“Young musicians today treat music-making kind of like playing video games,” says PoChang Wu, co-founder of OurSong, an NFT-based platform for music collection and community building.
Wu talks about “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X as an example. He explains how the then mostly unknown rapper made the song from a beat he bought for $30 that was created by a 19 year-old called YoungKio in the Netherlands. The song went on to shatter Billboard’s 60 year history by dominating the charts for 17 straight weeks, largely sustained by a steady release of remixes on social media, propelling Lil Nas X along with the Dutch beatmaker to fame.
“Many find a beat they like online, purchase it, and quickly begin writing and recording over it,” says Wu when describing how remixing has revolutionized music creation. “With just a PC, they can even co-create with people from all over the world. It’s a far cry from the old days when bands would spend months together in a practice room composing and rehearsing.”
Wu is well-qualified to comment on both the technical and artistic aspects of making music – besides holding a degree in electrical engineering, he’s also the lead singer and guitarist for “Echo”, a trailblazing, award-nominated Taiwan indie band.
On top of that, he’s a serial entrepreneur, having established Taiwan’s first DRM Free MP3 online music store, iNDIEVOX, which later evolved into a highly successful ticketing system.
Remixing music creation and licensing models with blockchain
“In the past, if you wanted to rework a favorite song, you’d undergo a complicated process and incur hefty costs for licensing,” says Wu. But now, artists can accelerate the dissemination of their new releases by making them available for remixing and letting social media generate exposure, removing the need to rely on major record labels.
However, Wu emphasizes that this dream scenario is not always the case in real life, mostly due to the fact that outdated, overly complex, and time-consuming methods of copyright management don’t work for current music creation models.
“A lot of the time, beatmakers only realize their market value after a song becomes popular. Or even if they are aware, vague definitions of royalty rights make it hard for them to receive a share of the revenue.”
Wu says that finding a balance in this situation is the main pain point OurSong aims to address.
Founded by Wu in 2018, OurSong is a community and governance platform positioned around the ‘co-creation of music’. On the platform, creators can access a vast array of music licenses from around the world in the form of Open License, which allows others to create remixes (derivative works) based on the original music. Many of these Open Licenses are directly authorized by renowned global producers, with the current song catalog exceeding 1,000. Once creators find the music they like, they can begin the remix process.
Artists can also define their own royalties and rights mechanisms. If they make a sale on a song using someone else’s Open License, the original creators also earn a share. What’s more, when a creator who has purchased music rights completes a remix and uploads it back to the OurSong platform, they can opt to open it for others to remix. If someone else remixes that piece, the original remixer can earn additional income.
Creators have the freedom to choose whether to open their work for remixing by others, keep it purely as digital collectibles, or take it to market for trade. The OurSong platform also eliminates concerns over licensing legalities – revenue flows are transparent and traceable, allowing musicians to focus solely on their craft.
Pivoting back to its music roots
Wu explains how OurSong’s background in blockchain goes back to its founding, when the startup offered collectible ‘Song Cards’. It then went beyond music to trade all kinds of NFTs on its platform, gaining popularity in 2021 with its news-making ‘Fried Chicken’ NFT (the startup even once dubbed itself the ‘Taobao of NFTs’).
Then in 2022, global markets took a huge hit, and the once booming NFT / crypto space transformed into a bloody battlefield. Investors withdrew funds and the news was drenched with negative coverage. Cryptocurrencies and NFTs quickly became taboo subjects for musicians to discuss.
“When we first decided we needed to pivot from our business model at the time, it was painful,” Wu admits. “After investing so much time and effort, giving up seemed a great loss.”
But Wu was resolute and saw change as critical to breaking into the international market. After long and deep discussion, the team decided to return to their roots and focus on what they’re best at.
“We still have faith in blockchain technology, but if the headwinds are changing, we shouldn’t fight against them,” he says. “Instead, we should find a way to flow with them. If our content is to be global, we must choose an area we are most familiar with and have the most confidence in. Music was the answer.”
Getting artists back on board with NFTs
The first challenge for the startup was bringing musicians onboard to the Remix NFT model. Wu drew upon his experience in startups and independent music, recalling that cooperation with music festivals and live houses had been a successful entryway for iNDIEVOX when it was first launched. Wu adds that it was that connection to the space that’s helped iNDIEVOX remain a pillar in the indie music community after 15 years of fierce competition.
“Musicians aren’t easily persuaded,” Wu explains. “For them, it’s less about attractive terms and more about whether you belong to their tribe. They want to choose partners that vibe with their image and way of thinking.”
This past March, the OurSong team flew to the SXSW Music Festival in the US to seek out new partnerships.
“We were frantically looking for contacts. It was only when we were on-site that we realized we could have one-on-one mentor sessions with industry professionals, but by then it was too late to book.”
Wu and his team instead split up and waited outside, approaching professionals and pitching them directly after the day’s performances had ended.
“At first, they couldn’t make heads or tails of what we were talking about. But after listening for a while, they realized our model actually made sense.”
By the end of the festival, the OurSong team had successfully connected with the manager of Grammy Award-winning artist, Kimbra. They managed to convince the New Zealand singer to open her latest single “The Way We Were” for global creators to remix.
Wu says that it’s the “shared language” of musicians that has enabled OurSong to gradually break through artists’ hesitations about NFTs and blockchain. In the one year since OurSong’s pivot to Remix, the platform has already attracted nearly 3,000 music creators, including influential beatmakers and remixers from around the globe.
OurSong and Kimbra’s successful collaboration has also built up the startup’s reputation within the US music community. In line with the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop, OurSong recently partnered with legendary rapper Rakim and plans to collaborate with other renowned artists, inviting musicians worldwide to showcase their creativity.
Building ‘Music’s Newest Playground’
Touting itself as “Music’s Newest Playground”, OurSong aspires to become the new space for musicians to experiment with their creativity.
“We hope to become the world’s first Open License platform for music,” Wu says, expressing his hope to resolve long-standing issues in the industry such as creator licensing and revenue through blockchain.
“If we can achieve this,” Wu reflects, “I’ll feel that what we’re doing is profoundly meaningful.”
- Wu says that traditional methods of copyright management and licensing don’t work for current music creation models, resulting in lost profits for artists.
- OurSong offers a platform for artists to easily co-create as well as define their own profit-sharing mechanisms for their music, such as NFTs or direct trade.
- When the crypto market saw a reversal in 2022, Wu and his team pivoted back to focusing on music NFTs exclusively.
- Drawing on Wu’s intimate connection to the music industry, OurSong has already attracted world-renowned artists such as Kimbra and Rakim to its new Remix model.
This article is part of a partnership with Cherubic Ventures. Founded in 2014, they are an early-stage venture capital firm that’s active in both the US and Asia, with a total AUM of 400 million USD. Focusing on seed stage investments, Cherubic aims to be the first institutional investor of the next iconic company and back founders who dare to dream big and change the world.