How Justin Blau’s Web3 startup is trying to disrupt the music industry

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

Justin Blau quoted him in his high school yearbook as “one day revolutionizing the music business.”

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

A native of Las Vegas, Nevada, he grew up as the son of a hedge fund manager who previously dreamed of working at Goldman Sachs. During his finance studies at Washington University in St. Louis, he completed internships at Credit Suisse and UBS.

Blau, better known by his stage name 3LAU, recorded 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. “It was great then.”

But he soon turned down offers from big 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, and produced remixes for Rihanna, Ariana Grande, and Katy Perry. In 2016 he founded an independent music label called Blume Records.

“It became the focus of my life sooner than I expected. I figured I’d go into finance first 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 evolved at the same time that I started producing. DJing college shows quickly turned into DJing festivals and a full-time music career.”

Justin Blau dives into Web3

In 2017, Ethereum caught Blue’s interest after reading blog posts and thinking about what on-chain ownership might look like. This included NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, in contexts such as concert ticket sales. He later hosted the first blockchain-powered music festival in 2018.

Blau recalls connections to crypto heavyweights like Gemini’s Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, and NFT marketplace Nifty Gateway’s Duncan and Griffin Cockfoster, which he cited as early influences on his journey into the emerging space.

After touring for most of the past decade, Blau has turned his full attention to his new venture, Royal, in 2021. Co-founded with former Opendoor executive JD Ross, Royal is a music rights marketplace where fans can purchase tokenized royalties or fractional ownership of the works of their favorite artists.

“This could enable a change I’ve been waiting for for most of my career as an independent artist,” Blau said. “We have a lot to do. It’s really a headache. My focus is on myself and my team, making sure this technology enables whatever we want.”

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

Blue, however, is quick to separate what Royal is doing from the “music NFTs” category, adding that his startup offers LDAs, or “limited digital assets,” for fans who want to support the creators. According to Royal, over 10,000 collectors have invested more than $1.5 million in music rights on the platform.

disruption of the music industry

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

“Music NFTs are perhaps a simpler way for Twitter to reference the intersection of Web3 and music,” Blau said.

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

Royal’s Blue 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 on four songs in their first payout round to fans.

“It’s very rare that fans actually have any ownership of the music,” Blau said. “The idea that you can own a part of a song and get paid alongside your favorite artists has always been exciting to me, and the fact that we got it up and running last week is pretty incredible.”

He added: “We started the company 14 months ago so all these things take time as new technologies do. I would say we really are in the dial-up internet era, which is what blockchains are capable of.”

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