And the years go by, we again raised some more money. Today, Viberate employs 65 people full time. And our office is in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Plus, around 60 more all across the world.

Those are mostly contributors around the world, because the database is crowdsourcing curated. And today we have nearly half a million profiles of musicians, about 160,000 venues, and we have around half a million events at any given moment in the database.

So, the easiest way to describe it is we’re doing what IMDb is doing for the music industry. So like IMDb is for the movies and Viberate is for the music industry. We’re creating profiles and collecting profiles of musicians.

Right now, when I say we have half a million musicians in the database, some will say, “Yeah, but I know services that have more than that.” That’s true but we have unique artists.

Our rule is one artist, one profile. That’s why we rely on crowdsourcing and curating because we have by far the cleanest data set in the world. Other services usually scrape all the data sources they could get a hand on.

If you look, let’s say for Tiësto who is a world-famous DJ, you will get like five, six, even 15 profiles for the same DJ because everything is done with machines.

And, that’s why we said, “Okay. We need human touch.” We curate everything. It takes a lot of effort. It costs a lot of money, but at the end, it makes the service relevant and cool.

D.A.: Yeah, I love that explanation. So, is it fair to say that you’re building it into a fairly comprehensive database in time?

Vasja: Yeah. Yeah. That’s exactly. That’s our first focus is that we want to be as relevant as possible.

D.A.: So, is there anything new with Viberate that we should know about? Any new features or something that’s changed?

Vasja: Well, we just launched our map view for venues. Let’s say you travel to London for business and you take an additional weekend to go check the scene there, you can just open the map of London and venues are going to pop up, plus events that are taking place in London that we can do there.

And you can just browse through the map. You can click through the venue. You can check what’s going on there. You can even buy tickets. It’s a really cool feature.

Plus, we just recently launched a festival app platform. Right now, we have around 4,000 festival profiles in the database. Festivals can claim their profiles. And then, they can create their own mobile app without any coding knowledge. They just need a few clicks, and we do the rest. They can offer iOS and Android app to their festival goers. It’s a really cool feature. It’s a subscription-based service. So, there’s no starting cost for festivals.

People love it. We did a pilot launch with five festivals, and 80% of all festival goers downloaded the app and were using it like crazy. All of a sudden it becomes the festival’s main communication channel with their clients. It’s a really cool feature.

D.A.: Yeah, sounds like there’s a lot of practical ways to use it. Whether you’re a fan or a venue owner or event organizer or what have you. I’m sure something that my listeners are going to be curious to know is how does an independent artist take advantage of the platform?

Vasja: So independent artists are actually our main target group here, aside from promoters, because they probably already have their profile on Viberate, but they don’t know it yet. They can go to the server. They can search their name. I’m pretty sure that 90% of them are going to find their profile already in the database. And then they can claim it. Once they claim it, they take complete control over it, and they can use it instead of their website because it contains all the information that actually would be necessary on their official website.

We collect gig dates that we get from tapping into APIs of ticket providers. We highlight the hottest content that they put on their official channels. We have a recommendation engine so we will let people know who are similar artists.

And then, we analyze how artists are following each other on social media. So, if you go to, let’s say Metallica’s profile, you’ll be surprised to see that they’re following Lady Gaga on Instagram. And this is the feature that only we have.

It’s an interesting thing to see how bands and musicians are following each other. It’s a huge recognition if you’re a small garage band, and you just all of a sudden get followed by huge superstar. That means something. And people usually brag about it.

It's a huge recognition if you're a small garage band, and you just all of a sudden get followed by huge superstar. Share on X

But yeah, independent artists can use their profiles instead of their official websites. They can send the link to their profile to promoters and say, “Hey, this is me. This is my stuff here. Check me out. Why don’t you book me?”

One of our co-founders, the DJ I manage. He’s really a high-profile techno DJ. We deleted his official website. And now, if you type in UMEK.si, which is his name, it’s going to redirect you directly to his profile.

Right now, that’s the biggest advantage. You can have your website, it’s already done. So, you don’t have to do it yourself. You just have to register a domain and redirect it to your Viberate profile and you’re done.

And you don’t have to update it. You just keep doing what you’re doing. Keep uploading stuff to your YouTube channel. Keep updating your Twitter or your Instagram. We’re going to filter out the hottest content. So, the content that your fans are most engaged with is going to pop up on your Vibrate profile.

D.A.: Maybe I’m reading into this a little bit but certainly seems reminiscent of Myspace, right? Like one thing I remember talking to venue owners and event organizers, they liked that artists were able to kind of have everything on one page, which made it easy for them to decide whether or not to book this artist.

Yeah, this kind of seems a little bit like a throwback to that. Except much cleaner and nicer.

Vasja: Yeah, Myspace had a horrible user experience.

D.A.: It really did, yeah. But it had its advantages in terms of like growing your fan base and so forth, right, which is why artists kind of tended towards it.

So, I think, you know, it’s high time that we should have some kind of platform that replaces it because Facebook is a powerful marketing platform, but it’s just not doing the job that Myspace used to do for artists.

Vasja: Yeah. Yeah, I agree.

D.A.: So, before we got into recording today’s conversation, we talked a little bit about blockchain technology. As you mentioned, Viberate platform is not fully blockchain yet, but you are taking advantage of cryptocurrency.

You know, this is a discussion that is certainly growing in the music industry now. Some are even kind of holding up blockchain as the answer within the music industry, but what are your thoughts on that?

Vasja: So yeah, blockchain can solve a lot of problems on both sides of the music industry. There have been a lot of takes of solving the whole royalty distribution problem using cryptocurrencies, but a lot of projects kind of just died out along with the arrival of bare markets in early 2018.

We’re still alive and kicking, so we did raise a significant amount of money at the end of 2017, through the release of our token, it’s called VIB, VIB token.

The first role of the token was that if you were adding profiles into our database or curating the information, existing ones, you could earn our tokens. And a lot of people took advantage of it so a lot of people just… Some quit their day jobs to become full time curators and contributors for Viberate. There still are.

We have a lot of contributors from Venezuela, because they have a horrible economic situation there and they saw the opportunity to earn money by helping us grow and grow the database and listen at the whole global live music ecosystem. So, we have a lot of people that know a lot about music in Venezuela.

And this is how we started using cryptocurrencies, but now, we have really interesting plans for the future in terms of privacy and taking control of your own data as an artist.

We’re testing out a feature that will allow musicians to claim their Viberate profiles and to move them on the blockchain so they will control what kind of information they want to share with whom they want to share it and for how long.

For example, if you’re a rock bank, you have your Viberate profile, you upload your official photo, you have your content on a profile, and then you want to share it with a streaming service or with a ticket provider that sells tickets for a gig.

So, you say, “Okay. I will allow Ticketmaster to use my profile photo and my gig history and some of my videos that I put online for until next Saturday when my gig takes place. And after that, I don’t want to share this with them anymore.”

So, this is something that we’re going to start testing late this year. It’s going to be quite a nice feature that will give full control of their data back to artists. Because in our experience with music management, we know how hard it is to keep control of what kind of stuff people and websites and services are publishing to present about you as an artist.

D.A.: Yeah, I think it’s great that there are people going through tough economic situations that are able to take advantage of something like this. And it’s actually a lot of fun, I would imagine, being able to contribute to a project like this.

Now, you mentioned, you talked a little bit about the trajectory that you followed. You started kind of promoting a DJ and then that kind of turned into an opportunity that you saw to leverage data in the music industry.

But in your bio on LinkedIn, you talk about the fact that the music industry turned out to be an endless field of business opportunities, which I’m sure like some people looking in don’t necessarily feel that way. But what do you think you were seeing that that others weren’t?

The music industry turned out to be an endless field of business opportunities. Share on X

Vasja: Well, the music industry is probably one of the hardest fields to be in as a startup. Mark Cuban said in one of the episodes of Shark Tank that he invests into a lot of fields, but he avoids music as the plague. That really caught my attention.

The music industry is probably one of the hardest fields to be in as a startup. Share on X

I completely get where he’s coming from. It’s a really tough industry to make money in. It’s tough making an exit as a startup in the music industry.

We all know Spotify is by far the biggest music company right now. I read somewhere that they get 20% of all of the recorded music revenue. So, 20% of everything in the world goes to Spotify. And they still failed to make profit.

Yeah, this is losing money. This is a good example of how tough it is here. But we see ourselves not necessarily as a music startup, but as a data start-up, so our main business is data. We analyze about a billion data points per month for all our entities.

If you’re a data company, you can be a data company in medicine and healthcare, or in education and automotive industry. It doesn’t matter. It’s data.

So, this is where we found our opportunity because we see that especially the live, the excitement, and the professional part of the music industry – it kind of got stuck in the 90s. So, it’s really low tech, and it’s a lot of wasted space here to improve services to give data to promoters to improve their decision making.

Most of the promoters are just going to book artists based on gut feeling. They’re going to book artists that they like. And, if you want to make money as a promoter, you have to book artists that are popular for people. Even if you don’t like the music that they do. If you’re a professional, then you’re out there about the money.

Of course, you’re going to give priority to artists that you like, but you have to spread your horizons and just ask people what they like. And this is something that we’re actually offering, the popularity metrics.

Promoters can use Viberate to find out who’s popular, who’s getting traction on social media and streaming sites, and then contact them and negotiate a booking.

D.A.: Yeah. I love that, you know. Here I am, toughing it out in the music industry, right? Coaching and helping musicians and sharing new insights into what’s going on and helping them keep up to date and all that.

But I guess my attitude is, hey, if it is the toughest industry, if I can make it here, I can make it anywhere. But I’m a smart guy. I’m sure I could, you know, be in some other niche if I wanted to be.

Another thing your bio mentions is that you’re a copywriting and creative processes guy. I would love for you to touch on that side of things as well so we can get a better sense of you.

Vasja: So yeah, my background is actually… I have a master’s in marketing. But I kind of found myself in the music industry right after I finished my studies. I joined an event management company that later morphed into a music management company because one of the co-founders of the agency is a world-famous DJ, UMEK.

He played ultra mainstage EDC, Las Vegas. He was a resident in Ibiza for a couple of years. So, he’s all over the world. He has up to 120 gigs per year. And so, we went from being marketing guys to be music managers, and we had to learn everything from scratch.

It was fun. It was a fun ride. We learned especially a lot about the pains of the industry. Viberate actually was brought to life because we try to solve the pains that no other services were solving. We said, “Okay. If no one’s going to do it, let’s try and do it ourselves.” This is how we came here.

D.A.: We’re always looking for insights into how a musician or music entrepreneur listening to this show can take their business, move forward with it, and create better results.

And so, I’m always curious to find any insights we can find. So, next few questions will kind of pertain to that. But what are the greatest challenges you’ve overcome as an entrepreneur?

Vasja: If you’re an Eastern European company, if you’re a European start-up, we don’t have a really live startup scene here. Not a lot of startups coming from Slovenia.

The first major obstacle we had to overcome was raising money because unlike in Silicon Valley, there’s not a lot of capital going around here. So, we had to hustle a lot to first get our seed round. We still do. I mean we’re currently in the middle of raising our Series A round. Of course, we have to go outside of our country to get capital, but it’s a big challenge.

And second of all, coming from a small country, if you have to build a relatively large team, 65 people that are working in our offices, it is a large team. And if you come from a small country, it’s hard to find people that are going to work for you.

So, you have to hire engineers. And there’s not a lot of engineers in the country that only has two million people. So, what we did is we invest a lot of money in our offices. So, we have really cool startup, like offices. We have foosball. We have pool tables. We have a 3D driving simulator. We even have a shooting range for a couple of months, and now we had to throw it out because we need room for a new conference room.

So, yeah, we do all kinds of startup stuff that’s usually Silicon Valley companies do to attract people to come and work for us.

And yeah, raising money was always tough. My wife and I moved to Silicon Valley for four months. And when we came there, we realized that we don’t have any contacts. So, no one was going to pick up our calls or return our emails. We didn’t know what to do.

So, what we did then is we rented a car. We went on Crunchbase. We printed out a list of all the VCs that ever invested in the music company and we just knocked on the door. We just paid them a visit. Unannounced!

In the beginning it was scary, but then we noticed that each and everyone was really positively surprised that there are still people that are going to hustle the old school way without an intro, who’s just going to break into their office to say, “Hi! This is our pitch.” It was nice. It was an interesting story.

We actually got quite a few leads. People accepted us. They did intros for us. It was a nice thing, but it’s a really hard business, the music industry. VCs aren’t really happy to just throw money at you if you’re in the startup.

D.A.: No. And even just getting people to understand something so high tech, at least, you know, that’s the point on which I relate or sympathize a little bit is because in Calgary, really the oil and gas industries is the biggest. If you want to be in Calgary, most people are all about the oil and gas jobs and what they can accomplish there.

So, there’s not a whole lot happening in tech and entertainment and music. I mean, there’s some incredibly talented musicians out there just like there are anywhere else but that was such a challenge to try to explain to people what it is that I even do. I’d be like, “Well, I work completely from home.” And they’re like, “What does that look like?” You have these online businesses and websites and they’re like, “I don’t get it.” Yeah, okay.

Vasja: It’s not that tough here.

D.A.: Yeah, but there’s just not a startup culture like you’re saying.

Vasja: Yeah. The startup culture started developing in Slovenia. Especially in 2017 during the ICO hype and the crypto hype. Everybody was talking about it. We even got the whole government of Slovenia along with the Prime Minister to visit our offices, because they asked this workshop for the whole cabinet of the Prime Minister about blockchain, about startup culture, what we need from the government to boost the whole culture. It was really nice.

I mean, Prime Minister in Slovenia is like the president of US. So, he’s the head of the country. It’s not the president who leads the country. So, it was a huge honor for us. And it was quite an unusual thing to have the head of the state in our office.

D.A.: No doubt.

Vasja: But it was a nice thing. We educated the government of how we think they should help us get the attention of the world. Because if you come from such a small country, you have to struggle so much more than if you’re just a Silicon Valley company.

D.A.: Well, I love the hustle. I love the fact that you recognized those challenges and sought ways to navigate through them. Such a great story. And maybe you already aired this, but what are the greatest victories you’ve experienced as an entrepreneur?

Vasja: Well, I think that it was when big acts started claiming their profile. So, the first superstar act was Linkin Park. They claimed their profile in Viberate. It was a huge recognition for the whole team. So, the whole team was really fueled by that. And then, others started coming. So, Robbie Williams, the Chainsmokers, a bunch of big DJs.

Every time we get a high-profile claim, the whole office is really psyched about it. It’s just that that started rolling. So right now, we’re getting up to 100 claims per day. That means a lot for us. That means that we’re getting traction, we’re getting recognition.

Sooner or later we will become a standard for the music industry. So, yeah. High profile recognitions definitely mean a lot to us right now.

D.A.: Yeah, that’s awesome. There are certain artists who are embracing tech instead of trying to knock it down. Kind of like the Metallica-Napster days, right, which some people might remember.

Vasja: Yeah, but still. I mean we kind of got what they were trying to do because they were investing a lot of effort into recording albums, and they just didn’t want to have people just downloading them for free.

Funny thing is that actually Napster was one of the first streaming services that approached us because they’re really interested in the data that we have. So, we’re talking with them right now of integrating couple of our services because a lot of people don’t know Napster still exists. The brand Napster still exists. It’s a streaming service.

We have the whole team here in Ljubljana. I picked him up from the airport and I intentionally was playing “Master of Puppets” from Metallica when we’re driving for the airport, so we’re all laughing and it was a nice one.

I mean they don’t have anything in common with the old Napster. So, the whole management is changed.

D.A.: Yeah, no, you’re absolutely right. You know, Metallica at the time was just trying to save what was quickly becoming an outdated and no longer sustainable industry.

Vasja: It takes a lot of guts to do that.  It takes a lot of guts to do that because they didn’t know if they are going to lose a lot of fans, but someone had to do it.

D.A.: You can’t blame them for trying based on how the industry is right now, but we’re looking forward to a much better overall industry and maybe tech may hold the answers to that. So, are there any books that have helped you on your journey?

Vasja: Yeah, we have a small library in the office. We’re mostly focusing on selling tactics. I’m subscribed to MasterClass. So, I have an annual pass for, I don’t know if you know the MasterClass series.

D.A.: Yes.

Vasja: It’s a service that have big names lecturing about all kinds of management or selling or copywrite. So yeah, we try to educate ourselves as much as possible.

When we were raising money, we’re part of the local accelerator that taught us how to pitch your project, how to create an interesting deck, how to approach investors. So, we have to learn all the time.

D.A.: I read my share of sales books as well whether it was SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham, or The Psychology of Selling by Brian Tracy. At one point, I just tried to learn everything I possibly could about it. I’m not necessarily directly in sales. I guess, you know, as a CEO of a company, you’re always marketing and sales, and that’s your focus.

But you know, we do such soft sells in the music industry, just because, you know, the less direct is almost better in a way for musicians that are looking for something specific.

Even though you know, you apply all the same stuff psychologically, whether it’s urgency or, you know, polarizing them one way or the other, but the message itself is often less direct than you probably would place it in other industries.

Well, thanks for your time and generosity Vasja. Is there anything else I should have asked?

Vasja: I don’t know. You tell me. You’re the one asking.

D.A.: I mean I feel like we covered everything that I wanted to in this episode. We got a good idea of who you are and your expertise as well as a sense of what Viberate is and how it benefits artists. So, to me that rounds things out pretty well.

Vasja: Yeah, I think we have it fully covered.

D.A.: Awesome. Well, thanks so much.

Vasja: Thank you.