After failing a biology class his sophomore year at Morehouse College, Ronald Freeman Jr. came home and started brainstorming. He realized that dentistry was no longer his calling, prompting him to contemplate his passions and interests and explore ways to leverage them for his benefit.
Freeman had a love for taking pictures, and he wanted to create a network where Gen-Z students could interact with one another on a professional level, whether they were entrepreneurs, influencers, or creatives — his brainchild, United Market (UM) became a hub for them. The Atlanta native then tapped three of his childhood friends and fellow Morehouse students, Austin Morris, Sencere Smith, and William Cooper Jr. to invest and help build the company alongside him, and the rest was history.
The following year, UM operated at full capacity. However, despite rapidly amassing a considerable user base, they recognized the need for a strategic shift. There was an oversaturation of similar companies catering to distinct markets. In light of the substantial number of music industry professionals that joined the platform, they recognized a potential opportunity. This marked the inception of the United Market as we know it today.
Approaching the one-year anniversary of their relaunch, United Market stands as a comprehensive platform catering to producers, songwriters, vocalists, musicians and labels facilitating seamless collaboration. While Smith possessed a musical background, they collectively pooled their talents and expertise to create the music-tech software. Serving as a tech enabled artist and repertoire (A&R), UM aims to help musicians and labels collaborate easier, ensuring music accessibility for all.
According to the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, the world’s music publishers roughly lost approximately two billion dollars in 2020 alone. By utilizing their technologies, UM not only makes creating hits easier but also, eliminates ownership writing conflicts and people going unpaid.
After overcoming trials and challenges, UM achieved a significant milestone in their business journey when Atlanta-born rapper Lil Baby enlisted their services to streamline the creation of his hit tracks, “In A Minute” and “Frozen.” At that time, these HBCU students realized they were onto something big, but little did they know, it was just the beginning. Since then, they have facilitated collaborations with some of the music industry’s biggest stars, including NBA Youngboy, Lil Durk, Pop Smoke, Babyface Ray, and many more. Renowned labels like Motown, RCA, Interscope, and others have established their presence on the platform, utilizing the resources provided by United Market to enhance the efficiency and accessibility of music creation. With millions raised in venture-capital funding, United Market is poised for a promising future ahead.
ESSENCE spoke with Ronald Freeman Jr., the founder of United Market, following their recent partnership announcement with Symphonic — a collaboration that marks their expansion into the distribution sector.
How does United Market fill in the gap as artificial intelligence (AI) expands as well as the music industry overall?
Despite the recent trend in AI regarding music, our platform does not attempt to replicate someone’s voice and steal their work. Instead, we use the technology as a social algorithm to locate and promote collaboration that is within your realm of music taste and makes sense with your role. We recently began building cooler stuff like, artists being able to create full demos with just 30 second clips of their voice. The software also has the ability to improve their song writing by generating key words. Our services encompass what can be considered a tech-enabled A&R with the goal of helping musicians and labels worldwide create music more efficiently. Within labels, there is no software that is for A&R professionals so we are looking to fill that void.
Considering you all use AI technology to serve as A&R, do you think this eliminates the need for A&R professionals all together if not how does the automated A&R differ ?
At this point in time, A&R services still require human interaction on both sides of the transaction. UM is not replacing an executive but rather providing a tool for them to leverage. At any large conglomerate, you have sales, operations, and marketing teams etc… They commonly have their own tools and resources like salesforce, that can help them do their jobs easier. Anytime labels bring on a new employee a new membership is added to our platform and we continue to work alongside them by taking over the administrative work allowing them to focus on building up talent and finding proper collaborators.
UM utilizes AI to serve as A&R. I’m curious to know your thoughts on how automated reality will affect the music industry within the next 10-15 years.
I believe it will help with efficiency. The music industry is very inefficient which is why there is so much money spent and deals are always in the label’s favor because they are hoping to make a return on their investment. Artificial intelligence will allow you to save money on studio sessions by being able to use the technology to make tracks with a generated voice and simulated collaborations instead of spending hours recording.
How is United Market streamlining and making music production and collaboration more accessible while protecting artists?
We handle all contracts directly through our platform. Labels and artists are able to use UM as an all in one shop, when normally they are required to get their lawyer involved and take other steps. We leverage block chain technology for an extra level of rights and protection ensuring that their intellectual property is protected. An audio file cannot leave our platform without an agreement, we have yet to have a record where any collaborator went without compensation.
As a young entrepreneur, what are the biggest challenges when trying to grow your business?
Many people thought we were excessively confident, and in various settings, individuals would challenge our statements, causing us to doubt ourselves. People presumed that we were just a young group of guys throwing ideas around. They would ask questions like, “Is there really a market for this?” and doubt our ability to get the job done. Followed by, “knowing nothing about this market,” but only saying this because our user base is primarily black and how they “don’t understand this.” Defying these statements was definitely a challenge in itself.
Do you have any advice for young people trying to get involved with music from the production side whether that is producing, management or A&R?
Don’t let anyone tell you what you are capable of accomplishing. We have plenty of producers on our platform who are new to making music yet have been able to get a successful placement through UM. Ignore the naysayers when they tell you how hard the industry is to break into or there being a plethora of artists just like you. There are many avenues for good music to be heard despite feeling like an outsider. Prior to the launch of UM, among the four founders, Sencere was the one who possessed prior experience in the music industry. As long as you take the time to prepare your talent will show for itself on top of continued networking and putting your best foot forward there should be no doubt that you can succeed.