Rap star Ludacris launches online record label Wemix

Christoper Bridges, the rapper and actor better known as “Ludacris,” has put his celebrity power into an online music community called Wemix.

The recently launched startup isn’t your run-of-the-mill music site. It’s a community for unsigned talent in the music industry — singers, songwriters, rappers, musicians and producers — who can register, create profiles and upload their original music. Users can offer tips and pointers, as well as collaborate on new songs. And recognition as a top performer on Wemix could get an artist a chance to collaborate with well known artists (like Ludacris himself) and jam out demos.

Ludacris teamed up with reality TV show creator Matt Apfel to launch the company, which is positioning itself as a record label of sorts.

In addition to listening to, rating, and remixing songs (such as the sample song by “Yung Pimp” below), users can follow updates from “Luda’s blog,” buy merchandise from the “Gear Garage,” and share and watch videos on Wemix TV.

http://www.wemix.com/flvplayer.swf

Wemix isn’t going up against MySpace, iLike, Ourstage, and the like. It’s focused on a specific genre of music — hip hop — and distinguishes itself by letting users mix and re-mix songs posted by other members of the community. Think, Jamglue for hip-hop, with much more star power.

The company is pitching itself as the next step in the record label process — where the community itself chooses which artists get the big break, although seemingly, this already happens as fans build communities on indie label sites like Fuzz, or gain oodles of traction on MySpace.

In his previous role as a reality TV show creator, Apfel launched shows such as “Band in a Bubble,” and was also behind a stunt that featured the band “Cartel” recording an album in a glass house. He was inspired in part by the movie “Hustle and Flow,” a movie Ludacris starred in, which moved the theater audience so much, that Apfel says, “cynical New York kids were standing up and cheering when music was being made.”

A week later, Apfel quit his job and contacted Ludacris, and Wemix was born. In June of last year, Apfel and Ludacris raised $500k in seed funding from friends and family — which Ludacris himself contributed to — and launched “The People’s Record Label” this past January.

Apfel says that 57,000 original songs have been posted, and the site has 37,000 users. Many of the users have a heavy slant to rap music, and given Ludacris’s background, its not much a surprise.

Ludacris’ involvement is a boon for Wemix’s marketing as well. After an appearance on E! Online where he mentioned Wemix, the site had 300k page views the same day, a low customer acquisition cost that Apfel calls “Luda Dollars.”

But the user-generated record label of sorts is not without an old guard member — Chief Creative Officer Gary Fisher worked at Columbia records (“one of the guys who escaped Shawshank,” Apfel says, laughing) and was in charge of video content and programming for all the Columbia brands.

In this new record label model, the users are the A&R (artist & repertoire, or the music scouts who find talent), while WeMix will be both the record label and the artist management, with the ability to split a publishing deal with its more talented artists. It’s a strategy we’ve already seen labels use, scouring MySpace and YouTube for top artists. If Wemix grabs a user with 400k plays and teams him or her with a star like Ludacris and other famous musicians “to be announced shortly,” it’s almost certain the artist will have a hit single — online if not off.

People are always quick to criticize a celebrity foray into the web 2.0 business era. Remixing songs, however, especially for the hip hop genre, is a popular past time, and with tools like Apple’s GarageBand and Digidesign‘s ProTools at the layman’s disposal, the barrier to entry is much lower, potentially creating a niche market for Wemix and its rapidly growing fan base.

But Apfel, who’s planning a reality TV show for Wemix artists via channels like BET, admits he doesn’t have the future music business model nailed down either.

A lot of people will say they have the solution, I’m just saying I have a solution.”

Wemix is currently in talks with VCs to secure another round of funding to the tune of $3 to $8 million.

David Adewumi, a contributing writer with VentureBeat, is the founder & CEO of http://heekya.com a social storytelling platform billed “The Wikipedia of Stories.”


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