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

Travis Scott's official Discord server saw more than 100,000 sign-ups within hours.

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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."

Policy

White House AI Bill of Rights lacks specific guidance for AI rules

The document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is long on tech guidance, but short on restrictions for AI.

While the document provides extensive suggestions for how to incorporate AI rights in technical design, it does not include any recommendations for restrictions on the use of controversial forms of AI.

Photo: Ana Lanza/Unsplash

It was a year in the making, but people eagerly anticipating the White House Bill of Rights for AI will have to continue waiting for concrete recommendations for future AI policy or restrictions.

Instead, the document unveiled today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is legally non-binding and intended to be used as a handbook and a “guide for society” that could someday inform government AI legislation or regulations.

The AI Bill of Rights features a list of five guidelines for protecting people in relation to AI use:

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Enterprise

Microsoft’s new chief partner officer: 'Customers need help'

The new Microsoft Cloud Partner Program forces new certification requirements on the hundreds of thousands of partners that sell and support its products and services. Nicole Dezen says those changes now give customers “total clarity” into which ones are best suited to meet their cloud needs.

Nicole Dezen, Microsoft's chief partner officer, talked with Protocol last week about the company's announcement.

Photo: Microsoft

As Microsoft launches the biggest overhaul of its partner program today since 2010, its new chief partner officer says the changes will help enterprises and other customers more easily identify qualified partners that are the right fit to help with their cloud needs.

“All of our priorities, all of our design principles, are built with the customer in mind,” Nicole Dezen, Microsoft’s chief partner officer and corporate vice president of global partner solutions, told Protocol in an exclusive interview, her first since being appointed in July.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Workplace

An IPO may soon be in Notion’s future

Notion COO Akshay Kothari says there’s room to grow, aided by a new CFO who knows how to take a company public.

Notion has hired its first chief financial officer: Rama Katkar.

Photo: Courtesy of Notion

It’s been a year since Notion’s triumphant $275 million funding round and $10 billion valuation. Since then the landscape for productivity startups trying to make it on their own has completely changed, especially for those pandemic darlings that flourished in the all-remote world.

As recession looms, companies looking to cut costs are less likely to spend money on tools outside of their Microsoft or Google workplace bundles. Enterprise platforms are bulking up and it could spell trouble for the productivity startups trying to unseat them. But Notion COO Akshay Kothari says the company is still aiming to build the next Microsoft, not be the next Microsoft. And in a move signaling a new chapter of maturity, Notion has hired its first chief financial officer: Rama Katkar, Instacart’s former VP of finance.

Keep Reading Show less
Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Securing the Enterprise

Securing the enterprise

There’s no let-up in the surge of cyberattacks against businesses. But shutting down the hackers will require many enterprises to evolve their strategy.

In today’s enterprise, “identity and security are very merged.”

Illustration: iStock/Getty Images Plus; Protocol
the Protocol team
Protocol focuses on the people, power and politics of tech, with no agenda and just one goal: to arm decision-makers in tech, business and public policy with the unbiased, fact-based news and analysis they need to navigate a world in rapid change.
Latest Stories
Bulletins