Since NFTs have skyrocketed to international attention, we have seen countless celebrities buy into and embrace them. An overwhelming majority of these celebrity-endorsed NFTs, like the Bored Apes art, are all JPEGs. And, since cultural figures like Paris Hilton, Shawn Mendes, Grimes, and Snoop Dogg have all made clear their interest in JPEG NFTs, it has become the only form of NFT that has gained mainstream news coverage and consumer attention.
But that’s not all NFTs can be limited to. The technology itself can be applied to videos, movies, podcasts, and music.
Music NFTs already exist; they just aren’t as commonly produced or consumed as their JPEG counterparts. In fact, there are currently websites where you can buy music NFTs straight from the artists you love — Royal, MYSTERIOUS, Sound.xyz, and more. Actually, Nashville-born indie band Kings of Leon released their most recent album, “When You See Yourself,” as an NFT and playfully promoted it as NFT Yourself on social media. The release was one of if not the most significant music NFT drop to date.
But what does the possibility of a music industry dominated by NFTs look like for artists? For fans? Is this something artists and the industry should be striving for? Or could it change the most widely consumed medium of art for good?
Let’s start with the artists’ perspective. What do NFTs look like on the artist’s side? How do they make money? And who really owns the music?
As of right now, the main ways artists make money, excluding sponsorships and non-music incomes, are streaming and live shows. However, streaming kind of fucks artists over because they can get paid less than a penny for each stream. Streaming only works for major artists with marketing money, labels, and connections to get enough streams to make actual money. And you can guess that if you’re a small artist that can’t get streaming numbers, you’re not getting the funds you need to tour or do any major live shows, let alone pay the managers, venue operators, and other middlemen making money off of artists’ music.
That’s where NFTs come in. When an artist mints their music as an NFT and lists it for sale on sites like Royal, they only need a handful of people to buy it to make money. That money then goes straight to the artist without having to use labels, streaming services, or managers. So all you need to do is target the right group of people — as opposed to the mainstream way of selling music, targeting everyone.
No musician expects everyone who listens to their music to buy it. But with music NFTs, just a few of those people who end up buying your art could pay your bills for months. (As opposed to buying you half a cup of coffee like with streaming.)
When artists release their music as NFTs, there is also the potential to earn more royalties than with traditional music. Like cryptocurrency or even tangible pop culture artifacts, music NFTs have the potential to appreciate over time. They can continuously be traded and sold to new owners, gaining value based on demand, benefiting the original producer of the piece.
But what about fans? How will their experience consuming music change?
Clearly, there is evidence that music NFTs would benefit and artist. They provide more time, money, and creative freedom. But the real change will be in how fans interact with artists and their art.
Since music NFTs appreciate over time, there is a potential for fans to buy a song or album before an artist blows up, and then, when that artist does blow up, sell that NFT, turning a profit just for being one of their first fans.
I know what you’re thinking. This sounds great! I, for one, would love to have purchased an NFT of Doja Cat’s first studio album when I heard it in 2018 and been able to flip it for a profit because she’s blown up. But after sitting on it, the prospect of that idea kind of scared me. It scares me because it could ruin what is so great about an artist’s fandom or community.
I recently went to a concert event called Heav3n. The lineup was great and brought eclectic and interesting people to the venue. People that you could tell were passionate about the art they were seeing and the community it had created. They weren’t interested in flipping the NFT they bought of one of the artist’s early songs, they were just interested in putting on a cute outfit and feeling the music in front of them.
But in an NFT model of the music industry that culture would undeniably be different. You would look around at the concertgoers and the community wouldn’t seem so important. Sure, you would get some fangirls or fanboys, but you would also get the people who bought an NFT of some song and purely came to see if their investment would pan out. If they made the right call on one artist, or if they should invest in another.
Basically, If the music industry transitioned to a primarily NFT-based model, there would be people, most likely venture capitalists, scouring the internet buying up every cheap music NFT they could and selling them like stocks as soon as they turn a minor profit.
Like, seriously, how much of a buzzkill would it be if live music simply became risk analysis for investment and there were little to no fans shouting lyrics as loud as they could?
We already see this with limited drop fashion brands. People snag everything they can from a brand like Telfar when they drop a new collection of bags, only to resell it for double the price once they are sold out, inflating the market and ruining the drop for other customers. That’s what I fear fans and investors would do to music in an NFT model. Buy up cheap music with the intent to make a profit, ruin the accessibility to the music for actual fans, and make money off some limited drop craze like Supreme or Telfar.
Music is loved because it’s for everyone, not the highest bidder. So long as music NFTs don’t alter the accessibility and universality of music, it can do amazing things for small artists and even better things for bigger ones. Or it could turn music into a bidding war and a competition for who heard whose song first.