You’ve probably listened to music on a streaming service like Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora or Amazon at some point recently (and considering the Recording Industry Association of America reports that streaming accounted for 80% of the music industry’s revenue in the first half of this year, that is a strong probably). But have you ever wondered how the music ended up on that service in the first place?
For a growing number of musicians, the answer is the Tampa company Symphonic Distribution. Founded by CEO Jorge Brea in 2006, Symphonic helps independent artists and record labels get their music on streaming platforms and into the ears of listeners around the world. Musicians upload their audio files, artwork and metadata once to Symphonic’s system, and Symphonic distributes those files according to each streaming platform’s specifications. Royalties are also collected and distributed in one place, saving artists time and energy across the board.
“For the artist, that means they can just focus on their art form,” instead of the business side of music, Brea says. For consumers, a simpler method of distribution means more music is available to discover than ever before. “[Listeners’] tastes will evolve and become much more advanced because there’s much more new music from different regions that’s easily getting on these platforms,” Brea adds.
Brea was born in the Dominican Republic, and his family moved to Tampa when he was 7. Drawing on his Latin American roots, plus his background as a DJ and producer, Symphonic first focused on distributing electronic and Latin artists. A number of them have become global superstars; Symphonic distributed some of the early works of Daddy Yankee (who has more than 43 million monthly listeners on Spotify), Ozuna (more than 30 million, and one of the industry’s fastest-rising Latin stars) and J Balvin, Spotify’s fourth-most streamed artist in the world last year. The company has also worked with artists like Black Thought of The Roots and Deadmau5. “We’ve always been kind of in the beginning of these folks’ careers,” Brea says.
Beyond just distributing music, Symphonic helps its artists with marketing and social media to grow their brands and platforms. Artists and labels must apply to work with the company. Brea says his team typically looks for musicians who are already gaining traction on streaming — with around 50,000 to 100,000 monthly listeners — and labels with a deep existing catalog.
“Those are great starting points for us because those are [groups] we feel we can just turn up to 11, so to speak, and then grow,” Brea explains.
As Symphonic has expanded to have offices in Brooklyn, Denver, Nashville and Bogotá, Colombia, as well as a presence in China, Brea says he’s proud to have the opportunity to introduce others in the music industry to Tampa. One way Symphonic does that is through the annual Vibes of the Bay music festival, which highlights some of Tampa’s best up-and-coming talent each year in Ybor City.
“Our entire client base is finding out about these artists from Tampa, and we’re very proud to be able to do that,” Brea says.
Brea sees the education of artists in Tampa and beyond as one of Symphonic’s most crucial roles. The company is starting to host artist-focused panels and lectures on topics like industry trends, plus how-tos on monetizing your music. As they make a strong push into the hip-hop genre, Symphonic made a splash earlier this year with their inaugural Rap Con in New York City, which featured a keynote address by Killer Mike from the Grammy-nominated rap group Run the Jewels.
“I think there’s a lot of great talent [in Tampa], and I just think there isn’t enough education yet,” Brea says. “We’re trying to do our best to do that, in terms of how to get the music out there, how to properly develop and establish your brand. We’re not the type of company that wants to just put music up. We want to actually add value and educate and help guide individuals through their careers.”
Symphonic got a boost in late 2017 in the form of a $4 million investment from Tampa’s Ballast Point Ventures. Brea says that funding has helped him hire the senior staff the company needs to become increasingly competitive and raise Symphonic’s profile around the globe. Now that the industry has stabilized in the post-CD and digital download world, Brea says Symphonic plans to continue growing alongside the music business and Tampa.
“To say that we’re headquartered here and that we have global presence and global clients, including real superstars that are platinum artists, I think really does help shine a big light into what’s happening with Tampa [and its development],” Brea says. “Our goal really is to help be a part of the story of attracting more technology companies here.”