Want to buy a piece of a Drake song? Track’s rights sold via pioneering digital currency scheme

Vezt lets investors and fans purchase a share of future revenues from ‘Jodeci (Freestyle)’ and many more to come.

Only this time, it’s a different kind of money, one that could have far-reaching implications as the music industry pushes further into the realms of cryptocurrency, the speculative digital money that is secured through cryptography and recorded by blockchain technology.

In a pilot project of sorts, and in the hope of creating a direct and transparent marketplace for creators and rights holders, Los Angeles-based blockchain outfit Vezt just completed its “ISO” — initial song offering — in late November: a chance for 100 non-U.S. residents to purchase up to 10 per cent of the copyright of a Drake song.

Steve Stewart, Vezt’s co-founding CEO and former manager of the Stone Temple Pilots, says it’s a win-win situation for both parties: the creator gets to dictate the terms of the transaction and generate immediate money, and the buyer winds up owning a piece of an artistic creation, which could have deep sentimental value to that person.

“We think that everybody who participates in the creation of music should be compensated and this is a direct way to monetize intellectual property for the creators,” says Stewart, who created Vezt just over a year ago with Robert Menendez.

To prove the viability of its business model, Vezt recently concluded its first “token generating event,” by offering “Jodeci (Freestyle),” a 2013 track recorded by Drake and J. Cole, as the musical guinea pig.

The event, which concluded Dec. 1, resulted in the purchase of over 2.8 million VZT tokens for a total of $1.38 million (U.S.). Combined with a previous private investor offering that raised another $3.2 million (U.S.), the result left Stewart ecstatic.

“If we had raised $100 and given up no equity, I’d be amazed,” says Stewart. “To do more than $4.5 million in a short period of time is almost inconceivable.

“The important thing is we now have enough runway to build and scale our platform in the most efficient and expeditious way.”

To be clear, the writer’s share of the song doesn’t solely belong to — and wasn’t offered by — the Toronto rap god himself, although Drizzy’s superstar name was definitely a selling point.

But one of its co-writers whom Stewart refused to identify — Dewayne Brandley, Simon Rufus William III and Roosevelt Harrell III, the producer known as Bink, are among those listed — cashed in, selling his 10 per cent share to Vezt.

Stewart says Vezt owns a fraction of the copyright shares of 27 additional songs recorded by the likes of Kanye West, John Legend, Rick Ross, Dr. Dre and others to help jump-start its platform, which it’s planning to open to artists and rights holders by summer 2018.

“Anybody who owns rights should be able to transact them,” Stewart explains. “That’s the basis for our platform.”

Vezt co-founders Robert Melendez (l) and Steve Stewart (R) with producer Andre “Dre” Lyon.
Photo By: Ken Alkazar

The premise is simple: creators and rights holders of intellectual property offer some share of their song rights to potential buyers on the Vezt platform.

These song shares are purchased via Vezt’s VZT utility tokens valued at approximately $0.35 (U.S.) each. In exchange, the creator forgoes those portions of the rights for a predetermined term — usually one, three or five years — during which the purchaser receives whatever pro-rated royalties and revenues are generated.

Song-rights details are automatically encoded on the Vezt blockchain and tracked by royalty-collecting performance rights organizations in 137 countries around the world, gathering income from various sources (see sidebar). The rights revert to the creator at the conclusion of the term.

While public interest in cryptocurrency has spiked lately on the heels of Bitcoin’s rocketing value — from 8 cents in 2009 to more than $11,000 (U.S.) today — a few recording artists took notice earlier. British singer and songwriter Imogen Heap was the first, independently releasing a song in 2015 called “Tiny Human” that could be purchased with ETH, perhaps the second most popular cryptocurrency after Bitcoin.

The latest projects include Icelandic singer Björk, who has offered consumers the chance to purchase her just-released Utopia album via several digital monies. Slovenian electro-producer Gramatik, who is booked into the Danforth Music Hall in April, has gone one better: establishing his own GRMTK cryptocurrency, which he launched in Zurich in November.

Artist manager Steve Stewart says one of the reasons he launched Vezt is to resurrect the value of music, which he says disappeared with the arrival of file-sharing company Napster. By relying on a song’s music royalties, Stewart is convinced he can help turn around music’s — and music makers’ — recent misfortunes.

“After a song is pumped up and released, there’s a spike if it’s put out on the radio or toured behind for a period of time,” he says. “After that spike comes down and levels out, you pretty much have a level income stream going forward.

“That’s why people like (David) Pullman could do the Bowie Bonds 25 years ago: they securitize music royalties. We’re seeing firms like Goldman Sachs today look at music securitization options again because it almost acts like a bond . . . it’s fairly consistent as far as income goes.”

Pullman, creator of the “Bowie Bonds” that saw David Bowie receive $55 million (U.S.) tax free in exchange for the majority of his album and publishing catalogue being securitized for 20 years, says this type of transaction probably wouldn’t interest songwriters with extensive catalogues “because they’re too conservative,” but are more for creators who want “liquidity now.”

Stewart believes that once the Vezt platform is fully running, the majority of song-share purchasers won’t be from Wall Street.

“Honestly, we think that 80 per cent of our buyers are going to come from an emotional place: they’re going to buy it because it’s their favourite song,” Stewart says. “Every time they hear that song streamed, every time they hear it in a club, every time they hear it on the radio, they know that they’re making something along with the artist.

“We see a lot of our buyers coming at a relatively modest dollar value, anywhere from $1 to $100. So for the price of a T-shirt — $25 or $30 — they can buy a piece of a song that moves them emotionally.”

With many musicians struggling to fully devote time to their craft and others lamenting the terms of onerous recording contracts that wrest intellectual property control away, Stewart says Vezt has great potential to be a music industry game changer.

“Artist/creators get a publishing deal and it might cost them 25 per cent of their copyright,” says Stewart. “They get an admin deal, that might cost 5 per cent to 10 per cent. They get a label deal and a label might take 85 per cent. There’s a lot of people with their hands in pockets, as is with the music business traditionally.”

And his company won’t stop at music.

“We’re looking at anything that has an IP component to it,” says Stewart. “We’re looking at books, shows, film, TV, video content. . . . We’re looking to be the marketplace for IP all around the world.”

How it works

Once a song is written, 100 per cent of its copyright (which entitles the owner to money generated by streams, radio airplay, TV broadcasting or even a commercial spot) belongs to the writer or writers. Typically, the writer signs a publishing deal giving half of that to the publisher; if there is more than one writer, they each get a chunk of the writer half.

Under the Vezt plan, creators could sell the right to the cash generated over a given period in exchange for the buyer’s cash now. Once the transaction is complete, the funds are immediately credited in the creator’s account and the deal is recorded in the blockchain for posterity. Song-rights details are automatically encoded on the Vezt blockchain, too, guaranteeing the buyer proof of possession and opening the door to cheques from royalty-collecting performance rights organizations in 137 countries around the world.

 

The purchase of the rights is made using VZT tokens, which can themselves be bought with the more established cryptocurrency ETH or, for a service fee, with recognized currencies such as U.S. or Canadian dollars.

The rights revert to the creator at the conclusion of the term.

 

https://www.thestar.com/entertainment/music/2017/12/10/want-to-buy-a-piece-of-a-drake-song-tracks-rights-sold-via-pioneering-digital-currency-scheme.html

 

Ariana Grande takes flight at the ACC: concert review

The young “Problem” singer proves she’s got longevity, with a surprisingly under-utilized voice and a large, smartly G-rated production.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Mon Mar 09 2015

 

Ariana Grande
3 stars
At the Air Canada Centre, March 8

Merchandisers did brisk business on plastic glow-in-the-dark cat ears Sunday night at the Air Canada Centre.

The significance?

At least a couple thousand girls — the audience was probably 90 percent female, ranging from 5 to 45 — wore the headbands as both a sign of allegiance and a nod of respect to headliner Ariana Grande and her prior career as a TV actress, portraying the character Cat Valentine on the Nickelodeon shows Victorious and Sam and Cat.

That was before, of course, Grande decided to go the route of so many Disney-era teen actors, and stake a domain in pop music.

And although she’s only been at it a relatively short time — Yours Truly in 2013 followed by My Everything in 2014 are her only full-length releases to date, along with a bevy of guest slots on other collaborations — the 21-year-old exhibits enough drawing power to fill the Air Canada Centre with approximately 14,000 screaming fans, indicating she’ll probably be around for a good, long run.

As the charismatic, pony-tailed Grande — also sporting the cat ears accoutrement for a generous portion of her 90-minute set — proved repeatedly throughout the evening, she certainly has the performance thing down pat, exuding both the calm and confidence, poise and professionalism that are expected of today’s millennial pop stars.

It’s almost as though there’s a list of seven commandments that they all subscribe to:

1. Thou shalt employ a large team of impressive dancers to exercise some meaningless, forgettable choreography.
2. Thou shalt have a large band supplemented with a DJ and a (in this case, a three-piece) string section.
3. Thou shalt include canned harmonies.
4. Thou shalt pull out all the bells and whistles one would expect in a top-flight production: fireworks, confetti, dry ice, lasers, video, more fireworks, more confetti, and at least one explosion.
5. Thou shalt employ the use of hydraulics to hover above the crowd at least once, nay twice, during any concert tour.
6. Thou shalt have a video cameo of any high-profile guest (usually rap) collaborator to insert where appropriate. Grande’s boyfriend Big Sean appeared on screen during “Best Mistake” and “Right There,” unlike Saturday’s show in Detroit, where he appeared in person.
7. Thou shalt have a minimum of five or six costume changes because, well, you’re hot.

Ariana Grande fulfilled this particular manifesto, using the fourth commandment to the best of her abilities: all that stuff happened in the opening high-octane number “Bang Bang.” The hydraulics came as the singer hovered above the stage on a cloud and, almost immediately afterwards, a giant chandelier.

But this Grandestanding is not what separated Ariana from the rest of the TV-weaned pack. In fact, there was a trio of characteristics that, in this scribe’s opinion, bodes well for her future.

The first is that amazing, almost underutilized voice of hers: she sounds like Mariah Carey with restraint (and believe me, that’s a compliment). There were times when her band overpowered her — and some of that could have been due to the cold she said she was suffering from — but when she took a solo spotlight, as on “Honeymoon Avenue,” there was a lot of soul and believability. You can’t say that about many of today’s TV ingénue converts.

The second is that Grande gave her audience a G-rated show — when was the last time you witnessed a tap-dancing DJ? — and was mindful that her audience contained a lot of young impressionable girls who obviously idolize her. She was sexy and romantic in songs like “Hands on Me,” but not overtly so, and of course, blatantly aware of her cuteness enough to play it up through video intros.

But the biggest promise she showed also happened to be probably the most boring part of the show. During one of the many costume breaks, Imogen Heap — one of Grande’s influences — appeared on screen to talk about this dull new invention she concocted: computerized gloves that allow her to manipulate her voice live in performance.

To her credit, Grande tried them, sounding like a Vocoder experiment that Neil Young pulled off during his Trans era as she harmonized with herself.

It was a pointless exercise that probably baffled her fans more than it entertained them, but the fact that Grande is open enough to experiment reveals an imagination that will elevate her game with subsequent releases, indicating she’s not going to be satisfied with simply being famous for fame’s sake.

As she saved the best for last — an energetic take on “Problem” and the blood-rushing burst of “One Last Time” — Grande left her fans happily buzzing about a well-consummated production, and with the anticipation that the so-called “Honeymoon Tour” was just a taste of what’s to come.

One quibble: if you happened to be in the first row, your sight lines were obstructed by monitors that prevented you from seeing everything that was happening on stage, despite the presence of video screens.

Not cool, but thank god for the catwalk.

Ariana Grande takes flight at the ACC: concert review | Toronto Star

John Southworth finds inspiration on both sides of Niagara

Southworth’s latest theme album is a double disc, with an “American” and “Canadian” side. He plays Toronto’s Music Gallery on Sunday.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sat Oct 11 2014

For his latest album Niagara, technically constructed as a double album with a nine-song “Canadian” disc and an 11-song “American” disc, John Southworth has specific instructions as to how it should be heard.

“It’s not meant to be listened to all at once,” explained the Sussex, England-born Southworth one afternoon last weekend over a pint at the Rhino, near his current Parkdale home.

“It’s two records, so I’d be happy if someone ignored one side for a period of time before hearing it. In that sense, it’s almost a book disguised as an album.”

It’s also not surprising that the 42-year-old eclectic songwriter, troubadour, filmmaker and children’s book author prefers people to allot the proper amount of time for his music to sink in. Songs like “Niagara Falls is Not Niagara Falls” and “The Horse that Swam Across the Sea” on the Canadian side, and “Poor Boy from Buffalo” and “Womb of Time” on the American side are generally gentle reveries with slight jazzy overtones, songs that require a deeper listen before the bigger picture is revealed.

Generally, it’s a largely mellow project that dwells on the concept of home, and an attempt to explore its definition.

“I consider Toronto part of Niagara, since it’s just across the lake,” Southworth says. “I thought it would be the great, necessary and moral thing to make a record about where I’ve spent most of my life.”

 

Southworth will perform plenty of Niagara songs and also dive into his 13-album catalogue when he appears with his longtime band The South Seas at the Music Gallery on Sunday (7 p.m., $15, no opening act.)

“I feel, more as I get older, a desire to connect in terms of what is home. What feels like home? And I struggle with that, no matter how long I’ve lived here, and I want to know why.
“These are the songs about it, although not every song covers the topic. But I think I knew I was always going to make a record called Niagara.”

Southworth allows that one prominent Niagara location — those famous falls — has been referenced consistently in his music over the years.

“Niagara Falls, as a place, has appeared in a lyric on almost half of my records,” says Southworth. “Not out of any preconceived plan, but it’s lived in my consciousness for awhile.

“And I see Niagara Falls as a symbol and a metaphor for many things in our world now, especially North America. I envision it 1,000 years ago before anything and I reflect on this natural creation and the way it’s been ignored. It’s a symbol for me on where we’re heading on a spiritual level, or where we’re at as a culture and a civilization.

“And these two little towns (Niagara Falls, Ont. and N.Y.) that have sprung up on either side, divided by a natural wonder, dividing two countries, there’s so much to explore and write about it.”

The topic of separation within such a close proximity fascinates him, one that he translated into the story of two lovers in “Poor Boy from Buffalo.”

“The woman lives in St. Catharines and the man lives in Buffalo, and they have to continue their relationship with this border between them, and usually do so by night,” explains Southworth, who co-wrote two songs with Buck 65 on the Toronto rhymer’s just-released Neverlove.

“I like the idea that there are people living lives very close to each other, but are divided by a natural border. For all of us, we are living very close to our American counterparts, but we have no idea what they’re like, and they have no idea what we’re like.”

It’s also a return of sorts to an earlier Southworth tendency of naming his albums after locations: one that began with his debut, 1998’s Mars, Pennsylvania, and continued on with 1999’s Sedona, Arizona, 2000’s Banff Springs, Transylvania, 2001’s Rose Milk Appalachia EP and 2005’s Yosemite before he felt the practice “was becoming a little too precious.”

Although Southworth views Niagara as “tying my first record and this record together as a whole,” his means of recording and arranging has definitely changed over the years.

“When I started out and I made that first record, I was 23. At that time, I would write and control all the arrangements. But as I’ve grown, I do the opposite now. There’s very little on here that’s pre-arranged. For the last 10 years, I’ve worked with Toronto musicians who have an improv jazz background.

“Now we play music where anything can happen. When we record studio takes, what you’re hearing is very immediate — they’re learning the songs. If things aren’t happening in three takes, I abandon them.

“In essence, I’ve become more of a jazz musician, although I still have pop sensibilities as a songwriter.”

Southworth’s first children’s book, Daydreams for Night, is out this month through Simply Read.

John Southworth finds inspiration on both sides of Niagara | Toronto Star

Jay-Z: King of the No. 1 album

Judged solely on his string of No. 1 albums, Jay-Z has accomplished the unexpected: he’s become bigger than Elvis. 

Jay-Z performs at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York on Sept. 13, 2009.

REUTERS FILE PHOTO

Jay-Z performs at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York on Sept. 13, 2009.

Nick Krewen
Special to the Star,
Published on Fri Oct 30 2009

Judged solely on his string of No. 1 albums, Jay-Z has accomplished the unexpected: he’s become bigger than Elvis.

With the Sept. 11 arrival of The Blueprint 3, Brooklyn-born rapper Shawn Carter scored his 11th straight chart-topper on the Billboard 200 retail charts, surpassing the King’s total and establishing a record for solo acts for most No. 1 albums in history.

With 19 chart-toppers to their credit, The Beatles claim overall supremacy.

To reach the exclusive 11 club, Jay-Z eclipsed such superstar sexagenarians as Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Barbra Streisand, Led Zeppelin and, at 60, the relative baby of the bunch, Bruce Springsteen.

In fairness, Jay-Z’s accomplishment may have more to do with changing times than actual sales numbers.

According to figures provided by music industry retail tracking system Nielsen SoundScan, the multiple Grammy winner’s sales are substantial, but well below those of his chart-topping peers: 27 million albums sold south of the border and 964,000 here in Canada, with digital songs adding another 245,000 in sales here and 6.5 million in the U.S. With an additional 30 to 50 years of exposure on their side, the aforementioned artists can claim sales that double, triple and even quadruple Jay-Z’s tally.

Still, a younger generation armed with more disposable income than ever is making its collective voice heard, says Will Strickland, president of the Urban Music Association of Canada.

“Whereas in the ’80s rap used to mimic pop culture, today it is pop culture,” says Strickland. “Regardless of the era or timing, when you’re good, you’re good.”

He notes that in this era of fickle tastes, Jay-Z has learned to give the public what they want, when they want it. “Everything is fast food now,” Strickland observes. “The other artists benefited from a slow burn.”

So is Jay-Z’s statistical vault past Presley really that impressive? “It’s an amazing feat,” Strickland says. “Rap is a young man or young woman’s game. To have a rap artist accomplish this when their careers usually have the longevity and lifespan of mosquitoes – and adding the fact that Jay-Z has accomplished this in just 15 years – speaks to the prolific nature of his recordings.

“There are not a lot of rappers who are still relevant in their 40s.”

Well, 39, actually – Jay-Z doesn’t hit the big four-oh until Dec. 4.

But Strickland has a point. The artist, who’s scheduled to play the Air Canada Centre on Halloween (with a top ticket price of $175), has managed to ascend to pop music royalty on the wings of a genre known for its finite careers.

Through 13 studio albums of seasoned, futurist and street-savvy observations that began with 1996’s Reasonable Doubt, includes a trio of Blueprint projects and was interrupted in 2003 by a two-year self-imposed retirement, Jay-Z seems to be unstoppable, even attaining his latest pinnacle in the glaring absence of another stat.

“It’s crazy – he’s never had a No. 1 single,” notes Ashton (Famous) Bishop, the 25-year-old Toronto rapper who’s looking to stake his own claim on the international hip-hop scene.

Rappers come and go, but what makes Jay-Z so consistent? “He’s always … in touch with the times,” Famous says. “He just set out The Blueprint 3, and now every hip-hop song in the next two years is going to sound like him. He’s a trendsetter.”

Adds UMAC’s Strickland, “When Jay-Z says it, he’s E.F. Hutton – everyone follows his words. He name-drops products in his songs and it impacts sales. When a rapper of influence affects the purchase of luxury items, it’s no longer a niche thing.”