Meet the B.C. woman looking to create equity in the music industry
How Janice Taylor, CEO of EQ Exchange, became an advocate for the marginalized.
After being told by a potential investor that she needed to find a white, male, 20-something “crypto native” to co-found her third startup, Janice Taylor did the exact opposite. Instead, Taylor brought on elder-millennial icon, music artist, and Grammy winner Ashanti to be the co-founder of EQ Exchange.
The venture capitalist was surprised that Taylor was even starting a Web3 company, inquiring how she hoped to understand the field she was looking to enter. He believed that a crypto native would lend her an air of credibility within the Web3 community, and give confidence to investors that at least one of the company’s co-founders understood the tech.
“It was all this sort of coded language that we wouldn’t truly be a Web3 company unless we were born out of reddit or GitHub,” Taylor tells Vancouver Tech Journal. “I felt so offended by that because I'm a third-time founder—like it would be different if this was my first time. And even then it's offensive.”
After that interaction, Taylor knew she wanted to go in the diametrically opposite direction by seeking out a Black woman from the music industry: someone who had made a massive cultural impact, and from a group that is also subject to predation from industry executives.
“I’ve loved Ashanti for 20 years [as an artist] and knew a bit about her independence [in the music industry]. I got the opportunity to meet with Ashanti and [her mom and manager] Tina, and I knew instantly she was the one,” Taylor said at an event in Toronto in March.
Growing up with a single mother in a poor neighbourhood in Saskatchewan, Taylor had very little in her youth. “Everyone in the neighbourhood took care of me because they felt sorry for me,” she tells Vancouver Tech Journal. "They couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that this blond-haired, blue-eyed girl really had fucking nothing. But if I was a First Nations girl, would I have been afforded that same sympathy?”
As a child, she found herself at the dinner table of a multitude of different cultures; the result of her community supporting her and her mother. “Certainly my life experiences were shitty, but I never had to deal with race. I was the product of this white family for all intents and purposes. You could look at us and say we had privilege. At the time we didn’t think that, but now I really know I did.”
Her first startup, Mazu (formerly JustBeFriends)—a digital village where parents and kids can connect with each other and access their favourite sports teams—was inspired by Taylor’s experiences growing up. She was motivated to shift Mazu from her side hustle to her full-time job after being one of five Canadians invited onto Oprah’s Ultimate Australia Tour in 2010. It wasn’t all plain sailing in the years that followed. Taylor hit some bumps in the road, saying that she didn’t think she was “equipped emotionally to deal with the rollercoaster of what happened,” but Mazu still led her to Silicon Valley where she was supported by tech experts. In 2012, Taylor moved to the Okanagan for more mentoring and the company’s official launch. She’s been there ever since.
Taylor didn’t stop with Mazu. AHAVA, her second company, leveraged her background in psychology and certification in transformational coaching. Taylor developed her own healing modality—a therapeutic technique that seeks to balance the body, mind, emotions, and spirit—that, after making contacts in the United States through her experience with Mazu, led her to work with athletes and actors. It was through these interactions that Taylor began looking through contracts for record deals and movies, and realized that these legally binding documents were unfair—especially for women, and particularly for women of colour. The documents, she saw, made it difficult for women to create any sort of long-lasting wealth.
“I was really drawing the connection between finance and our emotional state, and how you can exploit human beings when people are in financial hardship,” she says “When people are in financial hardship, it's really women, people of color, and new immigrants.”
While researching Web3 and blockchains (CELO is her blockchain of choice), a friend in Silicon Valley asked her if she knew what she would build using the decentralized technology. “I went back to that time where I started to read the contracts of women in the entertainment industry, and women in music. And that's when I realized that I have an insight into this, and a real deep feeling towards this—that Web3 can really solve financial inclusion.”
That day, EQ Exchange was born.
“Some of my biggest philosophical questions [about EQ Exchange] were who drives culture? Who do we really look to [in order to] drive those conversations of the spirit of the soul? We've abandoned religion for all intents and purposes, so what does that leave us with—where we really feel moved in the spirit to really learn? And I felt that because of capitalism, the creative spirit has been squashed. I thought, ‘what would a creative do if they never had to think about money’?”
With the decentralized model of Web3, creators are able to maintain intellectual property rights and continue to benefit financially from their work long after the work has been sold to someone else. For creators on the blockchain—whether they’re artists, musicians, or otherwise—they can feel a sense of security that they will continue to profit off their work, freeing them from financial-related stress and anxiety which, in turn, makes it easier for them to create and continue to see financial benefit. Rinse. Repeat.
EQ Exchange is a Web3 company that supports independent music artists to maintain their autonomy and have a more secure source of income. The platform has three core features: a non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace, fan engagement, and decentralized capital offerings. Like many other music NFTs, the company ties fan experiences to their NFTs, as well as a percentage of streaming royalties.
When Ashanti was brought on by Taylor as co-founder, she became the first Black woman to be the owner of a Web3 company. This new partnership coincided with Ashanti re-recording her first album, which turned 20 on April 6—the same day Ashanti released her own NFT collection on EQ Exchange.
At the Toronto event, Ashanti explained how CD royalties worked 20 years ago. If a CD cost $15 at your local Sam Goody, HMV, or A&B Sound, the record label would take $14.62, leaving the artist with 38 cents. From that 38 cents, the artist would have to pay for the CD’s jewel case and liner notes. After all was said and done, the artist would be left with roughly 11 cents.
To Taylor, this creates an obvious problem where musicians are coerced into going on tour to make money, but still expected to deliver on the terms of their contracts, which could require a set number of albums. By the end of this cycle, many creatives burn out. She says it’s possible to trace a lot of this back to the first decision an artist makes: whether they stay independent or sign with a label and benefit from the big machine that will help them. But this framing typically puts the label in a position of power over the artist as the architect of their dreams, which creates a scarcity mindset and leads musicians to think that this might be their only shot at making it.
“It’s a patriarchal system,” Taylor says. “It’s like, ‘look at all I'm giving you while I'm taking everything else.’ That is the true patriarchy and the racism of the system. It's like, well, I can tell this wonderful Black female artist, because I'm a white male, that I'm going to take care of her, that I see her pain. And then I'm going to pull the wool out while I control every other aspect of her life. That's the game of the patriarchy. That's why I hate it.”