The Future Is Now: Matt Waters of Unchained Music On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Trusted advisors are essential. Find people that you respect and are able to push back when you’re making a bad decision, and cheer you on when things are going well.

As a part of our series about cutting-edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Waters.

Matt Waters is an experienced professional musician, co-founder of Unchained Music, educator, holds a Masters in Music from UC Los Angeles, and is one half of the electronic/acoustic act, Intro to Music Theory. He is an owner of Hainan Music Productions, HMP Records, and is actively involved in building blockchain solutions for musicians.

In the past, he has performed and taught across four continents, formerly held the position of Professor of Low Brass and Co-Director of Bands at the Nanhai Conservatory of Music, as well as various other educational positions in Southern California. Before moving to China, he was an active freelance musician in Los Angeles.

He is currently residing in Denver and regularly performs in his spare time. Before the pandemic, he had recently finished an international music tour with Intro to Music Theory through China, New Zealand, and Thailand. Matt takes pride in a varied musical life, performing in concerts that range in style from classical to jazz, orchestral to solo, acoustic to electric, and everything in-between.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve been an independent musician my entire life, and as all independent musicians learn eventually, being an independent musician is not only about creating music. To manage my career effectively, I had to learn a little about everything- social media promotion, video editing, production, networking skills, etc. It’s a story that’s familiar to every independent musician out there, but it’s not the reason we started making music in the first place. Through my time in Southern California, it became exhausting to do all of the supporting work, and I took a break by moving to China to build a university music program out there. Slowly, I realized that helping other musicians was something that I was passionate about, and I started on the music industry path that led to Unchained Music being formed.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I’ve been an independent musician my entire life in some form or another, so it comes as no surprise that when I moved to Hainan Province, China with my co-founder Matthew Busch, we started a group called Intro to Music Theory that would tour the country. One of our most memorable gigs out there was in a place called RiYueWan, known as Sun Moon Bay in English, that is now a beautiful tourist destination, but back then was a little sleepy surf town. We showed up, and the owner pulled out a massive sub speaker that could have powered a party about ten times the size of the gig we were actually playing, but it was rusted from being in storage. We spent probably 4 hours pre-show rewiring this beast, and it turns out the amp they had couldn’t power it anyway after we finally had it working. Fun show even after all of that.

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

At the base layer, Unchained Music has built a no-cost distribution service that returns 100% of all streaming royalties to the artist through integration with a decentralized finance backend. This allows us to not only return a piece of the artist’s value back to them, but give them access to Web3, Cryptocurrency, and NFT tools that are missing from current platforms. In addition to all of this, we’re able to pay out these royalties via USDC, a stablecoin cryptocurrency, which allows us to work with musicians across the world that are unbanked or underbanked, and access music markets that are traditionally underserved by the current music industry.

How do you think this might change the world?

By realizing our vision at Unchained, we’ll be able to recenter the artist in the creative process, allow them to keep more of their value than is possible in the current iteration of the industry, and level the playing field for artists in markets that have a harder time accessing distribution. Using smart contracts and tokenizing this ecosystem allows us to broaden the access to tools that would otherwise be locked behind an application process or monopolized by labels.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks of this technology that people should think more deeply about?

In this world, code is law. Anytime we’re designing a system, we need to make sure that said system isn’t imbued with the preconceptions or biases of its creators, which could potentially create a system that disadvantages certain artists. Algorithmic bias is a possibility with code, and especially dangerous with immutable code on the blockchain.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

At the tail end of winter in 2021, my personal musical project was hired by Charged Particles to perform for their virtual event series featuring some incredible visual artists. In learning about their project that allows interest bearing tokens to be held inside NFTs, Matthew Busch and I became fascinated with the possibilities of a decentralized endowment. Could we use defi and compound interest to plant trees a la Grandmother Grove? Could this be applied to our own lives as independent musicians? The idea to effectively use the interest on royalties to fund the tech stack for music distribution came from those brainstorming sessions, and the rest is history.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

We need support and awareness from creators who want to take back more agency in their own lives as musicians. It’s not often that we have the ability to take back power from industry and return it to the little guy, but we do have such an opportunity here.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

At the moment, most of our signups have been coming from word of mouth through local music communities. Music has always been a local industry first and foremost, so making sure that Unchained Music is in there, music community by music community, supporting those musicians that are in the trenches trying to make a name for themselves is important.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I think the person I’m most grateful for is one of my co-founders, Matthew Busch. We met over 13 years ago at Pacific Crest Drum and Bugle Corps performing in summer competitions together, and we absolutely hated each other’s guts. Nine years after that point, we ended up moving to China together to start a university music program, started multiple companies together, as well as our personal house music duo, Intro to Music Theory. He’s been an incredible sounding board and reality check when I get too ahead of myself, whether in business or my personal life.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

In my mind, goodness is ensuring that we adhere to the golden rule that many of us learn as children. Treat others the way in which you want to be treated. Whether in business or my personal life, I try to build on that idea as a center point in my interactions with others, showing that there’s a way to be successful without being hard or inaccessible.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Creativity is just as important as hard work, and it comes from having the mental space to daydream. Take breaks and give yourself permission to wander off mentally every now and again.
  2. Spend time hiring the right people. With the right team and the right cultural fit, you’ll achieve so much more than if you had rushed the process.
  3. Trusted advisors are essential. Find people that you respect and are able to push back when you’re making a bad decision, and cheer you on when things are going well.
  4. Ask for advice. The process of building a company doesn’t have to be isolating all the time. Asking for advice both helps share the burden, and gets buy-in from those you’re asking for help.
  5. Track track track! Every metric you have the ability to automate tracking for, do it. I’ve found myself in positions where we need a piece of historical data, and we don’t have it, or need to go back and dig for it. If we would have tracked it from the beginning, all of that tracking would have saved us quite a lot of time.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to inspire more people to understand that being better, personally, professionally, whatever it may be, is a matter of constant small improvement rather than large steps. If you wake up one day and are having trouble with something, pick a small way in which you can get better in that area and work on it. Even if you only improve a small amount over the course of that day, you’ve made progress, and thousands of those days will absolutely add up sooner than you know. Getting better at anything is a game of consistency.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It is the artists of the world, the feelers and the thinkers who will ultimately save us; who can articulate, educate, defy, insist, sing and shout the big dreams.” –Leonard Bernstein

Systems can be put in place, be broken, be trampled, or ignored, but ultimately, it is the artists, the musicians, the tinkerers, and the inventors that will shape whatever comes next. When things break in my life personally or professionally, I don’t retreat into analysis, but instead into imagination and daydreaming of what comes next through music and art.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Unchained Music is the platform that will bring millions of musicians into Web3 and the greater blockchain community. They need no knowledge of the space to get started, while reaping the benefits of access to Web3 tools that are aggregated nowhere else, all while opening up traditionally underserved markets that were previously inaccessible due to banking and money transfer issues.

Unchained Music is the foundation for the next iteration of the music industry.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

The Future Is Now: Matt Waters of Unchained Music On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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