For musicians, the benefits of the streaming economy haven’t been equally distributed. The population of artists, producers, and engineers that make up the bulk of music’s middle class saw their earnings stall over the last two decades before completely breaking down during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s clear that a new paradigm is necessary, and it’s a requirement that Chris Moraites has used as a guiding philosophy.
Moraites is the founder and CEO of SIKI, a new kind of streaming platform built on Hedera Hashgraph that lets artists mint their music as NFTs and benefit directly from their community of fans and devotees. Artists that use the groundbreaking platform are paid higher royalties than other streaming platforms right off the bat, and also benefit from further use of their music through crypto-native “smart contracts” that act like automatic royalty and licensing systems. Fans benefit as well as they’re able to collect artist-minted NFTs that can see their value grow alongside the music’s notoriety.
Billboard talked to Moraites ahead of SXSW to discuss how they’re navigating the still developing world of NFTs and crypto, why the music industry needs to play catch up when it comes to compensating creators, and what’s next for SIKI.
What inspired you to create SIKI?
I’d say the lack of monetization in the music space. There are so many great artists that people listen to and they listen to hours and hours and hours throughout the day. But even with all that, artists on streaming platforms make maybe a few bucks.
I’ve been in the music industry for a long time, and that topic has been something I think about a lot especially when I find a great artist but they’re up-and-coming, they’re not in that A-list. They’re going through the same struggles that I or anybody else had when they’re just getting started. That’s been a big piece of inspiration for us.
Right, it can be tough to subsist on just streaming income when you’re not a tier-one artist. You might have fans, but it’s not the same sort of volume.
Absolutely. And it’s like YouTubers are having great success, Twitch streamers are having great success. There’s a lot of things that are being elevated, and I feel like music has just been stagnant. It didn’t take that next leap into that next space. There’s a lot of room to grow there.
So how does SIKI work?
I like to tell people it’s a combination of Twitch, Spotify, and Opensea. People can upload their music and mint them as NFTs so that fans can collect them, and we pay twice the amount in royalties compared to other streaming platforms right off the bat. We have a tiered subscription that helps people pay more and we also allow for tipping because that direct fan support feels like the new wave in this economy. The whole platform is gamified as well, so everything that you do there levels you up more and more. The more you help other people, the more you unlock.
I want people to see it as more than just a streaming platform. It’s streaming plus engaging with the community and the artists.
What about on the other side of the equation? How does SIKI benefit fans and audiences?
Here’s an example I usually use: Say there’s somebody in Kansas who is going to high school. He hears new music, puts it on his playlist, and then all the people in his high school start rocking it all day.
That phenomenon is such an important thing that happens in music on a lot of these platforms. But when it goes unnoticed, it’s unfair. That’s part of the gamification of SIKI, we want people to see who’s helping push their music and how successful they’ve been in helping push your music. Gamification also helps us conduct special projects such as the $1.5 million giveaway we are currently offering our users. So we wanted to create that whole different side of it and monetize that aspect. Sharing people’s music and promoting it to everyone around you is valuable and we’re helping to incentivize everybody to work together and do as much as they can in the industry.
How do you see that system evolving over the next few years, especially when it comes to audience involvement?
Right now we’re going to start with music. But as things evolve we’re going to get into digital images as well as video.
But the cool thing about that is that when we post a video and I use that music that’s been minted as an NFT, that artist immediately gets paid because of the smart contract. It becomes next to impossible to use other people’s music and them not get paid for it. We think that NFTs and blockchains can help fix a lot of these different problems in the industry, and this is going to be a cool way to roll out all these different ideas together and show people that we see this as the future of media.
How is SIKI navigating the still-developing marketplace for concepts like NFTs and Crypto?
A lot of people are buying NFTs as purely a financial move, and that’s not really what we see NFTs being. It can be that, of course, but we see it as more like when you see an artist before they hit it big, buy a collectible of theirs, and then as the artist grows the NFT grows in value with them. It all expands together.
But I think there’s going to be a lot of maturing as things go forward and some of the stronger use cases develop. It’s new tech, and sometimes tech takes a while to fully realize all the great things that are going to come with it. It’s definitely an exciting time.
How do you think your own career at the intersection of being an entrepreneur and a musician influenced your vision?
Starting out, music was everything that I really wanted to do. I did graphic design and worked in marketing, but I’d always come back to music. My brother, Myles William, is also a producer and I’ve seen him go through a lot of the obstacles in the music industry and I’ve seen how tough it can be. There’s also this incredible set of partners like Nick Gangi and Jason Dowd, who is just a crypto genius, and we’ve created so many ideas to take SIKI to the next level. We’re also all in music, so we look at this and say, ‘Wow, If we can get to the final stage of this whole project, this is really going to be something that could potentially change everything in this industry.”
What can we expect next for SIKI? What’s on the horizon?
We’ve got a long roadmap of development and a lot of very interesting partners that we’ve been talking to that can help us go in so many different directions. Honestly, the sky’s the limit. We want to get into live events and be a part of the whole entertainment, music ecosystem and more.