On a lazy Sunday afternoon, a block full of nondescript looking warehouses in Sunset Park, Brooklyn feels desolate. Inside GUM Studios, Los Angeles rapper Duckwrth is doing a smooth shimmy behind a green screen with a beautiful caramel skinned young lady who seems amused by his sleek dance moves. She’s sporting earphones and glancing at her cell phone in the process. His latest song “MICHUUL” is blaring through the speakers as the two perform in front of the camera, and a film crew shuffles behind them.
They’re shooting a commercial that will appear in a new music content app called WAV, which capitalizes on breaking emerging artists into potential superstars via a mélange of original video content. In addition to the content streaming, it’s also a record label.
WAV is the brainchild of former LINE CEO Jeanie Han, who has extensive experience in the tech world. Her new initiative caters specifically to the hip-hop and EDM community, putting an emphasis on developing up-and-coming artists by following their own personal creative direction.
“We believe in developing artists, so we’re not going to just pick up artists that we think are already big,” Han explains over the phone. “We are investing in emerging artists, so if we feel that they have potential, we can support them in many different ways. It may not be just making content with them, but also giving them time with producers and studio time.”
So far, the service is free for consumers, and allows fans to have more personal interactions with the artists. Think of a Facebook or Instagram Live scenario, but more intimate to the point where you can even gift your favorite artist with digital currency purchased on the app for something in exchange—like a small listen of their new project or a shout out. Their business model is based on a 360 music ecosystem, which is a powerhouse of developing and branding using their own management, marketing and publicity teams.
Seated on a leather couch inside GUM’s small living room area, Steven Shin, who leads WAV’s marketing efforts, breaks down the company’s methodology. “The whole idea is creating an ecosystem of discovering people via the app,” he says. “Then leading in over to the label side through our distribution deal with The Orchard, putting music out and marketing it, helping the artist gain notoriety. Then after, as the artist blows up they are still making content in the app, which gets more eyeballs. So it’s this cycle of the app to the label and label to the app. It’s all about helping artists create music and content and help them engage with their fans.”
Han’s business initiative seems promising for anyone trying to break into the music world, to say the least. It offers all the traditional components of a label and more. For instance, artists will have access to data that tells them how well their content is doing, which can, in turn, help them create more clickbait-worthy content to keep their fans coming back for more.
If you poke around through WAV you’ll see a slew of innovative content. Take its program Confessions, for instance, where rappers visit a “rap priest” and confess all their sins and deepest secrets in a church-style revelation session. Lil Yachty, PnB Rock, IDK, MadeinTYO, Smino, G Herbo and Zoey Dollas have all participated. Later this fall, the app is set to launch other content series like “Back It Up,” “Re-Mixology,” “WAVlengths,” “Clothesminded,” “What’s on Your Phone,” “Versus” and “FaceCam.”
Steve Rifkind, who helped skyrocket the careers of Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep and Big Punisher, is also on WAV’s roster on the A&R side. Rifkind deeply believes in the app’s business model.
“These record companies aren’t developing artists anymore. They haven’t developed artists in years and the first thing that they cut is video budgets,” he told Billboard earlier this year. “So if we can become Travis Scott’s content partner, let’s do it. And if we can help blow him up, let’s do it. Even though he may be signed to Epic, we’re going to blow up because they know we’ve been by his side.”
“It’s like when Spotify broke Lorde,” he continued. “No one knew that Spotify was the one that was really championing Lorde. She knew but the world didn’t. So, from a Travis Scott to a Young M.A, whoever it is, we’re going to be by their side. If we put out the record or they put out the record themselves, we’re still going to be there.”
Unlike other music streaming content services, WAV is free of charge. The only drawback is you probably won’t be getting content from mega super stars like Rihanna and Nicki Minaj as you would on TIDAL. Instead, you’ll discover new raw talent with a different punch of creativity.
Duckwrth is back from shooting, wearing a loose blue button-down shirt splattered with daisy flowers, his signature UUGLY dad hat and black chino pants. As SZA’s “Go Gina” plays in the neighboring room where singer/songwriter Liana Banks is in hair and make-up getting ready to shoot her part of the commercial, the cheeky rapper lists what he likes about WAV.
“It gives access that you usually don’t get with your favorite artists,” he says over a small plate of cantaloupe and purple grapes. “In the ‘90s you were concerned with the album. Now you want to see what I put on my bagel.”
Duckwrth is fond of the creative control it leaves in the artists’ hands. Most labels and content platforms have the driver’s seat on how their artists present themselves to the public and on iPhone screens. It can be stifling at times, inhibiting an artist’s authentic creativity, but at the same time, the tight formula has proven profitable. WAV’s methodical business system is different. It’s freeing, and may deepen your pockets. Like any new business venture, it’s definitely a risk and only time will tell its success.
When asked what he would create on the app, Duckwrth’s offering would skew more whimsical and witty above anything else. His mind is headed towards a questionnaire-style show titled, “Uugly Talk,” where no subjects are off limits. Sample topics would center around innocuous inquiries like, “When was the last time you farted, and did you blame somebody for that fart?”
Crazy, right? At WAV, they aren’t afraid to produce “grimy” unfiltered content, Han says, so long as it proves smart for the platform and the artist’s followers. Han puts it plainly: where else can a new artist truly create what they want and how they want?