Choon: a blockchain streaming service that’s actually for musicians?
“Tidal’s absolute sh*te,” says electronic music producer DJ Gareth Emery.
This blunt viewpoint, shared with me across a shiny red booth at London’s Ministry of Sound nightclub, isn’t really surprising.
Tidal – created by Jay-Z, along with world-leading pop stars like Beyoncé, Madonna, and Chris Martin – set out to pay its artists 500 times more than rival music streaming services like Spotify.
Sadly, for artists, this equated to around .007 cents per stream, rather than .0011 cents.
“Their biggest crime was coming out and saying they were ‘for the musicians,” Emery tells The Memo.
“Double peanuts is still a pile of peanuts.”
What is surprising is Emery’s plan to change this – a new blockchain-powered streaming service called Choon.
The DJ – who has millions of fans around the world – is launching this “to solve the many problems of our crappy, unfair, antiquated music industry.”
“We want to pay artists fairly, without intermediaries and middlemen taking all their money,” he explains.
For music fans, Choon will feel a lot like Spotify.
It’s launching today with a largely electronic catalogue of 500 artists and around 15,000 tracks, which Emery hopes will snowball.
Already signed up some of the biggest names of the genre like Darude (the Finnish artist behind the time timeless trance hit Sandstorm), Canada’s dubstep hero Datsik, and rock remix Grammy Award winner RAC.
Emery isn’t planning on charging listeners at all until his catalogue hits closer to 50,000 artists. At this point you’ll be able to either stream tracks for free (with adverts) or on a subscription basis (for around half of Spotify’s £9.99 monthly fee).
But you’ll also know the musicians you love are being paid well: Emery is giving artists an opportunity to circumnavigate big boss record labels who take a huge cut of profits.
And Choon artists will receive 80% of any profit made from their talent – whether that’s adverts on songs, paid downloads, or subscriptions.
“I’ve received hundred page statements which are completely indecipherable, and you’ve got no idea if what you’re getting paid is fair,” says Emery.
“The biggest problem in music has been the money going to the wrong people – that and that it can take up to two years to get paid. Why that shouldn’t happen in a day?”
Any crypto-phobes needn’t worry. From the outside any payments you make feel completely normal.
What you don’t see is that money paid to Choon is converted into a new currency called Notes (geddit?).
You can earn extra Notes by creating popular playlists, or even by listening to promoted streams. These can then be swapped back into regular cash using a digital currency exchange like Coinbase or Bitstamp, and in the future (Emery hopes), directly through Choon.
The great bit about Notes is they allow any of Choon’s profits and payments to be transparently logged on the blockchain.
That means, band members can even split their digital profits transparently between them (say, 40% lead singer, 40% lead guitar, 20% backup vocals, etc).
Musicians who are concerned about the volatile state of cryptocurrencies (hello, Bitcoin death spiral) are sensible, but Emery is confident artists will always come out on top.
“It’s an upward gamble,” he explains. “You can get paid absolutely f**k all in a very stable fiat currency, or quite a lot in a rather volatile cryptocurrency which might go absolutely crazy – at a minimum you’ll probably still get the same as what you get on Spotify.”
“It’s such a sh*tty deal with these existing subscription services, it’s made the job easy to pay a lot more.”
One of the biggest challenges Emery faces lies at the heart of his business model: he won’t deal through labels, only direct to musicians.
This may well shape the kind of music available on the platform, although Emery points out that he’s happy to work with independent labels (where they transparently take an agreed percent alongside musicians).
Two of the big three major record labels have also already reached out to test the waters.
“I don’t care about having The Beatles, I don’t care about Elvis, I don’t even care about Ed Sheeran and Calvin Harris,” says Emery.
“I want tomorrow’s musicians that are still making music in their bedrooms – I want the Ed Sheeran that’s still busking on the f***ing street, who hasn’t done a 360° record deal where he’s signed his life away.”
You can also expect the genres available to be largely electronic, at first, although Choon advisor David Hyman is a former CEO of Beats Music, MOG and Gracenote, and he’s passionately onboarding hop-hop artists too.
“Electronic media has always been a good ground zero for new tech, because we’re nerds – we make music on computers,” Emery says.
“When Napster first started it was all electronic, we were first genres to have download stores – that doesn’t mean these technologies didn’t spread to everybody else, we’re just where things tend to start.”
Emery has personally funded the first £100,000 behind Choon, and has since raised a private round of £1.5m.
Now the DJ is preparing for Choon’s ‘token sale’ of around 80m Notes to bring his cryptocurrency to life.
Emery expects investors to come from cryptocurrency backgrounds, but also hopes that fans will get involved.
“That’s why we’re not starting it until the platform’s launched,” he explains. “We don’t want people to come and buy these tokens until we show them what we actually do.”
In a years time Emery hopes to have built a catalogue of 50,000 to 100,000 songs.
“I want to see artists in a year’s time that are able to quit their jobs to do music full time that wouldn’t have been able to do it via Spotify or SoundCloud,” he says.
Does Choon hit the right note with you?