How artists monetize their work is a major issue in the music community, with acts struggling to find their way in the post-download and streaming world. To some extent, this is true of artists of all kinds -- painters, dancers, street performers -- who all struggle with making a living off of their work in a world where they have little control over how their work is shared with the masses.

Enter ARTBIT, the new cryptocurrency-based community founded by a group including former Guns N' Roses, Velvet Revolver and Cult and current Kings of Chaos drummer Matt Sorum. ARTBIT is hoping to streamline the process for artists of all types in which they will be rewarded for their works while those who share and support those artists will also be rewarded for their efforts. It's a community-based system, one that Sorum believes is the future, especially for up-and-coming artists. The system will allow them to take back some ownership of their art and be rewarded in the process. We had a chance to speak with Sorum about his ARTBIT venture, which will kick off this Friday (March 16) at 1PM CT with a special announcement event featuring Billy Gibbons, Shepard Fairey and Austin Hanks taking place at Antone's in Austin, Texas during SXSW. Check out the chat below.

Let’s talk about ARTBIT, the idea behind it, how you got involved and how it came about.

ARTBIT is something I’ve been working on now over the past year with a really great group of people. Pablo Martins set up the company and we’ve got a really great team. The idea is that we’re building a community where artist and audience can take care of each other in a cryptocurrency-related site built on Hashgraphs’ Hedera platform. We’ve been working with Hashgraph for the last few months about announcing it.

We’re down at SXSW and I’m in a hotel room here and we’re going to have the big announcement on Friday (March 16) at Antone’s. We’re going to make the public announcement of our partnership with Hashgraph and Hedera.

You mentioned this being a community. But it’s not just showcasing music, it’s also dancers, artists, street performers. With music, I see how this plays out with being able to do shows, but how much did you consult with dancers, painters, street performers and other mediums to get their feedback on what types of things you could present within this forum?

Well my wife’s a dancer, so I started hearing rumblings from the dance community and that’s what really got me interested in what I could do to help dancers. I was noticing online that a lot of content that was being put up by the dance community ran into issues with intellectual property, basically songs that were being put in their video to back the performance, a lot of that stuff started to be blocked by different publishing companies. I believe that Facebook was completely blocked and there were issues with YouTube and other sites like that. So I started thinking how could I come up with an idea to help monetize dancers, not only to monetize dancers but be able to allow them to put content up and have free reign of something they could put up to show their work. That’s how it started.

And then when the cryptocurrency idea came along and launching this on something that would be secure and safe, that’s when we had the conversation with Hashgraph. We’ve all been watching bitcoin and blockchain and things like that, but when we finally heard about Hashgraph and had the discussion that we were going to go with them, we really liked the basic platform that they provide with the public leger and the way that it’s going to be much more expedient … it’s a much more faster moving platform and a leger 250,000 times faster than blockchain.

So I started thinking, ‘What if you were able to take artists and put them in a community, have a fan community and people who create content and be able to monetize people with a cryptowallet?’ And that’s when the idea really started to spark.

We came up with the name ARTBIT, with the idea that ARTBIT will be the name of the coin that you use in your wallet to be able to pay artists with a wallet but also earn crypto ARTBIT by creating content. If you go see a street performer on the street and they’ve got their hat out and they’re looking for a dollar tip for their performance and everybody’s filming them and everyone’s in a circle, where does that go? Well, Instagram and Snapchat, wherever, but they don’t have that. They don’t own that. They’re basically giving that to another site to build their content. So I started thinking, ‘How could people own their own content?’ And the only way to do that is to do something that could retain that information with something that is so fast and the data works so well that every piece that’s loaded into it is retained. That’s where the blockchain idea came into it and then when we came across Hashgraph, we were like, these are the guys and this is the future.

So that’s where we are now. We’re getting ready to announce. We’re not ready to launch, but everything is being built as we speak and help is on the way. That’s our motto for artists, dancers, musicians, painters, everybody that’s out there that really has no way to go out there and monetize their art.

As we know, if they try to do something with video, like put something up on YouTube and try to have it go viral with a million hits on YouTube, maybe they’ll monetize $1 thousand out of a million hits and how many people can get a million hits. And then their forced to have a brand or commercials. So there’s a whole other idea that goes into brands with our platform that have to do with augmented reality and the artist and content provider can pick and choose what brands they want to be affiliated with, unlike the way that you’re force fed brands and commercials on any other platform.

I also like the community idea of this. When you were discussing dancers being blocked over intellectual property, perhaps you have a musician willing to chip in some music for them. Or an artist may paint something and a dancer could contribute to a music video. There’s lots of room for crossover here.

Yeah, absolutely. Interaction is great and there’s ways to share here. For instance, at our announcement on Friday, we’ve created a film with three different artists – one is a dancer, one is a painter and one is a singer-songwriter. And he’s allowed some of the other two to use his music for their intellectual property, their performance if you will. So people that are in the community are controlling the environment.

It’s not going to be, ‘Oh I have to license this from society,’ and when it comes to the brand affiliation, as we know on YouTube, when you click on a YouTube sponsored video, most of the time – 99 percent of the time, people just click through. So the band’s not really getting what they need out of it, and any artists at a certain level just can’t say, ‘Oh I want this brand or this brand to go across my video.’ Maybe you don’t agree with certain aspects of what that brand represents – anything from the meat industry to alcohol to whatever else – so there’s got to be a way for people to say, ‘I like this tennis shoe or I like this beer.’ We’ve all heard of product placement. It’s done in videos and movies all the time. So there’s a concept there that has a gamification aspect to it. With augmented reality, that can be done. There’s a monetization there that can be direct source. If people want to do that they can and have that option. If the community controls the environment of what’s going to be seen, then the audience is part of it. It’s got interplay, meaning the content …. When you see a busker on the street and you see someone filming, where is that all going? Why can’t it all go to one hub and build the ARTBIT community? That’s where the concept really came to fruition.

We’ve seen cryptocurrency really taking off in recent years, but there still may be some concern over stability. Where do you see this going? Will cryptocurrency eventually become the mainstream way we look at payment?

Well I believe so. This to me feels like when the digital age came into music. Nobody really knew what was happening except for Napster popped up. And all of a sudden people in the music community were like, ‘Wait a minute. People are downloading our music for free?’ It came so fast that the entertainment community wasn’t able to grasp it. And instead of buying Napster, they just let it go because they didn’t think it was a threat. And next thing we knew, Steve Jobs put up iTunes and people were able to buy songs one at a time. The artists out there had no control or say in how that was going to work and it feels exactly the same to me.

Things are moving and changing and shifting and now it’s just got to be streamlined. That’s really why we chose Hashgraph, because we feel that their platform is the most secure, safest, non-corruptible and we really like the stability of it. When it comes to the ups and downs of Bitcoin and Iridium and all of those, there’s no community kind of aspect there. You’re betting on the platform and what they’re building there. So when they have issues there, there’s a lot of exchange and the coin goes up and down. But people say, ‘Why do we want to come on ARTBIT and buy ARTBIT?’ Because you’re going to want to stay in ARTBIT. You can build it together. When the community builds, then the ARTBIT goes up. So the more people that come on board and interact, it’s only going to make everyone more successful. So it’s a group effort.

People may say, ‘Why do I want to take money out of my wallet and give it to artists?’ Well, that’s going to be part of the gamification element. You’re going to have to share to be able to stay in. If you don’t share, then the community doesn’t build and we don’t all prosper together like conceptually what happens with the other cryptos. So this, I believe, will be one of the first community-structured cryptocurrency platforms, which is going to be really interesting.

Very good. In the music industry we need something, because there aren’t the returns for artists there once were. We had a story this week about Crematory contemplating retirement because the returns on their music just weren’t there. There has to be some support and it feels like ARTBIT is going there where perhaps some of the other outlets like streaming sites have been slow to reward those they’re taking from.

Well, I gotta say the people that are already with the majors or signed with certain publishing companies, it’s going to be a while before they will want to come over to us, but we’re looking for the new community. I think that young artists and people out there performing don’t know how to get from point A to point B. They’ve only got a couple options. They’re going to try to build the social platforms and try to get people to recognize them now. That’s really rolling the dice and your chances of breaking through are slim to none.

I know so many talented musicians that just don’t have the ways or the means to get from point A to point B or can gravitate toward that onslaught of social media presence. They’re just artists. They just want to perform and make music, art, dance, whatever they do. Now they’ve got this whole other elephant in the room that says, ‘You’ve got to post and you’ve got to do this and do this and do this,’ when they really just need to perform.

Obviously, making money in music anymore is almost archaic. What’s the percentage of people that can make money on Spotify or streaming? We already know the pushback on that. Well, it’s good for the public but it’s not great for the artists and especially young artists. It’s going that way and we have to accept it, but at the same time there’s got to be options for young artists and this is an option that can give them a great direct access to a community that’s going to support them.

The monetization part, ‘Why would I want to give money to a young artist? Why wouldn’t I just go download their music?’ Well how are you going to discover them? This is about discovery. This is about community and the aspect of community building together and that’s really the future I think.

It’s maybe easier to go out there on the Internet and put this stuff up and try to be discovered, but there’s no real hub for it. It’s all over the place. You can really only make money as an artist selling your wares or going on the road or touring as a dancer, whatever you’re going to do. So what happens between then and when you get that break? You want to spend more time focusing on your craft and working at it. So that’s where we see ARTBIT going and that’s the future of ARTBIT.

We do have the SXSW announcement event this Friday (March 16). You have Shepard Fairey and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top joining you. If you want to talk about your relationship with both and what you want to accomplish with the event on Friday.

The announcement is going to be great cause we’ve got everyone hear at South By, there’s a lot of tech here now and obviously artists and musicians. The community is here. We’re all doing the same thing – being creative and trying to be seen and trying to get our names out there and there are a lot of people who are already successful here.

So we get ‘em in the room. We’re gonna play some music. Shepard’s going to DJ. We have some performances and then we announce ARTBIT and Hashgraph is going to come up and do an announcement with us and we’ve got this new ledger called Hedera that’s an unlicenseable platform that anybody can use for a public leger -- a distribution leger platform that is going to be really great to link information and what they call “gossip,” which is a way to talk to each other. It’s very exciting and fascination stuff.

I really think that the music world and art world will gravitate toward this because there’s a need for a change. We need direct connection and we need to be able to say, ‘I’m here and you can get directly to me and this is how we do it.’ I’m very excited and it’s going to be a great event and hopefully you’ll be seeing a lot of footage after we finish.

Many thanks to Matt Sorum for the chat. You can sign up at the ARTBIT website to find out more about ARTBIT. And don't forget the ARTBIT announcement event, featuring Matt Sorum, Billy Gibbons, Shepard Fairey and Austin Hanks taking place at Antone's in Austin, Texas this Friday (March 16) at 1PM CT. Stay tuned for the second part of our interview with Sorum where we speak more about his various other past and present projects.


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