"I'm Imagining a World Where Every Song Has an Investable layer:" DJ 3LAU

Justin Blau tells The Defiant how blockchain tech has the potential to change the music industry to put creators and their fans in control.

Hello Defiers! In this week’s podcast, we interview Justin Blau, better known as 3LAU, one of the world’s top DJs, who is also at the forefront of the intersection between music and crypto. He became interested in blockchain technology because it can provide a means for fans to provably to own digital content, and for artists to better monetize their work. He believes this innovation has the potential to revolutionize the music industry. In his most recent project with non-fungible tokens, he teamed up with visual artist Slime Sunday to produce SSX3LAU, a project where they linked unique, Ethereum ERC-721 tokens, with motion graphics and unreleased soundtracks.

3LAU also talks about the immediate next step, with his plans to release a song from his own personal name, that’s linked to NFTs and tokenized on three layers. The song is called Everything and it will be dropping on Jan. 22. One layer is the artwork of the song itself. The second layer is the audio, which will be hosted on IPFS. The third is a physical layer, which will be the song represented in an acrylic block with the sound waves etched on to it. The block will have a QR code that links to the NFT. The auction will last just 10 minutes. It’s his way of answering the question, what does it mean to create a collectible layer of a song?

3LAU also talked about what’s next in this journey. He believes there will be a way for fans to invest in their favorite artists via tokens, and earn part of the royalties. This would allow artists to completely ditch record companies and share their success with their audience. The main blocker for this is regulation, as those tokens would likely be considered securities. But 3LAU believes this future is still just around the corner.

🎙Listen to the interview in this week’s podcast episode here:


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Camila Russo: Here we are with Justin Blau. He is a DJ, also known as just Blau. He's frequently among the music producers in the major music festivals. He produces remixes for top pop stars from Katy Perry to Rihanna. Now he's exploring how music and crypto can work together. So super interesting what he's been up to, really excited to get into all of the details. So welcome, Justin to the show. Thanks so much for joining me.

Justin Blau: Thanks for having me.

CR: I’m really excited to hear about what you're doing in crypto. But I would love to just start from the beginning and get more into your background. I read somewhere that you ditched a job in Wall Street to start producing music. So we'd love to hear about that story.

Ditching Finance for Music

JB: I was in college at Washington University in St. Louis. I was studying finance and on track to go work at BlackRock Asset Management. I was studying derivatives in college, I love the entire world of finance still today, but music was taking off, thanks to Facebook and SoundCloud. A couple of my songs went viral, and I started playing at colleges across the country while I was still in college while I was a junior. So I decided to drop out of school and pursue music full time, and it ended up working out.

But in the background, I'd always had that passion for the financial world. Of course, as distributed ledger technology has been one of the most innovative and revolutionary forces in finance in the past decade, I always kind of had my eye on it as I was journeying down the music route. So that's kind of the quick background on me.

“Distributed ledger technology has been one of the most innovative and revolutionary forces in finance in the past decade.”

CR: Well, that must have been such a hard decision to make. If you're following your passion, it's not that hard, but still kind of risky to take that route of making music.

JB: I was lucky that my economics professor actually was able to convince my parents to let me drop out. At the time, it was just a leave of absence. I could keep my scholarship for eight years and I could go back and finish my degree whenever I wanted. So because he kind of gave me that option, it was a no brainer to give music a full shot.

CR: Did you ever finish your degree?

JB: I did not finish my degree. But maybe they'll give me an honorary degree at some point if I do something cool, we'll see.

CR: Maybe crypto will be your way to earning that degree.

JB: Well, maybe, very well possible. Very well possible.

CR: So what got you interested in blockchain and crypto in the first place?

Rethinking Art Monetization

JB: My first kind of discovery of the distributed ledger tech space was through the Winklevoss twins. I befriended through music and they were working on Gemini at the time that I kind of discovered Bitcoin and discovered the technology underlying Bitcoin. One of my earliest fascinations with the tech was how quickly and permissionlessly, you could transfer value without having to go to a bank to send a wire or programming a wire online. The idea that you can transfer value anywhere in the world within a short amount of minutes, I shouldn't say 45 seconds, depending on the gas fee, but the fact that you can move money around so quickly and permissionlessly was extremely interesting to me.

Then in 2017, when the ICO craze happened, I started seeing the potential of dApps and decentralized apps that could potentially disrupt the music business and make the music business a lot better. I've always been fascinated by the intersection of distributed ledger tech and music. But more recently, I've been super excited about the NFT space and its potential and engaging fans on a deeper level and its potential in making music a more monetizable and interesting product for an artist to pursue.

As you know, music itself has never been the main revenue source for a musician, it's always been the touring. But since you know COVID hit, a lot of musicians have been forced to rethink everything they know about their industry. NFTs has been an incredible outlet for myself and my art director, Slime Sunday, to monetize our artwork and in this crazy time. I feel really lucky that combined Slime Sunday and I've done close to half a million dollars in sales between both of us in the past four months of NFTs and we're just looking to expand upon what we built so far, and take our NFT game and collectible game to the next level.

CR: Let's backtrack a little bit. So you became interested in distributed ledger and crypto, and so you started looking at ways into how NFTs could connect with your audience and just make it a better way of just naturally monetizing your music. What exactly were your experiments with NFT's?

JB: Two years ago, in 2018, I threw a music festival that had a reward system that was powered by Stellar. Basically, if you were at the music festival, you could download the festival app and scan QR codes on site to earn kind of a non-transferable Stellar token that you could also redeem for rewards at the festival. This festival was called OMF. It was a great success. We had 8,000 people there. We had tons of Stellar transactions, a lot of people were scanning the QR codes to get their free nontransferable tokens.

But one of the things that we piloted was a Blau badge token. So if you found me wandering the festival, almost like a scavenger hunt, and you scanned my QR code on my phone, you got a one of 50 Blau badge that was an exclusive digital asset that you could only get in that moment, and by finding me at the festival. When we announced that, so many people were so excited about scanning my phone. It was just mobs of people that were super excited about obtaining this rare digital asset. At the time, it was just a fungible Stellar token, but that was the first time that I saw there was real demand for a collectible digital asset that lives on the blockchain. So that was in 2018.

As time went on, I started to kind of notice this trend in the visual art space, more specifically with Trevor Jones. Trevor Jones had sold editions of his CryptoBowl for, I think the highest one went for $55,000 on Nifty Gateway. That got me thinking, well, this is a new appreciation for digital creations that we haven't seen before. The reason why it exists on the blockchain is because of provenance and because of verifiability. ETH kind of uniquely powered this new movement, where artists could monetize their digital work. That we have never really seen before. Because when you think of something that's digital, you think that it's easily replicatable and easily copied.

“This is a new appreciation for digital creations that we haven't seen before. The reason why it exists on the blockchain is because of provenance and because of verifiability.”

So the fact that you could create a specific identity for a piece of digital art was super fascinating to me, especially because in the traditional art world, you have pieces that sell for millions of dollars. But digital artists spend just as much time on their art as a physical artist does. You know, painter might spend two weeks on a painting, or months and months of time on a painting. I very often will spend years on one song. But there's no way to kind of capture that value until what we've seen lately with the NFT space.

I started kind of exploring this stuff about four or five months ago, with exclusive audio reactive visual art. Now I'm starting to think about, well, what does a tokenized collectible layer of a song look like? Because just tokenizing the audio isn't really enough. That's kind of what I've been working on for the past month or so. More specifically, is what does it mean to tokenize a song. What are the different ways that that's possible? That's kind of what my focus has been lately.

CR: I'd love to hear more about how you've been experimenting with this idea of collecting a song, tokenizing a song. I know, you've already launched different collections on Nifty Gateway and selling NFTs linked to unreleased songs, all of that. Can you explain what that's about and how that's gone?

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