You don’t have to be a music industry veteran to realize the system is cooked, but it probably takes one to fix it. If all goes according to plan, that person could be Enrique “Mag” Rodriguez, a 29-year-old entrepreneur who launched his new platform, EVEN, with the goal of helping musicians make bank off their art. Conceived in 2022, the company—a rare music and tech entity composed almost entirely of Black and brown staffers—secured $2.2 million in seed funding last spring, setting the stage for its widespread launch in March.
The EVEN model looks something like this: For a price of the fan’s choosing, they can access an artist’s music—as well as exclusive merch—before it hits streaming services. It’s early on, but from the outset, it seems like a rare win-win for both seller and consumer. For his part, Vallejo, Calif. rapper LaRussell saw a major come-up when he earned $95,000 in revenue within his first month on EVEN. For reference, it would take an artist nearly 40 million Spotify streams to earn the equivalent amount—and that’s if you possess all of your royalties. It’s the sort of outcome that’s got established creators like French Montana, Jidenna, Kota the Friend, Omarion, and Dame D.O.L.L.A tapping in, and, hopefully, will get its 25,000-plus active service users cashing out.
“My favorite part of this is always the emerging artists,” says Rodriguez, a Milwaukee native. “The artist that's literally making a dollar or two from streaming with thousands of streams… They'll make a thousand dollars in a day on the platform.”
Rodriguez hopped on a call with LEVEL to discuss how his game-changing platform is helping your faves get paid fairly.
LEVEL: Tell me about the journey that led you to launching EVEN.
Mag Rodriguez: I've been in the industry for a little over a decade, but I started working in the venture space in 2018. I had just moved back to my hometown after being on the road with an artist. I burned out, decided I didn't want to work in the music industry anymore. And that led me to meet these two venture capitalists who had roots in Milwaukee, but had built a successful venture firm. I started building this music program for artists and managers with them. I worked really closely with the venture, [which] introduced me to consumer trends happening across other industries. That created my initial interest to say, How can we take consumer behaviors happening in other industries and bring them to the music industry?
I don't think streaming platforms are going anywhere. They'll continue to be very powerful, but it can't be the end all be all. The market trend shows exactly why, primarily on a financial model, it's not going to be sustainable for a long time. I decided to build a new model, but I didn't want to build something that was going to replace what exists. I wanted to build something that compliments what exists currently. At the end of 2021, I pitched the idea to the venture firm and they ended up writing me my first check.
How many artists are currently using EVEN?
We have 20,000 artists currently on the waitlist. We let 3,000 in during the open beta period. It's been a huge influx of artists on the platform; we're slowly letting artists into the platform on a daily basis. We hope to have all 28,000 fully integrated and onboarded to the platform by March, when we officially launch.
As far as users, EVEN isn't a subscription model per se, where fans have to subscribe and they can listen to as much music as they want. EVEN is more of the infrastructure where they can only access the music that they pay for. We’re currently averaging about 140,000 users a month that come to EVEN, create an account, and explore releases. As far as how many are purchasing music, it really depends on the release. Emerging artists will sell anywhere between 40 to 200 copies. A bigger artist will sell in the thousands. Bigger artists, of course, sell more. We’ve built discovery tools within the platform since there is an appetite from users to explore other releases. So we continue to expand on that, but currently fans get to EVEN [by] artists promoting their releases via their channels.
We had an artist just a couple of days ago who has like 3,000 followers on Instagram; he made $2,000 the first day.
What is the difference between using EVEN to sell music versus using another platform?
That's a great question. Just for context, DistroKid is a distribution company. They're very similar to United Masters and TuneCore. [It’s] almost like a direct-to-consumer distribution company. Since artists can't upload music directly to streaming platforms, they have to work with a distributor, record label, or an aggregator. It's really their main function. EVEN is not a distribution company. We don't upload music to streaming platforms. Think of EVEN more like Shopify—we're the infrastructure that allows an artist to sell directly to their fans if they don't have the means, resources, or time to build their own direct-to-consumer website.
If Spotify is Netflix, EVEN is the movie theater. EVEN serves as the opportunity for an artist to premiere their music directly to their fans in a way that protects the music, but offers a user-friendly experience that doesn't take away from fans listening to the music on streaming platforms.
Is there a business you would like to emulate with EVEN?
I want EVEN to become the Shopify of the music industry. And entertainment. The amount of people who don't do music that want to use EVEN—we're talking writers and comedians and filmmakers, content creators, podcasters. Music is the focus right now; I think it'll go far beyond.
Let’s jump a year from now: What would success look like for EVEN?
Again, using the Shopify analogy: Shopify isn't measuring their success based on how many people are buying from the businesses creating accounts on Shopify. They're more so measuring it based on how many businesses are joining. With that in mind, we're aiming for between 50,000 to 60,000 artists, conservatively, before the end of 2024. My priority is how do we build something that is sustainable for artists? Onboarding artists for the sake of a metric that I can give to investors isn't what fuels me. It's more so how can we prepare them with the tools where they can start to have a more sustainable career, especially in the early stages.
What have been the best things that artists have told you about using EVEN so far?
We had an artist just a couple of days ago who has like 3,000 followers on Instagram; he made $2,000 the first day. Now he's up to $6,000 with a couple hundred fans—more money than he had ever made professionally. I think that opened up his eyes to what his career can look like. And you're now seeing it in the content that he's posting. He's promoting his music more aggressively. I spend a lot of time talking to artists. Every time we see those case studies, I get on a call with them. I want to track what happens. We started working with LaRussell before it really took off for him. He also credits us the same way that we credit him for our success. Being able to say, Look, this is where EVEN was two years ago; this was where LaRussell was two years ago. The direct impact of both catapulted our businesses into two completely different levels. So I'm excited to see that, and I'm excited to see one of these artists become a global superstar in the upcoming years and to be able to know we were a part of making that impact in their careers and their lives.