Bear market? What bear market?! web3 music rolled through the downturn without skipping a beat. Independent artists led the way… and they’ll lead us forward in 2023.
The bear market was no match for music. While high profile NFT collectibles tanked following the crypto crash of late 2022, music NFT projects held their value and are poised to grow dramatically this year.
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From anxious ape holders to bemused buyers of the griftacular Trump NFTs, investors that didn’t dump everything held their breath, praying for a cryptocurrency comeback before the taxman came knocking and hoping that their NFT holdings wouldn’t evaporate.
But not so for music NFT collectors. Fans continued to pour bags of Ethereum into projects that support their favorite artists and invest in the collective future of independent music. And this new crop of innovators is positioned to become an unstoppable force in the music industry.
2022: The Build Year
Last spring I wrote about how a few up-and-coming indie musicians were taking the power back, asserting control over their own destinies with web3. I came across Violetta Zironi and Josh Savage in early 2022 when I was researching how to launch my own music project, scouring Twitter for information about music NFTs. While they certainly weren’t the first artists to experiment with it, these two kicked it up a notch, launching notable collections that suggested something big was afoot: volume sales, solid and growing fan bases, and a voracious appetite on the part of fans for this new way to experience music and support the artists they love.
Over the course of 2022 Violetta and Josh were joined by amazing creators like Rae Isla, Sammy Arriaga, Emma Miller, Taylor Alexander, Kirk DeSoto, Joe Rian, Mike Bass, Sara Phillips, Shontelle, NE$$Y — the list goes on — all of whom launched successful NFTs in the past year and are — get this — making a living from it. I have become a collector, superfan and friend of many of these great musicians, hanging out on Twitter, Zoom and IRL, getting to know each other as artists and people. It’s been amazing to watch their trajectory over the past year.
And now 2023 is off to a roaring start.
Last week was a banner one for music NFTs, as Sammy’s PIXELATED and Rae Isla’s Rocks collections hit new highs in sales volume on OpenSea. I got in on a bull run on PIXELATED; in a hangover-induced spree on Saturday I swept the floor, and then I sniped a couple of rare ones in the days that followed. By the Monday, Sammy’s project was doing over 100ETH in volume and nabbed the number one spot on OpenSea’s music charts. I also went all-in on Rae, collecting rock rarities that leveled me up to her project’s leadership team and helped her hit number one on OpenSea the very next day. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not the only whale buying up these awesome assets. The artists have intensely loyal fans who are going all-in to support them and be part of their journey. And they continue to swap spots at the top of the NFT charts.
The week also featured hundreds of totally surreal hours in Twitter Spaces. Besides Discord servers, Twitter is where web3 project founders connect with their collectors. With Twitter Spaces, web3 musicians have a unique way of bonding with their fans— not just sharing alpha and degenning, but performing live and talking about their music with their fans for hours on end, at all hours. Laughing, crying, swapping stories and making amazing memories. The fan bases are still small enough that the artists know most of their collectors and can take the time to forge meaningful relationships. And the artists are mutually supportive, visiting and performing in each others’ spaces multiple times a day. As the week came to a close, time seemed to slow down while hundreds of us hung out in Spaces nonstop in eager anticipation of a watershed event: Violetta Zironi’s new collection in partnership with OpenSea.
It’s not a stretch to say that Violetta has become the face of this movement. She has resolved that she will never again release her music on streaming services. From hereon, it’s web3 all the way. Last Friday, after nearly two solid days of hanging with her fans in Spaces sharing updates as her team put the finishing touches on the website, Violetta’s new collection page for Another Life went live. It’s a historic drop, the first-ever singer-songwriter to have a collection featured on OpenSea. These 5000 collectibles will mint on February 14th — Violetta’s valentine for her loyal fans.
Not even a year out from their genesis, this crew led by web3 music’s Fantastic Four — Vi, Josh, Rae and Sammy — are taking the music world by storm.
2023: The Big Year
But let’s take a beat. There’s still much head scratching around music NFTs. Let me attempt to clear a few things up.
The popular view of NFTs is that they are graphics of questionable artistic merit collected by speculators in what’s essentially a “bigger fool” scheme. This leads to a misconception that music NFTs are simply the musical equivalent. But that take ignores many aspects of what makes them so special. NFTs are programmable digital objects; they can contain rich combinations of art assets as well as software code that implements logic. This programming logic can be used confer benefits to NFT holders, such as access to restricted areas of websites, electronic concert tickets, merch discounts and more — utility in the vernacular.
Additionally, buying a music NFT supports the artist by purchasing their work, rewarding them for the fruits of their labor. For two generations, musicians have been conditioned to give away their music, first through file sharing, then the streaming services. Get paid to gig and sell T-shirts, went the mantra. COVID was the cherry on top of this shit sundae, and by 2020, no longer able to tour, artists’ backs were against the wall. Many had no choice but to try something new or get out of the business. NFTs arrived in the nick of time.
Perhaps most importantly, the infrastructure of web3 and tools like Discord and Twitter provide the social and economic glue that binds communities in common interest. Artists communicate directly with fans and can exchange value with very little friction. And because these communities don’t have to be huge to support an independent artist, musicians can form deep and lasting connections with their tribe.
Finally — yes, there is a collection mechanic to all this as well. Enjoying music is becoming gamified along with the rest of the digital experience. And some collectibles might have a big market upside someday. I for one plan to hodl my rare Willie PIXELATED for years to come.
So, there it is: Music NFTs are part utility, part patronage, part fandom, and part collection.
And all love. Regardless of the design of the collection, the commercial goals of the project, or the style of music, this movement has brought together a diverse crowd that shares one thing above all: a deep and abiding love of music. The countless hours in Twitter Spaces have an invariant. Someone gets up on the stage with their axe and belts out a tune, and someone inevitably cries (usually me). It’s glorious… and there is nothing like it on Earth.
Sounds like a cult? A fringe indie scene? Maybe. Or maybe it’s the tip of the spear. Folks in the music industry are definitely starting to take notice.
Conventional wisdom would dictate that over time, the big acts and largest industry players will dominate. And the bold innovators will either sell out and become the man they’re rebelling against, or get rolled over by the giants.
As a career tech entrepreneur I can be almost certain that is not how it’s going to go down. It’s not how innovation happens. We are in a thoroughly disruptive time, and in such periods upstarts rewrite the rules. Most of the established players don’t even see this coming… and the ones that do will be challenged to do much about it.
But it’s a numbers game, right?
If you’re wondering how this will all scale, then you need to rethink that word in order to understand. I’ve said it before and I will continue beating this drum: communities are the new scale. These artists are building their foundation brick by brick. One heart, one mind, one fan at a time. With web3 business models, an artist doesn’t need a billion random fans clicking ads— just a few thousand true ones purchasing what they like.
And for those who still don’t get it: don’t try to dig what they all say. If you have to ask, you’ll never know; and by the time you do, it’ll be too late. The kids are trying to cause a big sensation. This is their lives, and their livelihoods, on the line. And they won’t stop at NFTs. web3 has a lot more to offer than that. More utility. More fun. And more community.
And that’s the true power. Because in the end, we’re not just collectors. We’re fans. We’re patrons. We’re investors, betting on the long-term success of the artists we love and who love us back. And we’re a family.
And this family will do anything for each other.
2023 is the year of Music NFTs.
And music will never be the same.