Media player Winamp‘s original heyday may be some time in the past, but it remains a going concern – 80 million people are using the software around the world still.
It also made headlines in March this year when it announced plans to sell NFTs based on the 1997 Winamp skin – its first graphical interface – albeit while rousing the ire of Winamp’s co-creator Justin Frankel in the process.
So what is the Winamp of 2022 really up to? The player’s corporate history is a saga in itself: its original developer was bought by AOL in 1999 for $80m, then sold on to Belgian music/tech startup Radionomy for a rumoured $5m-$10m in 2014.
Vivendi then bought a 64.4% stake in Radionomy in 2015, before selling that back to a new parent group called AudioValley in 2017.
Fast forward to 2022, and Winamp is still owned by AudioValley, alongside sister subsidiaries including Targetspot (the rebranded Radionomy service, focusing on digital audio advertising tech); music licensing firm Jamendo; and recently-launched rights-management entity Bridger.
It’s complicated! But CEO Alexandre Saboundjian shed some more light on his company’s plans for Winamp in an appearance last week at the Wallifornia Music & Innovation Summit in Belgium, interviewed by Music Ally CEO Paul Brindley.
Some of those plans are focused on Winamp’s consumer player, which will soon be relaunching as software that aggregates various kinds of listening: different music streaming services, podcasts and radio stations for example.
“All your listening experiences. I think this is really the future of our player, and I was really surprised that in the last 10 years, nobody tried to build a player like this,” said Saboundjian.
Open source project Tomahawk is the closest thing we can remember to this vision: it was getting lots of buzz in 2012, exactly 10 years ago.
While companies ranging from Spotify to TuneIn have offered different combinations of radio, podcasts and/or on-demand music, nobody has quite wrapped it all up with multiple streaming services in one app.
Saboundjian said that Winamp will pursue these DSP integrations on a “step by step” basis, with one partnership already in place for this year, and more to follow.
This is the listener-facing part of Winamp’s business, but what’s also new are its B2B ambitions. Like many other firms in 2022, Winamp sees a lot of potential in providing tools for musicians.
“It’s good to build a player, but there is no real economy behind the player, so you need to have something more to make revenue,” said Saboundjian.
“We will build also another platform: we open next week in a beta version, really, for creators. For me there is a new economy there… we will help creators to make their own subscription models, and we will help creators to distribute their music.”
“You will also be able to create your own music NFT and sell it, and it will also be possible to manage the author, composer and publisher rights with Bridger. So we have a lot of things on the platform that I think creators need today.”
Saboundjian acknowledged that there is no shortage of competition across these areas: more than 50 companies globally offering distribution services for artists, for example.
“For me, distribution is just a part of the revenue of the artist, and the goal for Winamp on the creators part is really to aggregate all the different streams of revenue,” he said. “It’s why we decided to put a distribution part inside [the business].”
Artist-level subscriptions have been talked about for many years in the music/tech world, and tried by several startups and crowdfunding platforms: Patreon being one of the most prominent.
While individual artists have built sustainable businesses on the latter, nobody yet has really made this a lucrative model at scale in a way that challenges the traditional funding models in the music industry.
What will Winamp be offering? It’s early days in terms of revealing details, with Saboundjian talking about the way “an artist today produces more than just the releases that you can find on Spotify” and that with “better content, some exclusivity” a separate subscription can work.
“The business model is really normal… they can create different types of tiers, they can create different types of subscription, and they decide the type of content they want to share with their fans,” he elaborated on how Winamp’s model will work.
“In the [new] Winamp player you can subscribe to an artist… and the large part of the money will go back to the artists, because I think also that today, the way to share the money in the music industry is not really fair,” added Saboundjian. “In our model, 85% of the revenue will go back to the artist.”
That’s a 15% cut for Winamp. By comparison, Patreon takes a 5%, 8% or 12% cut depending on which of its plans creators choose, with varying levels of features and support.
As for NFTs, Saboundjian said that Winamp wants to make it easy for artists to create them, and to use smart contracts to ensure they share in the proceeds from any future sales on secondary markets.
Meanwhile, the company plans to tap Jamendo’s experience to help artists grow their sync-licensing income, with Bridger on hand to offer rights management for musicians who are not already signed to a collecting society – or who want to switch.
It’s a lot of different services, across consumer and B2B segments. Brindley wondered whether there is a risk that Winamp is trying to become a jack-of-all-trades rather than a master of one. Saboundjian disagreed.
“I think it is just one service, and the service is aggregation. On the creator part or the consumer part, we aggregate. That is the vision, but the vision is also linked to the reality of the market,” he said, adding that on the B2B side, he sees a real value for musicians in “aggregating in one place all the different streaming revenues”.
The session finished with some wider thoughts on the music industry, and how Saboundjian thinks web3 technologies can benefit musicians.
“For me, web2, if we decide that web2 really started in 2005, did just a part of the job,” he said. “For me, the music industry is still a kind of banana industry, with three companies who own 65% of the market, five companies who decide 90% of distribution, and this is not something normal in a digital industry.”
[editorial note: it’s unclear whether he was referring to music distributors with that 90% stat, or to streaming services. We suspect the latter but will follow up to check.]
“web3 can be for the music industry a really big step… but there are important challenges in the next three or four years, to really try to bring some revenues to artists,” he continued.
“Today in this industry, the big winners are really the big ones [artists] more usually when they are English or American artists. But when you talk to a German well-known artist, the reality is that if he has to compare his revenue today with the revenue he had in the past, he has lost 70% of his revenue.”
“So there are still some challenges… Really, since 10 years, there was the big lie in the market, and the big lie was to say hey guys, the solution is to build streaming services and that will be the dramatic solution. We see today that it’s not the reality.”
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