Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
While the Covid-19 pandemic hit the entertainment industry hard, it hit indie artists even harder, especially when it came to them protecting their revenue-dependent consumer fanbase.
When musicians and producers took to social media to keep their careers alive, hosting virtual concerts and regular content drops, it wasn’t long before platforms like Facebook and Spotify began implementing guardrails. This posed a challenge for the many struggling artists out there just needing to stay afloat.
With concerts returning, indie artists have some catching up to do, beginning by leveraging technology like blockchain and crypto to stay ahead. Music-related non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, have proved to be a new way for both the artist and, finally, their fans to connect.
An NFT is an electronic ID that authenticates the existence of a digital asset, usually in the art world, or in this case, a limited edition piece of music or related benefit, not available anywhere else. NFT token contracts are unique such that the owner of the NFT token contract is the owner of the original artwork; NFTs create the virtual scarcity that elevates the value.
Despite the recent NFT market slow down, this technology still serves as a powerful instrument for indie musicians who don’t always have the same luxuries and resources available to them by mainstream platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, which largely cater to big-name artists.
Considering Intellectual Property
As the pandemic has continued to linger on, it became increasingly apparent that indie artists need a more robust toolkit and more innovative revenue streams. While it may seem readily apparent that the almost saturated digital streaming market consists of many platforms, it’s important to evaluate each and every platform’s mission in what it specifically offers to its artists versus consumer fan base.
Breaking the barrier between the artist and fan means implementing as many mechanisms to allow for the fan to, in fact, feel loyal and invested in their favorite artists. For any music track, which is made up of many elements that aren’t always attributed to a single artist, copyright protection is of utmost importance in today’s digital age, which was fueled by the birth of peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing.
But the onset of innovative advances to the music industry allows for more direct participation from fanbases and investment opportunities for artists. For instance, platforms like ROCKI provide fans an opportunity to support their favorite artists by investing in their work and getting a share of royalties to boot. In December 2020, Israeli progressive house artist Guy J released “Cotton Eyes” exclusively on ROCKI, which was auctioned off for a record amount of 40 ETH, or roughly $24,200 for a portion of future royalty rights on ROCKI.
Artists Get Creative
Even more mainstream artists are getting creative with how they leverage tech to interact with their fanbases. In March, rapper Post Malone dropped an NFT that would enable fans who joined the company’s “Moon Club,” to participate in Posty’s World Pong League via a live auction on Clubhouse. This was the first-ever experience for holders of the NFTs to play beer pong against the rapper.
In May, a new NFT artist collective known as “TestaMint” made its entry into the space with artists Billy Morrison (Billy Idol), Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction) and Jim “TAZ” Evans. Launched by Elevated Games CEO Jaron Hinds and South Park Executive Producer Frank Agnone, TestaMint allegedly created the industry’s first environmentally-friendly blockchain ecosystem, which, according to the company, makes it 66,000 times more eco-friendly than Bitcoin and 17,000 times more eco-friendly than Ethereum.
And then there are those artists who have used the NFT craze to help fuel unorthodox opportunities for their fans to show support in ways that differ from previously established industry standards.
Pussy Riot activist and co-founder Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, whose recent songs support and empower those women who’ve been victimized by domestic violence, launched their four-part series of NFTs back in March for the group’s latest music video “Panic Attack” on the Foundation platform. Pussy Riot is also sponsoring an NFT political art award with the aim of fronting the transaction fees for artists.
Back in 2015, Imogen Heap became one of the first to use and champion the Ethereum blockchain for her music, which is why it’s not surprising to see her dabbling in NFTs. In April, Heap created short audiovisual clips sold as NFTs on OpenSea, which she created during live, collaborative jam sessions on the Endlesss app. The project helped remove a total of 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which more than offset the emissions generated from the NFTs.
Will Our Music Landscape Change?
NFT’s influence on our music landscape could forever alter decades worth of access replacing ownership.
According to the RIAA’s most recent year-end report, streaming now accounts for 83 percent of the entire industry’s revenue. But with one problem — under the “pro-rata” model, 90 percent of what’s streamed is music from the top one percent of performers. It’s no secret that Spotify pays artists between $0.003 and $0.005 per stream, but revenue can be lower than that. Indie artist Gilligan Moss said he got a check for $8.19, representing his music being streamed just 92,000 times.
With the emergence of NFTs, indie artists can have a fair chance to compete, perform and survive amongst the industry’s most influential artists. It is my opinion that companies that put their fanbase and artists first could, over time, thrive far beyond what platforms have set as an industry precedent. It’s time to bridge the gap between artist and listener.