How HitPiece Rebounded and Relaunched After Controversy
Rory Felton has spent most of his past two decades in music being pro-artist. He developed talent and sold millions of records under his Militia Group label that he co-founded and eventually sold to Sony. In the early days of social media, Rory worked with Top 40 artists and majors to monetize on these new platforms. That’s why it was ironic that Rory was recently criticized for being anti-artist.
Rory founded HitPiece two years ago. HitPiece is an NFT marketplace focused solely on music collections. While in beta earlier this year, unauthorized NFTs from big-name artists became available for purchase on HitPiece. HitPiece was hit with wide-spread backlash from artists, the RIAA, and many others for copyright infringement. The company quickly went dark while the team recalibrated its business.
Months later, HitPiece has now re-launched. This time with strictly-authenticated collections on-site from rising artists like ATL Jacob, Pyrex Whippa, and proven commodities such as Rick Ross. A metaverse add-on is also in the works to virtually display purchased NFTs. In many ways, the industry-wide blowback changed both Rory and HitPiece. The company’s intent has stayed consistent from the get-go: to make NFTs easy for both artists and fans.
Rory joined me on the show to cover what went wrong with HitPiece earlier this year, why this relaunch is different, and the opportunities and challenges NFTs have inside the music industry. Here’s everything we covered:
[2:58 ] Rory’s two decades in the industry pre-HitPiece
[6:07 ] “Best time in human history to be an artist”
[9:19 ] What went wrong with HitPiece’s beta release
[13:33 ] Re-gaining industry trust after the backlash
[16:22 ] Did HitPiece consider rebranding?
[19:12 ] How HitPiece built a collection with rising star ATL Jacob
[20:27 ] Web3 co-existing with industry, not replacing it
[27:34 ] Building out a music-centric metaverse
[33:32 ] How HitPiece will compete against Facebook, Opensea, and other big players
[35:57 ] Types of NFT collections on HitPiece
[39:00 ] How to win the music industry in 2022 and onward
[43:17 ] HitPiece plans for 2023
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Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co
Guests: Rory Felton, @Roryfelton
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[00:00:00 ] Rory Felton: We think this space is for everyone. And we think that the smallest artists on the planet can actually benefit from Web 3.0 in a way that maybe streaming isn't changing the game for them right now. For instance, we've worked with baby developing artists that are making more money from Web 3.0 in one launch of an NFT collection than they would over two to three months from streaming. In general, we all think music's the coolest thing in the world. And so we want to revalue it in a way that maybe NFTs allow us to that technology hasn't enabled in the past.
[00:00:40 ] Dan Runcie: Hey, welcome to The Trapital podcast. I'm your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from executives in music, media, entertainment, and more, who are taking hip-hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:60 ] Dan Runcie: Today's guest is Rory Felton. He is the co-founder and CEO of HitPiece, a company that's bringing artists and fans together through NFTs in real life experiences, metaverse experiences and more. HitPiece is one of our sponsors this quarter for Trapital, and I wanted to have this conversation because Rory and HitPiece have had a very interesting past couple of months. Back in February, they launched a platform, but there was a ton of controversy surrounding it because a lot of artists had their music and their NFTs for sale on the platform without their consent, and understandably so, it created a bunch of frustration and news around some of the consent around NFTs, some of the perception around the space overall and how that impacted Rory and the team. So in this conversation, we talked about it. We talked about how that happened, why it happened, and what Roy and the team are doing now moving forward for that not to happen in the future. And then we talked about what does HitPiece look like now moving forward, what are the opportunities more broadly for Web 3.0 companies in music, what are some of the challenges, what are some of the artists that they're working with now, like ATL Jacob, who just signed with Republic Records. So we talked about that, and Rory has a ton of experience in the music industry, even before HitPiece. So we talked about how that shapes his current strategy and what he thinks successful look like, not just for HitPiece, but for the overall industry moving forward. Great conversation and tons of insights, and especially for a lot of the founders that have built stuff messed up and want to hear what it's like to keep things going. This is a good one to listen to. Here's my chat with Rory.
[00:02:39 ] Dan Runcie: All right. Today we are joined by Rory Felton, who is the co-founder and CEO of HitPiece. But before we talk about HitPiece or anything like that, I know you've worked in music for a number of years and you've had a few different hats in this industry. What attracted you to the space early on?
[00:02:58 ] Rory Felton: Oh, man. So when I was 15, I started playing music and I learned pretty quickly that I really couldn't write songs very well. So when I was 16, I started putting on local shows for artists booking regional acts, and that naturally turned into putting out records for artists. And in the nineties, we were manufacturing CDs, so I actually learned the process of printing, shipping it to a factory, calling distributors, trying to get them to ship out our CDs to retailers. And that's how I started. In 2000, I moved out to LA to go to school at SC, was a little bored and started another record label. Our first few records did quite well. I think our first record almost went gold, and so that created enough revenue to really fund the company and grow that record label. And for the next 10 years, we ended up selling millions of records. I developed dozens of artists, felt really proud of what we accomplished. Sony Music later invested in the company and later acquired the major artists that I worked And I took a breather for a moment because working with artists can be a lot of work and can be emotional and and challenging in so many ways, but also fun and exciting. And I ended up finding a real passion for the technology side of the music industry. I really wanted to have sort of a macro impact on the industry in helping artists create new technologies to connect with their fan base, develop new business models. And I saw, sort of saw the old record company structure or record deal structure is sort of a little bit antiquated, and there are so many technologies here that could allow artists to directly connect with their fans and connect and create new and unique revenue streams. And so I spent several years in the early 2010s helping top 40 artists sell music and merchandise in stream on social media like Gaga, Green Day, Snoop Dog, Tim McGraw, A$AP Rocky, all the major labels. And I did a couple years overseas on a volunteer trip and then came back to the music space really on artist management initially, but also in blockchain. I bought Bitcoin in 2014 and was always really curious about blockchain's application to the music space. And in 2018 I co-wrote a white paper on digital collectibles for artists and could not get anyone's attention back then on this space and the idea of fans buying digital merchandise from artists and connecting with them and the idea of an artist creating a layer of community ownership and what they were doing. And then obviously fast forward a couple of years, the NFT space, that specific protocol has really taken off four creatives and four artists. And I decided to jump in full time to apply this innovation to the music industry 'cause I saw so many opportunities for artists to take advantage of it.
[00:05:43 ] Dan Runcie: That makes sense. And one thing there before we get to the HitPiece part of it where you are today, selling your record label and everything there to Sony, what is it like watching the current movement now with other record labels being bought up by other record labels, especially the majors or just some of the catalog purchases there? Because I'm sure you did this in a very different market than what we're seeing now.
[00:06:07 ] Rory Felton: Yeah, so a lot of people don't remember this, but in 2006 to like 2011, it was really hairy for the record industry. There were a lot of unknowns. Downloading was here, digital like iTunes and its competitors, however, streaming as a paid streamin