The Road to SaaS From the Music Industry with Marc Brown

Brian Sierakowski on September 07, 2021


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In this episode, we talk with Byta founder Marc Brown about innovating in music tech, building from a DIY background, and how his experiences in the music industry shaped his mindset as a startup founder. 


Marc Brown is the founder of Byta. Marc got his start at murderecords, Canada’s premier artist-owned label during the mid 90s. After working in A&R at the legendary London indie Creation Records, then at Alan McGee’s Poptones, Marc started his own boutique UK radio promotion company off the back of his success with The Hives.

For over 10 years Marc worked with an impressive list of indie rock luminaries including Wilco, Bloc Party, Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes, Spoon and Refused as well as legends such as Tom Waits, Yoko Ono, Booker T and Mavis Staples.



Byta enables sending and receiving of digital audio in a clean, simple and secure way. Built for everyone working with music today, Byta is inspired by Marc’s time spent as a radio plugger based in London, UK in the early 00’s. 

Links to articles mentioned by Marc during the interview:



Brian Sierakowski: Welcome to Founder Chats by Baremetrics, where we chat with founders and hear about how they started and grew their businesses. My name is Brian Sierakowski, the Director of Ops at Baremetrics. This week, I talked with Marc Brown, founder of Byta. 

We talked about a lot of really cool things. One of the things I was really excited to talk to Marc about was his background as a musician because I also have a background as a musician. We found along the way that [having a background as a musician] had a lot to do with his success as an entrepreneur.

So on to the episode this week! Mark, welcome to the podcast.

Marc Brown: Thanks for having me! 

Brian: My pleasure. If you want to kick us off a little bit, why don’t you start with the worst question of all time: tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Marc Brown: Where do I start? I’ll start with my accent. I’m Canadian. So you’re down in Texas, but I live over in Sweden. So why don’t I explain how a Canadian ends up in Sweden. I grew up in Canada, moved around Canada, and started going to school on the east coast in the mid nineties. This would be near Boston in a small town called Halifax in Canada. And I was pretty into music. I was going to university there, but I hated university.

So I’d go into this town, Halifax and I started going to see bands and stuff. And this was around the time where Nirvana– the whole hair-metal had just finished– Nirvana hadwiped them out. Guitar music was really popular. And so there were a lot of bands from this area of Halifax getting signed to record labels.

And I’m like, I can’t continue to go to university. I hate it. I gotta get out of here. So I called up or no, it was the start of newsgroups and stuff. That’s what it was. Before everybody had sun microsystem computers it’d be university. So you didn’t really have.. most people weren’t connected to the internet.

So I was in a couple of newsgroups and somebody hooked me up with this person who worked at a small record label and I dropped him a line and he said, “Oh yeah, like you can come and volunteer here.”

 So I left school to volunteer at an artist-run record label in a small town called Halifax. And a lot of those bands got signed to the same labels that Nirvana were on, in front of Subpop in Seattle and Geffen in the US. 

I did that for a couple of years. I went on tour with loads of bands all over North America. I’ve been to most places in North America and ran a festival in Halifax. Then the company I was working for, the small little indie label, ran out of money and I had just been to Europe. I just went to France and I had come to London for the first time.

And I was probably still only 21, 22. And I thought, oh, well, why don’t I just move to London? Which I guess is a thing. So I moved to London, got a job working in a record warehouse and, you know, going around the record warehouse and pulling records out. I’m really dating myself because I’m not really talking about anything digital yet.

This is when you actually went to a record store to buy music. Then I succeeded in getting a job at this label called Creation Records, which there’s a movie actually about the founder, Alan McGee, who was my boss. They had bands like Oasis, Super Furry Animals, Primal Screen, Teenage Fan Clubs. [It was] one of the most important indie labels in UK history, really. 

This is the end of the nineties. Then that got shut down. And I went to work at the founder’s new company. I was his PA, his personal assistant and I was like the worst PA ever. So he said, “Why don’t you do radio promotion?”

People always say to me “What’s radio promotion?” It’s basically like if you have a press person who talks to magazines and tries to get you in a magazine or in the New York times, or in TechCrunch or something like that, that’s a PR person. But in music you have those people that do online, they do radio, and they do TV.

So what I did was I went into radio stations in the UK. The UK, which is much different compared to North America, only has one time zone. So that means when people listen to the radio, even today, it has much more of an impact because everybody’s listening at the same time. Whereas in the states, you know, somebody listened to the radio in LA, somebody listened in New York– it’s completely different times of the day.

UK radio still has a bit of an impact, but 10, 15 years ago, it really did. And what you do is you’d go in with a record, a CD, and you’d sit in a meeting and you put it on a CD player and you’d sit uncomfortably in front of the person and you listened to it. People would nod their head and then you’d be like, “What do you think?” And then you’d have a chat about it or whatever. 

But then what started to happen when I did this job for a while was suddenly people were sending links around on Dropbox, all that kind of stuff. And there were loads of different types. SoundCloud started this about 10 years ago. 

The problem became that, “Oh my God, there’s so many of these links.” So that’s one of the reasons I started this company, Byta. But first I’ll tell you how I ended up in Sweden. 

I started this company in London while I was working as a radio plugger and, like we were talking just before we started our call, we started it as a distributed team.

Back then it [meant that] I worked from home. It didn’t have any meaning (distributed team) or anything like that, really. 

We started in London and then one of my co-founders, she said, “I’m moving to Australia.” And I’m like, “This is it. The company’s over. How on earth do you do this?”

But this was literally like six months before Slack started. So it’s like, “Okay, cool. You know, we’ll give it a go. We’ll try doing some stuff online.” And it went fine. So I’m like, “Okay, well, if she’s living there Brexit just happened in the UK. The UK left the EU.” So I’m like, “You know what I’m done with London.” And I moved here to Stockholm where I live now.

So that’s how you get a Canadian to live in Stockholm. And I’ve been here for about four or five years now. 

Brian Sierakowski: Wow. That’s incredible. It’s such a journey. I think one of the favorite things that you said was… I’m from the music world too. I used to be in a touring band and I worked for the, you know, the most influential labels of all time.. and then they shut down. 

That was just like such a perfect encapsulation of what the music world is like. The difference between commerce and how good something is you know, there’s usually a pretty, pretty wide gap there. 

Marc Brown:There is. But in this case [of] the label Creation. 49% of it was bought by Sony, and then Sony bought the rest of it  just for the catalog, which funny enough, this was a while ago now. But if you think about what’s going on in the music world now, it’s all about buying catalog. 

So Sony was thinking along the right lines back then, but they didn’t need all the people working the records, they just wanted the catalog ultimately. 

Brian Sierakowski: Awesome. I want to take it back a little bit. I’d love to hear a little bit more about your drive to from going to local shows to the transition into being the musician yourself. What was that process like? Were you playing instruments already?

Marc Brown: I was never a musician. What happened was I always just thought.. when I lived in Calgary, which is Western Canada, I moved there and there weren’t that many gigs there. I’m like, “Why the hell are there any gigs here?” I’m the sort of person [who’s] always wondering why stuff is the way it is.

I came to realize why that is– it’s not on the touring circuit. Bands prefer to stay in the US and skip all those. It’s changed over the time since I lived there. You get a lot more bands going to Calgary and Alberta and Western Canada. But like, I was seeing all these bands playing and I thought, “I totally want to work at a record label.”

Like, I think that that’s what I want to do. I can’t play any instruments. I don’t really want to be on stage. As you know, being a musician, certain people are good at that and other people are not. I just thought, I don’t want to go through that part of it, but I definitely have something to offer from supporting people, doing things.

So I started at this label. I didn’t know– it’s like a startup. You don’t know the jobs that you need to do to work in music, you sort of figure them out once you start. I think my first job was booking a tour. I’d never booked a tour in my life.

And this guy, he actually works with me now on Byta he’s like, “Okay, we need to book this band to tour.” I’m like, “What do you do?” He’s like, “Well, you just call the clubs and ask for a gig.”

If you distill things down to the essence, that is what it is. It’s a lot more nuanced than that, but that is exactly what it is ultimately.

I learned a lot working at a record label and I love doing it because at a small label, you work with the bands directly. It was an artist-run label. So the band had experience of being musicians themselves and wanted to give the best opportunities to the local bands in that area at the time. It was an amazing experience. 

But that’s the thing– I never played music. It’s not my thing for whatever reason. 

Brian: Sure. Yeah. I think that was a wise decision from someone who had done it to incredibly meager success. It’s mostly boring, right? Like you see the artists– you know about this with booking a tour and trying to figure out the logistics. Sometimes you have that one stretch of“Well, sorry, you have two gigs back to back, but they’re like 12 hours apart from each other. So you gotta do a show and then jump in the van and make sure you get to the next place on time.” But then you get there and then you just kind of wait, hang out..

Marc Brown: Yeah! Hurry up and wait, as they say. 

Brian Sierakowski: Yeah. 

Marc Brown: That’s a very important process to learn, though. I think that there are very few gigs that are like New York or LA and that there’s a lot of waiting and playing gigs. You need a gig in the middle to get to the next. I developed a huge respect for the commitment it takes to be an artist. And that could be any type of artist. It could be a musician or a visual artist, because… the process of doing it is a struggle. It’s not easy. And I think that was one of the best things I ever did was go on tour because you could really see just how challenging it is.

You know, people talk a lot about mental health for musicians these days, and they didn’t talk about it back then, but it totally makes sense. It’s a weird life being in a little 15 passenger van driving around all the time. And I think that adulation at one show and then nothing at another, it’s a weird world, for sure.

Brian Sierakowski: It’s really cool that you didn’t just stay in the office. Like you actually went out there and experienced like, “What am I subjecting these people to? What are the ramifications of my actions here in the local office?”

Marc Brown: That is actually very true. For example, when I moved to London… The level of the music business in the UK, especially in London, is very high.

In the UK, it’s so important for all the genres of music. And there were a lot of people that hadn’t experienced what it was to be a musician. Like they just meet musicians when they get signed to Sony or whatever, or they’re super popular. 

You know yourself that there’s loads of people who make music because they want to, or they’re trying to do it, or it doesn’t work. To have that context [of being] thankful for what you can accomplish, but appreciate how difficult it is to even accomplish that are pretty positive lessons to learn ultimately, and they’ve certainly helped running a startup, that’s for sure.

Brian Sierakowski: Was the record label in Calgary your first entrepreneurial experience? 

Marc Brown: Yeah. The label was in in Halifax on the east coast. I worked for other people at the label, but I immediately started doing management. So that would be my own thing. Then I ran a festival there and that was my own thing that I ran with four other people.

Those were the first real brushes with thinking like, “Oh, normal people run companies.” Do you know what I mean? It’s not just some person in a faceless office. That was the real start because the idea of DIY (do it yourself) is very big in music, and still is. And this was certainly very big back then.

It was definitely like, “Oh, people just decide to do things and then make them happen.” Shoot first, ask questions later. That was definitely the start. 

Brian Sierakowski: And that just comes from the “see a problem, solve a problem” mentality?

Marc Brown: Yeah. If you think back [to the] mid nineties, no internet, [it was] somewhat difficult to get a record made, but you could get a record made. [It was] even more difficult to get it into the shops.

I’m sure you still have a garage somewhere full of CDs. 

Brian Sierakowski: Yeah (laughing)

Marc Brown: Every person who was in a band previously has some little overstock somewhere. And I think that’s what it became. It’s like, “I can’t get a record deal or I can’t do this, or I can’t do that. Well, I’m going to do it myself.” That’s what DIY is about. 

That’s what the maker movement would be like. That’s what building software is. It’s like, “Oh, this doesn’t exist. I’m going to make it exist.” But you don’t really, you don’t think of it like that. You just think, “I think it would be cool to make a record.” And then you make a record to go, “How the hell am I going to get rid of all these?I better find a distributor to do that.”

You’re pulling that little piece of string and it gets longer and longer and you’re like, “oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?”

Brian Sierakowski: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. It’s a very interesting lesson for the people who are thinking about starting a business, or maybe wondering where to get started.

You can find a problem that you think is important to you and try to solve it. And it seems like that might be, I’ve spoken with a lot of people, it seems like that is where the vast majority of people got started. They found something that was of some importance to them. Generally they’re looking at things like, “What do I want the world to look like?” 

Maybe not in those terms. I don’t think we necessarily think about that early on, but you were like, “Wow, I really wish there were some shows around here. What do I need to do to have some shows around here?” I think there’s maybe a little bit of mentality in there because the next step for you is like, “Well, better start a festival.That seems like the logical, the logical next step to have some shows around here.” 

Marc Brown: I think you’re totally right. People don’t conceptualize these things. In the startup world, you find a problem. We’re solving all that kind of stuff. 

Like you totally don’t do that at the start [in the music industry]. You’re sort of like, “Why aren’t there any gigs here? Why isn’t this band coming to town? Why why why.” 

I realize in hindsight, I’m that kind of person, I just want to know why it is the way it is and if it’s no hope, whatever, but if someone just hasn’t decided to do it or can’t be bothered or any of those sorts of reasons, I’m like, “Well, let’s just do it. Why not? Let’s see what happens.”

That’s how the exciting stuff happens. I think. I also see… There are massive parallels between music and tech. People think they don’t have anything in common. I completely disagree. So I think what you’re saying is a hundred percent correct– You look for those problems to solve without really knowing that there’s a really eloquent way to describe what you’re doing.

Brian Sierakowski: Yeah. And it’s such a super power to really have a fixation on just that next step ahead of you. I think it’s almost like a universal sentiment that if you ask somebody, “Well, if you would’ve known how difficult it was to do what you were trying to do, would you have started in the first place?”

And it’s kind of like, “I don’t know…”

Marc Brown: Yeah, that’s a big no! That’s what makes it so important, I think. is that if you did know you wouldn’t do it because it’s scary. Like running a startup or starting a business or doing anything where you don’t know what’s going to happen is a nightmare ultimately, let’s be honest. 

It’s an utter nightmare and you need the, it’s cliche, but, [you need the] naivete of it all. You need that. We’re all pretty smart and self-aware here. You know, most people are. Who would want to get into this crap?

Like who would want to start it? Like you were saying about the record label thing– the quality of the music isn’t directly correlated to the success of the label. It’s like, if you look at that on paper, you’re like, “I’m totally not starting a record label.”

So you have to have a motivation that’s external to- not to the dollars and cents, but to the chances of success. Because if you thought about it, nothing would get done.

Brian: That’s a great point. I’d love to dig into that a little bit. I feel like music is like the perfect incubator for… You have to have that mentality of… it’s like in the startup world and the tech world, you can have a big idea and be mainly driven financially, right?

Because it’s so apparent to you that there’s such a possibility for financial success in the tech world that even when things get difficult or maybe you’re not building the strongest company or whatever, maybe you’re not personally interested in it. There’s always that, you know, in the back of your mind, you can always hear the voice of like, “Well, you know, maybe there’s a, maybe there was a billion dollar exit around the corner somewhere” but with music, and don’t let me project here, it feels to me like you can really develop that internal sense of… there isn’t that drum beat, no pun intended… there’s going to be all this, all this cash right around the corner. You have to really be focused on what is the quality of the thing that I’m doing and what is the, you know, scope of the problem that I’m solving.

Did you find that to be the case with your experience in the music world? Did that develop that muscle for you? 

Marc Brown: That’s a good question. I’ve done quite a few podcasts and no one’s really asked me that before. I think what’s super important is that in the music world, I think the key to success is that you have to believe in the music you’re working with.

Like you’re saying, the financial reward isn’t necessarily the same. So I always say like, “If you’re working in music, you gotta be into it.” Otherwise you’d be working in a bank. Do you know what I mean? Like just go work in a bank and make a couple hundred grand a year, whatever. I think what’s super important and again, no one’s asked me this before, is that, in music, it is so hard to succeed, to get a record deal, to do all that. But up until I started a startup, I didn’t even think… There was ever this talk of failure. I’ve worked with tons of successful bands and you never think about failed bands. You just think, “I like that band.” It doesn’t matter if they were big or small.

That was the thing that has helped me so much. The music business is like Vietnam, like the road is paved with dead bodies. You know what it’s like from being a musician, just trying to get it going. It’s very, very, very difficult. But you don’t work in an environment where it’s like, “Oh, there’s X percent of people who raise a series A and X percent…” It’s more like some bands work out, some bands don’t. 

But I never, ever back then thought, “Oh, I’m working with a band that’s got a number one record” or like “How lucky… the percentage of bands that hope to get here.” I see the world is a lot more dynamic because of that. 

So like in the startup world, there’s billion dollar companies. I use Google products or whatever, but then I also use Pocket. Pocket, which was bought by Mozilla, is one of the most important apps I’ve ever used in my life. That’s like a small band who I’ve loved for years that no one else knows about versus The Beatles. I can’t believe I made a comparison between Google and the Beatles, but you see what I’m getting at? I think that appreciation for things as having individual value provided an extremely good foundation for working in a startup, the idea that while I’m doing this because I believe in it and we’ll just see how it goes. Like, I don’t want to sit here and think, “What are the statistics?” Because if you get bogged down in the statistics, you’d never get out of bed. You know what I mean?

Brian Sierakowski: Absolutely. I think it’s tremendous training in retrospect. You’re absolutely right. It’s like your likelihood of failure in music is like, depending on how you define failure, but you know, is nearly a hundred percent. It’s just like Aerosmith, that’s still playing. 

Every other band that’s ever started has either stopped or broken up or never even got there in the first place. So it is an environment in which you learn to judge the merit of what you’re doing and it’s like, “Well, is this good? Or is it bad?” 

Compared to the tech world, which is kind of interesting by comparison. If you start there, there’s almost this like hyper fascination on, is this company going or are they stopping?

People have these kind of what I think are in poor taste, but you know, startup graveyards, or even after a business gets acquired, does Google shut them down? Who’s raising money,  who’s going out of business, who’s doing this, who’s winning (which are the people that are raising money and selling), who’s losing, which I guess by that metric is like everybody else, even if they’re running like a successful.

It’s so funny to listen to people who are very against lifestyle businesses. They’ll look at somebody who’s got like $500,000 in free cash flow, but if they’re not raising money and they’re not growing by X percent, they’re like, “Man, what a loser.” It’s like, “Wait, they have $500,000 of just extra money laying around for very little work!” 

And they’re with their family and you know, all those sorts of things. So it’s just interesting to compare if you start in the tech world, that must have an effect on you versus starting in the music world. You almost get the opposite training. It’s like you have the weighted vest on.

And when you go from music to tech, it’s like, “Oh wow, it’s so much easier to succeed over here!”

Marc Brown: Those things exist. Those dynamics exist in music. In a lot of ways, people who are like, “He’s not really that popular or their music’s not that good, they found some shortcut, they sold out.”

And what you realize is that it’s all made up. All that funding stuff is great chit chat. And that’s what happens. Record labels get bought, bands signed with bigger labels and then it tanks. That’s like the acquisition, like trying to continue running your business inside a larger company.

It’s all the same stuff. And so at least in music, if you like music, you’re just there because it feels good to listen to music all the time. So when you get into tech, you read the supposedly the big misunderstandings, it’s like chalk and cheese or whatever, like between the tech world and the music where I’m like “That it’s crap. It is the same thing– VCs who dump on record labels.”

VCs give some very, very poor terms on their money and then they’re slamming the record labels? I’m like, “This is brilliant. It’s like, totally made up.” 

I love the similarities and I love the comparisons. But coming from music into tech and starting a music tech startup, you start to realize, “Oh my God, I actually sorta know… some of these founding principles are the same in a way.” Not completely the same, but sort of the same, like working in a company. 

I think about this a lot. The way people work together is like being in a band. You have to get along and you have to play music together as one thing. But, playing together and really feeling it is completely different. That’s next level. And that’s what you need in a startup. You can’t just have 10 people doing whatever. They need to be working together.

That’s the key to success. That’s the special sauce or whatever. I think creating music is different than creating software, but there are similarities in the dynamics, I think, for sure. 

Brian Sierakowski: Totally. Yeah. I’ve always kind of thought it’s like, I can jam with anybody. I can play music with anybody, but the real test is like, can I ride in the van with you?

That’s actually the measure of like– it’s almost like in tech. When things are booming and everything’s going great, and everybody’s in there, the number of people that will work when your team is way, way higher. But about when it’s time for the slog? You know, I’m trying not to talk too much and let you talk, but it reminds me of, you know [of this time when we had a] quick turnaround of shows and we were in something like, I think we were in like South Carolina and for anybody who’s not familiar with US geography of like middle of the east coast. We had to get to Florida the next night. It was like a 12 hour drive or something like that to get to Southern Florida.

And we started in South Carolina.They drove through the night and eventually they probably got tired and they pulled over to sleep, which is a very good idea. And when we woke up, I was in North Carolina, so we actually had traveled the wrong direction overnight.

Marc Brown: Oh, god! That’s not good. 

Brian Sierakowski: And so we went from  8:00 PM, we had 12 hours left to drive and I woke up at 8:00 AM whenever it was. And we had like 14 hours left to go. The punchline is, we got to the show and nobody showed up. They canceled the show. That reminds me of the startup team.

Like I knew at that moment, I don’t think I want to be on a team with these guys too much longer. 

Marc Byta: But that’s what it is, running a startup. You’ve just got to try to make sure you don’t screw up massively like that. Even if you do everything right. It still might not work. And I think like, so I think that is a very, very, very, very good story.

Brian Sierakowski: My big question, my first question was when you’re telling it, it’s like, “Why are you sleeping the whole time? Like, you’re not pulling your weight.” But I never had a driver’s license so I never did any of the driving. I can’t really complain. 

Brian: Yeah, for sure. In one of the bands I was in, we had a guy who didn’t have a driver’s license, either. And so that was always, you know, it’s like, “All right, what’s our rotation?” It’s like, “Well, we’re going to skip that guy. What are you doing to make up for it?” You know? Because touring is like 95% driving. But he was really good at guitar, so we had to let it slide. 

Marc Brown: That’s another thing about a startup. Not everybody needs to do… you don’t want 10 of the same people. I know there was one band from Vancouver that had like seven guitarists, but like you, you need people that have different personalities and different ins that are good at different things.

It’s a bit of a joke, but it’s true. And it works in startups as well. It’s like, you want to have different people with different temperaments and, and you need to be able to work together, even though you’re different. Bbut that’s what’s exciting about it, I think, personally.

Brain Sierakowski: Absolutely. Yeah, I totally agree. You’ve given the whole story and we’ve kind of gotten the deep dive up until your east coast music experience. What motivated the to move to Calgary? Did you join a label there or did you form a label there? What was that process like for you? 

Marc Brown: So what happened was I grew up in a town called Ottawa. And then I moved with my parents to Calgary, and then I moved to the east coast. 

Brian Sierakowski: Oh, I see. 

Marc Brown: Yeah. So that’s where I got into the whole music thing.Then I moved to the UK. 

Brian Sierakowski: Interesting. So when you moved to the UK, how much of that was informed by you wanting to be a part of that label and how much of it was you be like, “Well, let’s try London now” ?

Marc Brown: This goes back to being naive, right? So like, you’re like, “Oh, like, why don’t I just…how hard can it be living in London?” I liked a lot of the music over there and I knew people at this label, but it’s not like I thought I was going to get a job there.

You know, it’s hard moving. It’s a bit like moving to New York or something or LA like when you don’t really know anyone. I just thought that felt like the right thing to do. And ironically, I lived there for 18 years before I moved to Sweden. It was only after 10, 15 years that you just start to realize, “Oh my God, the amount of people that moved here that didn’t survive that moved out.”

So again, that idea of not knowing how bad it could go is what saves you from inaction, as far as I’m concerned. I just thought “I’m going to move to London” because I didn’t really want to move to the states. And I thought, “Okay, I’m just going to go and I’ll get a job and it’ll work out.” And that’s sort of the way I’ve always done things.

This seems like the right move without having too much detail, don’t do too much research or you’ll scare yourself off. So I just started working in that record warehouse and seeing how it was going basically. And then I got this job at this label and then that was like, oh my God, It’s just luck really, but you have to put yourself in the environment, you know. I wanted to work. I like to work. I like the challenge of work, but I’ve been very lucky for sure.

Brian Sierakowski: I was just about to ask, how much of that do you attribute to luck versus you really had like this positive visualization. At least for me and from my perspective, and maybe you’re telling the shortened version, but it almost sounds like you’re like, “Well, you know, I’ll move out there and I’ll get a job at this label and I will meet people and I’ll be happy and do what I want.”

And then you proceeded to move out there and get a job at the label and you did everything that you said. Do you think that was luck or do you think that your mindset almost didn’t allow for the negative, you know, you didn’t realize that a bad outcome could happen. Do you think that helped?

Marc Brown: I don’t know. I’m talking about myself, so it’s hard to say, but I’ll tell you.. Byta is a tool for sending, receiving digital audio. And then we have How We Listen, which is this whole education side for business, because we realized that loads of artists don’t really know what to do.

They sort of make music and then put it on Spotify and then don’t know what to do. So we do these How We Listen live events and we do them every month in a way I do a little talk and then we have a guest on. 

We have people from around the music business and we had this artist on.  This artist was in an indie rock band for years and I’ve known him for years, and I was asking him the same sort of question, like, “What do you attribute to…” and he’s like, “I dedicated everything to what I do.” 

And you could hear the tone in his voice change. I can visualize the future, like what I’d like to do or whatever, but what’s missing in what I’m saying is all the hard work, you know what I mean?

But I know you don’t see it as hard work because it’s just what you think you need to do. Does that make sense? Like, I can’t give the recipe or the equation as to why it worked out the way it ended up working out. I thought, like, this is what you’re supposed to, you know. Personally, I just thought this is what you’re supposed to do.

It’s like, “oh, isn’t this what everybody does?” And then it’s only in hindsight that you realize it’s like, “No, it’s not”. Maybe that’s a good way of looking at it. Like, I just assume this is what you were supposed to do in life. And I realized later on that, it’s not what everybody else does. 

Brian Sierakowski: It’s crazy how that works, right? I’s almost the way that you frame something in the way that you think about it. Like, I’m not the most, like I’m not great on mindfulness and you know, all the Tony Robbins stuff. Although I do really enjoy that stuff, it just sort of feels like, well, and we know we don’t know.

Right. We don’t, we haven’t run the opposite experiment where you move to London and you go like, wow, this is a really big city. And I don’t know anybody here. And I, you know, I really hope that I don’t fail, you know, does that version of Marc leave London after, you know, two months you’re being like, all right, this sucks.

Like, it just feels like you’re the mental framing that you went in with was perfect to succeed. So at least you didn’t get in your own way. I mean, we can say that for sure. 

Marc Brown: Well, I’ll actually, I’ll tell you. What, like I get in my own way all the time, but I’ve learned to move forward while having lots of anxiety about things not working out.

That’s the key. Anxiety about things not working out can be paralyzing, but if you learn to be pushing forward while you’re worrying, that’s like the ACE in the hole for me.

Brian Sierakowski: How do you do that?

Marc Brown: I have no idea. I’ve only realized that that’s what I do. Because worry can be paralyzing and fear can be paralyzing, but to realize, “oh, I’m scared shitless.

This is not going to work. Or I’ve got to do this presentation or this and that, or there’s this problem” while trying to figure out a solution to it, like working in parallel– it’s a skill I didn’t even know. This is something that I’ve just come to recently. 

And it’s only again, when you meet other people and you really struggle to push forward because everybody is uncertain about themselves. Everybody except maybe for Tony Robbins, but being able to be uncertain while trying to solve whatever your worry is, is something I just didn’t, I didn’t know that I did it, but I seem to be able to do it well. 

Brian Sierakowski: It’s really interesting, and not to overanalyze, but I wonder if that was another one of those skills that you developed early on in an environment where failure was almost kind of the expected outcome and you don’t even think of it as failure.

So you just kind of hit that. Because one of the things I’ve noticed is that as your business gets larger and as you’re responsible for more, I think people have the thought that, you know, perhaps it’ll get easier, you know, like, well, when I hit, when I hit 10 customers or a hundred customers… where we hit a hundred thousand dollars a month or $500,000 a month, things will get easier when I get there.

And what you don’t realize is that when you get to that point, there’s a lot more on the line. You have more customers, you have larger customers to worry about. You have your own team. So it’s, you know, there’s almost this externality to it of like, well, if I really mess up, then I’m responsible for my coworkers, you know, my team needing to find jobs and going hungry.

So it really feels like that early experience that you got sort of going through failing, potentially. It sounds like you’ve done pretty good, but you know, being in that environment to try and try and try and push forward and keep making progress and kind of a safe environment, maybe that, that taught you that skill.

So now that when you’re in a larger space, it’s more consequential when failure happens, you’ve already got the muscle memory of like, “Well, I don’t really know how to freeze. I don’t really know how to hesitate. So I guess I’ll just keep walking forward.”

Marc Brown: Our startup is a bit different. When I was living in London, and like I’m non-technical right cause I worked at music, it was this idea that, okay, like everything’s happening online now. People are sending audio files back and forth, but they’re using all these tools that are not built for music. And the ones that were built from music were poorly built and insecure.

So I thought, oh, “Well this is simple. We just need one platform for sending and receiving digital audio in a clean, simple, and secure way. That sounds simple.”  

Brian Sierakowski: Super straightforward. 

Marc Brown: That’s what beat this. So I’m like, “Okay, well I’ll just find some people”, which I did. And then you cycle out the ones that, you know, can’t do it and you find a founding team and this is… I’m fast forwarding. But you know, I just thought his is something that the market needs, but we did it as a side project for years.

And we only got funding after like four and a half years. Like we bootstrapped the whole way along and it’s like music, tech, streaming, audio, very difficult, very labor intensive. Like, it’s not like, you know, if you build a marketplace, the basics you can get going quite easily, but then you need to get the buyer and seller going to really get the business going. But with music tech, the tech needs to work and we’re working with audio files and blah, blah, blah.

So it’s a nightmare. But I just didn’t know. I could have given up so many times, but I just thought, “If we just hold on for a bit, something will come together.” So in theory, we could have been failing for years without me knowing, I just thought, oh yeah, like again, it’s back to being naive, I think. 

We pull in some funding and it’s the first investment in the music sharing space since SoundCloud 10 years ago or whatever. And it’s like, then you start to realize holy smoke. Like this is crazy that we even pulled that off. And I’m like, how? I look back and I think, “How the hell did we do that?”

Like, we were essentially dead. We were dead. It is the same thing again that you just don’t think when you’re in it, you don’t think that it’s not going well, or you’re paranoid that it’s not going well. But you’re just trying to find the next solution to the problems you got in front of you.  Does that make sense?

Brian Sierakowski: Totally. It feels like the same pattern. It’s like a mystery novel or something and you gave us the answer in the first five minutes. It’s been so interesting if it’s sort of like just applying the thought of, at the risk of oversimplifying, “one foot in front of the other.”

Marc Brown: But that’s what it is. When I started this, I knew nothing. There was a friend of mine from university– when we got funding a year ago, he worked for us for a year. And I remember asking him something, cause he’s a Java expert.

And I was asking him about JavaScript, the classic. Like, I didn’t even know the difference between Java and JavaScript back then. And it’s like, you can’t know any less than that, really? That is ground zero of no knowledge of software development. 

And that’s the other thing: you learn on the fly. You learn on the fly and I think, but I think that’s what I like about startups. It’s like you choose your own adventure. You have no idea what’s happening. You don’t even know if it’s going well. You’ve got metrics and stuff to tell if you’re moving in the right direction, but you’re just getting sideswiped all the time. 

And it’s the same in music. Your gig is a perfect example. It’s like, okay, we went the wrong direction. Then we went the right direction. And when we got there, we figured out there was no gig. 

Brian Sierakowski: Right. What we thought we wanted or where we thought we needed to go wasn’t even in the right spot. 

Marc Brown: That sounds like an episode of whatever the startup program was on HBO. You know what I mean? Like it’s, that’s exactly what happens. It’s like a massive screw up, get it done and then realize it was a waste of time. That’s running a startup in a nutshell. 

Brian Sierakowski: So interesting. When you started your business, were you still at a record label or what was that tipping point from, you know, you’re kind of firmly, you know, both feet in the music world and then you kind of like, well, it looks like, did you even think, was it a conscious thought of, Well, I think I would need to get into some tech to actually solve this issue, or how did you make that first step from music world into like, okay, cool. Now I’m I, I need technology to solve this problem in front of me. 

Marc Brown: So I, like, as I said, it was right at this period that people were using links. We say there are three categories, so generic file services, Dropbox, all those, we transfer then artist streaming platforms, SoundCloud, Bandcamp.

And then you have this third category, which is your watermark promotion services, which is just like crappy late 1990s enterprise software. So everybody was using all these different platforms and I’m like, okay, there’s gotta be a way to do this better. And so I was still working. I had my independent radio promotion company.

I did them both at the same time. What’s interesting here is that you think running a business is like this radio promotion company who were like three of us. You think that’s running a business, but you’re just a consultant. You do a little work and somebody gives you some money, right?

That’s not, that’s not running a startup or running a business business where you’re investing loads of time and labor and something to sell something to someone else. But you could invest all the time and get nothing back. So when I was doing, when I started looking into building this startup, like the people, the founding team, I got it together, that’s when it really started to change. I’m like, oh, this is not like doing my other business, which was this consultancy where you get paid every month, you know, unless they were shysters or whatever, you know, like, unless they were ripping you off. Like, but that was the biggest risk that you’d come to an agreement with someone and they wouldn’t pay you. 

But then you start building this thing and you build it a little MVP, and then you’re like, okay, then I’ll pump some more money to it and it gets going. And then you realize, oh, this is way more interesting. And then you realize when you talk to people that it’s not easy to do and you realize, oh my God, like this is going to take ages.

And then you’re like, okay, well, if I make it through…that’s why no one does it. Beause it takes so much time. And so the transfer from me being working as a radio, plugger in my boutique promo company to running a startup was a transition of like four years because we were just iterating the thing the whole way along, getting a few customers, getting it going, getting it going.

Even then it’s like, oh my God, like we definitely need money. And then you’re like, where the hell are we going to find money? And then you start to look into that. But then also it’s like Audi, a market, it’s completely. I then entered into a completely different world that I knew nothing about.

Brian Sierakowski: Whoops. 

Marc Brown: Whoops is right. Exactly. You’re a hundred percent correct. 

Brian Sierakowski: How did you go about finding those technical team members? Cause you’ve sort of confessed that you had very little technical skills and I think this is a spot that a lot of people find themselves in where they understand the problem and they understand the domain, but they don’t understand the tech side.

And so they find themselves in the spot where you need to find and convince and, you know, pay if you can. But usually you can’t. What was the process for you to get that initial kind of technical base into the company? 

Marc Brown: I went to a friend as you do. You always go to a friend and he, you know, he started working on a prototype and then I met another guy who was a designer and.

He introduced me to one of my co-founders and the co-founder said the guy who is doing the prototype work was writing shitty code. And then the guy, the first guy, the designer guy, I met, he started moving to New York. So he said, oh, I know this woman, Jen is her name. And Pete’s the, my other co-founder. And he’s like, Jen would like to work on it.

I lucked into it, but I was hustling to try to find people. And I think in music, like you can’t, you can’t be technical and know the music business. It’s impossible because to know the music business, you can’t be working on tech.

Brian Sierakowski: It’s two full-time jobs.

Marc Brown: Exactly. And this guy and Pete who did backend and Jen, who is a designer like Pete, Pete was super into music. And so it was Jen, she was really into music. They’re like, oh yeah, this sounds interesting. This sounds like a fun place to invest our time. I lucked out, like the key thing is, Pete doesn’t work at the company anymore. 

He actually died of cancer last year. We’d been through it all in this company. But what was really interesting with Pete was that, he taught me everything. So I learned from a technical point of view, I can’t code, but I can understand…like from a roadmap point of view, it’s pretty easy to see what should be done and what the technical challenges are and all that kind of stuff.

Another thing I did the whole way along was I just listened. So I found people that were willing to help me understand how to do things. Like I didn’t need to get involved, but to decide how to make decisions about technical challenges you can do without technical skills. 

In short, with my team and my people, I completely lucked out. 

Brian Sierakowski: It seems like you, again, I hate to keep saying it over and over again, but it seems like as soon as you found one person who was a step closer to your goal, you’re like, okay, cool. You’re in. And then the next person showed up and was like, oh, that person didn’t really know what they were doing.

And you’re like, okay, cool. Well, I’ll work with you then. And then it’s just like, keep moving forward. It’s like, if you would’ve waited for that amazing, perfect ideal engineer, then you wouldn’t have gotten the initial progress to get everybody else interested. 

Marc Brown: This is what you realize over time.You realize that a lot of things just don’t get built because it’s too complicated. So you’ve just gotta keep it rolling. Iterate, iterate, iterate. And it’s like, you know, I’ve condensed the story. It’s challenging to meet people, but it’s like, how do you meet anybody in your life?

It just sort of happens. Like, that’s a question, there’s another podcast I’m sure that deals with those kinds of questions, those philosophical questions about how, why people meet certain people and all that kind of stuff. But again, it’s only in hindsight that you can see like, oh my God, like not only did we get along, we had a complimentary team and the people, they were willing to do it because they liked what they were doing and they liked working on it.

And that’s kind of stuff that only knows that in hindsight, once at once a period of time has come up like a phase of a startup or a band or anything has come to its end and you could see it’s like, oh my God. Like, that was pretty amazing, really, that we got along enough to get it this far. 

Brian Sierakowski: That’s incredible. So you mentioned that you had a couple of years where you’re moving along and then he said that he had the realization like, oh, whoops, we need some money. What was that process like? How did you kind of turn that corner? And like, I guess maybe how, how did you even come to the realization that funding is the direction that you need to go in. And then what was your process walking down? That’s what, that’s a whole world in of itself too.

Marc Brown: All the way along… What I love about the startup world is it’s very open and you could read a lot. How we Listen, the education side to our nonprofit, that’s where it comes from…This idea that in music, you don’t really, people don’t share information on how to do things.

And I think that’s really missing. So that’s one of the things I like about the tech world. So I always read about funding and stuff. I find all that quite communicable really, but what happened was. We launched a MVP, worked on getting customers, et cetera, et cetera. And then realize like, this doesn’t work as well as it needs to work.

Ultimately, the product is just not where it needs to be. It was one engineer, Pete and Jen, the backend guy writing the Java script. Jen is a designer coder. We’re just lucky that they can interact together perfectly. So you get the stack. Right? And then it was like, we started to think, okay, how the hell do you market something?

You can’t just run Facebook ads or you can’t just go to companies and say, Hey, use this. Especially in music, no company, nobody in the music business wants to be sold. Anything. They want to come to it themselves. They want to discover bands for themselves. So in the middle of that, we’re like, okay, well we figured out the way we can market it.

But then we’re like, oh God, like now we need to just pour more money. Or the product, our businesses are registered in Canada. And in Canada, they have a load of quite generous granting systems. And so this is where I’m going to link my previous time in Halifax, back to what I’m doing now. So my first boss, the guy who gave me my first job in Halifax. 

His name is Colin. I’ve been in touch with him after all these years, we ran that festival together. And so I knew Colin w was good on the grant thing. Cause one of the first things I did with him was write a grant. And so I call him up, I’m like, look, I got this startup puts, you knew about this stuff. We need some money. It’s like, oh yeah, there’s this thing. These people give money to tech companies, but it’s really hard to get, I think. And I’m like, okay, fine. So we tried a couple grants. We didn’t get anywhere. And then we applied for this thing. It’s called the Canada media Fund. We applied.

They told us, oh, Hey look, you know, it’s not good enough, but the idea is good. You just need to work on it. So I started working on… this was three years ago. And as soon as we heard that there was a new application you could apply. Again, I started working on it and a whole, like eight months I wrote this thing, it was like 35 pages, like, or no, it was 75 pages.

And then designed, it was like three huge loads of numbers and a whole massive marketing plan. And we got like, you know, essentially 1.9 million. And like this is after and you wouldn’t believe what the terms are. It’s non-dilutive, it’s unbelievable. So, but it was after this idea of like, oh, I’ll just call this guy up and, and get.. I think I was at yoga or something when I thought, Oh, my God, I’ve got to talk to Colin. 

It was like, okay, we’re never going to survive if we can’t improve this product faster because it’s just the way our product works. Like if we take advantage of all the things that make audio files unique, like stream ability, embedded metadata, different file conversions, like we convert on the fly and stuff.

And that basically in the long and short of it is it makes our application very complicated from a backend point of view. It’s super simple on the front end, you know, you just upload something, click a button, it converts it to another file format. But from a backend point of view, we just set ourselves up for failure because it’s so complicated.

So we just thought if we’re going to do this properly, we’re going to have to raise some money. So then that was 18 months to two, nearly two years ago. Then we got the money about 18 months ago, everybody quit their jobs. And then we went from just me full-time to seven or eight full-time and then another four or five part-time.

Again, it’s just like, Oh, okay. Well we need money, so I better get on that. And then it worked out, like, I never thought we’d get it. We had one guy on our team. He’s like, I’ve got a really, I’ve got a feeling we’re going to get the money. And I’m like, this guy’s crazy. We don’t have a hope in hell.

Brian Sierakowski: This doesn’t know what he’s talking about! 

Marc Brown: Exactly. But he’s like, I can feel it. I can feel it. And then it happened. So, you know, but that’s a very, because raising money in music tech is very difficult, very difficult. 

Brian Sierakowski: Absolutely. And you, you sort of just mentioned in passing that you’re like, oh, we need to figure out like the marketing plan. And then we figured out the marketing plan and then we did the marketing plan, but you know, what can you share on that? Like how did you figure out what the right marketing strategy was going to be? 

Marc Brown: Well, okay. Like, since I’ve worked in music, it’s like I said, people don’t want to be sold anything. Right. That’s way worse in the music business.

We’ll talk to someone and say, how do you share music? They’re like, I use Google drive. How’s that? Oh yeah, it’s fine. I’m like, I know full well, it’s not fine because it’s a nightmare. Then, I’ve got trigger questions that I asked them.

And then within 30 seconds, they’re seething at the mouth or so angry about how difficult it is to work with audio files and Google drivers. And so from that, we came up with this, How We Listen idea. How We Listen was originally, it was this interview series about how fine people find that listen and experience music, because.

What happens is, if you’re a normal person who just uses apple music or Spotify or Deezer summit, your listening experience has been brilliant for quite a few years now. But if you work in music and have to listen to audio files and streams all the time, it’s very difficult. So we realized, oh, like what’s interesting is if we create a conversation around what this problem is, and then it reminds people how frustrating it is for them.

So again, we knew that we didn’t have a way to market it, but we fell into this education side of it, which is a lot of what our best marketing ideas come out of, because the way we figure we can give away our knowledge for free, like it comes from our DIY background. So the process of finding a way to market what people initially perceived as a B2B application has helped remarkably in, in helping people.

It’s the same thing as a band. Ultimately, with your band, you make some music with the people in your band, but then no one understands what your band is until you put some context on it. And that’s what a lot of marketing is. It’s like saying to people, Hey, like, this is what we are. The same rules that apply to artists and bands, we apply to our company.

We want people to know that what we think is important. So we’ve made decisions about what we think is important. So the How We Listen series expanded into panels at conferences where you’re talking about subjects that don’t really get discussed, you’re thinking about artists and their teams and what they need.

It’s just sort of developed there. And then you go into the startup playbook, which is content marketing, all those kinds of things. So it was a combination of thinking about what’s important in music, what are the questions that we think people ask themselves, but maybe don’t verbalize as much, and then combine that with the classic tech marketing stack, I would say. 

Brian Sierakowski: I remember being in the spot where I was either emailing MP3s around or I think we might’ve been at the tail end of Google drive, we might have even missed that. 

If you were talking to somebody like me, that’s emailing MP3s around, like what sort of, just to give people an idea of like, how you ask these questions… what questions would you ask me?

Marc Brown: Let me give an example. I do a lot of talks at schools, right? The MP3 attachment, I just think is crazy. And it’s like, you, you know, you’re talking to the past tense, so I’m at this music business school zooming with them or whatever. And it comes up like, and she’s like, I’m like, you know, Do eople actually send MP3s attachments still?

And knowing this woman raises her hand and then, and then the teacher’s like, yeah, it’s a nightmare to listen to them. And I think that’s the biggest thing I bring up with people– that yes, attaching an MP3 or even a lab file or whatever to an email is fine as a sender. But the big thing is what you’re doing is, you want people to listen to your music.

And this is again what we talk a lot about with How We Listen. It’s the idea that… let’s say you and I are in a band together, we’re making some music, we’re swapping some files. We can sort of do that anyway. We want, you know, I would say that it’s pretty inefficient, especially if you want to walk out the door and listen to it on a mobile phone, it’s nearly impossible.

But as soon as you start sending those files out and streams out to other people, You need them to listen to it because you need their support. No one knows who you are yet. You’re looking for a manager, a booking agent you’re trying to get on the radio. You’re trying to get gigs. And back to your MP3 attachment question, the issue becomes if you send an MP3 attachment, does that make it easy for the other person to listen or the Google drive thing. 

Like if you send me a series of wildfires on Google drive, it’s impossible to listen to them these days because they don’t work so well on iTunes. And then, you know, you can sort of listen to them on your desktop, but you can’t listen to them as an album. And that means that it makes it difficult, more difficult for the recipient to listen.

And if the recipient can’t listen, you know what? You’ll be like, I’ll send you my record. Maybe you can help me get a gig or something. But if they can’t listen to it, it doesn’t matter how much they like you as a person because the music is the currency. That’s what everybody wants.

If you think that sending an MP3 attachment, is it, is it effective? That’s good for the recipient, go right ahead. But generally, recipients don’t want things on email because it’s impossible. Think they downloaded it or their downloads folder and then the phone rings and then they import it in iTunes and there’s no metadata in it.

You’re just making it difficult for them to like your music– that’s essentially what’s happening. 

Brian Sierakowski: That’s great. I think that’s a lesson for everybody. As you’re talking to prospects and, you know, people, they asked you for a demo just to help them contextualize the, if there’s other parties involved, I think that’s very apparent.

Like you’re saying it’s like, well, sure it’s easy for you to attach an MP3, but you know, then it goes to the other person they’re gonna have to download it. And they might feel weird about downloading and running random files off of email and it gets lost and, you know. Pulling it back to what their goal is. Like, what’s your objective? I

I really want my music to get played on the radio station. It’s like, well, do you think that that’s, you know, making it hard for somebody to listen to it and remember who you are and find it, do you think that’s the best way to, it’s not the easiest way for you to achieve your goal? I guess I never thought about it before.

Marc Brown: Exactly. That is the challenge. It’s a mindset change. One of the things I talk about when I give talks is… The How We Listen Series is amazing…We run it every week. And like people just talk about how, you know, the first step is getting your music on Spotify.

I did an interview in Forbes, and at that time, there was a quote in there, the writer she just had just went through Techstars music and she, quoted, this was just about a year ago. She quoted 40,000 tracks uploaded to Spotify every day. That number is up to 60,000. But what a lot of artists think is they think, oh, I just put my music on Spotify and then it’s game on.

But the mindset is still, I want to send my music to people, but that’s not the problem. The problem is I need support from people. Like I was saying, and you are completely right. What we do is we spend time saying to people, Hey, look, you really need to be thinking a lot of the people you’re sending music to get music all the time.

And if there’s any sort of technical hitch or any sort of challenge, or it’s difficult to listen. Like the other punchline is we’ve learned from these, how we listen to interviews. Some people still want MP3s, but other people want streams. Everybody has a different way of doing things.

And if you’re not thinking about who your recipient is, it’s game over. Like you’re not going to get the results that you need. Maybe if you’re Kanye West, like, I hear they’re announcing a Kanye West record this week, or he’s going to drop one this week. People are going to do what they need to do to listen to that.

But if you’re a new band, like the band you were in, you’re trying to get going, you know, and that’s most bands, that’s bands who have released four or five records before you need to be thinking: how is this going to be received by other people? I think that’s a mindset change and that’s a very, that’s a challenge to overcome for sure.

Brian Sierakowski: For sure. It might be a little bit counterintuitive, but it’s almost like the starting point is nothing to do with your product or even how they’re currently doing things. Step one is going to them and saying like, Hey, are you crystal clear about what your objectives are? It’s like, you know, you think that your objective is to send a, send a sound file, an audio file.

But your objective is actually to pitch a record label or get played on a radio station or whatever. Your actual real goal is like, well, I want to become a more popular band or I want it, you know, so it is actually interesting. It’s a very common conversation we have with Baremetrics of, what are you trying to do?

Who are you trying to be as a company? Because we can look at these numbers in any, you know, any different way, you know, we can, we can slice and dice it, but where we actually really have great productive conversations is when we talk to somebody and they say like, I’m afraid that our churn is going up, but I don’t what’s happening. 

Once we actually get to that actual core, you know, what is your goal? Then we can swoop in with all the, you know, product stuff. Then we can slip in with the solution. 

If you were to ask what’s your goal? And they say, my goal is really to send a sound file and you’ll know what your real goal? And they say, my goal is to send a sound file, and then you’re like, okay, cool. I don’t think I’m quite ready. You know, you’re not ready for my help quite yet. 

Marc Brown: Yeah. Well, it’s another thing I discuss, like, and when I do talks… It’s this idea, and I’ve written a blog post about this idea of here and there. 

You’re here, where’s there, you know? In artist development, that looks different for everyone. So in the context of say  Baremetrics, everybody’s dashboard looks different depending on your business. And yet, you know, if you’re quote unquote, like I find “lifestyle” that expression quite condescending for the exact reason that you said you’d people can have loads of money if it’s about money. 

What is the goal of the business, you know, in a Baremetrics context, and then in a Byta context for artists, it’s like, what do you want to do as an artist? Where are you trying to go? And how are you going to get there? Who are the people that are going to help you get there?

But you’re very right in that it’s difficult to focus people on that, because I think it’s common in startups. Your competition is inactivity. It’s just doing the same thing over and over again. That’s the biggest competition any startup has, is just people not wanting to change, even though it be good for them. 

We’ll use Baremetrics again. If you track everything in a Google doc or a Google sheet, and you don’t really notice that your churn is changing because you’re, I don’t know, some of your formulas were wrong or whatever, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Like, that’s bad for your business. But it doesn’t mean I’m going to move to a new product. And I think it’s the same in music. It’s like, people are like, oh, Dropbox, like, that’ll do the trick. And doing the trick… It’s like, if there are 60,000 tracks being uploaded to Spotify every day, doing the trick isn’t good enough.

It’s like, if you want to try to make any sort of inroads, no matter how much success you’re actually out after, it’s a challenge and you need to think about timing. I think this is the most important thing– having self-awareness about what you want. There’s nothing uncool about that.

You just want to make sure you know what kind of music you’re making. Who would be interested in that? I don’t think it’s cynical to think like that. It’s more to just think, I hope I can reach the people. When I go to a gig, who do I want to meet? Do you know what I mean? What are people going to be like, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Brian Sierakowski: Yeah, that feels so generalizable. Just having clarity of what it is that you want gets you like 80% of the way there. It’s a hard question to answer and you really have to figure that out. But once you know what it is that you want, it makes it easy.

And it sounds like you’ve had great success with that. You knew what you wanted, and then, well, lo and behold, people are around you that can help you get there and you somehow find your way forward. So, yeah, that’s a, that’s a really great message. 

Marc Brown: I think it’s also an evolution. Isn’t it? For artists, I don’t think you just show up one day and know who you are as an artist. I think it evolves, but you need to have some sort of idea where you’re going. Because there’s a lot of people that show up who don’t know what they’re talking about and you get pulled in different directions and all that kind of stuff.

A lot of people, when I do talks and stuff, they’re like, oh, I need X. I need this person. I need that person.I remember years ago, this woman said to me, she’s like, I need a manager. I’m like, why do I need a manager? She’s like, Well, I need someone to help? And I’m like, you need to learn to do it yourself because how do you know if you’ve got a good manager or not if you don’t know what they’re doing? 

That’s this DIY mentality, this DIY attitude. You learn how to do things. So then it helps you figure out what you should do, if that makes sense. And then you get to a point where you’re like, okay, I don’t know. I can’t do what I’m doing. Then you, then you find help. 

But I think another key with all this startup or music stuff is that stuff doesn’t show up pre-packaged. You have to figure out what’s going on. It goes back to that choose your own adventure angle. 

Brian: Absolutely. Mark, this has been awesome. I really appreciate it. I feel like you’re so free with your experience and it feels like you, not that you don’t give yourself very much credit, but you’re kind of like, yeah. You know, I showed up and I got lucky. But it sounds like you’ve put in a ton of work and you’ve maybe had the perfect experience to cultivate the right mindset.

So I really appreciate you taking the time and being so open and sharing all this stuff. 

If people want to learn more about you or your company, it sounds like you have a great podcast, where should they reach out to learn more? 

Marc Brown: The company is called Byta, which is a, B Y T A. It’s a Swedish word for exchange. So BYTA dot com. 

If you want to find out about How We Listen, you can go to we listen, or just search hashtag #howwelisten. All one word. 

You can sign up for Byta. We got a free plan if you need to share audio files quickly. We’ve got paid plans if you need to upload storage space, more security. I’m @viznomics. or LinkedIn, just search Marc Brown with a C hit me up. It’s always fun to talk. 

I’ve got to say I was really impressed by your question early on about music and startups, because I never get asked that question about like the, some of the similarities, I think, because I think there’s tons of them.

So I, that was impressive.  You were a good interviewer!

Brian Sierakowski: I have the unfair advantage of being in both worlds. So I’m not as much of a philosopher king as you might think, I’ve just been through both of them. 

Marc Brown: Yeah, but everybody’s been in a band though, you know what I mean? So it’s, you know, so you’re you deserve some credit for asking good questions for sure.

Brian Sierakowski: Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Marc.. Really appreciate it. Everybody. We’ll get all those links linked up and yeah. Mark, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it.


Brian Sierakowski

Brian Sierakowski is the former General Manager of Baremetrics, an analytics and engagement tool for SaaS and subscription businesses. Before leading Baremetrics, Brian built TeamPassword, a password-sharing app that was acquired by Jungle Disk in 2018.