Ride ‘Til I Can’t No More
Love it or hate it, “Old Town Road” is making history — find out the hit song’s Austin connection
by Madelyn Reiter
Photographs courtesy of BeatStars
Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” has been stuck in my head (and probably yours) all summer. The country-rap song, which has taken over the radio and become a social media sensation, topped Billboard Hot 100’s list for 17 weeks straight. Breaking. A. Record.
An emerging artist like Lil Nas X has never held this record before. The record of a 16-week streak was previously tied between Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber’s “Despacito” (2017), and Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” (1995). Both Bieber and Carey congratulated the 20-year old rapper on Twitter and seem to be celebrating his massive success right along with him.
Despite his new-found status as a record-breaker, the country-rap artist has been transparent about his humble start with Austin-based company BeatStars. BeatStars is an online music market and licensing platform that allows producers to lease their beats on a non-exclusive basis to recording artists. Founder and CEO Abe Batshon launched BeatStars in 2008 while living in the Bay Area. He moved the company to Austin in 2015 to take advantage of the city’s famed music and start-up culture.
“It’s (Austin) known for music, it’s known for tech, but there hasn’t been a music-tech company really waving the flag of the city,” Batshon said. “I thought it would be a cool opportunity to continue building the company here and be part of the Austin music story.”
Lil Nas X (born Montero Lamar Hill) was living in his sister’s home in Atlanta in 2018 when he stumbled upon BeatStars and made a life-changing purchase: a sample beat by Dutch producer YoungKio which incorporated a piece from the song “34 Ghosts IV” by Nine Inch Nails. The purchase cost Hill $30.
The previously struggling artist has confided to fans that, at the time, his confidence was wavering. In a heartfelt caption on Instagram he wrote, “Suddenly, I came across a country-trap sounding masterpiece. I immediately knew I would make something special out of it.”
After writing the lyrics to match the beat, Hill hit the studio to record “Old Town Road” on December 2. He released the song to the world that same day. He sampled his song on TikTok, a music app used to create and share funny lip-sync clips. The remix featuring country legend Billy Ray Cyrus was used in over 11 million videos on the app. Hill said on Instagram, “It needed to be funny, it needed to be catchy, it needed to be hip hop, it needed to be country and it needed to be short.”
Batshon described the process of breaking into the music industry as an investment. Marketing, production and design become expensive, particularly for an emerging artist. However, leasing beats from Beatstars and using social media as a performing platform greatly reduces the costs of entry into the industry, he explained.
The song became a hit by March. Lil Nas X joked on Twitter, “It’s crazy how any baby born after March has not lived in a world where ‘Old Town Road’ wasn’t number 1.”
“Old Town Road”’s overnight success shocked Batshon, who said he couldn’t have predicted that a song produced online would “become a cultural takeover around the world.” Batshon said he feels Beatstars is revolutionizing the music industry by giving artists a channel to help solidify their careers.
“I was very excited to know that the collaboration happened on Beatstars,” Batshon said. “And I knew that it was going to impact Young Kio and Lil Nas’s lives forever. I’m more excited to see the opportunities that are going to be presented to them than anything else.”