Jun 13, 2022 - Technology

Audius wants to make music artists money

Photo illustration of Roneil Rumburg.
Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Courtesy of Audius.

Music platform Audius is among the more mainstream projects to come from the crypto world, securing early funding from players in the very industry the shop aims to disrupt. Think: Katy Perry, Nas, Jason Derulo and Pusha T.

Why it matters: The company's mission No. 1 is to make money for the music artists on its platform, Roneil Rumburg, co-founder and dance music fanboy, tells Axios in an interview at Consensus 2022 in Austin.

  • "Right now, the biggest focus for the Audius ecosystem far and away is monetization," he said.

Details: The company, founded by Rumburg and Forrest Browning less than five years ago, rolled out its music service in September 2019 that has since grown to 7 million monthly listeners, 250,000 artists and just over 1 million tracks, according to Audius.

  • Early adopters included Deadmau5, RAC, and Disclosure.
  • It is powered by the Ethereum blockchain.

How it works: Artists can earn the firm's $AUDIO tokens by posting content, while listeners can earn by contributing feedback.

  • The higher the value of those tokens, the richer their holders are.
  • But after a jump in active users in its earlier days (March 2021) pushed the price of Audius' native tokens to an all-time high of $4.99, according to data compiled by CoinMarketCap, incremental advances have yet to figure into higher highs.
  • By the way, Audius' token model has a history.

The intrigue: Rumburg wants Audius' artists have pricing power.

  • "They can define their own monetization structure," Rumburg said. "The way that manifests from a product perspective is artists being able to charge for one-offs or via subscription," he said.

Yes, but: Creating a better system for paying music artists has been attempted time and time again, with or without blockchain.

Threat level: Turmoil in the markets and the threat of a crypto winter creating antsy investors and creators makes Rumburg's ambitions all the more pressing.

Context: Streaming platforms like Spotify and SoundCloud have substantially larger listener bases than Audius, measured in hundreds of millions. (Audius' early mission was to improve upon their models, per its whitepaper.)

  • At its core "what's unchangeable and unshakeable" is that Audius is a community-owned commons, Rumburg said.
  • Its Aug. 2021 integration with TikTok, enabling artists to share their content with creators on the social media app, was helpful. (Read: scaling is difficult)
  • Too, the number of blockchain-powered music projects have grown, with many seeking to cut out music middlemen and deliver fairer payments to creators.

Dance music, in particular, dovetailed with Audius' conceit and the makers of that kind of music are dominant on the platform.

  • "It was Forrest and my inclination for dance, but it was also how tech forward those music creators are," Rumburg said. "It's no coincidence that we've seen so many folks in dance music embrace crypto broadly even outside of Audius, whether it's via NFTs or coming up with crypto native experiences."
  • "There's also a high percentage of independent artists (unsigned to a label) in dance," he said.

Under the hood: Two advancements in crypto between 2015 and 2017 enabled Audius to become what it is today, Rumburg said.

  • Ethereum gave Audius the means to programmatically distribute control of something to a dispersed community of people via a token or a DAO-like structure, he said.
  • IPFS, the precursor to Filecoin, provided the structure necessary to store, address and fetch content in a decentralized way.

Audius also leans on another blockchain, Solana to manage content.

Another challenge for Audius is to maintain an even playing field for new entrants versus veterans, ensuring that every new artist can break in.

  • "If you signed up for Twitter in 2010 compared to today, it's a whole lot harder to break in. YouTube is another. Massive accounts seem to have unshakeable exponential growth but it's harder than ever to get started," Rumburg said.

Bottom line: "In order for Audius' long-term mission to be realized, it has to always be possible for an artist to contribute content, curate content, make the network better and earn control in return for that," he said.

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