Napster Enters The Web3 Chat
What Y2K Music Brands Could Bring To Web3
In October of 2003, I attended a party for the launch of Napster 2.0 (2003-2011), the legal and corporatized rebranding of Napster (1999-2002) which had been forced into bankruptcy the previous year. I had been living in Los Angeles for exactly five days at that point, as my Kia Rio 5-Door Station Wagon (1999-2005) crawled down Sunset Blvd. towards the House of Blues Hollywood (1994-2015). And I was deflated when I went entered the mostly empty venue and witnessed one of my favorite new bands, Interpol, performing a lackadaisical set to a few dozen goateed industry types who seemingly felt no qualms about stuffing their faces with food from the free buffet as they stood feet from the stage on the empty main floor.
An hour later, Ludacris hit the stage to an audience that was only mildly more excitable thanks to the free bar. And as I waited to get my car from the $20 valet in the “nightmare of a parking lot,” I couldn’t help but wonder if my choice to come to tinsel town from Detroit had been an awful mistake.
Much has changed since 2003, but Napster still exists (in trademark, at least), much to everyone’s surprise. The modest streaming service, with its 5M users and $8M in revenue made headlines of the “really, Napster?” kind when it was sold for $70M to MelodyVR in August of 2020. Then this week, it was announced that MelodyVR (rebranded as Napster Group) is being taken private by a team of investors that includes Web3 movers Hivemind Capital Partners and Algorand.
And Napster isn’t the first Y2K-era web entity the group has gotten friendly with. Post-Napster piracy haven Limewire began undergoing its own transformation into an NFT marketplace last month, with tokens printed on the, wait for it, the Algorand blockchain. Algorand is also the protocol underpinning Opulous’ efforts to fractionalize music using NFTs, as well as several other more contemporary music startups.
So is the vintage brand buying just a way to trade on Web 1.0 nostalgia as an alternative to the often cringe aesthetic of Web3. Probably more than a little. Hivemind said as much when it did the LimeWire deal, posting on LinkedIn, “One of our core theses is in the value in nostalgic web1 and 2 brands combined with the technological potential of web3.” But one constant in the Web3 conversation is the desire to return to a pre-Web 2.0 platform-dominated era when individuals and small groups (the kids like to call them DAOs) could build their own ideas for the future of the World Wide Web, which has included music since at least the heyday of Winamp (itself turned into an NFT something or another just last month).
Whether or not most of the new Metamask faithful are old enough to actually remember the 16-bit sizzle of a RealPlayer stream is unlikely. But the same way Daniel Ek came out of the Swedish Pirate Bay community when starting Spotify, it’s likely that there are other lessons to learn from the peer-to-peer era. Some veterans, like Napster inventor Shawn Fanning, are deep in the Web3 mix. And they are well-positioned to insert some well-earned wisdom into a space where much of the conversation is taken up by enthusiastic young people who don’t understand just how fragile a little thing like the music business can actually be.
Salient statements from this week’s music news.
The leading artist-direct distributor of music will now do the same for your music videos.
Takeaway: DistroKid estimates that it distributes more than a third of all new music globally, which ties into its May 2021 announcement that the company now distributes over a million tracks to digital services each month.
2. MMF Sets Out Three-Step Plan For Making Sure Songwriters Get Paid Accurately
The association of music managers is setting its site on the thorny problem of metadata and “turn what is currently an opaque black box of song royalties into a glass box.”
Takeaway: All of this is geared towards eradicating the infamous problems where streaming services have large chunks of their catalogue for which they don’t have accurate (or even any) data on who to pay publishing royalties to.
In an era when technology lets artists do anything themselves, some are still willing to give their labels a taste of everything.
Takeaway: Although most deals aren’t actually all-inclusive, a new artist’s typical recording contract for majors and large independents, according to attorneys, includes language that requires artists to share income from touring, merchandise, branding, sponsorships and even income from an acting career.
Compelling collaborations and marketing mischief.
Everyone’s favorite Bad Brains stan Shepard Fairey (sorry, Moby) is featured in a new video by space-age speaker system Syng, talking about his two favorite topics — art and punk rock. The list of people who could credibly vouch for a top-shelf audio system is short. So securing Shep, with his unimpeachable skate punk meets street artist in the Smithsonian Institute bonafides, is quite a coup d'état. We’re ready to break out our own rare Minor Threat 7-inch collection as soon as the friendly folks at Syng send us a test unit.