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Music Ally Startup Files: Flutin, India’s new music discovery app

Indian startup Flutin has a bold, dual-pronged mission: to round up millions of music fans and serve them – for free – new music that they’ll love; and to provide artists with an easy-to-reach fanbase that’s eager to engage and even purchase.

Dig a little deeper into the company, and there are some interesting lessons on how the music industry might find new ways to make a lot more money from streaming platforms in the future.

Music Ally chatted to Flutin CEO and Co-founder Vishu Gupta about his ambitions for an app that by October 2019 had been downloaded nearly 10m times, and had 370,000 daily active users.

Gupta describes the app as a home for emerging artists, who Flutin treats as small businesses needing tools to growth-hack themselves to success. “They can identify their relevant audience with Flutin and promote their music to them, increasing their fanbase with relevant users.”

How does Flutin work?
There are two ways of looking at Flutin: as a music fan, and as an emerging artist seeking fans. Both approaches rely on Flutin being a music discovery app, providing users with free, mood-based playlists of artists they know, and unknown artists it thinks they will like.

To figure out what music should be on your playlists, Flutin requests access to your music library and Facebook account, and asks you to indicate your favourites from a range of artists.

The app then serves up personalised playlists of tracks from its own servers, as well as from SoundCloud’s non-paywalled catalogue. There’s an ‘Only For You’ selection as well as a series of mood-inflected playlists.

The pitch to listeners is that the music recommendations get more relevant the more they use Flutin. On my first go, the ‘Only For You’ playlist began by testing the waters with an unremarkable ‘Sponsored’ Hindi-rap track, but the ‘Workout’ and ‘Party’ playlists pulled together high-tempo songs that I knew and liked.

However, Flutin’s focus, both for users and creators, is on emerging artists. Gupta says this is because in India “there are no step-by-step procedures for emerging artists to get famous or earn money from their music… they don’t know their audience, and they don’t have a good network or a lot of money to promote their music.”

Back in 2017, Spotify tested a feature called ‘Sponsored Songs’ which would allow labels to pay to have a track appear alongside some playlists for listeners on its free tier. Flutin is building on that idea.

“There are lots of artists on Spotify with less than 500 streams. But on Flutin there are artists who promoted themselves directly for a week or 10 days and got half a million plays,” says Gupta.

What is Flutin’s technology?
Flutin acts as a honeypot for people who want free new music, and identifies which users are most likely to become fans of any given artist. Those artists can then, using a Facebook-like ad.

Flutin aims to speed up the most frustrating part of an artist’s career: finding those first thousand fans. “We help users interact with emerging artists – you can’t do this with established stars. This interactivity is important for our users, and artists can see how their audience react to them,” says Gupta.

The final step is to turn that audience into fans of new artists, and this is how Flutin – and those artists – make money. Once an artist’s fanbase is established, artists can then use Flutin to “sell their merchandise and tickets and earn money.”

For this model to work at scale, Flutin needs a lot of users. Gupta explains how the company got to 10m downloads. “We work with influencers and create humorous in-house videos which strategically include Flutin,” he says.

Flutin needs a huge number of real users to tempt artists into paying to reach them. So Vishu simply growth-hacked his way to 10m downloads. How? “We work with influencers and create humorous in-house videos which strategically include Flutin. For example this one, from when the app was under its previous name of PinDrop Music.

“Some of our videos have over 50m views. One video got 100m views and it was created on my iPhone with a few friends – and we never spent a single dollar on it,” he says, attributing 1m downloads to that one video campaign alone.

Free is important, but people pay for interaction
Emerging artists may enjoy how Flutin views them as “small businesses,” who need the same range of tools small business are offered elsewhere online to promote themselves.

“On Spotify, you need to work with distributers, or with third parties to get on a playlist. That system is not artist-friendly – if I have a playlist with a million followers, I have to reach out to artists [to offer them a spot on the playlist], and for artists it’s a large sum of money to get on it,” says Gupta.

On Flutin, the exchange seems more transparent. Artists can identify target groups and buy reach, “like Facebook ads. Artists can create a budget and a campaign. Once they start getting a fanbase, they can start promoting merchandise and tickets to their audience… so they can make money through the app.”

What are the costs? “It’s within reach of independent artists – so, for instance, the artists that got half a million plays within a week paid approximately $300-400 to get that,” he says.

Charging artists for reach is not the only income stream. Flutin’s most interesting features are ways users can interact with songs and artists, including ‘dedicating’ a song to a friend: tap a song, add an image and message, then share it with someone privately or on social media.

It’s a fun addition: in an age where gifting music is nigh-on impossible, receiving a DM of a specific track feels like a small but meaningful gesture. Dedications are free at the moment, but others – maybe digitally scarce “limited editions” – might be purchasable in the future.

Flutin is also experimenting with gamification of the app itself. Publishing a playlist, sharing a song, and opening the app on consecutive days rewards users with points that can be redeemed in-app on real-world products.

This is the starting point for more microtransactions – by, for instance, rewarding curators: “When public playlists are a hit and start getting subscribers, the users become influencers… we want to see if we can charge for users to access a longer playlist.”

How is Flutin working with the music industry?
Gupta is talking with major labels and wants Flutin to be a part of their A&R mix. “We have so many things that will minimise their spend and time in finding and launching new artists on Flutin. It’s easy for them to identify new talent with us.”

Flutin also has its own scouting program going on though. Flutin First is an ‘incubator’ for emerging artists, and the first step towards acquiring a unique catalogue of music for the app.

“We’ll invest in the audio and video part. We’ll launch six or seven songs in the coming months, and these songs will be endorsed by big stars in India,” says Gupta.

Soon, Flutin will also have a direct-to-fan feature where artists will be able to create their own webpages under the Flutin domain, and “can give fans a chance to subscribe to exclusive content, similar to Patreon.” Flutin will take a small percentage of the resulting income as a fee.

High potential, and perhaps a knock-on effect?
Flutin’s biggest idea is simple: offer artists the same ad-tech they find elsewhere online, but within a streaming platform.

Emerging artists often end up learning the hard way about the costs associated with marketing themselves, and that it’s often a case of choosing only two of Cheap, Fast and Good. For Flutin to change that, it needs to become a popular, trusted discovery platform, and thus convince artists that it’s worth paying to connect with its users.

Gupta explains that Flutin’s artist-as-a-small-business thinking comes from Indians being “natural growth-hackers” who, he believes, won’t pay for monthly streaming subscriptions. “That’s one of the biggest reasons we keep the app entirely free for users, and we charge artists to pay for reach: just like they do on Google and Facebook.”

Flutin is finding a big audience quickly, especially in India: but are people logging in because they are fans of discovering new music, or because Flutin offers free music? Time will tell. The company already claims some success stories, like British band The Dunwells and American hip-hop group Cure for Paranoia, who have found a large audience through Flutin.

For us, it’s Flutin’s supplementary features that fascinate: micropayments for artist interaction, Bandcamp-style artist support, the gifting of songs, power users making money, and ordinary users gaining redeemable points. And perhaps if those features work for something like Flutin, it might give the biggest music streaming services another nudge to investigate their potential too.

Need to Know: Flutin Factfile
Category: Music Discovery
Headquarters: Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India – 201301
Founders: Vishu Gupta and Prankush Roopanwal
Funding raised so far: “Several corporates and HNI angels [high net-worth individuals] have invested in our organisation so far,” says Gupta. As this profile was published, Japanese games firm Sega also announced an investment partnership with Flutin. The company has raised $340k of investment from GHV Accelerator and some HNI angels, according to its US PR agency.

Flutin is currently seeking to develop relationships with: Corporates, record labels, musicians, and eminent personalities from the music industry.

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