“It’s more rock ’n’ roll than rock ’n’ roll itself,” says singer-songwriter Tatiana Moroz about the current state of crypto, speaking from direct experience.
In 2014, Moroz launched what could be the first-ever artist coin, Tatianacoin, the funds from which she used to record her third album Keep The Faith. Then, with the downfall of the entire crypto market, she suffered significant financial losses [Moroz will not reveal how much] and is unsure whether she can use her coin to fund future albums. Tatianacoin is still available, but only as a complimentary token with the purchase of items in Moroz’s online merch store.
A proud libertarian, Moroz has also been an outspoken advocate for the freeing of Ross Ulbricht—the founder of the bitcoin-powered Silk Road black market, who is currently serving a double life sentence plus 40 years—and recently invited his mother Lyn Ulbricht as a guest on her podcast, The Tatiana Show.
2019 is gearing up to be even busier for Moroz: she’s currently working on her fourth record, runs PR and marketing agency Crypto Media Hub alongside Ross Ulbricht’s older sister, Cally (who serves as chief marketing officer), and will soon be launching a second podcast called Proof of Love, which will focus on romance and relationships in the blockchain world.
Moroz recently spoke with BREAKER about the opportunities and challenges of applying blockchain to artists’ careers, the harsh reality of launching an artist token, crypto’s deep-seated gender issues, and that romance project. This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.
One of the most common applications of blockchain in the music industry has to do with smart contracts for more streamlined rights management—which arguably helps preserve the power and positioning of large record labels and other corporations. Yet your philosophy with Tatianacoin and with crypto revolves around empowering artists to be independent, without having to rely on said big companies. Do you see these two approaches as complementary or in conflict?
They’re in conflict. I’m generally unexcited when I hear about any large major company getting involved with blockchain. Institutional use cases are just not interesting to me.
In the case of music, my attitude isn’t just about “fuck all the music business people.” There are a lot of nice people who work in the music business, and I definitely don’t want to cut out that knowledge base. Major labels are also some of the only companies who take big financial risks—three to four million dollars—to try to break a single act. They’ve got their place.
The problem is those companies shouldn’t be at the center. The way the current music industry works is that you purchase, or stream a song, and then your money goes through dozens of middlemen before artists receive their cut. If there are dozens of people involved, the money should go straight to the artist first, then to everyone else—no question about it.
When I created Tatianacoin, the goal was to reimagine the artist at the center of this exchange. The art is at the center, then come the fans, then come all the business aspects.
The two things an artist needs are fans and funding, because the average artist doesn’t earn enough money from music not to have at least one other job. To me, these other blockchain platforms for tracking royalties aren’t necessarily solving the problems that most artists have. To be worrying so much about rights when most artists aren’t even going to have enough money to record an album seems like living in a high ivory tower. I don’t think that tracking is really going make a difference in artists’ lives.
Tatianacoin ended up being worth less than even just the transaction fee for bitcoin. We didn’t anticipate that.
Do you think musicians should be launching their own tokens now?
No, I don’t think they should. The first-mover-advantage ship has already sailed a bit, and I personally think the government is insane and will try to lock you up. There also aren’t enough users in the space to warrant the investment. We’re talking at least five years before artist coins can even start trading against each other. You could also be creating a security with your token, in which case why wouldn’t regulators crush you?
We faced this challenge when trying to launch Tatianacoin. We were ready to launch the coin last year on Token.fm. But our team brought up several legal concerns—and by the time we had alleviated those concerns, the crypto market had shit the bed really bad. We ended up doing our token on Counterparty [a protocol for creating peer-to-peer tokens and financial applications on the bitcoin blockchain]. But Tatianacoin ended up being worth less than even just the transaction fee for bitcoin. We didn’t anticipate that.
There was never any implication that Tatianacoin would be anything other than a fan coin. I think if you can make that distinction, artist coins are a great playground. But I think making personally-branded tokens specifically for crowdfunding can be a gray area, and once you start making promises to people that you can’t deliver on, that gets really dangerous, especially if you don’t have the money to fight regulators.
How do you see music and blockchain companies working more effectively together?
I’d love to see more crypto companies sponsoring more music events, and giving attendees an actual usable app that explains the power of the technology today, instead of only being concerned with “how blockchain will transform the world in 20 years.”
I’d also love to see an opportunity for more hybrid solutions in funding recorded music. You could have not just an artist coin like Tatianacoin, but also an ICO and a coin for a label with multiple artists on its roster. This could be especially valuable for investor Joe Schmo who doesn’t have enough money to invest in a major label like Warner Music Group, but who may be able to co-own and buy a token for a small label that signs only heavy metal bands.
Given your libertarian views, to what extent do you see blockchain and crypto as effective tools for encouraging freedom of speech? Do you foresee any challenges at that intersection moving forward, especially internationally?
Art should be free, and freedom of artistic expression is going to be one of the more interesting battlefronts when it comes to musical applications of blockchain and crypto. This is why focusing on the P2P aspect of blockchain is so important to me. It enables me to fund and distribute more controversial work as an artist. The cover of my third album Keep The Faith—the one funded entirely by Tatianacoin—features a picture that Ross Ulbricht drew in prison. I wanted to point out that I wouldn’t necessarily have had the freedom to make such an outright political statement on my album if I were signed to a major label.
I do get concerned when people start trying to use crypto to play with economic systems, or to help corrupt governments become more “efficient.” In my opinion, the government is a not really a great institution, so helping them might make matters worse. Look at China’s social credit score system—that’s terrifying, and will be even more terrifying in the wrong hands. Another example: I’ve heard recently that one of the large crypto companies is working with officials in Saudi Arabia. Can you imagine that? Blockchain in Saudi Arabia sounds like literal hell.
That’s what I take issue with: cryptocurrency is supposed to be about the opposite of what it can potentially become. In these places, there’s no civility and no tolerance for ideas.
My overall goal as a leader in this space is to ensure a freer world. We each have our own view of what that “freedom” means, and I’m not saying that mine is the right view, but I know what’s going on in Saudi Arabia isn’t good. I know what’s going on with rampant wars in general isn’t good. I don’t see a lot of artists of my generation even asking these kinds of questions. We’ve been at war with Afghanistan for over 17 years now. Have you heard a single anti-war song on the radio?
How have your experiences with Tatianacoin, and in the wider blockchain and cryptocurrency sector, shaped your opinion on government regulation?
I get concerned when I hear about regulation, because while I realize it’s necessary in order for the space to move forward—we need institutional money, and regulators themselves aren’t necessarily trying to do a bad thing—it’s just too early to be putting in all of these regulations when the implications could be very negative for the industry, and for society.
Consider how it took Paxos [a blockchain startup focused on reducing settlement risk for financial institutions] four years to get the BitLicense in New York City. How do you stay in business for four years, in a place as expensive as New York? I understand why people would want leave that jurisdiction and try innovating elsewhere. I think it’s sad that there are so many companies who can’t try out ideas because they are afraid of going to jail and getting fined.
When you’re creating an infrastructure for business to happen in the country, you have to make it appealing, otherwise people won’t stay. The U.S. is still is one of the freest places in the world. It’s the only country in the world where free speech is codified. But we could stand to lose a lot of power if we’re not welcome to innovation. I worry about that exodus, and I wouldn’t want to see this innovation go elsewhere.
Do you have any suggestions for improving regulations on crypto and blockchain? Or do you think we should get rid of regulation altogether?
I generally think that industry and the free market can react to mistakes more quickly than the government. Government bureaucracy is slow, cumbersome, and retards anything it touches—just look at the DMV.
While the impetus for regulating cryptocurrency may be on the surface to protect consumers, I believe its true purpose is to squelch innovation in order to preserve power of the existing hierarchical structures. Justice isn’t doled out evenly, and seems to favor bigger companies while keeping smaller ones out. Larger companies not only can afford to comply, but also suggest regulations to the government that make it nearly impossible for the little guy to come in.
I’m naturally distrustful based on my experiences. For example, Ross Ulbricht was the head on the spike, despite evidence tampering, rampant corruption by investigators, and the judge citing his political views and unproven crimes for his harsh sentence. This was meant to deter future site creators. But the new Silk Road 2.0 founder served only served fourteen days, and the worst actual drug dealer on Silk Road 1 got just ten years.
I suppose my suggestions for regulations aren’t precise because I think these are not people to be trusted. I trust code. I trust community organizations that can compete to help mitigate problems as they arise, or the free market putting the losers out of business, but not big government that has proven time and again that it is corrupt, wasteful, and only good at creating the largest prison population in the world.
You were mentioned briefly in BREAKER’s piece about the recent CoinsBank cruise. Could you comment on your experience with the cruise?
I hated it. I thought it was a joke. They had 250 paid models, some of whom were prostitutes, and they didn’t have any instructions or training to help people get to certain events, to do the job they were supposedly there to do. There were also a lot of older women who were attending the conference for work purposes, and didn’t want to hang out with a bunch of hookers. It’s just an unnecessary work environment.
I’m pro-sex-workers, and I think their jobs need to be legalized. In fact, if you’re a sex worker, bitcoin and cryptocurrency are your friends. It just would have been great if we had the opportunity to share our knowledge about cryptocurrency with these women on the cruise, but the overall vibe felt more antagonistic.
How have you navigated the gender imbalance at these types of conferences, and in the wider blockchain and crypto industry?
A lot of it disgusts me. I haven’t gone to Moe Levin’s conference in Miami since its first year, because every year he just has a bunch of dudes onstage. He gets shamed and shredded in social media every time, but he never, ever changes his attitude on the problem. Other women and I would complain about this, but no one would do anything and we’d just be called a bunch of harpies.
What we need in these types of situations is more men standing up for women, and communicating why this is a problem. Men who are misogynists are not going to listen to a woman about why they should not be misogynists.
And that said, I do roll my eyes at a lot of “women in blockchain” events. A lot of them end up being like, “Wow, we’re women! All day long we’re women! That’s it!” OK, are we just going to talk about our periods the whole time? I’m totally about the sisterhood, but after a certain point you have to ask, what do you have to offer besides the sisterhood?
What’s the inspiration behind your upcoming podcast Proof of Love?
I want to talk about some of the more nuanced issues behind relationships in blockchain and crypto. How do you balance work and life? How do you maintain a relationship with your spouse and serve your family better while you’re trying to build these really hard companies? What do people in blockchain make of the “Tinder apocalypse” and “Netflix-and-chill” culture?
I hope to give people more insight into the blockchain community through these questions. If you hear Erik Voorhees doing an interview about relationships or fidelity, you’ll learn something about him as a person that you might not be able to get from traditional interviews around finance or tech. I also would really like to hear about men in blockchain who are actually doing a good job with their families, and not just being Sleazy McSleazersons.
What is one higher-level improvement you’d like to see in the crypto industry in 2019?
It would be nice to see more business savvy in the space. I’m doing my small part to try to educate people. I regularly bring my economist friend Bob Murphy onto The Tatiana Show to go through basic economics as it relates to cryptocurrency.
That said, I do understand that it’s extraordinarily difficult to make business decisions in this climate. At the end of this year, I was faced with some really hard choices with respect to the crypto market, and I would have a Plan B one day, but then by the end of the next day I’m already on Plan G, and then the next I’m up to Plan U. This constant change is really affecting people’s psychology, the way they’re acting toward each other, and their ability to be productive. You can’t think clearly if you always feel like someone’s got a boot on your neck.
I also don’t think business savvy is sufficient. You need that, plus OG knowledge about crypto. A lot of people are coming in from the mainstream—especially from relatively high positions in corporate finance—because the crypto space looks more “serious” now. I’m sure they bring a lot of valuable information from the finance world, but they don’t take the necessary mental adjustment and humility cut. They come in and say, “I have this great idea,” and we’re like, “Yeah, someone came up with that idea four times already, and these are the four reasons why it failed.” The attitude of coming in and thinking, “oh, you guys don’t know anything, thank God I’m here”—that’s just sickening and annoying.
How optimistic are you about crypto’s future?
Even the crypto market has been really bad for a while—I had a lot more money at the beginning of last year, let’s put it that way. Oddly enough, I feel more alive than ever. If you can get through the really hard times, it weeds out the junk and creates a stronger core, and I’m really happy to be a part of that core. In a way, it’s very rock ’n’ roll. People sometimes ask me how I ended up going from being a musician to getting into bitcoin, and part of my answer is that crypto is more rock ’n’ roll than rock ’n’ roll itself. It’s more innovative than music right now, in its level of disruption.
This interview has been updated. Moroz does not plan to discuss gender issues on her podcast. She owns a stake in Tokenly, Token.fm’s parent company. And she emphasizes that the artist token model is not dead. “It’s not a problem that I have solved at the moment, but it’s not something that’s impossible by any stretch,” she says.