NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Don’t call it a comeback, because they’ve been around the whole time. That’s according to Napster CEO Jon Vlassopulos, who has announced that the “original music disruptor” and streaming provider will relocate its global headquarters to Music City.
The move will make Napster the first global media company to establish its headquarters in Nashville, according to a release from the company.
“My mother is from Kentucky, and I have been coming to the Nashville area since I was a boy to visit relatives,” Vlassopulos said in the release. “During the pandemic, I had the opportunity to move my family here from California. I think Nashville is the most exciting city in America right now both culturally and economically. Looking at how the city of Nashville supports businesses, especially those involved in the music industry, the decision to move Napster’s headquarters here was a no-brainer. I’m thrilled to be able to collaborate with the incoming Mayor, the city of Nashville, Launch Tennessee, local venture capital firms, colleagues within the music industry, and other start-ups that have also made Nashville their home.”
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Those around in the 1990s may remember Napster as the online file sharing site where they could download their favorite music, but the name has shifted, and the company is now in the music streaming business. Considered the “original music industry disruptor” with its roots, the company was acquired by large investors in the cryptocurrency Web3 in April 2022 and is now looking to integrate fan experience with artists directly to bring “new creative and commercial opportunities for artists and fans.”
“For a lot of people Napster was their first exposure to digital music,” he told News 2.
At one point, there was an attempt made to take the peer-to-peer service “legit,” he added, but negotiations on potential deals fell through, and the brand was eventually passed around from entity to entity. It was owned by digital software company Roxio and then Best Buy before ending up with a company called RealNetworks, which released the first streaming service Rhapsody in the early 2000s. Rhapsody predates even Spotify, Vlassopulos said, and invented the concept of the $9.99 notion of streaming music.
The Napster brand—complete with the well-known cat logo—was then put on top of the Rhapsody concept, he said, and now Napster runs as a competitor to Spotify, Vlassopulos said.
“The plan is now to take the most trusted aspects of Napster with the Rhapsody DNA to deliver a billion-plus dollars to the music industry and artists and songwriters, and then also the rebellious counter-culture of the old Napster and finally have a run at doing a better experience for fans and artists that we think is sorely needed,” he added. “We think the bar is pretty low to build something more compelling. We’re not too big but not too small. We’re well positioned to bring change to the industry to make it more exciting for fans and artists.”
The plan, he said, is to create something that provides a better digital experience for users.
“The plan to create something that’s sort of between maybe a ROBLOX, MySpace and the old Napster, so it has community and connecting with artists, so you can get collectible items from the artists—virtual items and physical items—and chatting,” he said.
As an example, he said, if someone was listening to Taylor Swift on the new Napster, she could set up a special surprise for a random fan, such as the 10,000th fan listening that day, and could invite people to enter a private chat with those 10,000 fans. The chat experience could also have special digital collectible items to those fans in the chat, or Swift could play new or old music with those fans.
“I think it’s breaking down the barriers between the fan and the artist,” he said. “It’s allowing the artist to create things directly for their fans, engage directly with them through virtual experiences, video experiences and chats. It’s a living, breathing community, and artists are able to have more ownership over their fans, as opposed to the other platforms, where [those experiences] are owned by the platform. With the technology, we can give them ownership over their fans directly. It’s pretty exciting. It’s making music fun again.”
The relocation is still in the initial planning stages, according to Vlassopulos. He and his team are currently searching for the perfect place in Nashville for Napster to call home, but he told News 2 there is a “short list of neighborhoods” he’s considering.
“There’s so many great areas of Nashville,” he said. “I’m getting to know the city better.”
Vlassopulos is a recent addition to the Napster team, being hired at the end of 2022 to lead the company in this new phase of its life. When he took over at the helm, he said it felt like the timing was right to make a move.
“We didn’t think there was a better place in America to position ourselves, and I think because Nashville wasn’t New York or L.A., that it was a nice statement for the city,” he said. “We want to do our bit to kind of get Nashville on the map globally. We’re just super excited about the potential for hiring, the general business environment. Overall it’s a great place to be in the existing music community that’s here.”
Nashville has also evolved from solely a country-music-based city, Vlassopulos said, and it’s expanding even further, to include T.V. and film, so the creativity within the city makes it a perfect location for the streaming service’s global headquarters.
“It’s really just a great hub as a business city that mixes the best of New York or L.A. or London in one city where it’s all about music and creativity, but it’s also a thriving city beyond those industries,” he said.
Currently, the service has several positions already available posted, but the exact number of hires Napster is looking to make is currently fluid, according to Vlassopulos. As Nashville continues to grow, he said the appeal for young people is there, between the opportunities available and the overall culture.
“We think from a hiring perspective, we’re looking to base it here and grow. We just think it’s very appealing for young people and people in general to consider jobs here. The city’s great culturally, and as a young person I think it’s a great place to consider. It’s more cost effective than the coasts,” he said. “We just think it’s a great creative and commercial hub that’s only going to get more well known as a place for other companies to base themselves over the coming years.”
The team is additionally looking at having a technology hub in Nashville, which would increase the number of jobs Napster would bring to the city. More firm numbers would likely come in the later half of the year, he said, as the location is firmly nailed down.
“The cat is back. It’s not the Napster you know,” he said. “We’ve been around. It’s a much bigger business than you maybe realize and generating significant revenue. Napster’s back. It’s already a leading global DSP similar to Apple and Spotify. Don’t call it a comeback—we’ve been here for years.”