Anyone who has ever made a YouTube video or a podcast knows how difficult it can be to find music to license without spending enormous sums on costly tunes. Audrey Marshall, who was already working in the music industry, decided to find a way to make the entire process easier. In 2018, she launched Thematic, a community-driven platform where music can be licensed for free from artists in exchange for promotion. The Culver City, California-based entrepreneur now hosts over 500,000 creatives on the platform and says, “I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve built and even more excited for what’s to come.”
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.
Tell us more about why you started your business.
For many years my partners, Marc Schrobilgen and Michelle Phan, and I had been matchmaking video creators with musicians who wanted to build traction around their latest releases. Eventually, we removed the licensing landmines that traditionally encapsulated this process, and streamlined the experience. The result is Thematic.
How is your business different from others in your industry?
Thematic was the first platform to provide gratis licenses for creators in exchange for artist and song promotion. We are also the only site of our kind built from a creator’s perspective. We are able to provide a user experience that accurately addresses both creators’ and music artists’ needs fairly, without skewing value to one party over another.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Our day-to-day team at Thematic is still small, and we have a great shorthand that enables a very quick-paced and collaborative environment. As we scale up, both in our users and in our team, this dynamic will undoubtedly change. In response, we’re finding ways to connect with new team members, such as through informal team meet-ups, and establishing new organizational practices to better enable communication across the company.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Accept the fact that you’ll never have it fully figured out; with each new level of success, there’s a new dynamic to figure out. Be a total information sponge. We’re lucky to be building in an era where there is an incredible amount of knowledge and resource sharing in the startup world, so there’s no excuse to never stop learning.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I’ve found it so helpful to find specific pockets of time in my schedule, whether it be in my morning routine, daily walks listening to podcasts, a hike with friends, or when spending time with family, to be completely away from my phone and computer. Finding ways to zoom out of a work situation has helped me to realize that seemingly huge problems aren’t actually all that daunting, and it has allowed me to think of new perspectives and ideas.
What is your go-to song to get motivated on tough days?
Honestly, pretty much any song from my favorite band Metric gets me energized. Their music has such a “come get it” spirit and it can usually kick me into high gear. Lately, their songs “Now or Never Now,” “All Comes Crashing” and “Help I’m Alive” have been in high rotation.
Who is your most important role model?
It’s difficult to pinpoint just one person for this. I’ve thankfully had a handful of great influences in my life, guiding me to the person I am today. My mother instilled in me a fierce, independent spirit with the belief that with hard work and discipline, I could achieve my goals. My co-founder, Michelle, has been such a guiding light in paving the way for digital-first creators and entrepreneurs. In working with her, she has provided so much insight into skillfully navigating the ever-changing waters of what it means to be a creator in the social media age. I also admire female musicians like Taylor Swift and Emily Haines who have defied traditional industry standards to create a new perspective on what it means to be a successful businesswoman. ◼