Meet HitPiece, the digital music company artists despise even more than Spotify
After a week when artists lambasted Spotify for spreading vaccine misinformation and for its low royalty payments, one unknown NFT firm started its own furor in the world of digital music.
For a few days this week, a new firm called HitPiece sold nonfungible tokens, or NFTs — pieces of code asserting ownership over a digital object — associated with thousands of musicians’ catalogs. Many artists and music companies have sold such items legitimately; this week, Coachella announced it will sell 10 lifetime passes to the festival as NFTs.
But according to many acts who found NFTs associated with their work for sale on HitPiece, the company seemed to have done so without any permission or even notice.
“Any bleachers NFTs are fake,” wrote super-producer Jack Antonoff, about his band Bleachers appearing on the site’s catalog. “At the moment i do not believe in NFTs so anything you see associated with me isn’t real.”
“Hey you stupid f— we don’t have any deal with you or any NFT site and there SURE DOES LOOK like an active auction going on for a speedy ortiz song,” wrote Sadie Dupuis of the band Speedy Ortiz. “Can everyone please stop thickening the plot this NFT website is simmering in.”
“We’re looking into what we can do to get it taken down,” added the L.A. noise-rap trio Clipping. “F— this scam ... .”
HitPiece’s founders did not immediately return messages requesting comment.
The remaining members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young answered Neil Young’s call to ditch Spotify, citing ‘disinformation’ on Joe Rogan’s podcast.
According to its own LinkedIn, executives at the company include Rory Felton, a founder of the record label Militia Group (later acquired by Sony) and the Feltone label; marketing executives Ryan Singer and Michael Berrin (better known as MC Serch from the ‘90s hip-hop combo 3rd Bass), and Blake Modersitzki, a partner at a Utah investment firm. In a podcast interview last month, Felton claimed to have raised $5 million for his NFT firm.
In a 2019 blog post, Felton laid out a model for HitPiece: “Blockchain digital collectibles can create large new revenue streams, a modern take on a fan club with gated content and access, and enable audiences to participate in the economics of the music ecosystem in a way that hasn’t been possible before. The company will take a ‘growth hacking’ approach to marketing, optimizing with a/b test methodologies, to accelerate the number of artist users and the volume and quality of content.”
(Felton has also posted scores of anti-vaccine and COVID-19 conspiracy content from the likes of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., at one point comparing COVID-19 restrictions for the unvaccinated to life in Nazi Germany.)
While HitPiece was attempting to sell digital objects associated with huge acts like BTS and Taylor Swift, they did not have deals with the artists or their labels; in fact, the company’s NFT content was scraped from Spotify’s publicly available metadata. Felton admitted on the podcast that whatever fans thought they were buying was only notionally connected to the music itself — they were “trading cards for songs.”
Erin Jacobson, a Beverly Hills-based music industry attorney, said that a business like HitPiece would run into many different copyright obstacles. “The artist would have a cause of action for a third party using the artist’s trademark, other intellectual property or likeness in a way that appears the artist endorses the product,” she said. HitPiece wouldn’t even need to use an artist’s music to infringe on their likeness: “If an NFT does not include an actual music file, but uses artwork from one of the artist’s albums instead, the NFT company would need to get permission,” she said.
Many artists affected by HitPiece seemed unlikely to grant it. Some were furious that a company they’d never heard of was selling NFTs derived from their copyrights. “They steal your music, auction NFTs of it on their site, and when they get caught they say don’t worry you ‘get paid’,” wrote the indie band Deerhoof in response.
In a note posted to social media, HitPiece wrote, “Clearly we have struck a nerve and are very eager to create the ideal experience for music fans. To be clear, artists get paid when digital goods are sold on HitPiece. Like all beta products, we are continuing to listen to all user feedback and are committed to evolving the product to fit the needs of the artists, labels, and fans alike.”
By Wednesday morning, HitPiece’s main site and all its contact information was scrubbed, replaced with a simple text message: “We started the conversation and we’re listening.”
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