Written by Katie Chiou

IN CONVERSATION WITH is a series from Archetype where we interview artists in/at the edges of crypto across music, visual art, design, curation, and more.

André Allen Anjos, professionally known as RAC, is a Grammy award-winning musician, record producer, and DJ. RAC is most notably known for pushing the boundaries of remixing, expanding the historically dance-forward genre to include indie and rock. RAC has released 200+ remixes over the course of his career, which you can listen to on SoundCloud. Artists RAC has collaborated with include The Shins, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Tegan and Sara, Phoenix, Kings of Leon, Lana Del Rey, and many more. RAC has also released three of his own solo albums, STRANGERS(2014), EGO (2017), and BOY (2020). Anjos has also been incredibly active in the crypto ecosystem, releasing an onchain, tokenized cassette tape known as the $TAPE token in 2020, as well as the $RAC community token launched the same year. He is currently building a new company at the intersection of music and crypto called Oscillator.

Over a video call, I asked Anjos a series of questions ranging from his experience as a major label musician, remixing and technology, personal brand, the opportunity to improve the music industry by leveraging crypto, and more.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Katie Chiou: When you think about the music business, the first thing that comes to mind is streaming because that’s where people interface the most with artists. Can you tell us a bit about the dynamics of music streaming?

André Anjos: Let’s break it down from recorded music, which includes streaming. You can cut it a few different ways depending on what type of recorded music it is. There’s physical sales and the costs of creating those artifacts—vinyls, CDs, cassette tapes, whatever. There’s a real cost to producing and distributing those artifacts, and we’ve taken that model and applied it to something digital which virtually has no distribution cost.

Cover art for RAC's most recent solo album, BOY
Cover art for RAC's most recent solo album, BOY

Spotify dominates digital distribution. For every play of a song, you receive a fraction of a cent, which is tiny. To give some concrete numbers, about a million plays is worth probably about $4,000. That’s assuming you don’t have a label, a manager, or a distributor that’s taking a cut. Now, let’s say you’re signed to a major label. They’ll typically take about 80% and give 20% to artists. Without getting super in the weeds, the artist is usually the last one to get paid after everyone else gets paid. If you’re on an indie label, there’s typically a 50/50 split. You get less visibility, usually in exchange for a higher percentage of ownership.Then, there’s the full independent route where perhaps you own everything or you use a digital distributor like DistroKid, but you get no support so you have to promote it yourself.

KC: Streaming isn’t usually an artist’s biggest revenue stream, there’s other things like touring and partnerships. Can you break some of these down?

AA: In general, I would say the three broad main categories are recorded music, publishing, and touring, and every artist has a slightly different version of that. I separate publishing from recorded music because that’s essentially like writing. You can be a writer on something, but not own the recording, so I treat them differently.

I talked about streaming, but on the publishing side, it's kind of its own industry. It involves a lot of government-mandated royalties and is a complex, convoluted industry. They are very litigious, they love to sue people. So, writing and publishing can actually be one of the more profitable sides of music, but you have to play their game and you can’t really be independent. You have no sway.

To talk about touring for a bit, I’ve done almost every type of touring. It generally depends, but I will say that touring can be profitable once you get to a certain level, but for most people it’s actually a loss or breakeven at best. There are a ton of hidden costs that people don't realize until they're too deep in it. You can get caught in this cycle where you're constantly touring just to make ends meet, and it can really spiral. I would say, right now, the only real way to be profitable is to be a solo artist who DJs and is a somewhat well-known person and tours non-stop.

I also don’t see enough people talk about how touring is just fundamentally different after COVID. There used to be a balance to it before where there was enough ebb and flow—people take a break and write an album, come back. The issue that happened was that everybody tried to come back all at once after not touring for 2 or 3 years. With limited supply of venues, that inevitably pushed everybody's fees down and the cost of touring is suddenly 3x more expensive. You basically have a supply shock.

KC: Artists today are increasingly personal brand-driven and are expected to form more social relationships/communities with their fans. Frankly, it feels unfair to me. Maybe some people just aren’t built to do that. Curious if you feel the same/if you have thoughts around that?

AA: I think that’s definitely become more true over time. I had this realization years ago that I'm effectively competing with Netflix for attention. Everybody's competing for the same thing. And with attention comes money, so it's like we're all chasing the same thing. So naturally, it doesn't surprise me that artists suddenly have to play this other game that maybe they didn't sign up for or that maybe they were promised some version of being an artist that now looks very different.

I think change is inevitable. You kind of have to adapt. There are aspects of that I’m not personally comfortable with, but you have to make those choices for yourself and do it in your own way. If your choice is to not play that game, then maybe that's cool too. But I definitely still empathize with newer artists today. If you asked me what an artist just starting out right now should do to succeed, I have zero clue. I think everybody's kind of in the same boat. You try different things, see what works and what doesn’t work, and trends emerge from there.

I remember when I first started doing remixes, I wasn't really touring for the first year or two. I was perfectly happy doing studio work. I love being in the studio; that's what I like doing. Then suddenly, I started getting offers to play shows. It wasn't really my thing, but I thought, "I guess I can learn." It's funny because I learned how to DJ while in the club, even though I never used to go to clubs.

KC: Yeah, I read in an early interview of yours that clubs aren’t your scene.

AA: Yeah, not at all. But I get booked for shows all the time, and maybe that's a good thing because I bring my own energy to it. I remember in 2009, there were all these bedroom producers suddenly being thrown into clubs and DJing. Performing is such a different environment, it’s like learning a whole other art form. Even to this day, it's not the most comfortable thing to do for me, but everybody has different comfort levels, and you have to find your own path. I empathize with people that have to do a lot more social media now than before, but it feels like it’s just the world that we live in now. I kind of just accept it.

KC: You livestreamed on Twitch a lot during COVID after you had to cancel your tour. What was that like?

AA: I was pretty aware of the culture on Twitch, so I think that gave me a little bit of a leg up when I started streaming. I knew that I had to solve a few things like filling a lot of space and being loose and improvisational. There were experimental musical things I did that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t, but I got to have fun with it. But the music was just there to fill the dead space. The real powerful thing about Twitch is talking to people. During COVID, everybody rushed to do Twitch streams and “live” performances that were actually pre-recorded, but they just glossed over the point entirely or it’d just kind of miss the mark.

RAC livestreaming in August, 2020
RAC livestreaming in August, 2020

I'm really glad I did it, but I'm really glad I don't have to do it anymore because it was 4-hour sessions 3 times a week. It wasn't even that much money. Honestly, people were very generous with tipping but Twitch takes 50% unless you’re a huge streamer, and I just feel like that’s a lot.

But I enjoyed it. I think it was a way for me to interface with my fans and my audience in a more meaningful way and I still really appreciate it for that. Sometimes people will talk about that time very fondly, but I think everybody understands why I don't do it anymore.

KC: You’re an artist that’s always been at the forefront of technology. Part of your early legacy is transforming remixing. In the past few years, remixing has exploded even more because of things like TikTok and AI. As an artist, what’s your relationship to technology and these types of tools that make music creation easier?

AA: Obviously, I love technology. It'd be pretty hypocritical of me to criticize it because I feel like I owe a lot of my career to it. Recording technology, the rise of the internet—these things have enabled me to reach a wider audience than I ever could have as a local artist playing local gigs.

Back when I started, the remixing technology that existed was somewhat limited. Now, you can make a fully finished song in a day—it's crazy how things have changed. Especially with AI these days, I'm almost glad it wasn't around when I started. Picking a path like remixing and going deeper and doing different things with it than most people at the time, it gave me an edge in my niche.

Now, my moat around that was simply the fact that most people didn't have access to these files. Because, and I don't know if everybody knows this, every remix I've done has always been officially through the artist. I've never put out anything bootleg, even though that's a big part of remix culture. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I just mean that it was a source of income for me. I was paid by the artist to do it, which was, again, kind of a weird path to take. But now with some of these AI tools where you can extract a vocal from any track on YouTube, it’s hard to make a living from that type of work.

Technology, especially crypto, has served me well. It's become an interest of mine, a tool for expression. It doesn't feel forced—it's just something I'm genuinely into.

KC: Many of the original attempts to build at the intersection of music x crypto started with music NFTs. What are your thoughts on how music NFTs evolved and what are your thoughts on them today?

AA: Music NFTs were, I think, piggybacking off the narrative of scarcity that was happening in the fine art world at the time, and it didn't quite connect in the same way because people think of music differently.

People don't think of music as being a scarce asset. So why do I have to buy a music NFT? I don’t think anybody would deny that music is art, but people just think about it differently. They think about music as being everywhere, pervasive in the background. It's just not something that people think of as a scarce thing. So I think that narrative just didn't quite click for people, and there wasn't an analog to compare it to. With art NFTs, it's like a digital painting, there's only 10 prints and editions. But with music, there was never that same analog that resonated for people.

Aside from that, I really like the emergent behavior of uploading a song on the internet that is free of a platform and is universally compatible with everything else. That is exciting. That, I think, is a novel behavior that is so much more interesting than what we have currently. There are so many problems there to solve with that structure, but I think that is really cool. It’s just not yet compatible with the ways music works today with copyright, government-mandated royalties, performance royalties and all these other structures already in place. I still think there's merit to these ideas. We haven't quite figured them out yet, but I'm not ready to throw them away.

KC: What are your learnings and reflections from your own crypto projects like $TAPE and $RAC?

AA: They've all been unique in their own way.

$TAPE started as a concept I worked on with Jacob from Zora and Jack, my Co-founder. We basically came up with this question: If you let a market decide the price of music instead of a platform like Spotify, what does it become worth?

$TAPE is a physical cassette tape and the supply was completely arbitrary, but there's a hundred cassettes. Let's put them on a bonding curve and see how much they’re worth. People can trade $TAPE back and forth, and the trading created crazy price action. It made us realize that music is worth way more than a fraction of a cent. I don’t know the exact number, but it’s definitely higher. We learned that if you introduce some kind of artificial scarcity, you can use markets to kind of find a price. We also created a function where in order to get the actual physical cassette, you had to burn the token. Out of 100, only 31 were redeemed which is also interesting. Maybe the token is even more valuable than the actual thing.

With the $RAC token, it was basically like an airdrop to fans. It was a retroactive thing. Everybody that bought merch at a show or heard about tickets, bought an MP3 on Bandcamp in 2008, etc., got an email with some tokens. We didn't want to sell the token, it was meant to just be a community token. I thought it was a really interesting experiment. We ran into other issues such as people constantly in my DMs or in my replies asking why the price was moving.

ERC20s, for better or for worse, come with some baggage. No matter how often I try to tell people that the $RAC token is not meant to be financial, people still want to attribute a financial value to it. It was around this time that social and creator tokens were a big conversation, and the focus soon shifted to NFTs. Unlike ERC20s, NFTs don't carry the same liquidity provision baggage. I realize now that I may have been a little early with ERC20s. An NFT membership model may have been more sustainable for a smaller community. It's interesting now to observe the resurgence of memecoins and watch how narratives cycle.

KC: How are you taking those learnings to build Oscillator?

To back up a bit, when I first discovered Ethereum, I was excited about the programmatic nature, the ability to replace institutions with code, or middlemen with code. I think this idea is often overlooked in crypto discussions. While some focus on tokens and financialization, I think there's actually so much more interesting stuff you can do with blockchains and just programming business logic, if you want to think about it that way. That's the part that's more exciting to me than anything else. That’s where I'm coming from initially, and that's the future I want to see. I think this will be a better ecosystem to play in because open data keeps people honest. That's the vision I want to work towards, and it's what we're trying to do with Oscillator. In general, I think we just want to attract people that believe in that vision and that want to help. We want to recreate what a modern music industry could be onchain and that is built with the right foundation and built for artists. We want to cut out and trim a lot of fat and baggage that comes with the traditional music industry.

So if any of that resonates, reach out. We even launched our company with just a manifesto that said if you believe in these principles, come talk to us, like we want to work with you. We want to find the right people because there's no way we're doing this on our own. We want to put this vision out in the world and meme it into reality.


This post is for general information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any investment and should not be used in the evaluation of the merits of making any investment decision. It should not be relied upon for accounting, legal or tax advice or investment recommendations. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment or legal matters. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources, including from portfolio companies of funds managed by Archetype. This post reflects the current opinions of the authors and is not made on behalf of Archetype or its affiliates and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Archetype, its affiliates or individuals associated with Archetype. The opinions reflected herein are subject to change without being updated.

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