Rapt.fm co-founder and CEO Erik Torenberg (moniker T-Berg) says when he first conceived of the site, it wasn’t even a business idea. “I just wanted to learn how to rap by rapping with the best competition I could find,” he says. Unfortunately for novice T-Berg—and many others across the world—there wasn’t an easily accessible place to find challengers. He had the motivation, but there was no platform to sharpen his flow, so he decided to build it himself. This project has become Rapt.fm, a website where aspiring MCs can battle via webcam, watched and cheered (or jeered) by a cohort of online friends and observers. And while amateur rapper T-Berg may have been content with that, with building a community of like-minded rappers of all skill levels, Erik Torenberg has bigger plans.
Torenberg and his team were recently accepted into this year’s 500 Startups Accelerator class, a prestigious program that offers a mixture of $50K in initial funding, “superhuman” mentors and designers, and in typical tech fashion, “lots more awesomeness.” This could help Rapt.fm become more than an online arena for battle rap. “We’re not even close to what we’re going to be,” Torenberg says. “We’re going to be a platform where artists build their fan bases, sell directly to fans, and manage their careers online.” He sees Rapt.fm becoming a platform that allows artists to sell merch, tickets, and virtual offerings directly to fans, supporting itself by taking a cut of that process. “45% of label profits are CDs,” he explains. “Artists are completely missing the opportunity to make digital dollars from their fan bases beyond album sales.” He wants Rapt.fm to help fix that.
Rapt.fm’s first step towards this vision is called “iRap,” a new service within the site that allows artists to perform live with their webcam, give tour updates, and chat with their fans. It sounds similar to what ReverbNation is trying to accomplish, but with an even greater focus on interactivity. In an era when artists’ Twitter and Instagram accounts have become increasingly useful promotion tools, perhaps this connection is what fans need.
The moneyball movement has not yet happened in the music industry. But it’s going to.
The rest of the process will no doubt rely on whether Rapt.fm will be able to build a strong enough community, whether you (yes, you) will become a part of their effort to change both the way artists battle, but more importantly, how they grow and nurture their fan base. Torenberg sees fans as an illuminating statistic in what he calls the “moneyball” of music. The last piece of his vision is to have Rapt.fm become a forum where artists can be better and more cost-effectively evaluated and developed. Fans and stats are a key to doing this. He thinks the amount of “core fans” an artist has, ones that will show up, or buy something (versus “like” a page on Facebook), can show an artist’s true potential. “The moneyball movement has not yet happened in the music industry,” he says. “But it’s going to.”
And what success have Rapt.fm acolytes had so far? “We had an artist get a distribution deal with Tommy Boy, and an artist open for Royce da 5’9” and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and we’ve had fans build their bases. But in terms of mega-discovery, too early. It’s coming though.” Will it be you?