Stem Raises $20 Million To Help Music Artists Get Paid

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

Stem co-founder and CEO Milana Lewis
Courtesy of Stem.

Stem, a music tech startup focused on helping artists with distribution and payments, has raised $20 million in a new funding round.

Fintech-focused venture capital firm QED Investors led the funding and was joined by Block, the Jack Dorsey-led payments tech company formerly known as Square. Block notably paid nearly $300 million last year to acquire a majority stake in TIDAL, the music streaming service backed by rapper Jay-Z.

Existing investors Slow Ventures and Quality Control also pitched in on Stem’s new round, which takes the Los Angeles-based startup’s total funding to around $40 million.

Since launching in 2015, Stem has merged financial management tools with music distribution capabilities, working with independent record labels like Big Loud as well as major artists like Wiz Khalifa. Its dashboard includes tools for artists, managers and labels to oversee their revenues, split funds with collaborators and receive automated payments. While only Stem-distributed artists can currently access its financial tools, the new funds will go toward expanding the platform’s existing royalty accounting features to other music distributors.

Stem co-founder and CEO Milana Lewis told dot.LA that she launched the startup based on her experiences as a talent agent for industry heavyweight United Talent Agency—a role in which she saw firsthand how difficult it was for artists trying to aggregate multiple revenue streams. Stem was born out of Lewis’ desire to streamline the process.

“Getting into music has always been hard for anyone that works in music,” Lewis said. “There’s this notion of a starving artist for a reason: It’s because the business is really complex, and it’s gotten more complex.”

With avenues for music monetization—from streaming platforms to home devices—constantly expanding, Stem aims to provide artists with a “financial backbone” allowing them to plan their projects and income, Lewis added.

“Our belief is: What if we build a system that can become the system of record for who gets paid what and how?” she said. “It makes it possible for other really interesting economic things to happen for artists.”

Stem is among a new generation of startups that are turning L.A. into a music tech hotbed—a trend that makes sense given the city's status as a global entertainment capital and home to major labels like Universal Music Group. Last week saw Trac, another startup distribution platform for music artists, raise $2.5 million in new funding, as dot.LA reported.

While streaming has helped the music business evolve its revenue model, that hasn't always been to the benefit of artists: Spotify recently revealed that most artists earned less than $10,000 through its platform in 2021. In turn, some independent musicians have protested against the streaming giant over its low royalty payments.

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