Daouda Leonard: “We’re creating an operating system for the music industry”

CreateSafe’s founder Daouda Leonard tells us how he’s building software tools to empower artists and bring transparency to the music industry.


September 29, 2020

Music Twitter has been lit up by an app called the Record Deal Simulator, built on the CREATE/OS platform. 

The brainchild of Daouda Leonard and his music tech firm CreateSafe, the app tells an artist how many streams they’ll need to break even on a record deal.

To illustrate the point, music journalist Cherie Hu plugged in numbers for Kanye West’s 6th album deal with Universal Music Group (UMG); according to the simulator, Yeezy would have to deliver 3.2B streams before seeing a single dollar in royalties.

After an early start in finance and tech, Leonard has spent more than a decade in the music industry. In addition to launching CREATE/OS, he manages the music careers of Grimes and BloodPop

We caught up with Leonard to learn how he’s creating software tools to empower artists and bring the music industry into the 21st century.

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What was your reaction when you saw Kanye’s tweetstorm

We had been working on the Record Deal Simulator for a while when Kanye [sent out the tweets criticizing the record industry]. 

The energy of the conversation that was happening throughout the industry pushed us to move faster. Our reaction was excitement around “how do we seize the moment?”

So we took that energy and used the momentum to finish the product and ride the wave.

The Record Deal Simulator was an exact demonstration of what Kanye was talking about in regards to the unequal balance between artists and labels. 

Why did you build the Record Deal Simulator? 

In music, the underlying way that people generate income is what I call “metadata management”. If you’re managing the metadata of your intellectual property (in this case music) properly, then you can value it. If you can properly value IP, then you have leverage when negotiating deals.

The Record Deal Simulator is a music fintech tool designed to open source music business knowledge and provide financial literacy as a means to creating the leverage needed for artist empowerment.

CreateSafe’s Record Deal Simulator

How does the Record Deal Simulator fit into the rest of CreateSafe?  

The platform we are building is called CREATE/OS. I’ve always been of the mindset that relationships are the core tech of the music industry, but there’s been no dedicated product that deals with these relationships.

Think of a dashboard that combines Asana, Slack, Excel, Tableau, Copper and Upwork — but specifically tailored to music managers and artists. 

We’re creating an operating system for the music industry and have industry-specific tools that allow you to:

  • Book a studio
  • Build your brand 
  • Pay out collaborators
  • Value your catalog of music
  • Manage your contracts and deals 
  • Create LLCs (think Stripe Atlas for artists)
  • Create education modules for career management
  • Upload mixes (which have tricky publishing copyright rules) to Apple Music and get paid

The full platform is in beta, but we’ll be rolling out features as they’re ready.

Are you currently using CreateSafe to manage your artists?

Yes, of course. 

Grimes had publicly been adverse to being a traditional touring artist and was interested in changing her business model to be focused on producing art and monetizing it vs. needing to physically tour the art to earn a living. So, our pitch to her was that we could use technology to change her business.

CREATE/OS provides a way to bring the engineering concept of “sprint planning” to album releases and content, in general. Grimes can visualize her project roadmaps and have a sense of her entire business from a dashboard. 

This gives her the quantitative angle to make the best artist decision, which may or may not include traditional physical touring.

How big is the opportunity you’re going after?

The music economy is projected to more than 2x to $45B by 2030. 

One part of the industry that is growing very fast is independent artists. There are currently ~4m independent artists, more than 75% of which don’t have representation. CreateSafe can empower this group of creators, which will only grow in the years to come. 

The independent artists market was $1.6B+ last year. However, this could quickly grow to $10B over the next 5 years or — as Chairman of the music firm Kobalt put it — there will be 100k artists making $100k+ a year just from streaming services alone.

What is the best book you read in the past 12 months?

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor.

Who’s the most interesting person you’ve ever met? 

Quincy Jones, he’s just done so many things [over 60 years in the entertainment industry; he produced Michael Jackson’s early albums and oversaw hit TV shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air]. He’s such a talented person that helped so many people. 

He’s the first person I ever met that I freaked out to.

What is the best advice you ever heard? 

From Bruce Lee: “A teacher is never a giver of truth; he is a guide, a pointer to the truth that each student must find for himself.”

Do you have a request for a startup? 

I’m really into contact management. I would love it if someone could create a CRM for text messaging, but I don’t mean [mass-messaging services like] Community. I mean, more of a way for me to go into my own address book and visualize the state of a relationship with my current contacts (e.g., last time we spoke, things to catch up on).

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