Lately it seems, the whole world is abuzz talking about NFTs and how they are going to change the world for artists across all mediums.
From ‘VIP golden tickets’ sold with albums through to interactive ensemble pieces, musicians are already beginning to harness their creativity with the NFTs they’re offering to new and existing audiences alike. Before we jump into how you could use NFTs to your benefit, let’s break down what exactly an NFT is.
NFT stands for non-fungible token, and essentially an NFT is a digital representation of a unique asset.
From Coinbase.com: “NFTs are a special kind of crypto asset in which each token is unique — as opposed to “fungible” assets like Bitcoin and dollar bills, which are all worth exactly the same amount.”
A good example of a non-fungible item is your cellphone. You might have exactly the same make and model as someone else, but they cannot be swapped interchangeably due to the different apps, contacts, photos and other content on the device. A brand new, unused iPhone 13 pro is fungible, but once it’s used and has all your contacts and photos on it, it immediately becomes non-fungible and unique.
Creating an NFT means getting whatever you’re trying to sell on the blockchain, and this is done through a process of tokenisation, creating a unique identifying hash code on the blockchain that can then be sold.
Tokenising your music or merch creates a smart contract that includes the rules of the sale, what the asset includes (important if you’re selling real-life experiences as part of it), and who the proceeds go to if it is later sold to someone else.
If you’re thinking of simply selling your music as an NFT you might ask, why would someone pony up thousands (or even millions) of dollars for something they can’t actually touch? It basically comes down to bragging rights.
Think of it like owning an original piece of art vs a print copy of that same artwork. The original is worth far more than the print simply because it’s the original. The print version doesn’t have the same financial value because it lacks the provenance of being the original.
Because each NFT is stored on a blockchain, there is a fixed record starting with the token’s creation and including every sale. That makes it impossible to replicate the asset.
To create your own music NFT your best bet will be to work with a company specialising in music NFTs, like Mint Songs, who can help you through the initial learning curve.
Garrett Hughes (CTO/COO of Mint Songs) explains the benefit of using NFTs to engage music fans, “Super fans are always looking for a neat new way to engage or have face time with an artist. Web3 creates a direct relationship with no intermediaries for unprecedented access to an artist.”
One of Mint Songs’ primary goals is helping musicians build a more sustainable income by leveraging web3 communities. “By selling NFTs you can leverage more than just the theory of first sale – meaning every time your NFT changes hands, you get a percentage in perpetuity.”
The easiest option is to just sell your album MP3s as an NFT, but the draw for most buyers is in the creative offers rather than the regular merch items also sold elsewhere.
Think of your NFT offers the way you would in building “perk levels” on a Kickstarter campaign. Be as creative as possible and make it as uniquely personally to you as you can.
You could even offer points (designating royalty percentages) on your album, so the owner of the NFT essentially becomes an investor in the record with the potential to make money as the album makes money.
Hughes recommends experimenting to see what works for you and your fans. “We’re still very much in the first inning of web3. Our largest recommendation to artists is to experiment. Try utility, try unreleased music, try released music, try any/everything to see what’s working best.”
Interactive pieces are the NFT focus of Nashville-based composer Cristina Spinei who was inspired to get involved with NFTs after becoming disillusioned with the existing model of how musicians are paid.
“There have been many times when I haven’t received payment for completed work, I never received contracts for commissions, the list goes on. NFTs operate on a trustless system – there are no intermediaries to execute operations. Once an NFT is sold the payment automatically transfers to the artist’s wallet. The artist also has the ability to earn royalties (anywhere from 10% up is standard) on the secondary sales market. I see this as a much-needed solution for musicians to get paid on-time and to earn royalties on their work, whether it’s visual art or an audio recording.”
Her most recent work – a string quartet called Whirl specifically written for the platform Async Art – is a great example of NFTs inspiring creativity.
She had the four instrumentalists of the quartet record three variations of each part, and each part (stem) can be collected as an NFT. The collector then has the ability to decide which variation of the stem will be live at any given moment, and since all four stems have been collected, Spinei no longer has control of the live recording of Whirl sounds like.
“If you look at the very first record, it’s in the initial acoustic version and it changes from there. I’ve enjoyed seeing how Whirl has taken shape. I knew from the beginning of this project that the final sound of it would be out of my control. That made it the most challenging and fun piece to compose!”
Most NFTs are bought and sold with Ethereum, a cryptocurrency that guzzles up energy and pumps out a lot of greenhouse gas emissions for creation, so there’s a lot more to unpack with Web3 than just the creative possibilities for musicians.
But for now, companies like Mint Songs and artists like Sinei are focusing on the community-building possibilities of the Web3 frontier. “NFTs have given me the ability to connect directly with an audience that values my music. The crypto art world is a free marketplace that allows artists to experiment and find a community.”
Vanessa McGowan is a Fender and Aguilar endorsee originally from NZ, currently based in Nashville, TN. She plays bass and sings backing vocals for a wide range of touring artists including Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles, Brandy Clark, and Tattletale Saints, and is the founder of promusicguide.com – Simple strategies for powerful DIY music marketing.