Music Ally Startup Files: Voisey is the TikTok for music creation


If co-founder Olly Barnes’ infectious optimism is correct, Voisey is a phenomenon-in-waiting. It’s an app that has the potential to shake up how songs are made; tap into hitherto locked-away artistic talent; develop a new breed of pop star and pop songs; and maybe even bypass the traditional label system.

Sounds too good to be true? Barnes suggests that it’s already happening. In an alternate music-biz timeline, Voisey might be the “missing” social media platform: combining early SoundCloud’s zealous userbase, early Hype Machine’s excitement of discovery; Snapchat’s intimacy; and TikTok’s front-facing camera appeal.

Barnes currently divides his time between Voisey and mobile games firm Space Ape, having previously held influential roles at Universal Music and Rdio. He also founded GoMix, an early collaborative music platform.

His pitch is certainly bullish: that Voisey could be a one-stop shop that will help people graduate from TikTok lip-sync wannabes to bona-fide songwriter/performers earning royalties.

“It’s not an application, it’s a movement. People are writing little loops, and users are jumping on them! Voisey may have huge implications for the music industry at large…”

How does Voisey work?

Voisey is currently iOS-only, although an Android version is coming soon. The app greets you with a TikTok-like experience: a stream of young faces, singing something heartfelt over a pop loop – except that almost every song is new, and you might hear users singing different things over the same musical loop.

Songs are created in two ways: producers can upload short loops of music, and users can pick one out to sing over, adding vocal effects, and perhaps harmonising with others (or themselves) in split-screen.

A video can be a maximum of 60 seconds in length, and is often only a chorus, hook, or verse. Shy users can blur their faces, but, Barnes says, they usually unmask themselves once positive feedback arrives.

The songs made in Voisey currently skew towards the Bieber/Grande/Drake-type sound, with lots of auto-tuned vocals. In this sense, it’s a remarkably simple democratisation of what it is to be a pop star.

If TikTok shows that it’s easy for anyone with creative visual nous to explode to international stardom, Voisey indicates that, in 2020, an individual’s ability to be a creative musician is much more common than traditionally thought.

And Voisey, Barnes says, is merely taking the baton from TikTok and running with it:

“What TikTok is done is amazing – they’ve kick-started a creative revolution. But if you look at the platform, it’s quite limited [in a creative sense] – it’s lip-syncing; the hairbrush in front of the bedroom mirror. If users want to step up to being songwriters, that step is very hard.”

Barnes sees the Max Martin-esque pop-songwriting process, where hit songs are pieced together by multiple songwriters, as an opportunity for millions of people who are great musicians, but don’t realise it – yet.

voisey founders

What Problem does Voisey solve?

Voisey’s big idea is of opening a window to a parallel music business universe: one where A&R, discovery, artist development, collaboration, as well as connectivity to tastemakers and an audience all begin in one app.

In fact, Barnes thinks that Voisey doesn’t solve a problem as much as it creates a new one: “If we get 100m installs – which I think we can get fairly quickly – there’s a chance that the number of high quality songs [created on Voisey] will be overwhelming.”

And it’s not just about consumption. Barnes suggests that within Voisey’s “non-musicians” lies the future of pop music composition: millions of building blocks to make pop songs out of.

“We’re really excited about how good these little hooks are… we have users in remote parts of the world, who have never made a song before, and have low self-confidence, but Voisey allows them to make the step to songwriting.”

What is Voisey’s technology?

Voisey allows producers to upload beats, with some vocal processing to massage users’ iPhone headphone-mic vocals into something autotuned and pop-tastic.

There’s then an algorithmic discovery system for three parties: singers who want to find a cool beat to perform over; users who want to find the hot new Voisey creations, and – crucially – the Voisey team and its partners, who are seeking that killer hook or breakout star.

Since soft-launching in 2019, Voisey already has a catalogue of more than 350k user-generated recordings, and there are already some good songs shining through. 91% of plays on the service are of original music, and only 9% of covers.

Repetition – people singing separately over the same loop – can help music stick in the memory: for example see this mashup, pieced together from four discrete contributions:

At scale, Voisey could provide producers with a catalogue of hooks, toplines, choruses and lyrics – all over a beat already proven to be popular. Producers could be left with the task of piecing together and polishing up a banger to unleash elsewhere.

As with apps from TikTok to Smule, the community is all-important, and it creates its own stars. “What’s so exciting now is that you can bypass the machine. If TikTok pushes one song to a 13-year old fan, an unknown girl lip-syncing on TikTok has the same merits as Arianna Grande.”

Voisey isn’t sharing user numbers yet, but Barnes gave Music Ally some demographic data. 31% of the app’s users are aged 13-17, and 44% aged 18-24. Of those who disclose their gender, 65.5% are women and 34.5% men. The average user spends nearly 20 minutes in the app every day, and between 4.5 and 6.5 hours a month.

How is Voisey working with the industry right now?

Voisey’s main industry partners thus far are superstar songwriters – and Voisey investors – Stargate, as well as Platoon, the London-based music artist-services startup founded by AWAL and iTunes veteran Denzyl Fiegelson. It’s these partners that will take advantage of Voisey’s A&R capabilities.

“Our story is closely linked to the artists we find. Some major labels make A&R sound like a mythical science, but we have partners who can identify great hooks and take them forward,” says Barnes.

Platoon has already intervened in one Voisey user’s life: having spotted the talent of Olivia Knight, the company flew her from San Diego to develop and record her songs.

There are more big partnerships to come, says Barnes. “It’ll be pretty threatening-looking – depending on your stance in the industry!”

Voisey as A&R machine

The Max Martin approach – cherry-picking bits of songs and creating a monsterpiece – is already being replicated on Voisey: rappers appeal for users to contribute a hook, singers seek out duets.

It’s here where Stargate get in on the act, releasing a couple of loops onto Voisey to see which generate the most buzz and catchy musical responses. Barnes says that the partnership with Stargate is a brand-new opportunity for users.

“Stargate saw that Voisey will be the first blip on the A&R radar, and reached out to us. So now we can connect any user with Stargate – and that’s not a step that was available for anyone in the past.”

How do Voisey and its users make money?

Voisey is free to use, but it’s clear that the company is looking to in-app purchases, inspired by the mobile games industry, for its future revenues.

“Compared to gaming, [music streaming] is in its infancy. Gaming will be worth $80bn this year,” says Barnes. As Voisey begins to make money, there will be royalties for its creators, split equally between the musicians making the backing tracks, and the topline vocalists.

“A large pool of Voisey revenue will be split pro-rata between songs played in the app. We only deal with publishing rights – all recordings are owned by the creators,” stresses Barnes. Meanwhile, if Voisey intervenes and helps develop loops and vocals into “real-world” hit songs, the company will take a small percentage of royalties in return.

A revolution in plain sight?

Voisey’s gamble is that there is a huge seam of undiscovered musical talent out there, and a swathe of great new songs that can be pieced together. The proof will be in the pudding: Voisey needs to scale, its users need to produce a steady stream of hit song parts, and its mysterious gaming-inspired system needs to unlock a fat new income stream.

Fiegelson and Platoon’s involvement suggests that a quiet revolution may be happening in plain sight. Platoon was purchased by Apple as part of an apparent strategy of building the full “creation backend”: discovering, developing, recording and releasing music.

Barnes holds his cards close to his chest on this topic, suggesting instead that Voisey “could be the most amazing top of the funnel that the music publishing industry has ever seen – there’s never been a ‘songwriting camp’ like this.”

The giant chunk of the music industry that doesn’t loom so large in Voisey’s ambitious plans yet are major labels. Voisey isn’t working against them, as such – after all, it could be a useful A&R pool for the majors too.

Barnes suggests that we “imagine a world where a Voisey song is nurtured by Stargate, which then explodes on TikTok. That’s the point when a major label could step in and rinse out every last drop from that song.”

Need to know: Voisey factfile

Category: Music creation
Headquarters: Bergen, Norway and London, UK
Management Team: Olly Barnes, Erlend Hausken, and Pål Wagtskjold-Myran

Funding so far: “We’ve had two rounds of angel financing and are currently closing a third. Almost all comes from ‘value add’ investors. We don’t have any interest in institutional/venture capital money, we want this to be built, owned and operated by a network that really cares and can contribute to the mission.”

Voisey is currently seeking to develop relationships with:

– Managers of established artists
– Sector-specific angel investors
– Growth hacking

Contact details: [email protected]

Written by: Joe Sparrow