If we asked everybody reading this article to raise their hands if they feel like they genuinely understand cryptocurrency, NFTs, or web3 in general, we suspect that we’d see very few hands. That’s not because very few people will read this article – it’s because it takes a degree of technical knowledge to know what a cryptocurrency is, what an NFT is, and how either of them works in relation to making people money. We’ll be totally honest and say that we don’t know everything we’d like to know about them either, but we do know this: NFTs are currently a big thing in the world of music, and not everybody is happy about that.
The first big-name band in the world to release an album as an NFT was Kings of Leon in March 2021. Later that same year, they would become the first band to have an NFT played in space. It’s nice for Kings of Leon to have yet another entry in the record books, but most people at the time didn’t know what an NFT actually was. The hellscape of 2022 with NFT video game rug-pulls everywhere and people paying thousands of dollars for jpegs of apes wasn’t a reality yet. NFTs didn’t have the largely bad reputation that they have now. Nevertheless, musicians are still queuing up to get involved with NFTs. Are they intentionally scamming their users, or is it just the latest musical trend?
Dolly Parton Enters NFT Space
If there’s a new trend in music, you can generally expect Dolly Parton to become part of it. For a woman in her mid-70s, she does an excellent job of staying ahead of the times and spotting new opportunities. It’s often been said that Dolly Parton is a better businesswoman than she is a musician – and she’s an outstanding musician. At the start of March 2022, Dolly announced that she would be “performing on the blockchain” at this year’s South by Southwest festival and that her performance would become available as a free NFT to everyone in attendance. Quite how that works when every NFT is supposed to be unique isn’t clear – perhaps everyone will get a slightly different image with some music attached to it. She’ll also be selling NFTs of her own art, her upcoming novel, and limited editions of her new album. It’s fair to say that Dolly has embraced web3.
As incredible as Dolly is, it’s hard to imagine that she’s been browsing forums and message boards looking for information about web3. It’s perhaps more likely that she’s been inspired by facts that someone paid half a million dollars to buy a plot of “digital land” next to Snoop Dogg in the “Snoopverse” a few months ago, and the world has lost its mind. Katy Perry has recently made money by selling pictures of the kind that she’d usually offer for free on Instagram as NFTs for £250 a time. This is a great money-making scheme for the artists who’ve thus far been able to take advantage of the trends – but does it really offer anything to fans?
The NFT Backlash
There are signs that music fans might be waking up to the idea that NFTs aren’t as valuable as they appear to be or don’t make a great deal of sense as purchases. Dolly Parton will probably be spared from any backlash because she’s such a beloved figure, but Charli XCX recently found out how much her fans hate the idea of her getting involved in NFTs. She was due to play at an “NFT Festival” called Afterparty in late March, with the idea that top musicians would perform at an event where people could buy “NFT Art.” The only people invited to the festival would be people who already own “Utopian” NFTs, people who were invited by those who owned said NFTs, or anyone who could demonstrate that they had the capital to pay for such an NFT to be minted. Charli XCX’s fans made their feelings about her involvement in the event very clear, and she eventually pulled out of the festival before taking a social media break.
Charli XCX isn’t the only performer to have felt the wrath of angry anti-web3 fans recently. Sunmi attempted to launch a range of NFTs under the name “Sunmiya Club” and was later forced to apologise. Hitpiece, which is described as a “music NFT platform,” recently found itself under a microscope because of the presence of an abundance of stolen music on the platform. There still seems to be a lot of confusion about what an NFT is and what it entitles a person to. For clarity, an NFT is an entry on the blockchain that points at a link, whether that be an image, a music file, or something else. All the NFT owner truly owns is the link. It has never been explained to anybody’s satisfaction how NFT owners are supposed to make money out of their “assets,” but that doesn’t stop people from paying vastly inflated prices for them.
Shouldn’t Musicians Be Able To Explore New Frontiers?
NFTs can be a touchy subject among those who believe in them as the future of digital assets and an even more touchy subject among musicians who are making money from them. We shouldn’t resent musicians for wanting to make money. Thanks to platforms like Spotify, albums and singles now earn a fraction of what they did ten or twenty years ago. With recordings of their music becoming almost worthless, musicians had to rely on live performances to pay their bills. In 2020, live performances became temporarily impossible. Artists have to make ends meet somehow, and NFTs probably look like an easy way of doing so.
On the other hand, there are different ways of using the digital world to pay the bills. Look how many casinos and casino sister sites carry official, licensed music by top recording artists now. It feels like every rock band from the 1980s and 1990s has its own official presence at casinos, and if reviews about casino sister sites are to be believed, the games are very popular. Often, they’ll take the form of a jukebox of the performer’s greatest hits where the game itself is almost a secondary concern. Even in cases where a band or musician isn’t quite big enough to justify having a game dedicated to them, the content at casino sister sites still needs a soundtrack, and an increasing number of musicians make good money by providing those soundtracks. The subject matter might not be to everybody’s taste, but it still feels more honest than producing NFTs.
Musicians do not and should not operate as charities. They’re entitled to make money, and fans are allowed to spend as much or as little on their favourite artists as they wish. Minting NFTs for thousands of dollars a time when those NFTs are likely to prove to be worthless in the long run, though, probably isn’t going to be a good look for the artists indulging in the practice five years from now.