Ticketed events, label partnerships and beat battles: How Discord wants to conquer music
Discord will start testing paid tickets for live events on its platform this week.
Travis Scott unleashed an avalanche.
When the famed rapper tweeted out a link to his new Discord server in late April, he almost brought the community platform to its knees. More than 100,000 users signed up for Scott's server within hours, and chat messages were flying by with a dizzying speed. A number of users reported seeing server error messages, and Discord's social media team even pleaded in an all-caps tweet: "PLEASE DON'T CRASH OUR APP MR. TRAVIS SCOTT!!!!!!!!!"
In reality, though, Scott's Discord debut didn't catch the San Francisco-based company by surprise. Discord's creator team had worked with Scott's people for 48 hours to prepare for the launch of the server, and the company has been working for much longer to broaden its scope beyond the core gaming community that's made Discord what it is today. Music is a key part of those efforts, and musicians are also expected to be a major driver behind a new feature Discord is starting to test this week: ticketed online events.
Most people who don't use Discord still think of it as a chat service for gamers. That's not an accident: The company's logo is a gamepad, and CEO Jason Citron told a group of journalists this week that video games were very much top-of-mind when he co-founded the company six years ago. "We felt there really wasn't any great way for people to talk and hang out before, during and after playing games," Citron said.
Since then, Discord has grown beyond games, with 150 million users flocking to the service's 19 million active communities every month to talk about anything and everything. Music was part of that mix early on, and there are countless servers dedicated to individual bands, labels and musical genres. Electronic musicians were at the forefront of embracing Discord as a service to talk to their audience; the hip-hop scene followed soon after.
Among the early adopters is Kenneth Blume, a.k.a. Kenny Beats, whose producer credits include work for DaBaby, Gucci Mane and Ed Sheeran. Blume's server includes live chat rooms about subjects like music theory, fitness and food. He frequently drops by to launch beat battles, encouraging aspiring producers to hone their skills and produce music in a set amount of time, which he then rates on Twitch.
"He has one of the most engaged servers that we've seen," said Discord's head of talent partnerships, Kenny Layton. "It's really, really cool what he's put out along with his fans."
Layton joined Discord in October from VidCon, where he was looking to Discord as a way to reinvent fandom after COVID-19 shut down live events. "I saw the amazing ways that artists were starting to use the platform during the pandemic," he said. "I hadn't been excited about [anything] like this for a long time."
Before Layton joined, Discord's talent partnership team primarily focused on working with gaming influencers. Thanks in part to his extensive entertainment industry background — Layton previously worked 13 years for the two big talent agencies, CAA and WME — the team's work has since expanded to also include actors and musicians.
"We are talking to every single major label, management company, agency," Layton said.
This has resulted in a few high-profile partnerships. Discord was involved in the production of a MC Jin and Wyclef Jean music video against anti-Asian hate that is scheduled to debut this week; German dance DJ Zedd launched a remix contest for one of his songs on Discord in late 2020; Lil Yachty released a special Discord sound pack as part of the company's April Fool's promotions last month.
In addition to such splashy events, much of the team's day-to-day work is more hands-on. "Most of our job is just getting artists onboarded and helping them build up their servers," Layton said. He estimated that 70% of this work happens due to inbound requests from labels and artists themselves.
Among artists, interest in Discord increased significantly during the pandemic. Many of them already use numerous other tools, and Layton said that the company was not trying to replace other platforms. "We like to think of all of these other platforms as moment-in-time experiences," he said."We're [the] home base where everyone comes to talk about those experiences before, during and after everything."
That sentiment was echoed by Discord Chief Marketing Officer Tesa Aragones, who joined the company a month before Layton. "People come to Discord for a specific interest," she said. "They stay on Discord because they find belonging. They stay because to them, it feels like home."
One of the differences between Discord and some of the other platforms used by artists to engage with their audiences is its business model. "We've built a strong and healthy business to date without selling advertising or user data," Citron said. Instead, Discord has been relying on Nitro, a subscription service that offers users a variety of premium features including better video quality and custom emoji. Discord introduced Nitro in 2019, and revenue generated with paid plans tripled in 2020.
Now, Discord is exploring another revenue opportunity with ticketed events. Based on Stage Channels, a feature launched a little over a month ago that has been compared to Clubhouse, the new feature will allow creators to schedule events and sell tickets to them. Discord didn't share a lot of details about these ticketed events in advance, with director of engineering Sumeet Vaidya describing it as an experiment of sorts. "We are doing a very small closed beta with a few of our diverse community servers," he told Protocol.
One of the details executives aren't saying — at least for now — is how much of the ticketing revenue the company will be sharing with creators. Discord does not yet have a creator program, but one could imagine this to be a first step toward letting creators participate in some of the company's revenue streams.
Layton, for his part, wants Discord to benefit musicians in other ways as well, suggesting that the company may be able to help break smaller artists and turn them into stars — all the while helping to grow communities on the service. "Music is very important to Discord," he said. "We definitely see it as a huge growth opportunity over the next couple of years."