It's tempting to view the launch of BitTorrent's new streaming service and app, BitTorrent Now, as a new shot in the raging streaming wars. Spotify, Apple, Tidal, Pandora, even Napster has been resurrected in an attempt to seize lucrative streaming territory, and in some ways BitTorrent Now lives in that same world. The core of BitTorrent Now is ad-supported streaming, with artists receiving a 70/30 split of the money generated from their music.
But while there are some core similarities, it's far more interesting to note how BitTorrent now differs from the mainstream heavyhitters - namely, its mission to support artists who are also living and creating outside the proverbial mainstream. As Straith Schreder, the Vice President of Creative Initiatives at BitTorrent, explained during out recent conversation, "You could look at the first page of many streaming services and feel like there's a mono culture. But this culture is actually so diverse and so rich, and we want to represent that."
"Our ecosystem is so different compared to the mainstream when it comes to music and film."- Straith Schreder
And so while artists like Curren$y or Ratking may go largely neglected by Billboard, their previous projects with BitTorrent's separate Bundle program have racked up millions of downloads on the service. Similarly, while Dumbfoundead's "Safe" video, a thoroughly entertaining and blistering attack on Hollywood's exclusion of Asian-American actors, has 600K views on YouTube, the video drew in over 700K views on BitTorrent.
So while it's also tempting to frame BitTorrent Now as a potential boon to the underground, what interests me most about the platform is that the raw numbers they're producing forces us to rethink what's "underground" and what's mainstream. According to BitTorrent, there are over 200 million fans on the platform - that's twice as many as the 100 million active users Spotify just reported. And large-scale interest the BitTorrent community has in artists like Dumbfounded, Little Simz, Curren$y and many more tell a very different story about what music and film can be popular than what we get from traditional channels.
"We talked about the idea of the underground is massive, and there's this appetite for the experimental that hasn't really surfaced. But I think it's more than that too. You give creators the flexibility to tell their story and you're preserving diversity and making culture more sustainable. Giving creators a place to tell their story and monetize on their terms, that's our goal." - Straith Schreder
While it's impossible to ignore the charges that BitTorrent is also a gateway for copyright infringement, their position outside the music industry mainstream - they're currently talking to major labels, but unlike a service like SoundCloud Go they aren't beholden to winning over their support - is allowing them to experiment in a way we're simply not seeing anywhere else.
For as much as the internet's broken traditional revenue models, it's also opened up avenues for artists largely overlooked by the mainstream, like Yung Jake and I HeartComix, to bring an uncompromising version of their art to a massive audience, and seeing some income in the process. And unlike Apple, Spotify or any of the other streaming giants, BitTorrent Now shares all of its data with the artist, allowing them to see who's listening to their music where, valuable information they can use to plan tours and create merchandise.
There are people who are passionate and curious about culture, and there's a lot of them. It's not just philanthropy, there's real numbers behind it. - Straith Schreder
Make great art or make money, those are the old rules. In 2016, it's make great art so you can make money.
By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.
Photo Credit: BitTorrent