Reclaiming music ownership with Justin Blau at SXSW

AUSTIN, Texas — Dropping out of college to pursue DJing full time was just the start of Justin Blau’s commitment to the music industry.

As he transitioned from playing at fraternity parties to performing at sold-out shows, Blau, better known by his DJ name 3LAU, recognizes the challenges that have come with music ownership throughout his entire journey.

Blau, who now has amassed more than 1 billion music streams, first started his career in 2010-2011 during the blog era of music distribution. Most college students then were getting their songs from blogs and word of mouth.

“[There was] no threshold algorithm stopping the distribution on Facebook. It was an early time of being able to establish yourself as an artist,” Blau said. 

A challenge that continues to persist throughout the years that Blau has witnessed is establishing credibility as an independent artist.

“The barrier to entry for creation has consistently been getting lower and lower,” said Blau.

Having a music studio right on your laptop has changed the way artists create and get started on their career.

Technology is shifting power and control into the hands of artists and their fans.


Our CEO, Justin Blau, spoke on this topic earlier today with Dani Deahl at #SXSW. Here are the key points 🧵

— royal (@join_royal) March 15, 2023

“In the past, renting a studio and equipment, costume costs…all the costs a third-party financier [was needed] to build a career. With internet, that barrier became lower and lower,” said Blau.

With the growing use of social media platforms to discover and share music, distribution methods have also changed. Blau built his platform on Facebook and SoundCloud. He said multiple shifts from these platforms have forced his hand to alter how he shares his music as one platform becomes less popular.

“As musicians and creators at large, we’ve never controlled our audience today. We still don’t. Primarily because we build our audience on these third parties,” said Blau.

Not only does this prove to be a challenging aspect for the artist, but Blau also says it’s hard to make that change for one’s core group of fans. That’s when he got the idea of taking back control of music ownership through the NFT world. Blau considers himself an early crypto adopter and has been advocating to build the investable layer of music on blockchains since 2017.

Blau founded his company Royal in 2021 to allow artists maintain ownership and control of what they create while making money off of it, and also to allow fans to have the opportunity to invest in music at the same time.

“Control of the data [of who consumes their music] that creators create is a fundamental issue for all creators. The people who make an artist or song popular have no economic upside in making a song successful. They never get to participate in the success. The principle behind Royal is: how do you align incentives behind creators and people who consume their creations?” said Blau

He argues that artists have very limited tools to control their audience let alone build communities outside existing worlds like TikTok, Spotify and Facebook. The monetization mechanism is still lacking.

Fan investors in Royal are community members who are economically aligned in spreading the brand they are members of. They too can take some ownership in the music that they love. In cases where monetary reward may be lower for the fans, Blau says the emotional value that comes with owning parts of a song or album is something that private equities and labels aren’t thinking about.

For example, rapper Nas was the first artist to sell song rights on Royal. The day he launched, the website crashed because so many people were signing up to be a part of that experience. At the same time fans get to partake in their favorite artists’ success, they are also helping return ownership of those songs back to them. Diplo sold 25% of one of his songs on the website, which generated $400,000. In this case, it’s the public giving him that deal. They’ve earned that 20-something percent in that investment.

“Labels are betting on tons of artists. One explodes and they went big. Fans should have the ability to do that. The service we want to provide everyone is audience control. Knowing who really believes in you. Controlling that data on chain is powerful for artists of all sizes.”

In the year since Royal has launched, more than 10,000 people have invested $1.5 million-plus in music rights.