JAM session 2: micropayments and performing arts

Episode 2 of the JAM podcast has a great guest in Casey Herd from Ballet Rising.

Casey discusses his background, how he got into the web 3 space and how crypto can tap into massive dance interest across the globe.


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Full transcript of this episode


Hello everyone, this is Greg here and welcome to just a meme podcast where we talk about the future of making money on the web. Today we have a really exciting guest Casey from Ballet Rising, joining us and is here to talk to us about what the future holds for ballet in specifically and how people can monetise that on the web. So welcome, Casey. Thanks great to be here.

Tell us about yourself


What has your journey been to this date? Keen to hear what you've got going on.


A long story, but I'll try and keep it a little bit shorter than forever. Got it. Yeah, so I'm originally from the United States Salt Lake City, UT - jazz hat.

I started doing ballet when I was about 10 years old, it was sort of a crazy experience growing up in a place that's way more famous for skiing and Cowboys than ballet dancers, yeah. But yeah, it was kind of a shy, introverted little kid. My mom was like why don't you try ballet and I was also, but I was somehow very open minded at the same time as well. Started it. Loved it. A lot of people were like hey, he’s talented he could go really far. It was also kind of a... we didn't have so much money with my mom as a single mom, didn't have a college education so we were pretty broke all the time. So travelling for us was always kind of never really much of a possibility.

Suddenly I started getting all these scholarships to attend ballet schools around the world and I was like okay wow this could be really interesting. So it really got me out of Utah and Salt Lake City, which is kind of a - it's a great state. Great city. Love it. But you know it's far out there. It's a lot of mountains and cactuses and which is beautiful, but when you're a ballet dancer you know you just feel like you're 1,000,000 miles away from New York and Paris where ballet really thrives. I just I. I started doing really well. I got my first job in New York City with American Ballet Theatre, which is one of the top ballet companies around the world. I started dancing everywhere. I joined Pacific Northwest Ballet for a little while, which is a really great up and coming company in Seattle.

Then later joined the Dutch National Ballet here in Amsterdam, where I'm currently living, which is also one of the top ballet companies in the world. I became principal dancer, which is sort of the elite guy. Yeah, I was the dude out there partnering the prima ballerinas, yeah? I had a phenomenal career. I danced with many of the top ballet companies around the world. Many of the top prima ballerinas of all the major companies, and I danced in many major opera houses, Moscow, London, Paris, New York, everything San Francisco. I just had a phenomenal career and I loved it. Its ballet has been my life. It's my family, it's my friends it's my connections. It's just been a wonderful, wonderful experience.

And then yeah, about four years ago I decided it was time to retire. You know, you get to a certain point where you're like, not as flexible. You can't do splits anymore. Not quite, jump as high as it used- it’s these younger kids that were just recovering faster than I was after a hard performance. And I was like okay have to figure out what to do next. So I took a long time and decided to just take a year off of life and it just went travelling because I just love to travel.

While I was travelling, I decided you know I've got a skill. You know I've been a top ballet down South for many years and I was travelling to countries like India and places where ballet is really not very well known or you wouldn't think that there would be any Ballet schools there. But I noticed there were actually quite a few and the more I looked, I found there were Ballet schools in every. And the people there were really starved for experience for people to come and teach and give them some knowledge they wanted to build ballet schools and companies in their countries. They just didn't have people that had the experience in the knowledge and everything and like myself as a kid out in the desert of Utah, they felt very distant from the mainstream Ballet world. Felt very much like they were on the fringe. And so I just had to start a project called Ballet Rising, which is all about this.

The rising popularity of ballet around the world in places you wouldn't at least expect. And we're just trying to sort of bring people in the community from the edges in and create better communication between people on the edges and the people at the centre to sort of help the art form, thrive and grow. And to be more inclusive and yeah, just help people around the world understand and appreciate arts and dance. So yeah, that's kind of where I am today.

How did you get into crypto?


That's great. Yeah, so this put. This podcast was kind of born out of an initiative called Grant for the web. For listeners who don't know that's the kind of big web monetization fund backed by some really interesting people. But it is kind of based on blockchain technology, so it'll be good to hear how you a hardcore ballet dancer guy ended up looking into crypto and kind of getting interested in web monetization.


Yeah, it's kind of a funny story right about the same time as starting Ballet Rising I was retiring from ballet, I'd heard of Bitcoin before and I was always kind of like OK. I think it was back in like 2013 or 14. You know you hear that is kind of up and coming. It was this thing and I immediately thought like, alright, you know if it's gone that far it must be something it can't just be magic Internet money. But I didn't really get into it until about 2018 till after the bull run of 2017.

Actually I had seen a little documentary about it. I've always wanted to dive in and learn about it and see what it is all about. it just never took the time to do it until my brother found a couple of his acquaintances. They were I guess trading cryptocurrencies or something but they said a little bit of money, we will give you a nice which turned out to be a total joke, we never saw a dime after that. I mean fortunately we didn't put very much money into it. Went into it thinking out there this could be a total bust, so let's what my brother and I did is like we just basically said let's really learn about this market, learn about this technology and if we need to pull out money real quick then we can do it. And let's see where this market is going. And you know, I mean, you know how it goes. It's just one step.

From there it's the Bitcoin Rabbit bowl. And then you know, for me, Bitcoin itself was just really revolutionary and interesting for somebody who has no background in finance or technology. You can look at it and go wow, that could be fascinating. And then of course you learn ethereum, smart contracts. And it was like holy cow. I just got really excited about it and I started noticing a couple of different things that I think could be really, really advantageous for the performing arts and things. Just kind of snowballed from there.

Yeah, so that led into web monetization. Yeah, obviously you know I got into XRP and Ripple. I was kind of interested in what they were doing, and obviously you learn, and hear about Interledger. Okay, what's this Interledger thing? And I think I was filming and teaching down in Brazil, actually down to Rio de Janeiro I was filming a little documentary about some Ballet schools in the favelas, who were teaching who are offering free Ballet classes for kids in the favelas and they said, yeah, we're going to be offering a grant for people to experiment with web monetization. Great, you know, they were like we're looking for all types of content creators and stuff. Okay, time to bring ballet and crypto and blockchain together through Interledger essentially. So yeah, I was just gun-ho from day one, interested in figuring out how it works and how we can experiment with it and how I can pull the performing arts into the Internet of value.

Ballet Rising’s Grant for the Web Project


Yeah, so yeah you you kind of got that grant as did we? What were you kind of planning to do with it? So how does how does that kind of the Interledger? The web monetization fit with ballet? Like how do you see that working or what kind of what are you doing with the money I suppose.


What we're doing right now is basically just monetising the content that we're creating, so so Ballet rising is very much it's a cultural project, you know it's all about culture, of ballet and bringing the culture together and bringing communities together and helping communities understand dance and importance of blah blah blah blah. But we're using technology were using this the grant to experiment.

So for me I'm going to. We're just basically taking the content that we're creating and we're experimenting with. Okay, how? How does it work? And also trying to use it as a tool to educate the performing arts ecosystem, dancers, choreographers, value companies offer companies about the technology and the potential that it has to really revolutionise web payments and so we're doing that.

I ultimately want to do, is take a lot of the research that we're doing, and we're already starting to create, this is a totally separate project - a technology project… Ballet Rising is the cultural project that uses technology…. We're going to create a technology project for the performing arts culture for culture. And ultimately, what I'd really like to do is, and we just started laying the groundwork for it is to create a streaming platform for performing arts companies and artists to monetise their performances on the web.

Historically speaking, the performing arts are always the last to to get into technology. You know. It's sort of like we’re the antithesis of technology like we’re a 400 year old art form that's changed very little. How people consume our art form has changed very little over the past 400 years as well or how many years you know - Theatre is basically just theatres. You know, being a sports fan as well my entire life I looked at how sports teams and leagues and just they would, how they market themselves, and how they use technology, how they reach out to new fanbase is, you know, it always ****** me off the fact that I could get on my phone and watch my favourite football team anywhere in the world, but if I want to watch my favourite ballet company, you've got to get a ticket to get a hotel room flight about city. Yeah, why not? You know, Okay, there are reasons. It's not like people are just being stupid, but I think that the reasons are slowly fading.

Now with Covid 19 it's just gone. Every ballet and opera company in the world right now is streaming their content - problem is that they are streaming it all free. Which does one thing. It's great because we're spinally connecting with fans around the world, you know. So finally, after how many centuries can a fan in, say, Bolivia, if they’re a big fan of the Paris Opera Ballet, they can get online and they can watch it. You know you don't have to fly to Paris to Paris, you know now? You know the problem really is how are they going to monetise that content?

You know they can't just keep giving it away free, they're all you know most of these other companies, and ballet companies, they're in a big trouble right now financially, because of Covid. Opera houses are closed, you know, just performances happening, so that's why we're moving everything into the digital world. How to pay for it? How to compare to monetise it is a big problem and I've spoken to a lot of directors and artistic choreographers and people and everyone has sort of these work arounds of how they're doing it, but nobody is happy with it. And so what I want to do ultimately is create a streaming platform that really enables performing arts companies to stream their content and engage with fans around the world and do it in an economically viable way, that's smooth for them and easy for the consumers as well, something that really brings brings people together to share in our art form.

Following on from that, I think where in the past maybe you're relying on advertising to generate revenue on existing ones where they are given out free sort of thing. For me personally, when I'm in a Theatre or something, I am kind of in the zone and then if I get like a YouTube style adl.,s that just goes bam! Now there's an advert, and just breaks the whole suspense like it's kind of hard enough recreating that intensity, that immersion as it is. And that's probably the problem in itself. But then you know coupling it with the existing web models of you know adverts, I can't imagine that working too well.

Well, the other thing that's the main thing is there's a couple streaming platforms that allows there's one for Broadway and there's another one that's trying to be sort of the Netflix of the performing arts. Okay, but the problem is that these are very these are you got the subscription problem right there. I’ve already got a Netflix subscription, I don't have that much money. I wish at times they would drop their paywall - subscription fatigue is a massive one for me, and you know, so I just really want to sort of figure out how we can get around that. I don't want to force people into that subscription.

But the biggest thing, and this is what I've heard from a lot of artistic directors, is that, okay, finally after hundreds of years we’ve finally said okay streaming is good, but it has to lead people from the web into the opera houses. And so if you have something like a Netflix where it's just it's content that's up there for everyone to consume and binge. How does that coordinate with what they're doing in Opera House and how much value does the Ballet company get out of that? Probably not. I don't think it's very much, so all of that content that's on that siloed website doesn't work with everything else. And So what? I really want to do, is create a platform that works more like a Gallery, like an art Gallery that as you know, where the directors can programme their digital. And make that coordinate and work with the real seating that's happening on the real stage so they can act sort of like a funnel to eventually bring people into the opera houses. I think there's probably a couple applications for web monetization and that, but still still in the research phase.


I imagine - going back to your point about being a sports fan - that probably holds a lot of keys, because I imagine in the beginning these guys were quite resistant. You know, we need fans in the stadium, and I wonder how far they've got with it by I mean, putting aside maybe re broadcasting rights and that sort of stuff, but you know that, yeah?


I mean you look at it, any of the revenue from all of the major sports teams around the world and only a fraction of their revenue actually comes from ticket sales. Yeah, with ballet and opera, whereas sports get a lot of their revenue from the streaming rights and the television rights and all that stuff and. And sponsors as a result of having built rather than just the small number that can fit in the Stadium. Ballet is the same except the lost revenue from the ticket sales comes from governments and donations and private donations, which is another area to work towards in the future.


Sounds like you’ve got a lot to get on with then. Go big or go home sort of thing.

Other projects


Yeah, so I think just wrapping up like you know what outside of what we've probably talked about today, like what is your favourite like Non crypto project or crypto projects outside of Grant for the Web and XRP and stuff.


I was trying to give that some really good thought there but not big non crypto projects. Well, there's most of the projects that I'm, you know, I've been diving deep into this for quite a while now, so yeah, my brain is just really in that yeah mode, but there's a lot of really interesting projects that aren't necessarily crypto to themselves. Like Interledger, you know, there's not a crypto. It's not even a blockchain its web protocol. But it works obviously in tandem, so I think there's a lot of really interesting projects like Baseline protocol that the ethereum Enterprise Alliance is working on in coordination with Chainlink, unibright.


Ok I havent come across that. What’s the premise?


Baseline. Yes, line. Okay, there, they want to use the ethereum mainnet the public blockchain as middleware. Not the ones who really get into that too deep - a ballet dancer, remember?

I think something else I've been meaning to do a deep dive into is like PayID which itself is not a blockchain as well, but it runs in co-ordination. I think that's a really cool project. Really interested to dive into that, so I'm sure I'll think of some other stuff as soon as this interview is done.


Yeah, so that's it for today. Thanks for tuning in to Just a Meme where we talk about the future of making money on the web. Weather that's arts sports. Random crypto stuff. Please do get involved. Give us a like. Send some comments or review and also please subscribe and checkout the next session. We really want this to be kind of a force for good here, and I think people like Casey here show that we can really do some amazing stuff. So yeah, great having you Casey and thank you for your time.

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