Duke Student Founder’s Startup Gives Artists More Control Over Their Careers

Audiown's first artist TGBEAM sold 60 shares representing 30 percent ownership in less than two minutes.

Duke junior and varsity swimmer Will Tenpas has founded his first startup before even graduating college. Tenpas was inspired to create Audiown after working for a local startup, Protect3d, this past summer. (We covered Protect3d in a different article last April.)

There, he became more excited about the startup scene and saw potential to bring his own idea to life with Audiown. The startups is a marketplace that allows fans to support their favorite artists while also earning money if those artists succeed. Having beta-launched with its first artist late last year and participated in the Duke Innovation Studio accelerator this spring, It will officially launch the week of May 16 with two artists onboard.

Tenpas first played around with the idea upon hearing about singer Frank Ocean’s struggles with record labels. Many musical artists have awful record label deals, Tenpas said, where they are financially taken advantage of and controlled creatively. Tenpas thought there must be a better way to do this funding so artists have more financial and creative control over their career.

So, like any good entrepreneur, he decided to build one himself. With Audiown, artists can choose what percentage of project’s ownership—and resulting revenue—they are willing to share. A “project” can be a single, an album, or even the artist themselves.

Once the music is sold via distributors like Apple Music and Spotify, that revenue share goes back to the fans. This way, fans can literally invest in an artist’s success while artists retain more control over their careers than they would keep at a traditional recording studio.

To monetize its model, Audiown is considering taking a small percentage (smaller than what a record label would take) for each project’s initial sale, likely around 2-5 percent. This incentivizes the company to bolster each artist’s success, which is the overall mission for the startup to begin with.

“Everything in this company needs to point towards aligning towards an artist’s success and how we make an artist successful,” Tenpas said. “So when they win, we need to win.”

Audiown Founder Will Tenpas

The Audiown mobile app intends to fully launch in May, following a successful beta launch around six months earlier. Audiown sold 60 shares—each representing 0.5 percent, for a total of 30 percent—of the upcoming album of Duke student artist TGBEAM in just under two minutes.

It’s been helpful that Audiown is a Duke student startup team, as Tenpas believes that makes it easier to connect with the college music scene.

“As we’ve learned more and talked to more artists, we’ve realized that this can actually be more of a fundamental tool in how an artist grows and a way for them to retain creative and financial independence,” Tenpas said.

Tenpas is appreciative of the Protect3d founders and the entire American Underground community that opened his eyes to the possibilities of startup life.

“That has been essentially critical to this happening,” Tenpas said. “They showed me it’s possible as a student, and they were student-athletes too. As student-athletes, you can try something like this. You can do it, run with it and see what happens.”

Over the past few months, Audiown’s vision for widespread impact across the music industry has become much clearer, Tenpas said.

“We see this as more of a disruption than just an additional service that could be added on,” Tenpas said. “We think that this could affect a lot more about how artists are able to make money.”

Connecting artists more directly to fans

During the pandemic especially, as studios shut down, artists realized they could exist without the traditional studio presence and still connect with fans. 

“By having the pandemic shut down physical institutions, not being able to go to a recording studio, and instead artists are recording stuff in their dorm room and then editing it on their computer, it’s reinforced this notion that ‘Hey, wait a second, maybe we don’t need a big record label and big record events to create something,’” Tenpas said.

That connection between artists and fans is key to what the Audiown team is hoping to accomplish: democratization of music for artists and fans. So much of the money in the music industry is concentrated in record labels and other institutions that do not provide the same value that they used to, Tenpas said.

Tenpas thinks Audiown can streamline that relationship and take out some of the middle players that keep music from getting to listeners.

“Artists and fans are the main players in a music career relationship,” Tenpas said. “Everything else is working to facilitate that relationship.”

About Suzanne Blake 308 Articles
Suzanne profiles startups and innovation for GrepBeat. Before working at GrepBeat, Suzanne attended UNC Chapel Hill, obtaining a degree in journalism and political science. Previously, she wrote for CNBC, QSR Magazine, FSR Magazine and The Daily Tar Heel.