Writing

Open Audio

July 30, 2020 | 4 minute read

The first Internet-enabled application I can remember enjoying was Napster. It was 1999, and I was downloading songs at a blazing fast 2.96 KB / second. On good days, it would tick up to 3.13 KB / second.

Music has been—by far—the most censored content on the Western internet over the last 20 years. The waves of censorship have played out time and time again across venues. In approximate chronological order those services were: Napster, Morpheus, Kazaa, Limewire, Piratebay, YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, Turntable.fm, 8tracks, Apple Music, and many others.

Interestingly, if you look at those services over time, the most salient trend is the shift from unregulated services—Napster, torrents—to tightly controlled walled gardens—Spotify, Apple Music.

Today, the vast majority of music is consumed within these walled gardens. Perhaps the defining trait of these walled gardens is their active censorship (examples here and here) via tools like ContentID and Gracenote. While these tools were developed with good intentions, rights owners have become notorious for abusing those rights to squash creativity.

In 2011, Union Square Ventures (disclosure: an investor in Multicoin Capital) led an investment in SoundCloud. Fred Wilson wrote about it at the time. In his essay, he laid out the investment thesis aptly (the bolded emphasis is mine):

“But the most important thing about SoundCloud is that it is an open platform. You don’t need to go to SoundCloud to experience all of this audio. If the audio exists on SoundCloud, it can exist anywhere on the web and mobile devices.”

Nine years later, it’s clear that SoundCloud had the right vision: open audio available anywhere on the Internet. But like so many services before it, as SoundCloud grew, it became controlled by middlemen, who ultimately neutered the service. Large swaths of music—including almost all remixes—were removed from SoundCloud in the 2013-2015 period. High profile artists like Kaskade and Martin Garrix had their content wrongfully removed. Moreover, SoundCloud shuttered their public API for new applications in 2018. When you try to register a new API key with SoundCloud, you get this:

Soundcloud API Application

Today, it is common knowledge that artists withhold music from albums because of copyright issues. Many artists want others to remix their music. They want to foster creativity and self expression, and they want to share their work products as widely as possible. That’s precisely why they play so many of their best music live at concerts.

Bitcoin was the first censorship resistant media on the Internet. Bitcoin is censorship resistant because it’s decentralized. But Bitcoin is only usable for a limited form of censorship resistant content transmission: moving money from point A to point B.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion in decentralized services to power all forms of media across the internet. We’ve invested in a handful of them, including The Graph (querying public data using GraphQL), Livepeer (video transcoding), Arweave (permanent data storage), Helium (decentralized wireless networks), and Torus (decentralized identity leveraging Web2 logins).

Today I’m excited to share that Multicoin Capital led a $3.1M strategic round in Audius alongside our friends at Blockchange Ventures, with participation from Pantera Capital, Collab+Currency, and Coinbase Ventures.

Audius is a decentralized, censorship-resistant audio streaming platform. Audius has been live for almost a year, and has developed a rabid, organic community of a few hundred thousand monthly active users. They’ve also onboarded several high profile artists, including deadmau5, Lido, Mr. Carmack, RAC, 3LAU, ZEDS DEAD and REZZ, and many others. Today more than 250,000 fans use Audius every month to discover new music and connect directly with artists, making Audius the most widely used decentralized application that’s not trading or finance related.

Audius is growing quickly as artists discover that they can use Audius to connect directly with their fans. Audius is a P2P network, and there is no middleman: artists connect directly with fans. The team that built Audius could immediately cease development today, and the service would continue to run.

I met Audius cofounder Roneil Rumberg a year ago at a community event. We talked about the future of architecture of Web3 applications, and that conversation helped me crystallize my understanding of the Web3 architecture. Over the last few months I’ve spent a lot of time working with Roneil and his cofounder Forrest Browning, and they are nothing short of outstanding. They have solved a ton of hard technical problems, assembled a great team and roster of investors and artists, and built a fantastic product that music fans love.

By virtue of being decentralized, Audius is open. For the first time in more than a decade, music will be free, and it will prosper.