Vydia, a 2022 NJBIZ Best Places to Work honoree based at Bell Works in Holmdel, was founded in 2013 by Middletown native Roy LaManna, now 42, as an all-in-one-platform to help music artists with services such as audio and video distribution, rights management, advanced payments, automatic royalty accounting, and daily performance analytics. The company was recently acquired by gamma, a media and music startup founded by former Apple Music Global Creative Director Larry Jackson and veteran music executive Ike Youssef, which aims to revolutionize the way artists create, distribute, and monetize their content and brand.
“The power of intellectual property and creative expression cannot be contained to any one format,” Jackson said in a statement. “The artists shaping today’s culture not only create music, but also video, film, podcasts, fashion, and more. They shouldn’t have to jump through multiple hoops to express themselves. Gamma is built with the flexibility and aptitude that creators need to connect with fans on all formats and across all channels – with transparency and no restriction. We are a progressive media company powered by the best-in-class content distribution and analytics software by way of our Vydia acquisition. And central to its core, gamma is an ideas company.”
In fact, Vydia was acquired by gamma in December of last year, but it was not announced until gamma’s official launch last month. Gamma said the deal is intended to provide content creators with the unfettered ability to publish and distribute audio-visual content on a global basis.
As part of the transaction, LaManna was hired to join gamma’s executive team as chief technology and product officer. And Vydia COO Jenna Gaudio and Senior Vice President, Label and Artist Relations Mark Gorman will be elevated to co-presidents of distribution at Vydia, with LaManna saying that they will effectively take over the day-to-day operations at the unit.
LaManna said he met Larry Jackson through a friend, and they began discussing how they saw the future of the music business. Those talks began casually, LaManna said, before intensifying and, ultimately, leading to this deal. “He and I saw eye-to-eye on how we saw the future of the music business,” said LaManna. “And he asked if I wanted to be part of it. And I agreed.”
Vydia will continue to operate independently, while supporting gamma’s initiatives. LaManna said one way to think about gamma is as the best-funded independent music company, bringing together a Dream Team-like group of financial backers, such as Eldridge, Apple and A24, which aims to offer the world’s leading artists creative and business services across all artistic and commercial touchpoints.
“Gamma has set out to redefine the music space, and Vydia is going to support those initiatives from a technology standpoint,” LaManna explained. “For the time being, they’re separate entities. They’re going to be operating autonomously. And so Vydia will continue to service needs at gamma, as well as work with its outside clients as it continues to do. Vydia is really a B2B platform that provides technology infrastructure for entertainment businesses.”
Vydia was one of the first tenants at Bell Works in Holmdel. LaManna spoke about his relationship with Ralph Zucker, CEO and founder of the company behind the metroburb, Inspired by Somerset Development, and how the leader was an early supporter of his company. LaManna did note that Vydia is exploring options to move to a new headquarters in Asbury Park or Fort Monmouth. “We’re going to continue to work together. I love Bell Works. I think it’s an amazing project,” LaManna said. “For us, we are exploring options and figuring out where the New Jersey headquarters will be. We are, first and foremost, a music-based company.”
LaManna noted that it is unusual to have a company like his based in Central Jersey and he wants to continue to build Vydia within the Garden State, as much as the taxes and economics will allow it. “I really want to make a presence in New Jersey and we want to build studios,” he said.
According to LaManna, the music history of Asbury Park makes that a potential no-brainer but he said that Netflix coming to Fort Monmouth makes that a possibility, as well. “We’re in negotiations with a building in both locations. We’re figuring out what the next move is,” he said.
LaManna added that he takes pride in playing a part to help build the innovation and startup ecosystem here in his home state. “I would like to make a mark here in the state and make it a hub,” he said. “Because I think we have a lot of really great things. You look at Asbury, the ocean meets the downtown. You have some really cool, iconic spots. Even Fort Monmouth could be a massive tech campus. That could be a huge thing. And if I were part of that, even in a small way, that’s really exciting.”
As Vydia and LaManna enter the next chapter with gamma, LaManna reflected on his journey thus far, stressing that it was not an easy ride. He recounted the humble beginnings during those early Bell Works days with so few tenants that it felt akin to working in an empty mall.
“When I first started, I just wanted to be able to make enough money that I could pay my own bills,” he said. “We just gradually built. So, it just took a while to even feel like it was a real company.”
His entrepreneurial journey started in 2008 at age 28 when he started Trendsetter Media & Marketing, a marketing agency for music, which is still operating. “I was underwater with my house. I couldn’t find a job. I dropped out of Brookdale so I had no college degree,” said LaManna. “That was not a good time to be me. The original goal was to be able to live. The goal was certainly not lofty. Quite honestly, the goal was not to move back into my parents’ house with my wife and kid.”
From there, he set up an early version of Vydia, offered through Trendsetter, as a DIY section on the site because he had increased demand for that type of service but did not want to take on the costs associated with more hiring. That service caught on, and LaManna felt like he had something.
In 2012, he decided to raise money to take the idea to the next level. Except, he had no experience in capital raises whatsoever. “It was as absurd as you’d guess it would be. I was looking at YouTube videos,” LaManna said. “I was googling like, ‘how do you raise money?’ Because I didn’t have a network.”
He said that most of the people he knew growing up in the northern section of Middletown he hails from worked in middle-class jobs such as firefighters, cops, plumbers and contractors, etc. “I literally knew nothing about nothing,” said LaManna.
Eventually, a friend connected LaManna to an investor who pledged $100,000, which led to a few other investments, allowing him to raise $300,000 and officially launch Vydia in 2013. “And that was enough to get the company going and enough to run the company for about five months,” said LaManna. “After five months, I went back to those same people, and they were happy with the results. And they gave me some more money and we started building. It was definitely incremental.”
And it still did not guarantee success. As LaManna noted, he originally planned to raise $5 million, so he had to stretch that capital as far as he could, which included those early days at Bell Works, where he was given a good deal on office space by operating out of the model that prospective tenants would come check out and tour.
The journey to this gamma deal has given LaManna a useful perspective about what it means to build a company from scratch. “I was 32, no tech background, didn’t know how to raise capital. I didn’t go to college. I didn’t even know how to build a website. Had no background in tech at all,” said LaManna, who added that he was just willing to work hard, grind, and do whatever was necessary to make it work.
“Most of the people that invested in my company didn’t really know what we did for a long time,” LaManna recalled. “They just felt like I was a good person to put money into. Ultimately, my pitch, at least in the early days, was kind of like, ‘listen, I’ll be dead at my desk before I lose you your money because this is the only thing that’s going to define me.’ So, I had a no plan-B strategy. I’m all-in.”
The path to this point also required a lot of determination and luck, he added. “It’s always a combination of those things,” LaManna said, who stressed that you just have to be unwilling to give up and to be uncomfortable at times as you continue the journey.
Vydia has grown into a company with nearly 80 employees, a roster of some 250,000 artists, and offices in Los Angeles, Nashville, and Miami. And, of course, now boasts the high-profile deal with gamma.
LaManna enters this next phase of the journey, which requires him to spend more time in Los Angeles where gamma is based as well as Miami, while his Vydia colleagues steer the ship day-to-day here in the Garden State. The focus, though, remains on the work to help fundamentally change the landscape for modern-day artists, who LaManna describes as “entrepreneurs.”
“I think that modern-day record label is antiquated and there is room to fundamentally change the way you think about supporting music and artists,” said LaManna. “And that’s our challenge. That’s what we started off doing. We just didn’t have the funding and validation until right now. It’s a new day one. This is a new startup.”
But that funding and validation does not guarantee any success, especially in a competitive space. “It’s still going to take an incredible amount of hard work and dedication,” said LaManna. “We’re trying to build something out of nothing.”o