The rock star inside of musicians like former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum never dies — it just diversifies. His travels in the past reinforced the rocker lifestyle, like the time in Venezuela when he was pushed on stage to perform following a drug binge. Then there’s the pre-fame trip to Hawaii that infamously led to a drug smuggling mission. A trip to Brazil a few years ago, however, reflects his growth and had a much more positive result: Sorum’s involvement with a company that aims to shake up the music industry with cryptocurrency.
That trip, six year ago, connected Sorum with Pablo Martins and the team behind his latest venture. Artbit is a distributed ledger platform, similar to the blockchain platform that supports most of the cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.
The system allows artists and fans to share and monetize works quickly by eliminating third-party intermediaries like banks or business managers.
Sorum is aiming to shake up the music industry again, this time with the help of Artbit and cryptocurrency.
That’s made possible by smart contracts, computer protocols written into a platform’s code that can self-execute the set terms of a contract once specified conditions are met. So, if someone downloads a song an artist has placed on Artbit, a smart contract could automatically send payment to the artist, with no work necessary on the artist’s part.
Artbit is powered by Hashgraph, a newly released algorithm, which Sorum ardently proclaimed to be “250,000 times faster than Blockchain.”
His life may be more megabits than powder grams these days, but Sorum still has indelible tales of his wilder days as a member of Guns N’ Roses. The 57-year-old musician spoke to Digital Trends about Artbit from South by Southwest, as well as his upcoming autobiography about his rocker days, and the dire future of the album.
I read a little about Artbit and it seems like a very interesting platform. How does this fit into your background as an artist?
Well, you know, I have to start somewhere, right? I came to Hollywood in the late ’70s, trying to find my place. Trying to find where I fit, sleeping on couches, eating Top Ramen, and heading out to connect with people. Obviously, that’s way before we had a way to be able to connect online. There was no internet or social media to be able to find other people to connect with. We just had to do that face-to-face.
When I think about artists that are out there, and they’re all trying to do the same thing I did. [They] ask me, “Well, what do you think I should do to be successful? I want to do this for a living. I want to be able to make a living.” I saw what’s happening in the blockchain, crypto world, and I started researching the interesting correlation that could have.
I met this really interesting team out of Brazil. Pablo Martins is a visionary. We started coming up with ideas, and the team and Artbit was born. This is based on giving back to the community, artists, and how to build a network that’s going to really be … not only supportive of the artist, but supportive of the audience.
The audience deserves accolades as well — as we all know as musicians, we wouldn’t even be here without fans. Do they ever get any thanks for that? Not much. Why not? Why not include them?
Artbit [says it] will provide tools to manage the business side. You have decades of experience on the business side of the music industry. What kind of tools will Artbit give these artists?
On the business side within the Hedera platform [which is built on Hashgraph], they’re going to, with smart contracts, be able to decide everything they do or don’t want to do from the beginning. So there’s going to be a layer of brand element that’s going to come into play. …
In Artbit, you’re going
to be able to have a branded AR filter that
will enable you to have product placement if you want it.
For instance, on YouTube, you have no control of what commercials go across your video. First of all, if you have a million views, you only make about a thousand dollars. So, as these ads are streaming across your video before people are able to watch them, that’s kind of force-fed to you. You’re not allowed to say, “I don’t want this ad or I don’t want that.” As a bigger artist, you’re allowed to say what you want to be affiliated with, because you have more power. But as a young artists, you don’t. In Artbit, you’re going to be able to have a branded augmented reality filter that will enable you to have product placement if you want it.
Let’s say you don’t like beer or you don’t like meat, or you don’t like a certain kind of tennis shoe. You’re going to have the option to monetize your content by adding those prospective brands. So that’s one element. The community can do the same thing.
Now, in that smart contract, all that information will be on Hashgraph and the Hedera platform. The way the information is traded, it’s already there. So, it won’t allow certain things because the smart contract’s already been written into the platform. It doesn’t have to be a conversation, other than in the data. The data tells what is going to be allowed and doesn’t want to be allowed.
Let’s say an artist is going to put this particular song up, and they’re going to offer 20 percent of my publishing, now, to the community. You now own a piece of it. You can have it in your [digital] wallet. Now, let’s say that song gets picked up for something now or monetized in a different situation. Automatically through the Hedera Hashgraph platform you will get paid. You don’t have to ask for the money. It’ll instantly be delivered to you because that’s how much information … the public ledger can hold. And that’s all done through one simple transaction, on the spot.
This is not the only thing that you’re working on these days. I know you’re working on an autobiography. You said it’s going to be the juiciest of juiciest stories we’ve ever heard.
[Laughs] That’s a good word. Juicy. Right?
[Laughs] Yeah. I asked myself, “How are these the juiciest of juicy stories? We’ve heard a lot from those days.” Can you hint toward any of the things you feel are going to be explosive that we haven’t heard about before?
Well, I think I’ve got better stories than everybody else. [Laughs]. It’s been a very cathartic experience, but at the same time, I realized I’m not a bitter guy. … Sometimes rock ‘n’ roll books come off that way. It’s always the typical, he did this, and that guy did this, and that’s why the band broke up, and I don’t look at it that way at all.
I look at it like it’s all part of the process. It gets people from point A to point B. We go our separate ways and everyone does different things that offer good reasons. So, as I’m writing it, I’m learning some of the reasons that things went a certain way were maybe based on a decision that I made. But most of it is intuitive. Then, I made mistakes along the way, and that’s OK, we all have. We all do, and that’s what gets us where we are now.
Do you have a release date for the autobiography? Have you had any contact with anybody to tell them to prepare for what’s to be inside of it?
[Laughs] No, not yet. [Laughs] We’re in the early stages. We’re at the first draft. So, it’s probably going to be another nine months.
What can you remember about what it was like being on that meteoric rise with Guns N’ Roses?
“I always said [being in Guns N’ Roses] was like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”
I always said it was like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. It was like like the fast-moving roller coaster. You’re on the ride, there’s no way to really get off. You’re on that bullet train. It was a rocket ship, and as much fun as it was, it was still scary at times. So, you were being driven, you weren’t the navigator, you know what I’m saying? [Laughing] I go, “Wow, I can’t believe I made it through that.” It really sets the tone for the rest of my life.
Talking with you, you seem like a calm and levelheaded individual. I’ve heard that drummers usually have to be the ones that are the levelheaded ones in a group. Were you ever that guy in Guns N’ Roses? The guy who calms everyone down.
I don’t know if you’ve read the research, but they’ve said it’s scientifically proven that drummers are the smartest of the bunch. [Laughs].
[Laughs] I’m going to have to look that up.
You can ask Dave Grohl, he’ll tell ya. Don Henley. Phil Collins. Lars Ulrich is the leader of his band. Larry Mullen [Jr.] runs U2. So, you know, guys with vision like that, we’ve all been in bands, and we’ve seen the mistakes.
The drummer is the foundation. He might be the foundational guy, right? You just try to keep everything together. That’s been my life. My nickname is Matt the Mediator.
Have you yourself invested in any cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or anything like that?
I’ve done okay. I’ve done okay. I dabble. I look at all of this with wide-open eyes. That’s where the concept of Artbit came. I wanted to see about how can we build a community, how can we build a network, and how can we use cryptocurrency to monetize that.
Then I saw Bjork launch her album on a platform through Blockchain, crypto. She offered her album in crypto and gave back audio coins, and gave back all of this stuff. People like Bjork have always been visionaries, in my mind. They’re always way ahead of their time. When I see people like that moving in that direction, I’m like, “OK, there’s something here. Something tangible. So, let’s go dive in and check it out.”
To dive into something so new and unregulated like cryptocurrency takes a level of fearlessness that we’ve recently found out you have a lot of. You recently spoke about your days, pre-fame, when you smuggled drugs. What made you get into it and take such a risk?
[Laughs] Yeah, I know. It’s part of the story, right? Then when people read that, they’re like. “Hey, I don’t know about this guy,” or whatever. When we’re young, we do crazy stuff. Yeah, I was always a risk-taker. The issue with the world, and people that say they really want to do something and they have a dream to do something, a lot of times, they won’t take the chance or risk if they have other responsibilities.
When I was coming up, I didn’t have anything to lose. I really only had one focus. That was to make it as a musician.
When I was coming up, I didn’t have anything to lose. I really only had one focus. That was to make it as a musician. Now, I look at that as like “Wow, what a blessing that I was able to believe in myself and to be able to see it to fruition.” I took other risks that could have caused me much harm. But, I look back and I go, “Would I do that now? Hell no!” I’m much older and much wiser, but I’m able to go into other areas. As we get older we all grow, and hopefully we mature and don’t make as many mistakes, and we learn from our mistakes …
With something like Artbit, it kind of falls into the lane of streaming services in the sense of disrupting the music industry. What implications do you think something like Arbit will have on record labels?
Well, they can come use us if they like. They probably will come to us just like they come to any other social network. It saves them having to get out and hit the pavement. Maybe some of them are down here at South by Southwest looking for the next thing. I think a very large percentage are sitting back in their offices and scouring the internet, getting Google alerts of what’s this and what’s that.
When we build it, they will come. I really feel that’s going to be part of our story down the line. Then, we’ll make the rules, because when you are in that position, you make the rules. It’s not the other way around. Typically, when you’re successful and people start knocking on your door, then you go, “Ah, yeah, let me think about it. OK, well, make us an offer.”
It almost seems like Artbit could help make record labels obsolete.
Well, they’ve been struggling, haven’t they? There’s still a very, very small percentage of artists that get recognized by the political aspect of what it takes to get there. What is it to get a record deal anymore? Most musicians and artists that I know just say, “Forget it … There aren’t any record deals anymore.” Yes, there are. But not like the old days. Not like when you would put a band together, and A&R guys would come out and see you, and they’d sign 20 bands that month. That’s not happening. They don’t have the money to do it. When they do sign you, they take half your merch [merchandising revenue], half your touring, and everything else that’s involved in your brand.
So they’re trying to monetize their entertainment business by taking everything you’re about while you’re out doing the real hard work, which is touring. … We never shared that kind of stuff with the labels back in the day. We never shared touring. We never shared merch. They only had rights to the album. But now, an album is only a way to a means. I’ve even heard iTunes is going to pull the download aspect soon. You won’t be able to download. It’s only going to be streaming.
Do you think that’s going to be a good future for music? It seems like there’s this battle between the album and the stream. Albums are becoming a dying art in favor of playlists. Do you think there’s a good future for the music industry should it be streaming only?
Yeah, I mean, I miss albums. I buy vinyl, because vinyl is something I love listening to. They shouldn’t allow people to buy one song at a time. Obviously, we’re going to have that at Artbit. But when I heard there were going to be no more download capabilities [on iTunes], that was really strange. I’m like, “Wow, it’s getting interesting now.” I have to wait to see what that’s going to look like.