Vezt, an emerging Silicon Beach-based startup, has drawn inspiration from both the most state-of-the-art and time-tested game changers— blockchain technology, equity markets, and crowdfunding, to name a few— to create a platform that has the potential to revolutionize how we look at our favorite tunes.
It works like this: a vetted artist, whether a grizzled punk rock outfit or an up-and-coming rapper, decides that they’d like to sell full or partial rights to some or all of their tracks on Vezt, letting their dedicated fans share in the profits.
Allowed to set reversion periods on the positions they have listed, acts can thereby later regain the stakes they have sold, as long as fans have at least recouped their initial investment.
Through this model, musicians, in theory, further benefit in that they are able to enjoy simple, frictionless transactions, giving them more time to focus on their craft; investors— big or small, groupies or outsiders— pay a five percent fee on rights purchased and royalty disbursements until their share of equity reverts to the artist.
“Why should there be a gatekeeper between an artist and a fan or supporter?” asked Robert Menendez, the startup’s co-founder, part-quizzically, part-rhetorically. “Why not share the benefits of that collaboration?”
Artists, he explained, don’t always own the rights to a recording itself, but they may own the rights to its composition, which many neglect to fully monetize in the streaming era.
As for performers that may be averse to blatantly commoditizing their artistry, Menendez firmly believes that “traction will come with adoption,” which he and co-founder Steve Stewart have already jumpstarted with the onboarding of “songs recorded by Jay-Z, Drake, Dr. Dre, and many others,” he told me.
Fans, meanwhile, currently have few avenues to financially support their favorite artists, and the primary means that do exist— record purchases, digital content, concertgoing, and online donations— are either inefficient or provide little incentive to the end consumer (i.e., the listener), per Vezt’s website.
Menendez and Stewart’s brainchild allows any interested party to purchase anywhere from $1 to the entire listed value— which can amount to as little as one percent— of any given song. By design, measures have been implemented to dissuade favoritism, while encouraging creative interaction.
“Our goal is engagement at any level,” emphasized Menendez, a former finance manager and entrepreneur who’s previously played a leading role in social ventures, “not a product for the highest bidder.”
Explaining how Vezt works in granular detail is a whitepaper, which elaborates on the platform’s proprietary, Bitcoin-esque currency (called “VZT,” which can be purchased with fiat money or cryptocurrency), its stated goal to see 100,000 songs listed and international expansion by the end of the year, and its brazen push to continue to recruit top-charting artists. (Here it would perhaps be appropriate to allude to some of Stewart’s credentials: a veritable music industry mogul, having long served as the personal manager of Stone Temple Pilots, and negotiated numerous contracts with the world’s largest record labels, he also has extensive experience in tech.)
Leadership team aside, it’s not too difficult to cast aspersions on such lofty aspirations— particularly when the motor propelling the pioneering platform consists of only 12 employees.
Astute and self-aware, Stewart and Menendez know quite well that with disruptive action comes great responsibility. Thus, they are no stranger to the philosophical and ethical questions, even if slightly unspectacular, that their venture may inspire.
“Once you own a portion of a song,” Menendez wondered, “how does that affect your playlist and how you share it?”
Put another way, could having a horse in the race compel a casual listener to become an undying, social media-broadcasting supporter — or as Menendez put it, “turn a fan into an advocate?”
Curiously, such oddball, yet pragmatic considerations could end up directing where this yet-to-be-launched company goes.
Vezt, which is in the process of securing intellectual property rights, differentiates itself from other potential offerings through its unparalleled transparency and efficiency. These features are all enabled by its inventive use of a blockchain-like ledger.
Part of self-knowledge is knowing your limitations, which the firm has down pat.
“Most people [in the music industry] look at distribution as an issue,” Menendez said of the business model he and Stewart have adopted. “We saw the issue as risk and diversification of funding.”
While other entities in the music business have made ostensibly similar efforts— think the recent third-party sale of a portion of Eminem’s discography and “Bowie Bonds”— it would appear that Vezt’s innovative amalgam of Wall Street, Tech Street, and the music industry puts it in a class of its own.
Still, questions remain, including about whether the startup’s apparent mission— to let “fans share ownership with artists in their favorite songs”— can elude the often-firm grasp of institutional investors.
I wasn’t able to ask either co-founder their strategy in regards to this potential quandary, nor was I able to find a clear answer elsewhere, whether on their site or within their published whitepaper.
Again, the rhetoric does seem to suggest that investors will number in the thousands, but it’s unclear if any safeguards will be deployed in helping ensure that objective.
But then again, who am I to question? If you can build an insanely sophisticated ecosystem with only a dozen hands on deck, you can probably set some rudimentary ground rules on a fragmented cocktail napkin, hastily discarded by the likes of Taylor Swift.