₿itwax Records on Using NFTs to Release Music

Rory Wood shares how he’s pioneering a new kind of web3 record label.

On June 6, 2022, Rory Wood, founder of Bitwax Records, joined host Raffi Krikorian in the Tellie Discord for an AMA chat. Bitwax began in 2019 as a crypto-adjacent music distribution company, but has since evolved into an NFT-based record label and web3 music consultancy. Rory also runs a podcast called Algorithmic focused on music NFTs, and he’s a community manager for Beatport's NFT project, Syntheads. The below conversation has been edited for flow and clarity.

Raffi Krikorian: Can you give us some background on what got you into music, and how you made the jump into web3?

Rory Wood: I’ve always been a huge fan of all things music, and I’ve never restricted what genres I listen to. This worked wonders for me starting out, as I became the go-to local DJ since I could be deployed at any party to spin any genre, for any scene and any occasion.

My early passion for music eventually pushed me into buying, selling, and collecting vinyl. I’m an entrepreneurial person, and this combination led me to start Bitwax in 2019. It began as a vinyl record distributor where I sold vinyl for crypto. 

After two years of this I came across NFTs, and it all clicked—I realized I needed to transition Bitwax away from being a vinyl distributor, and turn it into an NFT-based dance music record label in web3.

What was the first vinyl you distributed?

When I first launched Bitwax, I purchased a bunch of classic/funky house and dance music second hand, and was selling it through Discogs for a month or two. Once I got Shopify set up, I think the first vinyl we sold was a Cinthie Crystal Groove LP. She’s a legend, and I actually got to meet her in Ibiza a few weeks back. She’s been a supporter of Bitwax since the beginning.

When you first got into crypto, was it something that immediately clicked? At what point were you like, "There’s way more utility in this than just currency?"

Initially (like most) I got into crypto purely to try to turn a few quid into a few more quids [laughs]. In 2017, I turned £200 into £10k—and then lost it, all in my first four weeks. 

From this point onwards I purchased a hardware wallet and just set up weekly buys. Bitcoin then went from ~$2,000 to the 2017 high of $20,000, all in about 12 weeks. It was wild to be part of that. Then I came across Ethereum from the teachings of Andreas Antoplous. When I heard him delivering speeches on how this money wasn't like Bitcoin, as it’s programmable, it melted my brain. At that point I was telling everyone I knew about crypto. Nobody listened, of course.

What was your experience in the space once NFTs came into play? Did you think music NFTs would be a thing?

It took me about two months from purchasing my first NFT (of Carl Cox's face) to realizing I could launch an NFT record label. From then, everyday—and still to this day—I’ve just been learning as much as I can. This approach has helped me secure some of the biggest partnerships I could have ever imagined. But yeah, from the beginning I saw the opportunities here, and I’m honestly surprised it hasn't clicked for more people.

The first-ever music NFT I purchased was Sativa Jazz by Abana. It’s very wholesome that we have kept in touch this whole time, and even became friends as we’ve watched each other grow and develop.

That's one thing I love about the music web3 community: it's very collaborative, and we all support and help each other. What's a project you've worked on that really hit home for you?

The podcast I run, called Algorithmic. The insane list of talent that instantly signed up as guest speakers when we announced Season One floored me. We had DEAFBEEF on as a guest, which was amazing. Here is our Season One schedule. After this, we will take a short break to breathe, regroup, and reach out to new guest speakers for Season Two.

Was it a natural progression to jump into the podcast space, or has that been a target of yours for a while?

There are so many terrible podcasts/Twitter Spaces out there in general, nevermind for Music NFTs—and that has been a huge annoyance of mine. Listening to other people fluff huge interviews annoyed me so much, I decided to just start my own.

What's your approach to make yours different?

Everyone was too comfortable running Twitter Spaces in a laid-back way with no real depth, and lots of shilling. We run ours like a real podcast. The idea is to aim for maximum depth, extracting all the info we can. No shilling, and nobody’s allowed up on stage with the guest until the last 15 minutes. We call them PodSpaces. They’re recorded (with pro mics), edited, and then uploaded to all the podcast playing apps.

What are your biggest pain points as you roll out these new projects? Where would you like to see more support—either on the tech side, or otherwise—for web3 artists?

Getting commitment from the artists we work with has been a challenge, overall. The tech has plenty of faults, but that is nothing if the artist has no drive to want to make these projects come to life. I lose interest with artists very quickly if they don't show passion for what we’re doing together.

Can you expand a bit on the tech faults, and on how you think they can be solved? Is there anything that you think we at Tellie can do to help solve these problems?

The majority of the faults come from network fees, in my opinion. New users don't understand why their $20 NFT purchase is costing $100, for example.

Equally, setting up a wallet is an alien concept to anyone outside of crypto. Setting up a wallet should be as easy as it is to sign up for any web2 platform, requiring just an email and password. 

People aren't educated when it comes to the self custody of wallets, and it scares or confuses most away. 

Education will play a huge role in making web3 more accessible.

The wallet issue is something we have been focusing on at Tellie. We plan to implement Stripe Pay, which will allow new users to purchase NFTs with Apple Pay, and if they don't have a wallet, one is automatically created for them.

That's huge! That will be massive!

It's a two-pronged approach: Education, and easy-to-use tech. With the automatically created wallets, users will be able to transfer NFTs out of the custodial wallet into another wallet they create. So it’s just a simple onboarding stepping stone that we feel will help bring more creatives and fans into web3.

So, as you know, we allow our creators to build token-gated sites for collectors to access exclusive content. What kinds of back-end content do you feel moves the dial? What are fans actually interested in, in your opinion? 

It’s all about the age-old buzzword: UTILITY. They want their JPEGs to become "keys" that unlock these token gates. They want to be able to buy merch, listen to tracks, and buy NFTs that nobody else can—all from holding some GIF or JPEG. With this approach, it’s what you build and add on top of the NFT that can really give it serious collectibility.

Since I've jumped into these campaigns and worked with artists who run their own labels, I always thought it would be cool to have your collectors be able to vote on what the next releases are. What about you?

I feel that DAOs should be run like menus at a restaurant. The label owners should retain the majority of the say in terms of what gets put out by the label. So, they should provide, let’s say, five options for the next release. All five track options should be ones that the label loves. Then, it can be up to the community to pick what the next track to be signed is—within the list of what the label has already chosen.

Exactly. There still has to be some degree of tastemaking.

Yeah, the owners still need control of "the ship," so to speak, that everyone else is a passenger on. If everyone in these DAOs is trying to steer the whole thing in their own direction, things implode. I've seen this happen before, to be honest.

To round things out, what's a failure or shortcoming that you experienced early in your career, that you've learned from and still think about today?

I can't trade crypto for shit, and that's why I focus on building now, lol.

Check out Bitwax on Tellie here, and learn more about minting, selling and token gating with Tellie here.

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