Before 3lau drops his new song “Worst Case” on October 8th, he’s going to give away 50 percent of its streaming rights to 333 fans. The novel business play, the DJ/producer explains in an exclusive conversation with Rolling Stone, is designed to showcase the capabilities of Royal — a still-incomplete blockchain-powered marketplace he hustled to put together following 2021’s big NFT boom.
The 333 winners were selected from users who had already signed up for Royal and have made the most referrals to friends — but in the near future, songs will be put up as for-sale items. 3lau tells Rolling Stone that the first four or five artists will be “extremely large” stars from a variety of genres; after his drop, the others are scheduled to roll out on a monthly basis.
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He adds that Royal has pulled in more than 2,000 artist inquiries since its announcement, and over 200 of those have at least 500,000 monthly listeners. “Many have millions,” he says. “A couple have 20 million-plus.”
Earlier this year, 3lau made mainstream headlines when he became the first musician to sell an album as an NFT, earning upwards of $11.6 million in less than 24 hours. But even before that, he had already tested the waters with a tokenized, special edition of his song “Everything.” That generated, at the time, $250,000: “That’s more than any advance that a record label would give for a single,” he says. Now, he’s trying to introduce “a new asset class to the masses,” as he puts it, and mold the idea of “collectible music” into something that’s sustainable, with a musical stock market of sorts.
3lau started Royal with his college roommate, JD Ross, who founded the SoftBank-backed Open Door, which sold real estate on-demand before Zillow did and was recently valued at $4.8 billion. Royal’s first seed round closed at $16 million in August. Their main focus right now is user-friendliness and marketability: 10 years ago, he points out, people would’ve been terrified at the idea of getting in a stranger’s car or staying in a stranger’s house, but apps like Uber and AirBnb made the concepts desirable.
“When you own a piece of music as art, as a fan, you should actually own that music,” he says of the duo’s vision. He explains that fans will earn royalties both on-chain and off-chain on platforms like Spotify, Amazon, and Apple Music, because Royal is not a streaming service — it’s just selling tokenized contracts.
3lau believes that being a partial owner will incentivize fans to stream and advertise music more — and, in theory, that benefits everyone from the artist to the fan, and even the label if the artist is signed. “Fans, who are primarily responsible for all the distribution of music, don’t capture any of the upside, even though they’re creating all the value,” he says of the current landscape.
While 3lau owns 100 percent of the song that he’s releasing — because he wrote, recorded, and funded it all on his own — he recognizes that’s not often the case in the music industry. On Royal, major-label artists are welcome too; they’d just be selling a percentage of whatever rights are under their ownership.
In regard to demand, he says that some of the biggest music executives in the world have reached out supportively. “We’re hiring like crazy,” he says. “We did not expect the feedback to be so overwhelming. Now everyone’s like, ‘When’s it ready?!’ And we’re like, ‘Ahh, we’re still working on it!’” (He also shares that Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian DMed him on Twitter to say, “Dude, this is the future.”)
For “Worst Case,” which is a pandemic-inspired song, 3lau will manually send its future rights-holders their cut as he’s paid on a monthly basis. (Since he uses Stem, these parties will be able to track the earnings in real time.) However, 3lau’s team is currently building an automatic-payment interface designed to live within Royal.
Royal, which is not yet in the business of selling publishing rights, has been in talks with major labels — “one in particular,” according to 3lau, who declines to share more information on the matter. While Royal is starting out on the Ethereum mainnet, 3lau says he and Ross believe in a “multi-chain future.”
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