Music streaming services have over 400 million subscribers worldwide between them, and raked in over $13 billion in revenue last year. But critics of the industry claim that artists are being unfairly compensated for their work, with musicians and politicians alike claiming that performers and songwriters are “losing out.”
That’s where Audius comes in. It’s a crypto-powered music sharing and streaming protocol that aims to give artists more power over how their music is monetized and enable them to connect directly with fans.
One of the largest non-financial crypto applications, Audius is owned and run by an open-source community of artists, fans, and developers. It passed more than 5.3 million unique users in July 2021, jumping from 2.9 million unique users in January 2021. Users listened to tracks 7.5 million times over the course of April 2021, the busiest month for Audius so far.
It’s powered by AUDIO, the protocol’s governance token, with a market cap of $1.2 billion as of August 2021.
So what makes this project so different from any other music streaming platform?
What is Audius?
Founded in 2018, Audius is a decentralized music streaming service with a social media component. It lets artists upload their tunes to the app and connects fans directly with artists and exclusive new music.
On a technical level, it’s a blockchain protocol that lets artists produce immutable and timestamped records for their creative works, secured by a decentralized network of node operators.
It was originally built on POA Network, an Ethereum sidechain, and later moved parts of its service to the Solana blockchain. Developers can build their own apps on top of Audius, giving them access to a unique audio catalog.
Audius launched its mainnet service in October 2020 with a livestreamed concert featuring deadmau5 and RAC.
But unlike most other blockchain projects, it doesn’t suffer from the problem of being so technical that anyone who isn’t that into crypto is automatically left out. “Users aren’t going to use our things if they are so much harder to use than Google, Facebook, SoundCloud, Steam, or whatever it is,” co-founder Roneil Rumburg told Decrypt in 2019.
Audius received $5 million in investment capital in 2018 from VC firms General Catalyst, Lightspeed, and Pantera Capital, and $1.25 million in funding from Binance Labs, the venture arm of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by volume.
How Does Audius Work?
Audius functions like a music co-op, with the token aligning incentives across the three constituent groups that make the network work: node operators, artists, and fans.
Since Audius is based on blockchain, it operates through a decentralized network of nodes that host content (content nodes) and index that content (discovery nodes).
And of course, as a blockchain project, it comes with a cryptocurrency.
The Audius network is powered by the Ethereum-based ERC-20 token Audius (AUDIO), which serves three functions:
- 🔐 Network security - node operators stake tokens to run a node and, in return, earn rewards from the network.
- 🏆 Exclusive features - artists get premium features by staking the token, such as such as displaying NFT crypto collectibles on the site.
- 🗳️ Governance - staked tokens are required to vote on any and all proposals, which make changes to code and the overall network.
But no knowledge of blockchain or crypto is really necessary to participate in Audius, which partly explains why it’s popular even among those outside the crypto community.
The platform automatically rewards certain achievements with AUDIO tokens: top 5 weekly trending tracks, top 5 trending tracks, top 5 trending playlists, top 10 API apps, or uploads by those with verified Twitter or Instagram accounts.
Occasionally, the protocol also airdrops generous amounts of AUDIO tokens based on a formula that takes into account not only the number of listens but also the level of social engagement the artist has displayed. In October 2020, the service distributed a total of 50 million AUDIO tokens between 10,000 artists and users on the platform.
The protocol has yet to work out a more regular and consistent monetization policy consistent with its plans to distribute 90% of the token supply to its artists.
AUDIO tokens are listed and can be traded for other crypto on a number of exchanges including Binance, FTX, Gate.io and the decentralized exchange (DEX) Uniswap.
What’s So Special About Audius?
Audius differs from other music streaming services because it’s blockchain-based, which shapes how the whole thing works.
Artists can upload their tracks at no cost and users can listen to them for free while everyone earns (crypto) money.
The model of governing a music streaming service together is a unique aspect that’s also powered by blockchain.
There’s no vetting process to get started as an artist, so you can immediately upload your own tracks. Just click “Upload Track” after signing up for free, and drop your music and artwork files. It offers streaming at 320kbps—comparable to Spotify and Google Play Music, albeit not up to the 24bit standard of Tidal HiFi and Amazon Music HD.
Since Audius content is distributed across decentralized nodes, copyright protection cannot be enforced at the moment. But the protocol is currently developing an arbitration system consisting of community members who will decide whether to remove certain content.
Audius' lack of centralized control also means it provides a safe venue for artists from oppressive regimes who use music as a means of dissent and protest.
6/ Right now, music services cannot — and will not — protect the voices of artists worldwide, because the interests of the powerful will almost always win over those of creators on centralized services.
— Audius 🎧 (@AudiusProject) June 26, 2019
Many big-name artists treat Audius as a place to experiment or share tracks that wouldn't go on other platforms such as works in progress ("WIPs"), weekend beats, long-form sets, or even just more diverse content than what they feel comfortable putting in other places.
What can I listen to on Audius?
At its core, it’s mostly an indie platform. But major-label artists are also welcome.
There are just over 100,000 artists on Audius, including relatively well-known names like Skrillex, Weezer, deadmau5, Russ, Mike Shinoda, Diplo, Madeintyo, Odesza, Disclosure, Alina Baraz, and Wuki.
Generally, artists start with one or two tracks and later expand as they get positive feedback from fans on the platform. Some big names like Mr. Carmack uploaded most of their historical content, a total of 169 tracks.
Another feature of Audius that’s normally uncommon in the industry is artist-fan collaborations through remix competitions, which leads to even more experimental tracks to enjoy.
In August 2021, Audius was chosen as one of TikTok’s partners for its Sound Kit functionality, which allows for song transfers onto its platform. 75% of TikTok users in the United States say that they use the app as a means of discovering new music, which likely also holds true for its overall global user base of 730 million.
The recent partnership with TikTok may make the protocol even more attractive to established artists who want exposure to TikTok’s insane virality.
Audius’ co-founder Rumburg confirmed to Decrypt that the protocol’s working on more plans similar to its TikTok partnership. “The TikTok integration is exciting, and points towards what's next. Audius will continue to [expand] the scope of the toolchain available to help artists to grow their following as effectively as possible, and better utilize or monetize their relationships with fans,” he said.
And if Audius continues to gain traction, it’s likely to lead to the blossoming of similar projects. So far other blockchain-based music projects include Songcamp, Catalog, and the Song That Owns Itself.