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John Waupsh of Kasasa: “Positive disruption destroys to create. Negative disruption creates to destroy”

Our mission is to help independent musicians create sustainable businesses. In an industry where an artist receives, at best, 15% of the money created by her art, a mission like ours will make everything we do rather unpopular with most established players. With our first product, the Nerve streaming app, we take a different view […]

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Our mission is to help independent musicians create sustainable businesses. In an industry where an artist receives, at best, 15% of the money created by her art, a mission like ours will make everything we do rather unpopular with most established players. With our first product, the Nerve streaming app, we take a different view than the existing streaming services. On one end of the market, you have the services who stream 60M tracks, such as Spotify. On these services, the vast majority of artists earn very little, because their art is subsidizing the one or two big names that are raking in all the money on that platform. On the other end of the market, you pay a subscription fee to stream unique content from one artist — Patreon would be an example of this.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Waupsh.

John Waupsh is Chief Innovation Officer at Kasasa, a FinTech advisor, public speaker, and published author. For over 15 years, John Waupsh has led the UX, R&D, and product management groups at Kasasa, a nationally recognized provider of fintech products and services for over 800 community banks and credit unions. He is also partner in two music labels, Conserve Music and Preservation Project, which restores and releases lost music from the 1920s to 1980s. John recently launched Nerve, a streaming service for independent music — paying its musicians a living, recurring wage.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

It was the late 1990s, and I became obsessed with finding and preserving music that was recorded but never actually released — the artist was unknown. At the time, no one was interested in music that was never released and created by musicians that seemingly don’t exist. These tracks were recorded on very fragile media — acetates and reels — and if they were not cared for, these incredible pieces of art could be lost forever. It felt like my calling in life to one day re-unite the unknown artist with his or her lost treasure, so I started collecting this material and storing it in climate-controlled storage units around the country. I knew, at some point, digital conversion costs would decrease enough so that I could start moving it over to digital to clean it up enough so I could release it.

After about 15 years of this, technology had finally caught up to my dreams, so I created a music label called Preservation Project to start releasing these unreleased tracks on vinyl for the first time. (Preservation Project holds the royalties for the artists or their families.) After a few releases, we actually were able to re-unite an artist with a treasure that he thought had been lost forever. It was a truly magical happening in my life. Then a few more releases, and the label had garnered a small global following — who primarily complained about how expensive it was to ship a 7” to Norway. They wanted me to put the label’s releases on a streaming service like Spotify, but as I dug into the royalties that my artists would earn, I estimated, they might earn a few pennies every year. Seriously. Although streaming stuff on a platform such as Spotify might ease my headache, it just wasn’t the thing to do for these incredible talents or their families. That’s when the a-ha moment hit — could we create an audio and video streaming service and re-write the rules on royalties for those artists who weren’t locked into restrictive label arrangements?

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Our mission is to help independent musicians create sustainable businesses. In an industry where an artist receives, at best, 15% of the money created by her art, a mission like ours will make everything we do rather unpopular with most established players. With our first product, the Nerve streaming app, we take a different view than the existing streaming services. On one end of the market, you have the services who stream 60M tracks, such as Spotify. On these services, the vast majority of artists earn very little, because their art is subsidizing the one or two big names that are raking in all the money on that platform. On the other end of the market, you pay a subscription fee to stream unique content from one artist — Patreon would be an example of this. These services are nice because the artist can earn a nice chunk of the revenue, but they have high churn rates because listeners get tired of hearing from the same artist day in and day out. Nerve is an entirely new paradigm, subscribers can listen to unique music and videos across the entire platform for 10 dollars/mo, and, importantly, in the app, they choose up to 3 artists per month who receive the majority of their subscription fee. So there, we solved for the subscriber’s need — unique content and discovery of new artists, while also staying true to our mission — paying artists a sustainable, recurring wage for their art.

Another truly disruptive thing we’re doing is we pay the artists for their fanbase, 15–30% of our top-line revenue. If you think about it, most career musicians today have spent their lives sleeping in vans on the way to their next gigs — sacrificing friends, families, etc. to build a fanbase. Every other platform says, put your content on our service and tell your fans to subscribe — you’ll get a big check from us down the line, probably. We flip it, and say, if you refer your fanbase to us, we’ll track it and pay you per fan who subscribes to Nerve — per month, as long as that fan stays with the platform.

We pay sizeable, recurring revenue back to the reason we exist — the artist. Nerve is all about helping independent musicians create sustainable businesses.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

While I’ve had some very helpful friends and mentors along the way, I want to share that some of my most impactful mentors have been my strongest competitors and their customers. In my experience, that collective has always delivered the most honest, timely, and inspiring feedback and future-focused direction — way more than any one mentor possibly could. I don’t know anyone more engaged in my business than those who are 100% dedicated to seeing my product or company removed from this planet and those who pay to use that company’s services. No matter what industry I’m in, my team always obsesses over learning everything we can from competition and their customers.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Positive disruption destroys to create. Negative disruption creates to destroy.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The best words of advice I ever received were given to me by a student of Alexander MacKendrick, the famous film director, who said, “The audience owes you nothing.” Oftentimes, we expect too much from others. In some cases, we don’t… I’m going to expect that anyone reading that quote can surmise what it means. 🙂

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Well, if I told you, that wouldn’t be fun, would it?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

How about a mantra I’ve taken on in the last decade or so more than a life lesson… “All we have is time, and, we have less of it than we think.” All we have is the time between when we’re born and when we die. We own and control nothing else. You don’t own that car you bought last year, you don’t own the pen on your desk, and you don’t own the fancy bed you just ordered online. More than likely, those things own you. I consistently fail at this, but I try my absolute best to remember that the time between my birth and my death is mine, and it’s my responsibility to share it with the people and the projects and the causes in ways that will have the greatest impact. Nothing angers me more than someone wasting my time, because that’s time I could be doing something meaningful with people I love. And I know, in the end, I will have less time than I planned.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If everyone would also join the Swoovy app, this world would be so much better off. So many of us want to volunteer with a non-profit, but we don’t because it’s too difficult discovering how to volunteer, where to volunteer, how to sign up, etc. Also, we tend to want someone to go with us, which just ads to the complexity. Swoovy handles all that for you — even down to matching you with someone to join you in volunteering if you wish. Incredible solution that can unlock millions of hours of volunteer hours per year, simply.

How can our readers follow you online? Follow me on twitter @Waupsh.

Follow Nerve on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/playonnerve, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/playonnerve/, and Twitter: http://twitter.com/playonnerve.

To learn more about the company, visit https://nerve.fm/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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