From Coachella on down to the Gathering of the Juggalos, there are now far too many music festivals to count. Amid this glut-a-palooza comes a brand-new entry, Our Music Festival, taking place October 20 at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre and featuring Zedd, Big Sean, Matt and Kim, and Charlotte Lawrence. But OMF is different from your Bonnaroos and your Electric Daisy Carnivals in one key way: It’s the first-ever blockchain-powered music festival. The event has its own cryptocurrency, a token also called OMF, which for now can be used to buy merchandise.
Expected to attract 8,500 fans, the fest is the brainchild of DJ/producer Justin Blau, aka 3LAU. The Vegas-based Blau, 27, admits that there’s been some skepticism surrounding the concert. “The biggest challenge is that when people hear ‘crypto music festival,’ they automatically think, ‘Haha, that’s funny,’” says the DJ, who also will be performing at the show. “But we’re really excited to blow everyone away.” Blau recently spoke to BREAKER about how he intends to do just that, now and in future iterations of the festival.
I understand you got into crypto through the Winklevoss twins. How did you meet them?
I met them at a music festival in Mexico. They were down there over spring break. This is 2012-ish, and they invited me to stay with them in L.A. while they were building the Gemini platform. I gained a little bit of interest in BTC—I bought some, put it away for a little while. Fast forward to last year, at the start of the bull market in May, and I was looking at all the news and was like, “Wow, this is really starting to take off.” After reading a little bit more about the potential of blockchain technology, I dove in headfirst and felt like I really wanted to spend a lot more time learning and potentially building my own project.
I saw a lot of projects raise a lot of money through ICOs. I said to myself, “Wow, these teams of people have no understanding of the music business, and yet they’re able to raise anywhere between $30 and $50 million.” I was saying, “If I had $30 or $50 million, I could totally change the music business.” That’s when I had the idea to start OMF as a gateway for mainstream users to engage with cryptocurrency. That idea came about towards the end of September, and we really started working on it more heavily in January.
So it’s been about a year since you first had the idea for the festival.
Our first kind of engagement was actually on the legal front. We spent most of our time dealing with compliance and talking to a lot of lawyers. One of the things that we discovered was that everybody else was probably doing things the wrong way, and I wasn’t willing to take that kind of risk. I have a public profile, and should I do something incorrectly there would be more risk for me to get in trouble than anyone else. We really wanted to make sure that we were going about things in a compliant and regulatorily safe way.
OMF is the first blockchain-powered music festival. What does that mean, exactly?
Funny enough, we haven’t actually announced anything about what we’re going to deliver. And we’ve done that strategically, because we want to do it as a surprise, right before the event. Our application is ready, and we’re just finalizing approval in the app store right now—it should be ready for the festival. OMF is building on Stellar, which means that the entire application will run on XLM, versus the Ethereum network.
What will the app do?
In year one, the application is a really simple wallet. Essentially, the application has basic information about the festival and will also issue rewards to fans who come to the festival. So if you’ve downloaded the app and connected a social media profile, you can activate your wallet by scanning a QR code that will be all over the festival—it’ll be on the backs of people’s T-shirts, it’ll be on the LED screens, all these different places. Once you activate your wallet, you get a hundred OMF.
We’re also doing a physical airdrop at the festival. We printed a QR code on confetti pieces, and during a set we’re going to launch the confetti. Anybody who takes a picture of the QR codes will get additional OMF. And then you’ll be able to spend the OMF at the festival on different items and merchandise.
So OMF will be a token that you can trade for goods, or will there be more to it than that?
At this first festival, the only thing you’ll be able to do is buy merchandise, and no one is actually able to purchase OMF—they’re only able to use the OMF that they get for free. Beyond that, they also can’t transfer it outside of the wallet. This is because the regulatory environment is obviously extremely unclear. Essentially, this is a demo of what we’ll be able to do in the future.
"We want fans to be able to pick the lineup of the events that they attend, actually pick the artists."
What has keeping everything legal and compliant prevented you from doing?
Everything. Our original goal, and what we imagine OMF will be in the future, is actually fractionalized ownership of events that you attend. So when you buy a ticket, you actually own a piece of the profits that the event will generate. We believe that will incentivize people to share and spread the word about those events a lot more. This is a huge problem for new festivals. Coachella and Ultra and EDC [Electric Daisy Carnival] have that existing brand power. But they also inflate their ticket prices and charge really high fees every year. We want to tackle that problem by giving value back to the fans and incentivizing them to spread the word about a festival via the token.
Another thing that we really want to do is give fans gradual governance over the events themselves. We want fans to be able to pick the lineup of the events that they attend, actually pick the artists. These are things that you can’t just allow a simple vote for. If you allow a simple vote you might get somebody in Japan voting for who’s going to play in San Francisco, so unfortunately that kind of model doesn’t work. With a token and a transparent ledger that that token travels across, you can actually give the right types of people voting rights in how these events are put together.
Do you think that the majority of people who attend music festivals, particularly EDM festivals, have any idea what blockchain and cryptocurrencies are?
We’re actually in the middle of conducting a survey about that, and the results have been extremely positive. I’ve done a couple surveys on my Instagram, and we’ve also been conducting an actual Google survey that has almost a thousand responses so far. And there is quite a bit of overlap and interest. People who like dance music generally are interested in technology, because dance music is inherently technological in the sounds that make up the actual music.
I also think that the bear market and the regulatory environment have scared a lot of people away from crypto. So it’s our job to bring this movement to the mainstream.
What do music festivals have to gain from cryptocurrency and being decentralized?
There are three huge, huge problems that events, particularly music festivals, face now. Number one is the liquidity problem. Fans usually wait until the last minute to buy tickets. Why? Because they don’t have liquidity after they bought tickets. You buy a ticket for an event, and yeah, you might be able to list it on StubHub, which requires you to get the ticket verified. If it’s a paper ticket, there are a lot of barriers to selling the ticket. What we ultimately want is that when you buy a ticket there’s already a marketplace for it built into where you bought it, so you can sell it whenever you want. This is something that would encourage fans to buy tickets earlier, which gives the event creator the liquidity to be able to put on a better show. They might cheap out on a couple things because they didn’t have the liquidity.
"The last big problem that we want to solve is data. I myself have sold millions of tickets over the years, and I don’t know who any of those people are, which is really messed up."
Number two is capturing value in referrals. Most people generally tell their friends about events that they go to. A lot of the time it takes one of those friends to encourage everyone to get onboard. That friend is creating a lot of value for the experience creator and isn’t really being compensated for it in any way, shape, or form. We want to create a referral program that’s recorded on a public ledger, so you can actually see and monitor who has done what, and you can create a leaderboard and reward the people who have referred the most others to buy tickets.
The last big problem that we want to solve is data. Artists are generally responsible for generating tons of data with these events. I myself have sold millions of tickets over the years, and I don’t know who any of those people are, which is really messed up. There’s an intermediary that holds all that data and resells that data to other marketing companies. So we could create a platform that makes that data opensource and gives other event creators and artists and fans the ability to see that data. Of course you to have to opt in, but we hope to reward fans for opting in.
When people hear “crypto music festival” they may come in with preconceived notions. What do you think people are expecting?
The ultimate excitement for me is, as a DJ who doesn’t come from an engineering background, people inevitably are questioning what we’re going to do. And when people download this application, we’re confident that they’ll see the power of the use cases of crypto.
Take something as simple as waiting in line. When people are at music festival, there are these long, long lines for exchanging fiat for any kind of product, and we speed up that process in such a significant way that we hope the turnover of both merch and food and beverage just increases substantially, and ultimately increases the profitability of these events. When people are actually experiencing that this year, using their free OMF to buy merch, they’ll be like, “Wow, that was so easy.”
If only you could invent an application to shorten the bathroom lines.
[Laughs.] That actually would be a killer app.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Photo courtesy Justin Blau
This post has been updated to reflect the fact that SingularDTV, BREAKER’s parent company, is no longer involved in OMF.