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Stem Raises $20 Million To Help Music Artists Get Paid – dot.LA

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Kristin Snyder is an editorial intern for dot.la. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA’s Daily Bruin.
Stem, a music tech startup focused on helping artists with distribution and payments, has raised $20 million in a new funding round.
Fintech-focused venture capital firm QED Investors led the funding and was joined by Block, the Jack Dorsey-led payments tech company formerly known as Square. Block notably paid nearly $300 million last year to acquire a majority stake in TIDAL, the music streaming service backed by rapper Jay-Z.
Existing investors Slow Ventures and Quality Control also pitched in on Stem’s new round, which takes the Los Angeles-based startup’s total funding to around $40 million.
Since launching in 2015, Stem has merged financial management tools with music distribution capabilities, working with independent record labels like Big Loud as well as major artists like Wiz Khalifa. Its dashboard includes tools for artists, managers and labels to oversee their revenues, split funds with collaborators and receive automated payments. While only Stem-distributed artists can currently access its financial tools, the new funds will go toward expanding the platform’s existing royalty accounting features to other music distributors.
Stem co-founder and CEO Milana Lewis told dot.LA that she launched the startup based on her experiences as a talent agent for industry heavyweight United Talent Agency—a role in which she saw firsthand how difficult it was for artists trying to aggregate multiple revenue streams. Stem was born out of Lewis’ desire to streamline the process.
“Getting into music has always been hard for anyone that works in music,” Lewis said. “There’s this notion of a starving artist for a reason: It’s because the business is really complex, and it’s gotten more complex.”
With avenues for music monetization—from streaming platforms to home devices—constantly expanding, Stem aims to provide artists with a “financial backbone” allowing them to plan their projects and income, Lewis added.
“Our belief is: What if we build a system that can become the system of record for who gets paid what and how?” she said. “It makes it possible for other really interesting economic things to happen for artists.”
Stem is among a new generation of startups that are turning L.A. into a music tech hotbed—a trend that makes sense given the city’s status as a global entertainment capital and home to major labels like Universal Music Group. Last week saw Trac, another startup distribution platform for music artists, raise $2.5 million in new funding, as dot.LA reported.
While streaming has helped the music business evolve its revenue model, that hasn’t always been to the benefit of artists: Spotify recently revealed that most artists earned less than $10,000 through its platform in 2021. In turn, some independent musicians have protested against the streaming giant over its low royalty payments.
Kristin Snyder is an editorial intern for dot.la. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA’s Daily Bruin.
Yasmin is the host of the “Behind Her Empire” podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.
Each episode covers their unique hero’s journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what’s possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.
On this episode of the Behind Her Empire podcast, Heela Yang, the co-founder and CEO of Sol de Janeiro, talks about how uprooting her life to move to another country helped inspire her award-winning body care line.
When she first proposed the name of her new premium product, “Brazilian Bum Bum Cream,” Yang said she received plenty of advice on why she needed to change it. Instead, she chose to stick with her idea.

“The world did not need another nice body cream. The world did not need another brand that didn’t create noise and made people think differently. And so that was what really gave me the courage to trust my gut,” said Yang.
The idea for the cream came from Yang’s experience moving to Brazil to be with her partner (now her husband). Within a month, she was pregnant, and feeling awkward in her own body in an unfamiliar place. But she said she drew inspiration from the way Brazilian women felt comfortable in their own skin.
The revelation came to her, she said, one day at the beach.
“I was feeling a little bit down on myself – low self esteem, you know, new job, new country and but I just started looking around and they’re women, of all shapes, all sizes, all colors, just enjoying themselves and loving who they are caressing their body with oil and creams and their hair and jumping into the ocean and coming back out and doing something else—and just so joyful and nobody was looking at me.”
The experience would become the basis for her new brand, Sol de Janerio.
“At that moment, I thought, ‘Wow, I love this feeling,’” she said. “And this is exactly the feeling the beauty industry should give to women through products and through messaging.”
The “Brazillian Bum Bum Cream” launched in 2016, and became Sephora’s best selling skin care cream within few months. With its success, the brand has expanded to products including fragrance and haircare items.
“We were crazy enough to believe that we could make some difference in the industry. Now, if somebody said, ‘Yeah, you could be doing hundreds of millions of dollars by 2021?’ You know, I would have said, ‘Wow, that would be a dream come true.’ And here we are,” said Yang.
Yang credits her approach to her parents and her experiences as an immigrant. Moving from South Korea to America at the age of 12, she learned to adapt to a new culture despite feeling uprooted, she said, by learning how to make friends and adapt to new places.
That experience helped with her later move to Brazil, she said, and helped her appreciate her host country’s perspective on beauty – including their embracing wrinkles and cellulite.
“That’s what I fell in love with when I went to Brazil, which is you just completely love and embrace every part of you because it’s you. The Brazilians will be saying, ‘Well, that’s cellulite, yes. But that’s my cellulite… so I’m going to take care of them’,” said Yang.
Hear more of the Behind Her Empire podcast. Subscribe on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA Audience Engagement Fellow Joshua Letona contributed to this post.
Yasmin is the host of the “Behind Her Empire” podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.
Each episode covers their unique hero’s journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what’s possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.
On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Unicorn Ventures Managing Partner Jonathan Hung discusses his latest funds, manufacturing partners and investment mindset.
Hung first joined the business world through his father’s international clothing manufacturing business, and he took over the company in 2012. In 2016, he founded J Heart Ventures, which is his family office investing firm.
Two years later, Hung formed Unicorn Ventures with Dave Lin, who was CFO at Maker Studios, and Phillip Sarofim. Unicorn co-invests and leads funding rounds for early-stage startups. Hung views his role as an investor like that of a college counselor—he hopes for their success, but his focus is on helping them secure funding to get them to the next round.

“I hope you make it. I hope you graduate,” he said, adding that “my job is to get you that Series A. That’s all that matters.”
Unicorn now operates as a part of West Hollywood-based Trousdale Ventures, which has invested over $300 million in the last two years.
People are crucial to successful investments, Hung said. His own network—ranging from angel investor Howard Morgan to DJ and NFT investor Steve Aoki—informs his funding strategy. He’s also bullish on companies expanding into China.
“If you’re not selling to China, you’re doing something wrong,” he said. “About 350 million people in China are considered [in] the middle class. That’s the size of the U.S. population.”
Investors have to maintain a love for networking in order to keep taking risks and backing more funds, he said.
“It’s not just money,” Hung said. “The moment you don’t want to go networking, you don’t want to go do that, you have to stop.”
Hear the full episode by clicking on the playhead above, and listen to LA Venture on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
dot.LA Editorial Intern Kristin Snyder contributed to this post.
Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Samson is also a proud member of the Transgender Journalists Association. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter at @Samsonamore. Pronouns: he/him
Long Beach-based reusable rocket startup Rocket Lab has inked a contract with satellite company HawkEye 360 to launch three payloads into space beginning as soon as December.
Using its Electron rocket, Rocket Lab will send 15 of Virginia-based HawkEye 360’s radio frequency monitoring satellites into low Earth orbit across three separate missions starting “no earlier than December 2022,” the company said Tuesday. Rocket Lab did not disclose financial details of its contract with HawkEye 360.
The first launch will be a “rideshare mission,” according to Rocket Lab, that will send three HawkEye 360 satellites into space along with cargo from other, as-yet-undisclosed customers. Assuming the first launch is successful, Rocket Lab will launch two more dedicated Electron rockets through 2024, each carrying six HawkEye 360 satellites.

The first mission will launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.—home to Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 2, which opened in late 2019. Nearby, Rocket Lab broke ground last week on a new 250,000-square-foot rocket production facility to build its Neutron launcher, which will be its largest rocket to date and, it hopes, a competitor to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. The company is developing the Neutron facility with the help of $45 million in funding from the state of Virginia.
In a statement, Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said that he is looking forward to the first HawkEye 360 flight, which will be Rocket Lab’s inaugural launch from Wallops Island. Founded in 2006, the startup also operates its Launch Complex 1 in Beck’s native New Zealand.
“Operating multiple Electron pads across both hemispheres opens up incredible flexibility for our customers and delivers assured access to space, something we know is becoming increasingly critical as launch availability wanes worldwide,” Beck said.
One reason why Rocket Lab’s time frame for the HawkEye 360 launches remains vague—and why the company has yet to launch from Wallops Island—is because it’s still waiting on NASA to grant it access to the space agency’s Autonomous Flight Termination Unit software, which is critical for takeoff. Rocket Lab said Tuesday that it is “encouraged by NASA’s recent progress in certifying” the software at Wallops Island.
“My confidence level is high, but it was high last year, too,” Beck told SpaceNews earlier this year. “I would be extraordinarily disappointed if NASA doesn’t meet their deliveries to enable us to launch this year.”
but could take place several days later if weather conditions aren’t optimal.
Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Samson is also a proud member of the Transgender Journalists Association. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter at @Samsonamore. Pronouns: he/him
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