How Justin Blau’s Web3 Startup Is Trying to Disrupt the Music Industry

  • Justin Blau, also known as DJ 3LAU, is the cofounder and CEO of Web3 startup Royal.
  • The platform allows fans to buy tokenized royalties of their favorite artists’ songs or albums.
  • Out of the $42 billion in annual revenue generated by the music industry, 12% goes to artists.

In his high school yearbook, Justin Blau’s senior quote was to one day “revolutionize the music business.”

From the outside, Blau’s career has taken several unexpected turns: Credit Suisse intern, EDM artist, and, as of last year, the cofounder of a Web3 startup backed by venture giants like Andreessen Horowitz. But the long-time DJ and producer told Insider that music “was always a part of the plan.”

The Las Vegas, Nevada native grew up the son of a hedge fund manager, who previously dreamed of working at Goldman Sachs. While enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis as a finance major, he landed internships at both Credit Suisse and UBS.

Blau, better known by his stage name 3LAU, picked up music and began performing while trying to get his foot in the door on Wall Street. “I showed up at Credit Suisse and two interns had my song on their iPod,” Blau told Insider in 2012. “Back then, that was awesome.”

But he soon declined offers from major financial firms like BlackRock and dropped out of college to pursue music full time. The mashup artist, whose work quickly went viral, began playing at major festivals like Lollapalooza and Electriz Zoo, along with producing remixes for Rihanna, Ariana Grande, and Katy Perry. In 2016, he launched an independent music label called Blume Records.

“It became central to my life sooner than I expected. I thought I’d first go into finance to make enough money to retire in a forest somewhere and make cool music,” Blau said. “But the internet, social media, and the rise of dance music all really took off at the same time I started producing. DJ’ing college shows quickly transitioned into playing festivals and a full-time music career.”

Justin Blau’s dive into Web3

In 2017, Ethereum piqued Blau’s interest after reading blog posts and thinking about what ownership on-chain could look like. These included NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, in contexts like ticketing to concerts. In 2018, he later put on the first blockchain-powered music festival.

Blau recalls connecting with crypto heavyweights like Gemini’s Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, along with NFT marketplace Nifty Gateway’s Duncan and Griffin Cockfoster, whom he cited as early influences of his journey into the nascent space.

After touring for the better part of the last decade, Blau shifted full focus to his new venture, Royal, in 2021. Cofounded with former Opendoor exec JD Ross, Royal is a music rights marketplace that allows fans to purchase tokenized royalties or fractionalized ownership of their favorite artists’ work.

“This could facilitate a change that I’ve been waiting to see for most of my career as an independent artist,” Blau said. “We have a lot of work to do. It’s really heads down. I’m focused on myself and my team, making sure that this technology enables everything we want it to do.”

In November, Royal announced a $55 million Series A, with backing from Andreessen Horowitz’s crypto arm. Other participants in the round include Paradigm, Coinbase Ventures, along with artists like Nas and The Chainsmokers.

Blau is quick to separate what Royal is doing from the category “music NFTs,” however, adding that his startup offers LDAs, or “limited digital assets” for fans eager to back creators. Over 10,000 collectors have invested more than $1.5 million in music rights on the platform, per data from Royal.

Disrupting the music industry

NFTs are basically, per Blau, a certificate of authenticity on the blockchain. On-chain tokenized assets can lend something to the music industry that it doesn’t currently have, an artist-to-fan monetization pipeline.

“Music NFTs are maybe a more simple way that Twitter is referring to the intersection of Web3 and music,” Blau said.

Out of the $42 billion in annual revenue generated by the music industry, 12% goes to artists, per a report from startup Audius. Additional data indicates that 90% of streams from major platforms like Apple Music and Spotify go to the top 1% of artists, Rolling Stone reported.

Royal’s Blau and Ross are trying to disrupt this by making music royalties a more accessible asset. Last week, the startup announced that token collectors will earn $36,000 in royalties across four songs in their first round of pay-outs to fans.

“It’s very rare that fans actually have any ownership in music whatever,” Blau said. “The idea that you can own a piece of a song and get paid alongside your favorite artists was something that was always exciting to me and the fact that we made it work last week is quite incredible.”

He added: “We started the company 14 months ago so all of this stuff takes time like new technologies do. I would say we’re really in the dial-up internet era of what blockchains are capable of.”

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