How OpenLab Battles the Tyranny of Choice in Dance Music
OpenLab is the Ibiza-based radio platform that offers carefully curated musical content across a broad spectrum of genres. It battles against "the tyranny of choice," as its current CEO Quentin Chambers says, and is now branching out into the world of NFTs.
The aim is to introduce music lovers to this new and exciting world and add more value and experiences to the platform. The first project is with TokenTraxx, an NFT marketplace touted as being "built by musicians for the music community." Bringing together cutting-edge music talent with some of the most exciting names in visual art, they are creating a new and highly collectible series of audio-visual works that will be available as NFTs.
This is the first of many ambitious cross-platform collaborations as part of a plan to "be at the centre of a new independent music and arts creator economy by providing a platform driven by NFTs which supports and financially benefits the whole arts community."
We spoke to Quentin to discuss his legendary background in dance music, and how being at the forefront of cultural movements has helped inform OpenLab's approach to creating new solutions for musicians, artists, and fans.
Can you introduce yourself and give us some background on how you got to where you are today?
I started my career in music, promoting club nights and events. In 1989, at the age of 19, I started Energy, and alongside Sunrise, we produced the biggest raves of that Summer of Love, culminating in those front pages some of you might remember where 25,000 dodged roadblocks and forced some new legislation from the government.
From there, I carried on promoting for a few years before embarking on a career as a DJ. In 1997 I had the opportunity to run a new type of business on "the internet" and founded the first electronic music brand, Groovetech, a mix of online radio and retail. With residents like Andrew Weatherall and Andy C, we built something pretty special. I went on to hold roles in the new digital music space, and 25 years on from there, now own and run OpenLab.
How did you get involved in OpenLab? What was the catalyst?
OpenLab was founded by the late great Robert Miles, who perhaps some of your readers will have grown up with. But for those that don’t know, Robert was an Italian record producer, composer, musician, and DJ. His 1995 composition “Children” sold more than 5M copies and is one of the most played electronic music records of all time.
Robert had moved to Ibiza, where he found that nothing on the radio captured the avant-garde eclecticism of Ibiza. So with a passion for radio, he decided to create OpenLab as a station to showcase a more sophisticated and eclectic sound for the island.
I started working with Robert in 2014, just after he launched OpenLab, and I fell in love with Robert's vision and OpenLab as a station, working with him on the long-term digital strategy. When Robert sadly passed away, it felt right to try and continue it. So I got together with some of the original team and worked hard to bring it back to life, which we did in summer 2019.
What were the gaps you saw that needed plugging or exploiting, the developments you thought you needed to make, which OpenLab solves?
One of the things we try to solve is what I call ‘The Tyranny of Choice.’ In this, I mean the enormous amount of content available on major platforms (hundreds of thousands of tracks added each week) and the effort it takes to make them work for you (searching through music, building playlists, etc.).
OpenLab is the opposite to Spotify or Youtube in a way, in that it’s a highly curated lean back experience (versus lean forward on Spotify and Youtube), where we do the hard work on the music (and art) programming to give users a single touch, switch on leave on service.
How can NFT technology be used in the music world? It has been used for artist releases, but it can go beyond that, merging into the real world, for example?
Web3 and NFTs offer the creative community (both in music and art) some really interesting opportunities. Creatives can have more control over their copyright and content. I don’t necessarily think that an NFT, in the case of a song or artwork, needs to be anything more than another format for an artist. At the same time, it can be, depending on the contract.
I also see NFTs offering amazing utility functionality to those artists, platforms, curators, and collectors. Membership benefits that can be passed on [or] traded, but only accessible through the blockchain — this super exciting and useful technology.
What is the value to OpenLab users for owning the NFTs? Why should they get involved?
After a couple of years of building our community, developing our platform, and content, OpenLab is just now starting to explore how we can start to monetize what we do, to build a cyclical business model where revenue we earn can go to supporting the community and grow OpenLab (which of course supports the artists in the community also). We had been looking at building subscriptions into the platform, but doing so is expensive, involves middlemen, and frankly is getting a bit stale. Even VCs have been telling us this. So we started to look at Web3, what others were doing in the space and how using an NFT as a utility could be interesting and innovative.
Having entered a partnership with TokenTraxx, together, we started to strategize and settled on The OpenLab Future Pass NFT to enable exclusive early access to our audio-visual NFT collectibles, which will be released later in the year. Limited to 300 (with 50 retained for our artist community), the Future Pass offers holders some exclusive benefits.
What are some of those benefits?
VIP entrance to OpenLab and partner music and art events in Ibiza (including OpenLab's intimate Hangar 8289 sessions), London, and other destinations.
Exclusive access to Future Pass-only content, including music mixes, livestreams, video, and editorial content.
Early access to OpenLab’s cutting-edge and highly-limited music and art audio-visual NFT collections, which are dropping quarterly. And quarterly 1/300 editions of music and art collectibles, which will build to form an OpenLab Future collection.
Revenue earned from the Future Pass will flow directly back into serving its community. And the gifting to our artist community of passes will also serve as investment for them to provide content and promotion for the project.
How did the partnership with TokenTraxx come together?
I have known the TokenTraxx co-founder, Tommy D, for some time. And after hearing about what [they] were building and that curation was one of the three pillars of their business, I knew immediately that this was great synergy.
I consider OpenLab a music tech company and see enormous opportunity in Web3, but I am also not an expert. Having TokenTraxx there to support us, help us get started, and be a strategic partner has cemented the value we have been getting from the relationship.
I see the NFT space going the way of the DIY music space, where curation will end up being massively important. Just as music fans trust labels such as Beggars, Domino, or Warp, the same will need to happen for NFT collectors. Actually, more so given the potential investment value and future value. I think OpenLab can play a major role in the market here.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?
One of our biggest challenges has been cutting above the noise, making people understand what we are about, and bringing people onside to invest in our vision. Especially on the funding side (it’s far easier on the audience). I’m pleased to say this is finally starting to happen, just as we are starting our first major fund-raise.
What are you most proud of having achieved so far?
I’m proud to have played a part in some major cultural movements in the last few decades. From acid house and rave culture with Energy in 1988/89 to digital transformation in the late ’90s with Groovetech. And now, Web3 and building a pioneering culture platform with OpenLab.
How do you go about converting or persuading people about the benefits of these new technologies? It really is down to education, so we feel this is a huge part of it. Is that the case?
Absolutely. This is all new to us, just as it is to all the artists, we are speaking to and other partners we work with. There has to be handholding and collective learning here as we all build and test new models. Web3 is in its infancy. Even joining music and visual art together on a single platform as we do on OpenLab hasn't been done yet. But when you are trusted by the creative community, things become easier, and artists are willing to experiment with you.
What else can you tell us about other projects or developments?
OpenLab is just entering a fund-raise and bringing in strategic partners to help us grow. We will be improving our online offering, building multiple new channels, and adding lots of cool new features. We are also expanding our distribution into new platforms such as TV and the metaverse, where our audio-visual, music, and art product has such a good competitive advantage. Here we have an opportunity to stand out and add real value to users. Ultimately we hope to build OpenLab into a global culture brand in the next few years.