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Is Troy Carter’s New Music Collective the Future of Distribution?

The veteran exec hopes to foster community by adding a token-gated aspect to Venice Distribution.

Long before Troy Carter rose to manage superstars, lead creator services at Spotify, and found the music tech company Q&A, he struggled to break into the insular world of music-industry power brokers. “I would have to go to conferences and sneak into them,” he recalls. “I slept on the fire escape of a hotel for a weekend because I couldn’t afford a room at one of the conferences. There was desperation — I wanted to find a network, I wanted to learn, but I didn’t have the resources.”

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Carter’s latest effort is aimed to help younger versions of himself: He recently launched the Venice Music Collective, which he describes as an attempt “to build a community that I could have been a part of when I was trying to get into the music business as a kid.”

This enterprise is an outgrowth of Venice Distribution, which Carter got off the ground in 2021 along with Suzy Ryoo. The company focuses on independent artists; a few of its most successful partners include Amine and vaultboy. Those who apply for membership in the Venice Music Collective and are accepted pay .25 ethereum — around $500 at the moment — for a non-fungible token (NFT) that grants them access to distribution services as well as a recording studio, analytics, financial services and community events. (Venice’s existing label services will still be limited to a small group of artists; they won’t be accessible to everyone who joins the collective.)

The model is loosely inspired by Friends With Benefits, which is often described as a sort of crypto-based social club. “Community is so absent in the music space,” Carter adds. “We want to build a place where people can support each other — even outside of distro, being able to share equipment and gear and recording studios and do meet-ups.”

The music industry is flush with distribution companies that offer some level of label services to their top clients. But Carter believes that many of these may be envisioning their role too narrowly. “We’ve been thinking a lot about: What does the future of music distro look like?” the executive explains. “One of our key findings was that it has to go well beyond just delivering a MP3 file. If we’re going to focus on distribution, we have to be able to distribute all types of digital goods.”

That includes the various digital collectibles, or NFTs, that have become faddish in the last 18 months. As a result, Carter says, “building our own NFT platform was top of the to-do list.”

For a company focused on expanding opportunities for independent artists, Carter believes it’s only natural to incorporate an NFT component. That’s because, in 2021, independent artists drove almost 65% of music-related NFT sales, according to Water & Music, a newsletter that closely tracks all things music and crypto.

“Independent artists’ rights aren’t as encumbered as most major-label artists’ [are],” Carter explains. “That’s why we’ve seen more indie artists active in this space rather than artists signed to major labels or major publishers: The independent acts have the ability to take more risks. We’re seeing some of them who are having a difficult time finding their way in the world of streaming, finding it hard for TikToks to go viral. They’re looking at the NFT space as a place to be able to make some money they wouldn’t make [otherwise].”

Many of the artists Venice was already distributing were “grandfathered in,” according to Carter. “Some of their extended team members ended up purchasing tokens,” he says. “But we wanted to make sure that the people who have been supporting us over the last year and a half, that we would be able to give back to them as well.” Carter also wants the collective to have a wide variety of members — not just artists, but producers, songwriters, managers, promoters, “anybody who’s interested in being in the music industry.”

Those members can vote on how the Venice Music Collective allots the resources in its treasury, which is funded by a percentage of primary and secondary NFT sales. “A portion of the treasury goes back into supporting projects within the community,” Carter says. “Maybe someone needs tour support or extra money to shoot a new video, and the community is able to vote on projects that we’re able to get behind.”

Token-gated communities may be a good way for aspiring music industry thought leaders to network, but they may also be out of reach for some who cannot afford the cost of entry. To counteract this, Carter says the Venice Music Collective gifted some tokens to hyperactive members of Venice Music’s Discord — the popular social hub that allows users to chat or call in groups dubbed servers — which also launched last year. “They might not be able to buy a membership but they’re so active in the community that we were able to reward them,” he notes. He’s already been heartened by stories from early supporters of the collective who have “been learning from, getting support from, and collaborating” with fellow members.

While the NFT market has been volatile — in May, The Wall Street Journal published an article bluntly headlined “NFT Sales Are Flatlining” — Carter is sanguine about the prospects of the underlying technology. “I didn’t take the bet on, is crypto going to be up or down this week?” he explains. “Do we believe that blockchain is going to play a role in the future of the music industry? And do we believe that community is going to play a big role in the future of the music industry? Those are firm convictions on our end. Those are things we’re willing to bet on.”