In 2010, Ryan Wines and Brian Hall--self-described as "two bearded guys from Portland, Oregon"--launched Marmoset, a boutique agency that works with musicians to create custom beats, jingles, and jams for motion pictures and advertising campaigns. The business that started in Hall's backyard studio now employs 25 people--many of whom double as touring musicians--and this year earned the 317th spot on the Inc. 5000, an annual list of the fastest growing, private companies in the U.S. Here, Wines discussed the positives of the Pacific Northwest, how Marmoset benefited from disruption in the music industry, and the value of creating a scene.
--As told to Noah Davis
I'm not a musician. I've dabbled in producing some electronic music in my free time but it's nothing that I've shared publicly.
I started a small record label, and I was doing PR and digital strategy for an ad agency in Portland. The Dandy Warhols wanted someone to manage their record label after they left Capitol. They wanted to go more direct-to-fan, so I started working with them as a strategist and label manager. That gave me the idea to start a licensing agency, but I didn't know anything about custom music. I was introduced to Hall, a friend of friend who had been freelancing doing exactly that.
I realized that there was a thriving music community in Portland, but there wasn't a music industry because it was so small. We decided that we would try to spark the industry. The idea: We could be a conduit to the bigger media markets. We thought of ourselves as ambassadors for Portland and the Pacific Northwest, for all the art and creativity that was happening. We got on airplanes, went to New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. People actually responded. They didn't slam doors in our faces. They wanted to talk to us. All we had to say was "Portland, Oregon" and "music." Portland has some cultural capital.
At the same time, Portland can feel like an island--isolated in the upper left corner of the country, far from the major media and entertainment markets. Our strategy from day one was to develop a global focus and push ourselves to think and forge relationships far beyond the city limits of Portland. The rapid and constant change of the music industry has helped us. Technology has helped us connect with artists all over the country and beyond. We have composers working out of home studios in New York and the Midwest. They are artists who historically would have been touring or studio musicians. Now, we have this wonderful new economy that allows these new opportunities like making music for television, advertising, or film. We work with small indie labels and unsigned artists.
We've done music for brands like Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, Levi's, and Google, and in 2014, we paid out more than $1.5 million in royalties to more than 325 artists. We've very intentionally fostered a culture of trust, a high degree of care, and a focus on chemistry between people and relationships. That has translated into nothing short of rocket fuel for the company.
I wouldn't go as far as to say that we have created an industry, but we have certainly helped spark something. There are other organizations, companies, and labels since we started four and a half years ago. It's starting to feel like something is taking shape. It feels like something is definitely happening here.