In just a few years, NFTs have gone from niche to mainstream. Now they’re starting to transform the music industry by giving artists new revenue streams and new ways to connect with fans, as we explore on The Drum’s Audio Deep Dive.
2021 will be remembered as (among other things) the year NFTs went mainstream. Sales skyrocketed that year, peaking at around $24.9 billion, compared to just $95 million the previous year. Big companies such as Coca-Cola, Adidas and Taco Bell have started to capitalize on the new gold rush by launching their own NFT campaigns. The now-famous Bored Ape Yacht Club series premiered, Pete Davidson and Jack Harlow talked about it on SNL, and auction house Christie’s sold for over $100 million. The market was booming.
In those early days, the benefits and potential applications of NFTs seemed endless. There were of course skeptics, as there are today, who viewed them as an asset bubble that would eventually burst catastrophically. But for true believers, NFTs represented an opportunity to shed the yoke of centralized control that had so long dominated the Internet, establish financial autonomy, and push the boundaries of creative expression.
Truth has partnered with NFT Royal to deposit a collection of 505 tokens / Kelsey Byrne
Most artists stand to gain from the rise of the NFT market. Here is finally a technology that could allow struggling artists to build stronger bonds with their fans and earn a decent living. NFTs arguably held particular promise for the music industry, which had become notoriously bureaucratic and exploitative over the decades. Many musicians only receive a small fraction of the money earned from their creative output – much of it goes into the pockets of agents, lawyers, record company executives, marketers and a host of other intermediaries. To be fair, these intermediaries are often essential ingredients to a musician’s success; no one becomes a superstar on their own. But there has long been a growing feeling in the music industry that musicians end up with an unfairly small slice of the pie; Kanye West once called the industry “modern-day slavery.”
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The advent of streaming has of course changed the game for artists, but it’s a double-edged sword. Yes, it made it possible for artists to reach a large number of previously unreachable listeners around the world and made it easier for listeners to discover new artists and expand their musical horizons. But it doesn’t pay much (Spotify, the world’s most popular music streaming platform, pays around $0.003 per stream, which equates to around $1 for 3,000 streams) and it’s an algorithm-driven ecosystem , which sometimes means that artists whose sounds don’t fit a particular mold get lost in the noise, so to speak, while the Dua Lipas and Ed Sheerans of the world – artists who bring a tried-and-true pop twist – are perpetually brought to the fore and attract the majority of the public’s attention.
Kelsey Byrne, who goes by the stage name Truth, is one of those artists whose sound definitely breaks out of conventional lines. His music is funky with a techno-pop touch, like a hybrid between Sylvan Esso, Lorde and Flume. “It definitely exists in its own category,” she says, “[which] presents its challenges in a mood-based world based on algorithmic playlists.
Not wanting to compromise the essence of Vérité (which roughly translates to “truth” or “truthfulness”), Byrne decided around 2015 to start dabbling in blockchain technology as a way to both create streams of extra revenue and bypass the all-powerful streaming algorithm to connect with their fans. “Do I want to play this game of [trying] to be algorithmically pleasing? No, I worked too hard to maintain my independence and creative autonomy,” she says. “I’m going to turn… to Web3 experimentation. »
She has launched several NFT projects since that initial and fateful decision. Last year, she teamed up with company NFT Royal to drop a collection of 505 tokens alongside the release of her song He’s Not You; each token gives its holder a sizable share of the streaming royalties for the track, in perpetuity. (The song currently has just under 1.7 million streams on Spotify.) It was an NFT drop on many levels; the size of the royalty percentages a token holder could earn was correlated to tier status and price. The top-tier, or “diamond” NFTs, which number just five, got a share of more than 0.85%, along with signed tapes and a video call with Byrne.
Later this month, she’ll be dropping what she describes as “NFT-integrated merchandise that will act as the key to unlocking the next era of Truth.” Fans will be able to purchase a Truth-branded sweatshirt which contains a chip that can be scanned with their phone to access exclusive content, including the name of their upcoming album, the album trailer and a new single. . It will be like carrying a digital link to Truth itself, a comfortable portal that can lead the wearer beyond mere everyday fandom and into the realm of something closer to a collaborative community of creativity.
This sense of community and reciprocity is one of the main benefits that NFTs can bring to musicians. Vlad Ginzburg, CEO of Blockparty – a company that helps artists and brands launch NFTs – says this should vary from artist to artist and reflect the unique qualities of a particular artist’s fanbase. “Chances are if we can understand the fan culture, then we [can] publish an NFT that defines that culture,” says Ginzburg. “[An] NFT should be a representation of what this culture is.
An uncertain future
In addition to her talent and ability to adapt to an ever-changing industry (she describes herself not only as an artist but also as “a creative problem solver”), Byrne’s exploitation of web3 has allowed her to build a strong and dedicated fan network. and stay independent. “I committed a long time ago to doing things my own way and playing my own game, both creatively and in the way I write, produce and distribute music,” she says. “I’m not going to dance on TikTok. I’m just not going to.”
At the same time, it strives to remain nimble, ready and able to evolve and change with the broader Web3 movement. “The culture of web3 is going to change, and tying to any growing and changing culture is probably a mistake,” she says. “I don’t tie my cart to anything.”
The wisdom of web3’s no-hitch wagon approach has been clearly demonstrated in recent months, as the values of major cryptocurrencies have plunged to historic lows. Many headlines have speculated that this could be the beginning of the end for both crypto and NFTs. But for many who are actively building in this space, now is not the time to throw in the towel – now is the time to rebuild so that web3 can emerge stronger than ever. Ginzburg, who compares the health of the web3 market to tides that inevitably bring ups and downs, says times like this are actually healthy for the industry’s long-term success. “The ebb tide is actually very necessary for a lot of us to get back to work and keep working there,” he says. “It’s still brand new technology and it’s still a very long build. So [at] times like this… you’ll see who was swimming without a bathing suit. You’ll see some of the BS stuff, you’ll see some of the crooks… we’re actually pretty happy when the tide goes out to see some of the bad actors being exposed and pushed out of the way.
For more on the power of sound, check out Audio Deep Dive from The Drum.