Of late, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are becoming more and more of a mainstay.
From the big players like Beeple and Bored Ape Yacht Club, to stylish kicks that don’t even exist, NFTs have come a long way for artists and collectors alike.
In the music industry, Kings of Leon made headlines in March 2021 when the band introduced When You See Yourself as the world’s first NFT album.
Speaking to Billboard, drummer Nathan Followill said of the unprecedented move: “I think it’s the way of the future, not only for music, but you’re seeing artists putting their work through NFT. I think it will definitely have a place.”
For many artistes who still believe in the beauty of things done the old-school way, record deals have lost their allure. Anyone can produce content (quality notwithstanding) and put it on the internet, earning overnight fame and fortune.
This has put a serious dent in the record industry, because at the same time, musicians are beginning to realise that they can benefit directly from producing their work as NFTs, doing away with the conventional trickle of funds that come from the “powers that be”.
“I would say within the next ten years, 70% of albums will be released in NFT form,” predicts Kings of Leon lead singer Caleb Followill.
When You See Yourself rake in a total of US$2mil, offering a selection of reasonably priced NFTs at US$50 apiece, where fans would receive an MP3 download of the album, a rare digital artwork, and a limited edition vinyl record.
Eighteen “Golden Ticket” NFTs, on the other hand, allowed owners to enjoy four front-row tickets to Kings of Leon concerts – for life.
The growing bond between NFTs and music has encouraged many notable musicians to get involved.
Always one to challenge the norms, Grimes released her debut NFT collection, “WarNymph”, a series of digital artworks featuring bald, winged cherubs in various warrior-like poses. In just 20 minutes, the collection sold out for a total of US$6mil.
Then there’s the unreleased Whitney Houston demo, which the late singer recorded at the age of 17. Released as part of a larger set of NFTs, it commanded US$1mil.
Just recently in February 2022, Coachella launched its own native NFT marketplace, where festivalgoers could bid for a set of “keys” that granted them access to anything Coachella-related, ranging from professionally-cooked meals, to lifetime safari camping, to backstage experiences, and more.
WHAT ARE MUSIC NFTS?
Essentially, NFTs being non-fungible tokens mean that they cannot be replaced with something else. Money, on the other hand, is fungible. In a blockchain, Bitcoin is fungible.
NFTs, on the other hand, are unique and non-divisible. Only one single item exists, and it is owned by a specific person.
In the physical world, think of non-fungible assets as a house, a car, or even a passport. Only one person can claim ownership to this one-of-a-kind item.
Likewise, these NFTs represent the ownership of an intangible digital creation. Through blockchain, individuals record this information, “immortalising” it forever.
In music, NFTs can be used to claim ownership over audio files, images, videos, projects, or even community posts. Through creative usage of NFTs, musicians are able to inject “value-added” aspects to their creations, like unreleased content, sound notes, concert tickets, and experiences.
HOW DO MUSIC NFTS WORK?
Basically, anything digital can become an NFT. This includes, but is not limited to songs, albums, music, lyrics, and soundbites.
As Tony M Fountain writes for Rolling Stone, “When an artiste creates an NFT of their work, they can set it to sell for a certain price. If someone buys the NFT, they will own it forever and can use it however they please.
“One way we’re seeing artistes take advantage of the blockchain is by creating an NFT of a song and selling it on a blockchain-based marketplace. This allows people to own the song forever and gives them the ability to listen to it whenever they want.”
Here are Sound of Life’s pick of NFT milestones that have shaken up the music industry.
CHAINSMOKERS AND THEIR 50,000 FREE NFTS
The Come Up Show/Wikimedia Commons
How would you like to get paid every time someone else listens to a Chainsmokers album? Well, with the duo’s latest NFT drop in conjunction with their new album So Far So Good, you can.
By analysing data from concert sales, music streams and Discord activity, 5,000 loyal Chainsmokers fans received an NFT, which entitled them to a share of 1% of the royalties, plus members-only perks.
Through music NFT marketplace Royal, the guys behind the Chainsmokers, Drew Taggart and Alex Pall, gave away these NFTs for free.
“It was important for us to do it this way because this isn’t about profiting off some new tech for us. It’s about connecting more deeply with our fans and harnessing a new disruptive technology in an effective way that truly shows what is possible as we head towards a Web3 world,” they explained.
Fans can decide to sell these NFTs on the secondary market if they desire.
Instead of taking a cut, Taggart and Pall will distribute the 7.5% secondary fee equally between the 14 songwriters who contributed to So Far So Good, allowing them to give back to the team that ever so often remains unseen in the background.
“Because of antiquated laws and old judgments, we believe songwriters are underpaid. We couldn’t have written these songs without this core group of amazing writers and we wanted to find a way to give them something extra for being a part of our journey.”
SNOOP DOGG’S DEATH ROW RECORDS
Remy Golinelli/Wikimedia Commons
With his recent acquisition of Death Row Records, Snoop Dogg seems set to delve into the world of NFTs even further by changing the record label into a fully-NFT label.
“Just like when we broke the industry as the first independent record label to turn major, I want to be the first major in the metaverse,” said the rapper.
Through Death Row, he hopes to introduce new music artistes and change the way their work is consumed.
By taking off Death Row’s music on Spotify and Apple (“Why not?” quipped Snoop during an interview on Full Send Podcast), he intends to make a stand for the people who make music and don’t get paid.
“Picture me taking one of my classic records that you love to death, that you’ve always shared how much it means to you – now you have the right to own it, to buy it, to trade it, and to make money off it. Now you actually own a piece of Snoop Dogg’s legacy, as opposed to ‘I have a copy of his CD’. I just feel like that’s where the industry is headed.”
No stranger to NFTs, Snoop Dogg also dropped a collection, “Stash Box”, with Gala Games in conjunction with the launch of his new album, Bacc on Death Row, earlier in February.
To date, “Stash Box” NFTs have raked in more than US$50mil, where owners receive an NFT of one of the album’s songs.
THE WEEKND’S “ACEPHALOUS”
Nicolas Padovani/Wikimedia Commons
April 2021 saw Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye and frequent collaborator Strangeloop Studios release his first eight-piece NFT collection entitled “Acephalous”, which included an unreleased song, audio-visual pieces, visuals, as well as static artworks, inspired by neo-futurism and dystopian narratives.
Ultimately, “Acephalous” raised a total of over US$2 million, with the highlight being “The Source”, featuring an unreleased song and a 3D model of Tesfaye’s head, which was sold for US$490,000.
Tesfaye expressed his excitement about his NFT collection in a statement: “Blockchain is democratising an industry that has historically been kept shut by the gatekeepers.
“I’ve always been looking for ways to innovate for fans and shift this archaic music business, and seeing NFTs allowing creators to be seen and heard more than ever before on their terms is profoundly exciting. I intend to contribute to this movement and can see that very soon it will be weaved into the music industry’s mechanics.”
RYUICHI SAKAMOTO’S 595 NOTES OF “MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR LAWRENCE”
Renowned Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto debuted in 1983 as both actor and film score composer.
Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, a war film, starred Sakamoto alongside David Bowie, and the score bagged a BAFTA award for “Best Film Music”.
In December 2021, Sakamoto joined the NFT bandwagon in the most unique way, offering not one, not two, but 595 NFTs simultaneously.
All 595 notes from his signature composition for the score, “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence” were digitally split into single notes, and converted into NFTs.
The NFTs, priced at 10,000 yen each, was linked with an image of the music sheet for the bar containing the corresponding note. As a gift, NFT owners also received a link to download the song, and were eligible to join an auction to bid for the music sheet, personally handwritten by Sakamoto.
But why 595 notes? This was actually the result of extracting all 96 bars of the song, then dividing them.
The version of “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence” used in the NFTs is from a recording of Sakamoto’s performance at Bunkamura Studio, Tokyo, in July 2021. Due to his ongoing battle with cancer, it was also the only recording of his work that year.
BTS AND THEIR “CONTROVERSIAL” NFT PHOTO CARDS
The White House/Wikimedia Commons
Known for their commitment to sustainability, BTS sparked an outrage among fans when their parent company Hybe announced plans to create their own NFTs.
Amid talk that blockchain and cryoptocurrency, like any other businesses, requires substantial amounts of energy consumption, the decision was met with much resistance from BTS’ die-hard fans, also known as “Army”.
By introducing digital photo cards as NFTs (coveted physical cards can command up to thousands of dollars, and often encounter problems such as counterfeiting), Hybe is looking to sell these cards via Dunamu, South Korea’s largest fintech companies.
Putting angry fans’ concerns to rest, Dunamu’s NFT business development and strategy manager promises that the platform they use will consume less energy by being less reliant on energy-demanding mining to approve new transactions, so much so that the carbon footprint is “almost negligible”.
MIKE SHINODA’S “ONE HUNDREDTH STREAM”
Michelle Callahan from Reading, MA, USA/Wikimedia Commons
In February 2021, Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda sold his first NFT, “One Hundredth Stream”, which ultimately sold for US$30,000 on crypto marketplace Zora.
In a tweet, he summed it up pretty succinctly, especially at a time when NFTs were not as widely-understood.
“The NFT isn’t the song – it’s an NFT containing the song. You can even rip the audio and video. And if the contained song becomes more popular, then arguably the NFT becomes more valuable,” he said.
During the initial stage, “One Hundredth Stream” received a US$10,000 bid, to which Shinoda responded: “Even if I upload the full version of the contained song, I would never get even close to $10k. This should be very interesting for people who make unconventional art, or people who have been told their art isn’t art at all. Maybe it is. The community will decide.”
This further shed light on how little musicians are paid through the conventional system, especially after all the fees and costs are deducted.
HOW ARE MUSIC NFTS REDEFINING THE INDUSTRY?
Now, more than ever, music NFTs give artistes the power to change the skewed dynamic between record companies and them.
Cryptocurrency-centric website Crypto.News highlights the conventional challenges faced by musicians in a world without NFTs: “In many cases, artistes need to be represented by a manager and a music label that provides them with the platform to thrive.”
But not all artistes are lucky; some find themselves in dead-end contracts that stifle their independence and take away their rights to earn from their works – which is where music NFTs can step in to solve the problem.
“When an artiste creates an NFT of their work, be it music or merchandise, they have the sole right to sell and distribute it on different platforms and consequently, cut off the ‘middleman,’ which in many cases is the record label,” explains the article.
“Whenever their NFT is sold, musicians earn royalties, cutting out exploitative intermediaries, providing a platform for new musicians to share their music without being associated with a record label, and helping them build an active and interactive fanbase.”
Reports show that only the top 0.8% of famous artistes earn an average of US$50,000 per year from streaming, mainly due to the revenue being split multiple ways across the artiste, their record labels, agents, distributors and other stakeholders.
Jake Fraser, head of business development at Mogul Productions, a DeFi and NFT marketplace platform for the film and entertainment industry, said that in December 2021 alone, US$4bil worth of NFT transactions were recorded, compared with a transaction of just US$40.69mil in 2018.
With the rise of NFTs in the music industry, the audience can now partake in the process, says Fraser.
“Whether by investing and buying NFTs as collectibles, royalties, or for trading in secondary marketplaces, this can help artistes get upfront funding without waiving rights to their ‘master copies’ and suffering considerable cuts.”
Want to know more about the mysterious world of NFTs? Give these articles a read:
Why creatives and musicians should care about NFTs by Ljubinko Zivkovic
As the world goes digital, can NFTs truly revolutionise art? by Jake Thanh
Does owning physical things even meta anymore? by Marcus Lee
All Images: JenC Loo
Writer | Michelle Tan
Having spent the past decade turning her passion into profession, Michelle is a freelance writer/translator based in Malaysia. Her lifelong dream is to become an urban hermit.