Taking Bitcoin Mainstream, One Stream At A Time On Wavlake

Founders: Sam Means and Michael Rhee

Date Founded: 2022

Location of Headquarters: Chicago,IL; New York, NY and Phoenix, AZ

Amount of Bitcoin Held in Treasury: N/A

Number of Employees: 3


Public or Private? Private

Sam Means is bringing the DIY spirit of punk rock to Bitcoin.

Means, co-founder of Wavlake, a music streaming platform that employs both Bitcoin’s Lightning Network and Nostr, has been innovating in the music industry since the early 2000s. From promoting local shows to helping manage his own band as it toured the world to running a major artist merchandise business, Means has put in the work and learned more than a handful of lessons along the way.

Now, he’s taken those lessons and combined them with what he’s learned from his ten years of experience in the Bitcoin space to help create Wavlake, a music streaming platform that cuts out the middleman, allowing fans to stream sats to directly to their favorite musicians. Wavlake is a counter to Spotify, well-known for hardly paying many of the artists featured on its platform.

In my interview with Means, we discuss his journey in the music industry, how he found and learned about Bitcoin, the process of creating Wavlake and how he balances his time between Wavlake and his other business endeavors.

A transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows below.

Frank Corva: You are the co-founder of Wavlake, the founder of the Lightning Store, and I just learned you also own a band merch company. Is this correct?

Sam Means: Yeah. So, I should probably stop calling it my main business, but my oldest business is Hello Merch. We do e-commerce, screen printing for tour fulfillment, direct-to-customer fulfillment. It’s like a one-stop shop for merch if you’re a band.

Corva: I’d like to hear how you balance all of that, but let’s start with how you got involved with music.

Means: I’ve done sort of everything. [It started] with punk bands. Some of these bands were playing in Mesa, Arizona, and I was from the suburbs. I got a car, piled all my friends in it and we started going to $5 punk shows in basements. That changed everything for me.

I started working at a venue and then started a promotion company with a couple friends. The whole time I was in bands. I was in three bands with this dude — we just kept starting bands until one of them was successful. We got signed to a major label, got dropped, and then decided to do everything ourselves.

We started our own label, got distribution and worked with a really cool management company. We used all the DIY stuff that we learned at “punk school.” We built up a really good following. We were touring constantly.

All through that, I really solidified all the music business stuff. I was always the responsible dude in the band that was dealing with merch and getting paid.

Long story short, I wore a lot of hats in the business and eventually started a merch company. We had a friend who learned how to screen print. We set up an e-commerce store in 2005, which was very difficult to do. Shopify didn’t exist then.

Fast-forward to 2014, I’d been hearing about Bitcoin from a friend of mine. He’s still around. Shout out to Mike Jarmuz.

Corva: Mike Jarmuz from Lightning Ventures?

Means: Yeah. He’s a friend of mine from middle school and was part of that whole story I just told. He started the label that put out my first band’s first record.

He also told me about Bitcoin. He’d moved to New York, started a bar and was one of the first places in New York to have a Bitcoin ATM.

By this point, I was using Shopify for Hello Merch, and I saw that you could accept Bitcoin with Shopify. I was like, “Alright, well, I’m still kind of sketched out by this, but if some people want to give it to me in exchange for band merch, I guess that’s okay.”

In 2017, I heard about the Lightning Network. I set up a couple of nodes — didn’t know what to do with them — and just turned them on. I was just like, “I’m helping” [laughter].

A couple of years later, I heard Paul from Sphinx on Marty Bent’s podcast. I started looking into it and saw that you could upload music to it. I was like, “What’s stopping me from creating a Sphinx room and just calling it like the Lightning Music Room or something?”

So, I did that and uploaded all my music to. I took an RSS feed, put it into the podcast index and was like, “Hey everybody, look, you can stream music over Lightning.”

Corva: Wow.

Means: Then, I started this thing called the Lightning Store. It was just an experiment. I said, “I’m going to just put out a bunch of bootleg music shirts, like West coast punk mashups on T-shirts with subtle Bitcoin things and find all the super big music nerds in Bitcoin if there are any.”

“If they know who the Descendants and Black Flag are and they’re into Bitcoin, there might be a chance they could at least like — cause I’m not a technical person — walk me through what needs to technically happen in order to make this actually happen instead of just fumbling.”

Corva: That sounds like a fun way to go fishing for help.

Means: It was totally fishing. People were literally like, “What is this? What are these shirts? We can’t even buy them because you have no liquidity in your node.” I had people from Lightning Labs DMing me being like, “Hey, dude, like this stuff looks super cool, but no one can buy it because you don’t have any liquidity.” I was like, “What’s that?” It was really fun. I did that in the very beginning of ‘21.

Then, I started going to more conferences and connecting people with people that were building things adjacent to what I was trying to see happen.

And then this dude Michael Rhee from Chicago built this thing called Wavlake. It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping to see, but it was something. It was like, “Okay, this guy made a thing where you can connect it to your node and you can upload music and get paid without having to upload it through Anchor or something. It [wasn’t live] yet, though.

So, I helped him test it before he launched it. I was also helping with Lightning Ventures at that point. I got Michael on a call with [the team at Lightning Ventures] to see how we could help him.

It was just too technical, though. It was a cool idea, but it just wasn’t exactly catching on for a number of reasons. After that, I sort of lost touch a little bit.

Then, I bumped into him at a Bitcoin conference in 2022. He was like, “Hey, I’m gonna have to get a job. Only 27 people have signed up for [Wavlake].”

I was like, “Okay, don’t stop because like you’re on the right path. Somebody needs to do this.” Then, I had this idea. I called him and said, “I think you need to change the entire thing. Would you want to maybe just start over and launch a [new] product?

Corva: When was this?

Means: October of ‘22. We reorganized the whole business and started over. In January of ‘23, we relaunched with a completely different product and brand.

By that summer, we had met Ainsley Costello. She became the first Wavlake superstar. She’s got a new song out today called “People Pleaser,” and people should check it out.

Then, Nostr came along almost immediately after we launched. We’d had this long-term vision of how we could make this a social thing down the road, but there aren’t a lot of social layers on RSS. Nostr was essentially just a second way to distribute these files. We were like, “Hey, we can publish on RSS and then publish to relays.”

Corva: Is Wavlake a Nostr client?

Means: One of our products for artists is called Wavlake Studio. That’s where you upload your music. When you upload your music, it distributes to RSS.

We automatically push that to the podcast index and any client that’s reading that index and has a monetization capability will have the ability to pull that song into their library. It’s tagged music.

Anything pulling in the music tag is going to see that library and then we simultaneously push it. We created a Wavlake relay that we push it out to.

So, every song gets published as a Nostr note, but pushes off of RSS. It just happens on a website and gets pushed to these channels. So, just think of them as distribution channels.

When we started seriously thinking about Nostr, we decided, “Well, there’s a couple of things here we can do. One, we can allow people to log in with Nostr on Wavlake. So, if you just want to be a listener and you don’t want to create an account, you can just log in with your Nostr account and interact.”

Then, we started thinking, “Okay, well, if we are going to utilize Nostr for a lot of social elements, most of those are going to happen in a mobile app. So, we [built] a thing called Wavman, which was our Nostr player proof of concept.

Our mobile app for iOS and Android is still in beta. That is an absolute Nostr client. When you sign up, you’re given a private key and a public key, or you can just log in and interact.

Corva: It sounds like it was a pretty organic process.

Means: Wavlake started as a conceptual thing to see if music could work on Lightning. I wanted to see it happen because the potential is so strong for this thing to completely change the infrastructure that we exist in today as musicians.

In my experience, you have to start somewhere. If you want to be in a band, you can’t just be like, “It’s fun — we played three shows and then broke up and then I got a job.” You have to just keep pushing through.

I thought it was a good idea. It just needed some work. We will just keep doing it until it works. Or at least until somebody else with a lot more money comes along and takes the idea and makes it work.

At the very least, we may just be like a spark for a bigger idea. Maybe TIDAL comes along and enables this.

My ultimate goal is just to see this change the music industry. I don’t care who does it. If we play a small part in that, that’s fantastic.

Corva: Let’s say you continue to iterate and Bitcoin becomes more normalized. How long would it take for Wavlake to replace something like Spotify?

Means: We have good Bitcoin service providers. We have wallets. We have all the fundamental stuff in place and working.

We have the money that’s so strong and being talked about in the mainstream media every single day. There’s a ticker for it on TV.

It’s time to bring in the mainstream. It’s time to bring in the normies. Let’s get them here. And we’re not going to do that with boring…

Corva: Lectures in Austrian economics?

Means: Yeah, and like, and like steak dinners and stuff. We’re going to bring them in with music and entertainment and social media.

Bitcoin is for everyone, and we need to build the stuff for everyone to use it. I think that we have a very good chance at helping a lot because right now we’re one of the main ways for music to waltz into both Bitcoin and Nostr.

Corva: Absolutely. But while you’re trying to do this, how do you balance your time between Wavlake, Lightning Store and Hello Merch?

Means: With Lightning Store, I have a fulfillment center, but I still pack all my own Lightning Store orders. I still like to put free stickers [in the shipments]. It’s just a thing I do for fun. Even when it gets kind of crazy, like when Jack wears the Satoshi shirt at the Super Bowl next to Beyoncé and Jay-Z and things get busy, it stresses me out, but I still will pack every single one of those orders.

With the merch stuff, I have a really good team in Arizona that helps keep that thing going. It doesn’t require a ton of day-to-day work.

And we’re still so small with Wavlake.

It’s tough to balance stuff, but I’ve always had a lot of things going on. I function better when I have more things happening. I’ll only work with things that I think can ultimately work together.

So, these are a lot of different things, but they’re all in the same world. It’s like, I make music, I sell merch. I sell merch for bitcoin. I’m a Bitcoin person. I have a music company that’s in Bitcoin and also has merch. All these things connect.

Corva: How much do some of the bigger artists on Wavlake make?

Means: The best metric here is that most artists who are active on Wavlake are averaging about 12 cents a zap.

It’s not about the total amount that they’ve made. Ainsley Costello has been on a lot of podcasts saying she made $1,500 in her first couple of months, and she had only made maybe $600 in her whole lifetime as a musician. She’s 19 or 20 now and has been doing this since she was a kid and has only seen $600 or $700.

It’s more about hope. People who really get it are getting it because a lot of these other things like these shitcoins and NFTs that are about making money really fast — everyone’s sick of that. Artists are looking for sustainability.

Just took Man Like Kweks. He’s been very vocal about how he’s like paying his utility bills with what he’s making on Wavlake.

We also just did an interview with this really great poet OKIN who’s in a group called…

Corva: Black Vulcanite?

Means: Yeah, Black Vulcanite. He made [the equivalent of] 500 Namibian dollars [from boosts and zaps on Wavlake] last month. That’s about $80 US dollars.

So, yeah, there’s hope. All of these things are out there that actually have a chance to help people in a sustainable way. It’s going to bring bands closer to their fans, which I know, based on my experience, is the most important thing.

Corva: You’ll be working with Bitcoin Magazine on a vinyl release. Can you tell me a little bit about this?

Means: Yeah, we did a really cool contest where existing Wavlake artists or new artists could just upload music to Wavlake and the 21 songs that earned the most sats would go to the next level. 11 artists out of those artists who made those 21 songs ended up on the record.

Man Like Kweks, Ainsley Costello and Joe Martin will be on there. It’s going to be available at the Bitcoin conference. We’re also doing a concert there on July 25, industry night, with Ainsley Costello, Joe Martin and JUSTLOUD, who’s been burned by the industry and is hopeful with what’s happening in this [Wavlake] world.

Corva: Awesome. That sounds like a lot of fun.

Means: It’s been cool to find the Bitcoiners, and we’re happy for all the support in this community. We’re just going to keep doing our thing.

​Bitcoin Magazine – Bitcoin News, Articles and Expert Insights 

Read More 

Schreibe einen Kommentar

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind mit * markiert

Please enter CoinGecko Free Api Key to get this plugin works.