“There’s a 1966 report called ‘The Jost Report’ that was about friction in machines. I was listening to a podcast about it. It said that if they could reduce the friction in ball bearings, they would be able to drive one to one-and-a-half per cent of GDP. And they did that, and saw those results come through.”
Ball bearings were not on Music Ally’s list of anticipated topics when preparing to interview Karibi Dagogo-Jack, head of music partnerships at Roblox. But the former Spotify exec said he has taken inspiration from The Jost Report in his role helping artists and labels make the most of the popular online platform.
“It’s a powerful analogy: if you can reduce the friction for someone to create what they want, what kind of ecosystem, what kind of fly-wheel, what kind of knock-on effects can you generate? That’s what the entire partnerships team, and the entire company of Roblox, is geared towards.”
Dagogo-Jack joined Roblox in December 2021 as the latest move in a career that has seen him work as a senior analyst at WMG; handle biz-dev for multi-channel networks Fullscreen and Maker Studios; then new business development roles at Universal Group and then Spotify.
Since he joined, artists and music brands launching experiences on Roblox have included David Guetta, the Brit Awards, 24kGoldn, the Grammy Awards, Spotify, Charli XCX, Elton John, Mariah Carey, Warner Music Group, Theoz, Twice, Metallica, Paris Hilton and Blackpink. It’s quite the roll call.
“People are really using this as a global, immersive platform for communicating with their fans, for selling items, and for creating really deep, engaging experiences for promoting releases,” said Dagogo-Jack.
“We’ve seen everything from Weyes Blood coming on to do a fan-only meet’n’greet – I think there were 85 people in there – and we’ve seen Twice have 70 million fans that have visited their experience over the last few months.”
“There’s always more growth and more tools and more features coming to Roblox, and we’re always thinking of ways to help artists address their needs through those.”
Talking of growth, Roblox recently published its latest quarterly financial results. They revealed that in Q3 2023, the platform averaged 70.2 million daily active users, who spent 16bn hours on the service. That’s just under 19 hours each a week on average.
As Roblox has grown, its demographics have also widened beyond its original core userbase of children. 57% of its users are now older than 13 years old, and 17-24 year-olds are the fastest-growing segment of its community.
Dagogo-Jack said that as Roblox has grown and widened its appeal, so the music industry has deepened its understanding of the platform, and what labels and artists can do on it.
Initially focused on one-off virtual performances, it is now seeing more focus on community-building; different kinds of events including meet’n’greets; projects that involve working with popular existing Roblox games and experiences; and exploration of virtual merch.
The latter is a big focus for the company. Indeed, it recently published a ‘Digital Expression, Fashion & Beauty Trends‘ report looking at how Roblox users are expressing themselves through their avatars, virtual clothing and other items.
Electronic music label Monstercat was one of the case studies, having sold six virtual pendants as ‘Limiteds’ (Roblox’s limited-edition virtual items format) including one that went for the equivalent of $10k.
“The Monstercat stat in that report is astounding. The highest Limited sales to date,” said Dagogo-Jack, who pointed to the label’s long history of experimentation with games and metaverse partnerships as a key factor in its success with its Roblox experience Monstercat’s Lost Civilization.
“They have really rolled up their sleeves and met Roblox users where they are. There’s a community of people on Roblox that speak a slightly different language, and have different memes, and are really, really internet-native,” he said.
“Monstercat has, every step of the way, been in conversation with them, has been in league with them. A lot of what their success is, is just an accretion of small activities over time.”
There have been a number of virtual-merch success stories on Roblox in recent years. Music Ally has written about the strong sales of items from Lil Nas X and Zara Larsson, for example. Dagogo-Jack thinks that it’s been one of the easier aspects of the metaverse for artists and their teams to understand.
“There’s a track record of musicians being able to sell [physical] items to their fans, and of that transaction being a pure expression of fandom,” he said.
“You wear the hat, you wear the t-shirt, you wear the pin, whatever it might be. It’s another way of flying the flag for the artists that you love. So it’s just an extension of that behaviour on Roblox.”
Dagogo-Jack is excited to see how artists can go beyond virtual item sales, citing in-experience subscriptions – which Roblox launched recently – as the next step. “There is the potential for that to fit into an entire fan culture that you build on here.”
He cited Twice Square as a good example of an artist experience that could be perfect for the subscriptions model in the future, having already notched up 70.7m visits from fans since its launch in March 2023.
“That’s a core fanclub experience. It’s really about socialising. It’s about socialising up to the artists, the artists speaking with their fans, and the fans speaking across to each other too,” he said.
“They’ve done a really good job of taking the building blocks of Roblox as a platform to drive towards this fan story. ‘How do we sell limited items in this environment and have that fan engagement activity spill up? How do we have the band appear in the experience? And how does that continue to generate fan activity?'”
“You can imagine how subscriptions layered on top of that – a subscription that allows you special access to something or somewhere – could also drive fan engagement and fan activity.”
Twice Square is also an example of Roblox experiences that are designed to be persistent: not just one-off marketing campaigns but longer-term communities that regularly get new features and engagement from the artists.
“I remember when I was interviewing for this job I would look back at things they [Roblox] had done already, and it was kind of like going to to one of these abandoned malls! There are fewer and fewer of those instances now,” he said. “I think people are really thinking about how they create persistent experiences here.”
One factor in that is that there are more artists who have grown up playing Roblox, and more label and management staff who understand the platform too.
“We’re in the generation of artists that have grown up on Roblox. The initial conversations we’re having are not ‘what is Roblox?’. It’s ‘Here’s the thing I want to do on Roblox, how do I go about doing that?’ We’ve had artists completely do an entire concert and everything else, develop the entire experience, without my team being involved,” said Dagogo-Jack.
“Well, at the very end my team has to be involved because there’s no way to get licensed music onto the platform without some legal stuff that my team has to be involved in! But we’re at a pretty interesting point of native fluency around what’s happening on the platform from an artist end.
“And for labels, because of maybe a little bit of a demographic shift in the age of the people running digital strategy, they are catching up. Maybe not as native as the artists are, but there are some people at the labels who are thoroughly impressive as far as how much they know about Roblox.”
What is on the wishlists of these people, in terms of new features that they would like Roblox to provide? Dagogo-Jack says that a key request is making it easier to build experiences. He’s excited about Roblox’s work with generative AI technologies, to reduce the barriers, in that context.
“People want to make it easier to distribute their music through the platform, which we’re actively doing, and people want to be able to generate meaningful income from the platform, which we’re starting to see as well,” he added.
Music distribution and Roblox has been a tense subject in the past. In 2021 it was sued by US music publishers body the NMPA for “exploitation of music without proper licences”. An agreement was reached a few months later to cease hostilities, and enable Roblox to continue working on licensing with publishers and the industry.
That work continues, although Dagogo-Jack cited Monstercat, again, as an example of a label exploring ways to make its music available on Roblox in other ways.
“They put a significant portion of their catalogue in Studio [the tool that is used to develop Roblox experiences]. There’s an audio section and it has sound effects and music that you can use, and Monstercat is freely licensed there, allowing any developer to use a subset of their catalogue,” he said.
“They’re saying ‘hey, we know that there’s not a direct sales or monetisation model right now on platform, but we believe that proliferating our music across the platform will have knock-on effects for listening off-platform’,” said Dagogo-Jack. “They’ve been around for a while, so that’s a pretty strong signal to me that they’re finding success taking that approach.”
What about the bigger picture: licensing deals akin to those signed by Meta or Snap that would enable a much bigger catalogue of commercial music to be used on Roblox by its users, with payments to rightsholders? That may be one for the future still.
“I can tell you our licensing infrastructure right now. We don’t cover master or publishing, but we do cover a subset of publishing, performance rights, in the US. We’re working towards addressing that globally,” said Dagogo-Jack.
“It’s not a contentious relationship that we have: We think that everyone has a right to be paid for their work, and we are making sure that we have the correct payment infrastructure for everyone.”
There may be potential to build on what Monstercat has done in Roblox Studio though. Music Ally has always wondered whether there was scope for an artist to make a sandbox of assets available to Roblox developers: not just music but visual assets, sounds etc.
So, instead of just one ‘official’ Roblox experience – or sitting alongside that – there might be thousands of fan-created ones, all using approved assets from their favourite artist. Does this idea have legs?
“There’s a digital strategy job for you out there at some of the labels!” laughed Dagogo-Jack. “Yeah, we consistently pitch that concept to artists and labels, and honestly to brands and companies of all types. It’s a way to harness the engagement and the excitement of both the developer community on Roblox, and then also the user community as well.”
He said that the best example of this kind of approach so far comes from outside music. Language-learning Duolingo made a variety of its assets available in Roblox Studio – including its famous owl logo – and ran a ‘Game Jam’ competition for developers, collecting the best experiences in its Duolingo Game Hub.
“I’ve been dying for a musician or a record label to take that up and kinda weaponise it!” said Dagogo-Jack. “It’s not quite happened at the Duolingo level yet, but that would be a really powerful and meaningful approach.”
Karibi Dagogo-Jack is speaking at the Music Ally Connect conference in January 2024. For more details on that click or tap here.