The BandLab Business Model – How Does BandLab Make Money?

Executive Summary:

BandLab is a free social music platform and digital audio workstation that allows artists to collaborate with each other and share their work with listeners.

BandLab itself does currently not make any money. Instead, its parent company Caldecott Music Group generates revenue from advertising as well as hardware and software sales.

What Is BandLab?

BandLab is a free social music platform and digital audio workstation (DAW) that allows artists to collaborate with each other and share their work with listeners.

At the core of BandLab are its various tools, such as Looper, which allow artists to create their own music. The platform, furthermore, allows up to 50 collaborators per track.  

BandLab also offers more than 15,000 samples (via audio packs), sometimes in collaboration with world-class producers like Lex Luger.

Apart from creating the music, BandLab also offers features that enable musicians to mix and master their tracks.

Once a track or album is completed, it can then be shared with and distributed to the tens of millions of listeners registered on the platform.

Musicians can even sell their tracks directly on the platform (through an integration with Stripe) while being able to keep all of their earnings. Additionally, you can support your favorite artists through donations or subscriptions.

BandLab can be accessed by visiting its website or downloading its desktop (macOS and Windows) and mobile (Android and iOS) apps.

BandLab Company History

BandLab, which is headquartered in Singapore, was launched in 2014 by Meng Ru Kuok, the son of palm-oil billionaire Kuok Khoo Hong, as well as Steve Skillings.

Growing up, Kuok didn’t spend that much time with his billionaire father. At age 10, he was sent off to a British boarding school.

After graduating from high school, he went on to study Mathematics at Cambridge University. He wrapped up his studies somewhere in 2012 and decided it was time to return to Singapore.

But instead of following in his father’s footsteps, he decided to pursue his own passion: music. It was back in the U.K. when Kuok was first introduced to music.

His friends burned him a copy of Radiohead’s The Bends and told him to “go away, listen to this and don’t come out until you like it.”

This opened up a whole new world to him, which eventually led him to artists like Eric Clapton or B.B. King and even prompted Kuok to learn to play the guitar.

His first lesson in the world of entrepreneurship came when, just after he returned, Kuok and a group of business partners were able to acquire Swee Lee, a music shop that had been established all the way back in 1946.

Swee Lee was actually the store in which Kuok picked up his first guitar after being home for the holidays. It also became the place in which he would meet his co-founder, Steve Skillings.

At the time, Skillings was running JamHub, a product he had invented and was representing as a potential partner for Swee Lee. The two would soon connect over the possibilities of creating a Cloud DAW that would enable artists across the world to collaborate.

While Kuok was establishing Swee Lee beyond its native Singapore and entering markets such as Malaysia, Indonesia, or Vietnam, he and Skillings also began working on what would eventually turn into BandLab.

After assembling their team, it took them around nine months to create version 1.0 of the BandLab platform, which they finally launched in November 2015. The business was (and still is) heavily financed by his father who has an alleged net worth of $13.2 billion according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index.

Over the coming months, the team continued to iterate on the product, for instance by adding an ‘Explore’ section or a MIDI Editor in February 2016. The rest of the year was primarily categorized by a variety of acquisitions the company made.

First, in July, it acquired Composr, a European-based iOS and web music-making service whose founder Nick den Engelsman went on to join BandLab’s executive team. Two months later, BandLab acquired MONO Creators Inc., a San Francisco-based design studio that creates high-end instrument cases, straps, and other accessories for a variety of instruments.

However, the biggest news of the year would come days after the MONO acquisition. BandLab was able to purchase a 49 percent stake in the world-renowned music magazine Rolling Stone.

Subsequent reporting revealed that Kuok had paid around $40 million to acquire almost half of the company’s shares. His goal for the struggling magazine was to introduce it into new markets (for example via live events) all while tying it into the existing BandLab business.

Throughout 2017, BandLab continued to double down on its acquisition tactic. In January, it purchased AudioStretch, a music transcription tool that enables users to change the speed of audio without changing the pitch.

Later that year, in July, it introduced a new hardware division, named BandLab Machines, under which it would sell physical products. In September, it made yet another acquisition by purchasing Chew.tv, a video streaming service for DJs (often dubbed as being the Twitch for DJs).

Towards the end of the year, Kuok also reiterated his desire to acquire the remaining 51 percent of Rolling Stone, which despite his many attempts he wasn’t able to pull off.

In general, BandLab’s strategy was (and still is) to create an ecosystem around its own social network. It can then use the traffic it garners to direct users to other offerings, whether it’s news magazines or hardware and software products.

As a result, it often found itself purchasing distressed assets, such as SONAR’s music production software Cakewalk, which BandLab acquired in March 2018 and relaunched as Cakewalk by BandLab a month later.

However, the billionaire son soon had to learn that his money couldn’t buy him everything. After years of negotiations, Kuok finally gave up on trying to acquire the remaining 51 percent of Rolling Stone. Instead, he sold his 49-percent stake to Penske Media Corporation (PMC) in January 2019.

Despite the sale, he didn’t give up on his ambitions to run a media business. Five months after the sale, in May, BandLab announced the acquisition of NME and Uncut Magazine, which it purchased from TI Media. NME would eventually be launched across Asian markets in August 2020 to vastly expand its reach.

2020, in particular, would prove to be the platform’s most important year to date. Its growth was primarily fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic, which put concerts and festivals, one of the most important revenue streams for musicians, to a standstill.

In order to help out its struggling artists, the company also introduced the ability for musicians to distribute albums (while keeping 100 percent of all earnings) in July. It doubled down on its pro-musician strategy by introducing BandLab Sounds in November, a royalty-free library of samples that musicians could use for their own creations (all without paying for it).

As a result of all of its acquisitions and new features, BandLab was able to grow its user base from around 10 million registered accounts at the beginning of 2020 to over 30 million by the end of the year.

To help streamline all of those businesses, BandLab, in December 2021, announced that it would reorganize itself under the new name Caldecott Music Group, which entails all of its businesses (namely hardware, its social network, as well as its media assets).

How Does BandLab Make Money?

BandLab itself does currently not generate any revenue. Instead, its parent company Caldecott Music Group makes money from advertising as well as hardware and software sales.

Right now, all features and products on BandLab are free to use. For example, revenue generated from album sales, tips, or BandLab Distribution (where songs are automatically pushed into other platforms like Spotify, iTunes, TikTok, and more) all goes to the creator.

Additionally, it also doesn’t charge any type of subscription fees for its different software products, which entail BandLab for Education (a tool for teachers), a mix and mastering product, or free music samples.

Its parent company Caldecott, as previously stated, generates income from a variety of sources. For example, it distributes and sells various music hardware products, such as instrument accessories from Mono or Guitars from its Harmony brand.

Additionally, its media assets, which entail NME, MusicTech.com, Uncut, as well as Guitar.com, all make money from displaying ads across their websites. On top of that, portals like Guitar.com also generate affiliate commissions from reviews.

In the future, BandLab itself might be monetized as well. Kuok and his team very much follow the strategy of the social media networks that followed before them. That means they restrained from adding any sort of advertising until they reached a critical mass of users, which would create a self-sufficient network.

However, previous examples, such as SoundCloud, show that one has to eventually try and monetize existing traffic if they intend to build a sustainable business. In the meantime, Kuok will likely rely on the money that his father is providing him with.

Hi folks, Viktor checking in! Years of experience in various tech-related roles have led me to start this blog, which I hope provides you with as much enjoyment to read as I have writing the content.