Rolling Stone has an interesting feature on the backstory to ‘Old Town Road’ by Lil Nas X (a song we presume you’ve heard at least 853 times by now). It broke, of course, on TikTok and then got a second push when a version featuring Billy Ray Cyrus was released. But the true origins go back to the site BeatStars (“The World’s #1 Marketplace To Buy and Sell Beats!”) where Lil Nas X bought the underlying trap beat for the song for $30 which was, as Rolling Stone notes, “less than the price of a tank of gas”.
The beat itself was created by Dutch teenager Young Kio which he put under a banjo loop from a NIN track he found on YouTube.
“Lil Nas X was just another customer,” Abe Batshon, founder of BeatStars, told Rolling Stone. “The majority of the time, the artist and the producer never meet each other.”
Batshon’s company has over 1m users and he says producers on there are set to make $40m this year from it. The issue for ‘Old Town Road’, however, relates to the site’s fee structure and how this impacts on the licensing of the beat. “Producers, who can customize these agreements as they see fit, charge between $20 and $200 for a beat and keep either 70% or 100% of revenue depending on whether they’re on the free or subscription tier of the site,” is how Rolling Stone puts it. The site, however, cannot guarantee that those uploading their beats have the requisite clearances.
This could open a massive can of Legal Whoop-Ass for all concerned if the resulting track is released and becomes a hit, with retrospective royalties becoming something of a moveable feast at this stage. But because the beat in ‘Old Town Road’ relates back to a track by NIN it is now getting even more complex as it was signed up by Sony after it started to catch fire online. NIN and the publishers involved would not comment on the Rolling Stone story, however.
It all raises huge legal issues for creators in the age of BeatStars and other music marketplace sites which mark a new type of collaboration. Never mind the value gap, here’s the licensing gap.