Despite the recent downturn, the music industry’s interest in web3 is still as strong as ever. Artists, managers and labels are all coming around to the idea that web3 represents a massive opportunity to re-architect how musicians earn a living and connect with their fans. As an artist or manager, you might be wondering what your web3 strategy is going to look like and where you’d even start.
If so, this article is for you. I’ve listed 14 different options artists have for launching projects in web3. My goal here is not so much to perfectly define each path, but instead to lay out a series of options for artists who want to get started. Hopefully this helps as you formulate ideas for your own future projects.
A quick note: You might notice some crossover between the categories and examples I’ve listed. That’s normal. NFTs are a flexible format with multiple use cases and layers of functionality. Projects and platforms will leverage different aspects of web3. What’s more important is thinking about the broad categories and how you might be able to relate them to your own work. From there, you can mix-and-match, play around with different attributes and functionalities, etc.
1. Sell music or visual art as a collectible NFT
This is the most common model for music NFTs today. Artists will sell music or media (photo/video) related to their music as an NFT. Platforms like Catalog, Sound, Nina or MintSongs focus on music itself. But you can also offer derivative assets like music videos, demo recordings, alternative versions, stems, remixes, or alternative art as collectible NFTs.
Some also choose to collaborate with visual artists on new pieces inspired by their music. Others will include perks (aka “utility”) with their NFTs — extra content, access to the artist, redeemable merch, etc — but this is not necessary. Nor are you transferring any copyright ownership when you sell an NFT — unless you intentionally include as part of the sale. But again, not necessary.
If you’re thinking about the collectible format, consider the musical content, the visual content, the utility and the platform you drop on as distinct categories to account for.
- Audio: Catalog, Sound, MintSongs, Nina
- Audio-Visual: Zora, Serenade, Limewire, Glass Protocol, OneOf, NiftyGateway, Foundation
2. Fractionalize ownership with royalty-bearing NFTs
“Fractional ownership” is one of the more widely discussed use cases around NFTs. Here, a fraction of a song is sold as an NFT, with the owner then being entitled to the equivalent portion of royalties generated from the commercial exploitation of the song.
The argument goes that by putting music royalties “on chain” — assets that have historically been fairly illiquid — we can widen the pool of participation and give fans a sense of ownership in the music they consume. Fans as owners would be more incentivized to promote the music since they would be financially rewarded for its success. Most of the experiments around fractionalization, however, have not actually fractionalized copyright or intellectual property itself. Instead, they’ve given fans a fractional right to revenue based on the NFTs they own.
I’m not sure to what extent artists will fractionalize their music’s copyrights in the future. My sense is that they’ll prefer to hold on to their copyrights. Nonetheless, it’s still an experiment worth paying attention to.
3. Fund one-time projects and moonshot ideas
One of the benefits of crypto is giving fragmented groups of people the tools to rapidly coordinate around shared ideas. Artists, fans and music companies can use NFTs to crowdfund one-time projects and moonshot ideas.
- DoomsdayX helped Haleek Maul raise $640K to fund a music video.
- Jazz and electronica producer Mark de Clive-Lowe raised 12 ETH (≈$40K) to buy back his masters–and congrats to Mark, he was able to do just that a few weeks ago!
More recently, I’ve heard of a major Hip Hop act planning to use NFTs to fund a documentary. These are but a small sample of what’s possible. Last summer ConstitutionDAO raised $47M to buy a copy of the US Constitution. KrauseDAO is trying to buy an NBA team.
What other crazy ideas will we see in music?
4. Capture meaningful cultural moments
NFTs are not valuable because of “utility” or vague notions of community. The real value of NFTs comes from the “meaning” they represent as the cultural artifacts of communities.
Artists with any kind of legacy or record of cultural achievement should therefore consider NFTs as a mechanism for representing and capturing that meaning. Whether it’s through exclusive photographs, early demos, unreleased music, archival live recordings, it doesn’t matter. All of these can become cherished memorabilia when they are wrapped in an NFT.
- Alex Danco on the Infinite Loops podcast (the discussion on NFTs starts around 15:20 or so)
5. Create an experience unlocked by NFTs
One way to think about tokens is to see them as “keys” that can unlock access to experiences.
These experiences can be either digital or physical. Access to a private Discord or to gated content on a website is a simple kind of experience, but there’s a much wider range of possibilities.
Friends With Benefits, for example, is launching FWB Fest, a festival reserved for their token holders. Poolsuite launched their Poolsuite Executive Member NFT, promising to “build the wildest tech company this world has ever seen.” With an outstanding eye for branding and curation, the team describes their NFT as “your pass to the good life.” What the good life entails is still a little nebulous, but already the team is putting on events in London and New York while planning the purchase of an antique manor in Italy.
You don’t need a grand vision for your experiences though. You could invite fans who own your NFTs to attend a studio session, watch a concert from side stage or create a track with you. You could play a show for NFT holders only. The important thing to remember is that the real product is the experience. The NFT is simply the key that unlocks it.
- NFTs Should Be Experiences, Not Just Products: IDEO CoLab’s Ian Lee
- NFTs Need An Audience by Jarrod Dicker, Jonathan Glick, and Tal Shachar
- On Value and Utility: Creating Meaningful Experiences Through Music NFTs by Dot
6. Play with the building blocks of music
The role that NFTs as “digital objects” can play in music production has been greatly under-discussed.
Some companies like Arpeggi Labs and Audioglyphs are working on blockchain-based Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) where producers can mint stems on-chain. By minting stems as NFTs, we can track who created each sound in a given song and pay the producers accordingly. We can properly compensate the creators of iconic samples. Producers who excel in specific areas like sound design can better monetize their work by commercializing it outside of the context of a finished song.
As creators of the “building blocks” of music, music producers are the perfect audience to explore the composability of NFTs. Areas like credit splits, sampling, remixing, beat libraries, engineer and producer DAOs and so on are all waiting for web3 innovators to tackle.
- Hip Hop, Blogs and NFTs: Unbundling, Remixing and Reintegrating Media by DarkStar
- Idea Legos by Packy McCormick
7. Create a private community or fan club
When meaning is shared by enough people, a community can form around it. Because they capture meaning, NFTs can also help coordinate communities.
For musicians, this might mean something like a fan club where the NFT acts as a membership pass into the club. With that membership comes all kinds of perks: meet-and-greets, early or exclusive access to merch and tickets, unreleased music, artist Q&As, etc. Most importantly though, membership in an artist community is a signal to the world about the kind of person you are. It’s a badge that represents your tribe, and part of your online identity.
There are different mechanisms for managing the community. You could use NFTs or you could use a fungible token like RAC and Portugal the Man have done. Some communities will sell tokens for access, while others will allow fans to earn them. In any case, the end result will be entry into a community that matters to you.
This might be the most obvious and important use case for music and web3 because it’s an extension of existing fan behavior.
- The Currency of Community by David Phelps
- Social Tokens and Creator-Centric Economies by Rex Woodbury
- Music Fan Clubs and Web3 [Twitter Thread]
8. Build with your squad
Whether it’s through “metalabels”, collectives, or DAOs, web3 gives artists some awesome new tools to squad up and build cool shit with a crew.
- Songcamp’s Camp Chaos is one example of this kind of crew. The DAO paired 50 different musicians (plus an extra 30 designers, storytellers, engineers and operatives) with one another to co-create 45 songs over the course of 8 weeks. The end result was an NFT drop of over 20,000 NFTs broken out into 5,000 unique “packs” fans could buy.
- Meanwhile on the artist side, some like Daniel Allan are using tokens to form DAOs and power a community of fans as co-owners that shape their projects.
I don’t see artists handing over total creative control to their fans, but I can see the power of ownership to incentivize participation in the projects we care about. What that unlocks is yet to be seen, but I’m excited at the possibilities.
- The State of Music DAOs by Water+Music
- The Cooperation Economy by Packy McCormick
- Introducing Metalabel by Yancey Strickler
- Squad Wealth by Sam Hart, Toby Shorin, Laura Lotti
- How a 50-Person Band Wrote a Web3 Hit With ‘Camp Chaos’ NFTs
9. Create new kinds of art
The history of modern media shows that new genres almost invariably follow new mediums. Early cinema, for example, started by mimicking the form and structure of theatre. Over time, however, cinema developed a distinctive style native to its medium. With new forms of art already emerging, web3 media seems likely to follow a similar pattern.
Artists and musicians are experimenting with generative art by feeding musical and visual selections into algorithms that spit out new works. Others, inspired by Crypto Punks, are creating profile picture collections based on avatars with varying attributes. Programmable NFTs that “interact” with other digital objects are now also possible.
Web3 gives artists new tools and a new language for creative work. Artists should embrace these opportunities to experiment and try new ways of presenting their craft.
- Generative Music NFTs — A Deep Dive
- NFTs in the Music Industry: How ‘Programmable Music’ Could Change Everything
- Async Art, NFTs and the Programmable Media Movement
10. Bridge physical and digital worlds through NFTs
While NFTs are sometimes viewed as being exclusively digital, what they actually offer is the digitization of both physical and digital objects. By enabling digital scarcity, NFTs can now reflect the physical scarcity of our analog world.
This is a profound change. Ownership can now be provably authenticated, without the need for a centralized intermediary. This will enable entirely new use cases and transform the way value is delivered through physical items.
The value fans derive from vinyl, tickets, and merch will no longer be limited to each’s inherent functionality. These objects can now also be imbued with digital functionality using NFTs. They can be used as digital keys to unlock experiences or join communities.
Imagine for example having your record collection stored both in your living room and in a digital wallet. You can take your collection to an app that will recognize it and integrate the music you love into the experience. Maybe there’s an app that reads your wallet and connects you with similar collectors. Maybe you get access to a listening party for the artist’s new album or first access to tickets on their next tour. The point is you can take your record collection anywhere with you and developers can build on top of it. Suddenly the value you derive from your records has expanded.
Objects that were once limited to private enjoyment now become a part of fans’ public identities and experience.
- What Happens When Vinyl Meets NFTs?
- Redeem-and-retain NFTs Are The Future of Luxury Goods
- Americana’s Chip Turns Physical Objects Into NFTs
11. Sell a sync license
One of the benefits of NFTs is that they simplify complex transactions by making them more legible. Sync licensing has typically been fairly illegible because it requires a complex set of rights, relationships and knowledge to work. As such, artists’ overall sync revenue is much lower than it might be under a simpler system.
NFTs offer a potential opportunity for simplifying the sync licensing process. By embedding a complex set of rights and licenses into a fairly liquid digital token, copyright owners can simplify how they issue licenses and how everyone gets paid.
As with many areas of music and web3, it is still early in the process of experimentation. There are few case studies to reference, but new platforms like Dequency are emerging with the goal of solving this issue. As an area of potential growth, it’s certainly worth exploring.
12. Curate your own marketplace
One of the more interesting aspects of blockchains is that they give developers the ability to configure new front-end user experiences using public data. Because blockchain data is default public and open-source, anyone can use it to build an application.
DJs, bloggers, artists and labels can all create their own custom NFT storefronts without the need to negotiate with individual copyright holders. All they need is good taste and the ability to plug into a public data feed of their favourite works. The underlying smart contract can do the rest to ensure that featured creators whose work is sold through a curator are paid.
Nina recently introduced Hubs for this very use case. Curators can use Hubs to add context to any music available on the underlying Nina protocol and earn a “finder’s fee” whenever someone purchases an NFT from their Hub. DJs, blogs, and tastemakers decimated by the shift to streaming may soon find their roles elevated as an open economic model based on curation emerges.
The more new content gets created, the more curation matters. As the music industry transitions to web3, curators who add context and meaning to music, and guide us through what’s good and what’s not, will become increasingly important. Just as we valued the expert record shop clerks who could guide you to underground gems, so too will we prize the web3 curators who shape our online experiences and set them in their proper context.
13. Collab with an established community or brand
One of the biggest trends in media and commerce has been the rising impact of brand collaborations. Whether it’s pop stars bringing in A-List producers, remixers or features to bolster a track or Supreme collaborating with the likes of Louis Vuitton and Comme des Garçons, collabs have become an essential tool for any brand strategist looking to reach new audiences.
This extends to the world of NFTs. By bringing distinct communities together and leveraging shared affinity, brands can create unique moments for fans to collect. Any musician with a history of successful partnerships should consider not only releasing their own artist-branded NFTs, but also of partnering with existing brands and communities to leverage the cultural clout of both entities. Doodles recently hired Billboard’s Julian Holguin as their new CEO with this specific goal in mind. Are artists listening?
- Good collaborations are art, great ones are kitsch by Ana Andjelic
- Why collaboration is fashion’s next market building strategy by Ana Andjelic
14. Reward Your Biggest Fans
The last thing I wanted to discuss in this article was fan rewards. So far I’ve mostly talked about tokens as something to be purchased by fans. But what if we looked at it the other way and saw tokens as rewards to be given to fans?
Fan engagement tokens will become one of the most important ways musicians use web3 because of their ability to authenticate “real” fans through provable action.
Tokens or NFTs might be tied to merch purchases, live show attendance, online engagement, or listening activity. Imagine getting an NFT as a thank you for listening to an artist’s entire album in one sitting or earning a special commemorative NFT after seeing your favourite band perform at a special concert.
These kinds of proof-of-fandom tokens will not only help artists identify their biggest fans (think of a blockchain as the world’s best CRM), but they will also drive deeper levels of emotional engagement by ritualizing and capturing fan engagement in the form of a token.
With tech platforms charging artists to access their fans and promoters keeping ticket purchaser data for themselves, fan reward tokens represent one of the best opportunities for artists to get to truly know their audience.