Curated audio visual community heds is the manifestation of a meeting of the minds. When Mike Perry, Rob Connelly, Ramtin Khoee, and Cam Greer’s paths crossed their shared hope for the future sparked innovation and creativity. Fed up with a broken system and inspired by the possibilities of web3–they pooled their passion, skills, and relationships to build solutions through their app, heds.
The genesis of their connection begins with Mike. Musician, producer and visual artist Mike Perry started making beats at age 12 and moved to LA after high school to pursue a career in music. While studying at Santa Monica Community College, Mike spent “every free hour going to studio sessions trying to get placements with rappers and other producers,” he says. Posting his music on Soundcloud, Mike started building an online community of like-minded artists including electronic producer and artist Rob Connelly, who performs under the moniker Sober Rob. Rob, who also started producing electronic music in middle school, was studying at Berklee College in Boston when his music started gaining traction on Soundcloud. He dropped out and moved to LA to live with Mike and their growing group of internet artist friends. “We were in a house together, sleeping wherever we could find a place, and hustling,” says Mike. In 2020 they both found themselves back home–Mike was running his family’s barber shop, and Rob was working in the warehouse at his family’s clothing company. Momentarily deterred by COVID and frustrated by the music industry rat race, they looked to web3 for new opportunities. “After years of being in LA, the music industry was kind of traumatic,” says Rob candidly. “I was trudging through COVID while trying to make music and get back on my feet when I started doing NFTs and web3, and first talking to Mike about heds.”
“The pandemic was kind of coming to a peak. And it was very much a reset for people,” says Mike. “I hit up our artist group of friends to see what they were working on. It seemed like they were migrating into this new web3 space.” Mike and Rob started brainstorming and ideated what would soon become heds. “We were inspired by community mixtapes we used to make on SoundCloud where everyone would send in beats based on a sample, and then a label would decide which beats would go on to the final tape,” says Rob. During these early conversations, Mike learned that another longtime friend and musical collaborator Ramtin Khoee was learning to code. Sharing enthusiasm for the evolving goal, Ramtin joined the effort and started developing a custom minting site that would eventually become the heds app. Ramtin then met Cam Greer while at coding bootcamp. Cam, who was teaching at the camp, was inspired by the novelty and creativity of the project and joined Ramtin in developing the app.
Their vision became reality in February 2022 when the heds app went live with their first mixtape: hedsTAPE 01. The heds curation model begins with a guest curating artist who provides a sample for the tape–in the case of TAPE 01, the sample was provided by Sober Rob. Submissions are then open to any artist who wants to remix the sample. Once submissions are closed, the community votes on the top 20 tracks before the guest curator chooses the final 10 tracks for the mixtape. Mike then designs custom artwork for the tape before the final audio visual mixtape is minted as one NFT on the heds site. “I may have shed a tear and hugged Mike after the first mint went live,” Ramtin laughs. “No take backs on the blockchain!” The technical and artistic achievement sent them off to the races with new mixtapes launching monthly. “At first it was an insane endeavor that we were taking on. It was like climbing Mount Everest, but 10 cycles in, it's pretty locked,” says Mike.
The project quickly gained traction in the web3 ecosystem, attracting artists, collectors, and DAOs, such as NOISE. “What seemed like a side project started moving pretty fast,” says Cam who eventually quit his job at Google Firebase to sign on full-time with heds. In April 2022 heds officially became a company with Mike serving as President and CEO, Cam as COO, Ramtin as CTO, and Rob as Hed of Culture, all setting out to iterate on the app’s initial infrastructure to better serve their growing community. “With my longview understanding of how to build a future for users by the book, and Ramtin’s ability to build really fast, we shipped five versions of the app in 2022,” says Cam. “And our new one is going to be released soon.”
Implementing community governance, heds has developed a voting protocol (to be made available this summer) where hedsTAPE NFT collectors and hedsTAPE curators vote in-app to make their track selections. And when it comes to choosing featured artists to curate the tape, the heds team is highly intentional. “We look for people who are super active in not just web3, but generally just pushing themselves as artists across all platforms whether that's touring, doing collaborations, or just generally making a name for themselves,” says Mike. “Every curator we’ve worked with has been hustling and trying to push good art into the space. That's the main criteria.” Oshi, Mr. Carmack, and Masego are among some of the more established featured curators, alongside developing artists who are integral to the community. “Over time, we try to reach out and establish relationships with new and up-and-coming artists,” says Mike. “So it's kind of the classic A&R approach.” The goal is to onboard artists, build culture, and create opportunities for the community. “The cool part about bringing in bigger artists over time is that we can still grow our core community of really talented producers, who may not have online clout, and bring their music to artists like Masego," says Rob.
Having experienced first-hand the shortcomings of the music industry, the heds team is focused on creating more fulfilling, sustainable, and artist-friendly infrastructure for musicians. “There are so many inefficiencies and unnecessary things that go on from the technical side to the human side,” says Rob about web2. “Across the board, there's a lot that could be improved. I went through my own ordeal of horrible music industry stuff, saw friends go through it. I'm passionate about trying to be part of building something new and not just exacerbating the same bad cycle over and over again.”
Scratching the surface of what’s possible, the heds team is optimistic about the future and is committed to building it. “Right now the focus is developing the community and figuring out what features they want,” says Mike.
“It's about methodology for us having the experience as artists and understanding this is a new system. We can set frameworks with a moral compass focusing on things that we’ve dealt with as artists,” says Ramtin.
With this philosophy in mind, the heds app is iterating with patience and efficiency. Though the tech is developing rapidly, the heds team is cautious not to do too much too soon due to the challenge of widespread adoption. “The hardest thing has been creating something so new that it's hard to explain to most people. It's definitely new territory that we're entering, whether it's the crossover of art and crypto or trying to take on this collaborative curation model,” says Mike.
Their success lies in their ability to consistently grow a highly engaged audience, thanks in large part to the power of their artist community. “The easiest part has been connecting with amazing artists because of the community that we've built,” says Mike. “Specifically for Rob and I, the friend group that we built over the past decade or so has really been extremely fruitful. The people that we can hit up to contribute to this project really differentiates us.”
Experimenting with open editions during the bear market, heds learns from their existing user-base while keeping up with each new web3 meta, and building with consistency and care. “Having people continually coming back gives us more information than if we just had people who were here for the potential financial gain of owning a hedsTAPE, which is not really beneficial for us or the community. We want people who want to engage, want to vote, want to continue collecting, and want to continue discovering new artists and enjoy spending time on our app,” says Cam.
With hedsTAPE 11 up next, heds recently announced two supplemental projects: hedSOLO and hedsPLAYER. hedSOLO is a tandem drop spotlighting artists from the heds community with individual single releases via Sound. hedSOLO offers an onboarding ramp for heds artists to Sound and a curatorial guide for collectors. The first hedSOLO was “WANNA BE”–a deliciously diverse electronica track by Dabow that dropped January 23.
Launching this week, hedsPLAYER is heds’ first digital stem player drop. In partnership with Secret Garden, the 5-track, 25 stem player was created from stems submitted by over 15 different heds artists. The first hedsPLAYER features guest curator Three Oscillators and mints on February 1.
In their ongoing journey to create sustainable and rewarding pathways for artists to thrive, the heds team are unwavering in their pursuit of a brighter future. “The most fruitful part has been creating this thing at all,” says Mike. “Being successful in creating a platform that artists have been able to use to generate income, larger listening groups, and inspiration to create more. That is the goal–to build something that is going to provide a better environment for the artist.”
Article by Wallace Morgan for “High Frequency,” NOISE’s weekly newsletter. Subscribe for more.
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