Jun 8, 2021
Guest Articles

Building RAIDAR: A Student-Run Blockchain Music Licensing Platform

Guest Writer

Guest article by Josef Kiefer

Writing about myself has always felt weird to me, but I figured (or at least I hope) that my experience can inspire other students in different areas to take practical lessons from my experience and apply them to their own future industries. Before I talk about my experience, I think it’s important to explain what RAIDAR is and why I got involved in the project in the first place.

What is RAIDAR?

“RAIDAR is a licensing platform built by Berklee and MIT Connection Science that allows Berklee students, alums and faculty to upload music to a blockchain-based database where those in need of music can quickly, fairly, and transparently license works.” - George Howard

The platform differs from a basic music library in that it allows students to monetize their work while retaining full ownership, all while learning about intellectual property through active engagement on the platform, and receiving direct payments, reducing friction and thus transaction costs.

How and why did I get involved?

I first learned about RAIDAR through George and Nicole d’Avis’ Music + Blockchain class at Berklee. At first, it was the technology that drew me in, but what hooked me was being able to participate in building something that could help Berklee artists monetize their work and have sustainable careers. As a student who wants to help artists grow, your resources are pretty limited. RAIDAR seemed like the perfect opportunity to be part of something that could benefit every single recording artist at Berklee, while being an incredible learning opportunity for myself and everyone involved.

Student involvement in the project started with a small group composed of Aletta Steynberg, Ed Sweeney and myself. We didn’t really know what we could do, but we wanted to get involved and be a part of something bigger than ourselves. It was a small team where we all did a bit of everything. Our initial focus was on grassroots marketing: organizing events at school to spread awareness about RAIDAR in order to recruit students for the student team, but mainly to get Berklee students to upload their music to the platform. These small events brought a lot of attention to the project, both from students and faculty. After these events, we started meeting every Friday to discuss next steps and check in with each other regarding the status of ongoing projects.

As the Spring semester of 2020 started, we scaled up as more people joined the student team and we broke off into different committees: Legal, Marketing, and Biz Dev. The legal team is responsible for creating educational materials for the Berklee community and drafting licenses for different use cases (i.e. student films, podcasts, promotional materials). The marketing team is responsible for creating social media content and reaching out to the Berklee community. The biz dev team is responsible for seeking potential opportunities to expand the platform, such as new use cases and new participants, and for outreach outside of the Berklee community.

Where is RAIDAR going?

As George has pointed out in his Eating Your Own Dog Food and Scratching Your Own Itch article, RAIDAR was initially conceived as a “two-sided market where student filmmakers from other colleges and universities would license the musical works Berklee students posted.” Though, as we talked to more people at Berklee about the project, we quickly realized how many more use cases RAIDAR has; starting with the school using its own students’ music for their promotional materials. From there we’ve moved into podcasts (E&A being the guinea pig), and now offer the possibility to get the students’ music in different types of audiovisual mediums, such as VR and video games. A new partnership with Revelator will allow Berklee students to register and distribute their music for sync licensing and streaming to DSPs, which will enable song splits.

RAIDAR is also becoming a course at Berklee starting this Fall, where students will learn about copyright, music supervision, marketing, and business development through practical training.

Now we’re faced with the issue that most committee leaders are graduating either in May of 2021 or during the summer. Some of us will stay involved with the project come the Fall semester in order to onboard the new students who will be joining the team as part of the newly formed Berklee course and eventually take over leadership roles.

What I’ve learned from working with RAIDAR

Working with the RAIDAR team has been my introduction to startup culture. Through this team I’ve learned a lot about commitment. Even though the student team grew to about 30 people at one point, people came and went, and now we’re back to the core group of people that joined in late 2019/early 2020. Without this group of committed people, the project wouldn't have gotten to where it is today.

It has taught me the importance of marketing and clearly communicating to your target audience. Those of us involved in the project see it as revolutionary for students and love what we’re doing. When talking about RAIDAR to other students however, it’s easy to get carried away with the technical details but the technology that the platform is built on should be irrelevant to the users as long as it does its job, according to fundamentals of Clarke’s three laws at least; “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. The way we present the platform to students has been in constant evolution, both as we go into classrooms (now virtually) and on social media as we receive feedback from students and faculty.

I learned to listen to your customers and users. Speaking to film students at Lesley University, we learned a lot about the way they search for music and what the relevant features were for them. For example, coming from a music school, we never saw the uploaded tracks being categorized as instrumental or vocal as relevant, but it was one of the main deciding factors for Lesley students when looking for music. On the other hand, we got a lot of feedback from Berklee students as far as the UX throughout the uploading process.

It taught me to take initiative and not expect or wait to be told what to do. We’re not receiving orders from anyone. George and other Berklee faculty will update us on the status of the platform development, but every member of the student team is responsible for their own committee. Even when working as separate committees, everyone has to have at least a basic understanding of the other teams’ tasks, their goals, and status in order to work together in the most efficient way possible.

Learning is one thing, doing is another. In the year and a half that I’ve been involved with RAIDAR, I’ve learned more about music copyright than I ever could in a classroom. In order to be able to get more customers, and tell other students about the platform and answer their questions, everyone needs a good understanding of how music copyright works and there is no better way to learn about it than to work through real issues with the assistance of faculty. The process automatically becomes much more interactive than hearing a lecture, forcing students to put their knowledge into practice.

And lastly, it’s okay to fail. I had heard this in multiple entrepreneurship classes at Berklee and I understood the logic behind it, but as a chronic overthinker this was the first time I actually put it into practice. When no one knows what the “correct” answer is, you just have to try things, iterate and repeat.

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

Guest Writer