Web3 For Musicians with Alex Roth

Technical innovation and jazz may not be the most commonly discussed partnership, but in this piece we talk with an artist who is embracing the cutting edge of Web3 and its ability to create a fairer, more equitable landscape for independent musicians.

Born in Detroit, raised in London and now based in KrakĂłw, Alex Roth is a composer, guitarist, producer and interdisciplinary collaborator who, in recent years, has dived deeply into the emerging world of web3 and the various opportunities it offers.

What started out as a simple interview has turned into an in-depth guide to blockchain, NFTs & web3 for musicians – big thanks to Alex for taking part and putting so much detail into this piece!

As he mentions at the end, you can get in touch with him if you have follow up questions or comments…

Congratulations on your recent release of music as NFTs! Can you give us the idiots-guide to what web3 actually is? 

In a nutshell, web3 is the next iteration of the internet. 

It’s an umbrella term that encompasses emerging technologies such as blockchains, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and cryptocurrencies. Some of the guiding principles behind these tools are decentralisation, interoperability and sovereign ownership. 

I’ll unpack those ideas:

Decentralisation

Decentralisation is the redistribution of control and decision-making power from a few individuals or organisations to every participant in a network. 

The concept itself predates web3 (there’s a lot of overlap with organisational structures like cooperatives and collectives) but in this context it generally means that instead of a platform (or the internet as a whole) being run by a handful of powerful players, each member of the ecosystem has a say in its governance and activities. 

An example of this in music would be a decentralised streaming protocol like SHARE (developed by Formless), which allows artists to set their own terms for access to their music, instead of having the value of their work determined by centralised platforms like Spotify.

Interoperability

Interoperability is a modular approach to technology which allows developers to build new tools on top of existing ones, turning software applications into digital Lego bricks that can be limitlessly combined and recombined. This results in vastly improved experiences for everyone using the internet. 

For example, imagine I want to offer free concert tickets to anyone who’s bought my latest album on Bandcamp. As simple as that sounds, there isn’t currently a streamlined technological solution to facilitate it. That’s because Bandcamp’s data (i.e. who’s bought what by whom) isn’t easily accessible to ticketing platforms. In web3, this is much simpler, because each component part in my suite of tools is designed in such a way that it can “talk to” all the others, including ones that haven’t even been built yet.

Ownership

Ownership is the web3 concept most people initially find hardest to grasp. It’s the idea that you can truly own a digital asset, which could be a limited-edition artwork, virtual real estate, cryptocurrency, or anything else that exists online. With music, this is typically a track sold as an NFT, either limited- or open-edition. I’ll go into more detail about this below.

How did you decide to explore the NFT space for releasing your music, and what factors influenced your decision? 

My journey into web3 was quite slow and drawn-out. I first heard about blockchain technology around 2015 through Imogen Heap’s Mycelia project. I got really excited about it and did a bit of research into the underlying tech, but then it seemed to take a hiatus and I forgot about blockchains for a while. 

Back then the scene that would come to be known as web3 wasn’t really a single, interconnected space you could explore by falling down a rabbit-hole, like it is now. It was lots of separate projects experimenting with different ideas, and if the one you were following took a break, it wasn’t so easy to just find another one to get interested in.

Anyway, around 2018 a blockchain-based streaming platform called Audius launched, and I clocked that it used some of the same tech I’d learned about through Mycelia. I was among the first wave of artists to upload music to Audius, but again, the momentum slowed and I forgot about it for a while.

Then in late 2020 I heard about NFTs and spent a few months doing pretty intensive research into the various aspects of web3. By this time, the infrastructure was more developed and interconnected, and Twitter had become the place to talk about it all. It was at this point that I realised the potential for web3 to revolutionise not just the music industry, but pretty much every other sector too.

However, music NFTs didn’t yet exist. A few pioneering artists had begun experimenting with uploading (or “minting”) music on the blockchain, but the first music NFT platforms weren’t established until the following year. The largest NFT marketplace, OpenSea, didn’t even have a music category yet. The vast majority of NFTs were visually oriented.

My first creative foray into NFTs was as Supersigil, which I describe as my digital shadow. It’s the moniker I adopted for my experimental electronic music, which I’d been working on since around 2017. 

I’d built up an album’s worth of material but had only released one track, so it still felt like a blank canvas and it made sense to explore this new terrain through that project.

Given my experience composing music for interdisciplinary projects, and the visual focus within NFT culture at the time, I decided to collaborate with visual artists on a series of single-edition audiovisual works. 

My first (or “genesis”) piece was VERTEX, a collaboration with videographer Morgan Beringer, who several years previously had made a music video for my electric guitar ensemble Future Currents. We dropped VERTEX on 10 March 2021, and I followed this with collaborations with filmmaker aAron Munson (Unto Self) and painter Serhiy Savchenko (Bittere Heart and Chromaflow). These all exist as part of a collection simply called Supersigil collabs.

None of these pieces sold. Over the next few months, platforms like Sound and Catalog (the top two music marketplaces today) launched and #musicNFTs started trending for the first time. 

Both of these platforms were backed by venture capital and were (and still are) “curated”, meaning artists have to apply to release NFTs on them. Of course I promptly applied, but I wasn’t accepted onto either. 

Meanwhile, dozens of artists were being “onboarded” and selling tracks for thousands of dollars. The majority of them were making chart-oriented dance music, and I began to notice a distinct lack of musical (and other) diversity in web3. After entering the space with high hopes for a levelling of the playing field that would benefit experimental artists like myself, this was frustrating. I still believed in the potential of web3 to revolutionise the music industry, but I’d become a bit disillusioned with some aspects of the culture surrounding NFTs. 

I shared some of these thoughts in a Twitter thread that went semi-viral (by web3 standards, anyway), and suddenly found myself being called an authority on web3 music. This led to opportunities to lecture at the University of Westminster, speak on a panel at the UK’s biggest web3 conference, advise a number of web3 music startups, and curate for Catalog (to which I did also finally get accepted as an artist).

I also started curating a playlist on Audius to highlight experimental music, which was (and still is) under-represented in web3. Each month from January to June 2022 I put out an open call on Twitter and added a couple of new tracks from the submissions. I’d successfully applied for a grant to reward the artists whose music I included, so they got paid in Audius’s native cryptocurrency, $AUDIO.

Meanwhile, I’d been working on a large-scale project called Spectres, which is my attempt to reimagine the music release in a web3 environment. I’ll discuss this in more detail below, but the idea is to launch the debut Supersigil album as a virtual world.

Could you elaborate on the process of creating and selling your music as NFTs? What platforms or marketplaces did you utilize, and what were the main considerations or challenges you encountered along the way?

I’ve experimented with dozens of platforms across several different blockchains. Each blockchain has its own ecosystem and community and I think it’s important to find the one that’s the best fit for a given project.

The first NFT I actually sold was on the Tezos blockchain, through a marketplace called Hic Et Nunc, which sadly no longer exists. (On a side note, one of the cool things about NFTs is that, even if the platform you minted or bought something on folds, the item still exists in the holder’s virtual wallet, thanks to the principles of decentralisation, interoperability and sovereign ownership I described above.)

The Supersigil collabs collection I mentioned above was minted through OpenSea, which was one of the only non-curated platforms at the time.

Then I minted the Spectrograms (the first of the five collections orbiting the Spectres project) on the Polygon blockchain, using a custom minting tool built by thirdweb. This collection is a series of 13 visual artworks created using the audio of the tracks on the Supersigil album.

There are 13 editions of each one, so 169 NFTs in total. I actually made all 13 editions of the first Spectrogram available for free to reward early supporters. The second Spectrogram sold out for a total of around $200, and I’ve sold a couple of the third Spectrogram. Each time a Spectrogram sells out I release the next one, and the prices ascend according to the Fibonacci series. Once about half the collection has sold, I’ll have enough funds to build out the next stage of the Spectres project.

In early 2022 I collaborated with the visual artist ANiMAtttiC on one of their Hedrons NFTs, which was released on the curated platform SuperRare. This one was interesting because it went to auction and a bidding war broke out. It ended up selling for about $420.

All of this experimentation proved invaluable when it came to my next web3 project—the launch of the multidisciplinary (meta)label Zyla. 

As with Spectres, Zyla emerged out of a need to create more of a context for a particular branch of my work. Initially my idea was simply to start a record label for music that originated as part of interdisciplinary projects e.g. scores for experimental film, dance and theatre productions, which don’t typically get released. Having worked quite a bit in this area, I’ve always thought it a shame that most music made for these kinds of projects never reaches an audience outside the original setting. So I wanted to provide a platform for other composers for stage and screen to put out scores as standalone releases.

But the concept quickly expanded to include these other disciplines as well. So Zyla releases combine two or more art forms, making it a kind of record label / literary publisher / film production studio / visual art gallery / event curator / digital space for collaboration all rolled into one.

Zyla’s programme is curated in seasons I call Scenes, the first of which revolved around my EP Inpouring. A collaboration with experimental cellist Alice Purton, the music was originally created as the score to a contemporary dance performance by my wife, the choreographer Kasia Witek. 

We released the EP via traditional web2 platforms (Bandcamp, Spotify etc) and then dropped a series of NFTs over a period of a few months. These included each of the four tracks individually and the complete EP as a single edition (all with exquisite artwork by Jacqueline Nicholls), plus music videos for two of the tracks. One of the videos featured choreography from Kasia’s performance, beautifully filmed and edited by Rūta Pužaitė. The other was an animation by Jacqueline of a specially commissioned poem by Miriam Gamble.

All the Zyla NFTs were released using Manifold, a suite of tools for creating custom NFT drops. I built a website using Bonfire to host a custom minting page, which now serves as an online gallery for all seven Scene 1 releases. 

These technical aspects were probably the biggest challenges. I don’t know how to code, so I was relying on zero-code tools for NFT creators, which were only just starting to emerge at the time and are still in their infancy. I spent a lot of time in the Discord servers of the teams building these tools, problem-solving and requesting new features especially for the things I was trying to do.

On that note, one of the things I love about web3 is the feeling that we’re building something together. Unlike during the last big technological shift—the dot-com boom around the turn of the millennium—it’s quite easy to get to know the other people building and exploring these emerging tools, wherever you are in the world. So whether you’re a developer, an artist, a founder, an investor, or a collector, you can help shape the direction of the technology we will all be using in a few years.

That’s in direct contrast to the web2 platforms we currently use. Spotify was created essentially behind artists’ backs, and we still have very little influence over the way it operates. If Daniel Ek and co had been more receptive to musicians’ voices in the early stages of the company’s development, we might be in a very different place today.

What are some of the key differences in revenue generation between NFTs and traditional platforms like Spotify and Bandcamp?

One of the exciting things about web3 for me is that, by reducing dependence on extractive platforms, artists and fans are empowered to redefine the value of music in direct conversation with each other. 

In other words, I can decide how much my new track costs to stream or own, and fine-tune pricing structures based on feedback from listeners. Of course, Bandcamp already allows this, which is why it’s most musicians’ preferred platform, but there are downsides to using a centralised marketplace.

For one thing, Bandcamp takes a 15% cut of all sales (except on Bandcamp Fridays). That’s probably a fair deal for the service they provide, but it still eats into artists’ earnings. Factor in PayPal’s cut on top of that and you’re looking at a deduction of around 18% before revenue reaches an artist’s bank account.

On top of this, Bandcamp is a private company. It could disappear or fall out of favour at any time (like MySpace, Rdio and Rhapsody). 

If that happens, artists lose access to their fanbase (which is why I regularly export my supporters’ email addresses), and listeners lose their collections. So if an artist is relying on a centralised platform to establish and maintain an audience, and if it represents a significant revenue stream for them, that’s a huge risk.

Remember, this is currently considered the best option for musicians. DSPs like Spotify offer far worse deals for the vast majority of artists, as critics like Damon Krukowski have pointed out.

In the web2 era, we’ve become accustomed to thinking that there’s no alternative to this model. But imagine if artists could keep 100% of all sales, and truly own the relationship with their fans. That’s what NFTs offer.

To illustrate this, I published the Inpouring EP’s revenue streams four months after its release. 

Here’s an updated breakdown:

For a DIY label releasing experimental music (and art), this is a big deal. $3k might not sound like a huge amount, especially given the costs of making & distributing a record, then commissioning artwork, poetry and videography, and dividing the revenue between all the Scene 1 artists.

But for context, our revenue from NFTs is 22x what we’ve made through Bandcamp, and

8381x our Spotify income. Plus we receive crypto payments in real time, whereas it takes months for streaming royalty payments to come through. 

Even then, our distributor DistroKid charges $5 to withdraw funds + a 3% fee to pay out to a non-USD account. So if we withdraw all our DSP income now we lose 71% of it in fees. This basically means that streaming is completely useless to us as a source of revenue.

Another advantage to NFTs is that they can be resold, creating a secondary market for music that’s never really existed before. The best thing about this from the artist’s perspective is that you earn a percentage of all secondary sales (called a “royalty”, but not to be confused with royalties as we know them). You set this rate when you mint the NFT, so you’re truly in control of your music’s value. I’ll go into more detail about this below.

Finally, revenue from NFTs can be split any number of ways. Again, you determine this during the minting process, and payments then get automatically routed to the chosen recipients in real time. This is a revolutionary step towards solving the infamous problem of the music industry’s “black box” of unpaid royalties, which is reportedly worth nearly half a billion dollars—money owed to publishers and songwriters that’s got caught up in an inefficient system.

With the rise of NFTs, there has been a lot of discussion about ownership and authenticity in the music industry. How do NFTs address these concerns, and do you believe they provide a more secure and transparent method of ownership for artists and fans?

As I mentioned above, this is one of the more hotly debated areas in web3. 

For example, I often get asked why anyone would pay to own an edition of a track when they can stream it for free. There are several aspects to this.

Firstly, people like to own stuff. That’s just as true in the digital realm as it is in the physical one, where most people aspire to own things like houses, cars, books, records etc. 

In the current streaming era, you don’t actually have to buy music to listen to it, but hundreds of millions of fans still do—on Bandcamp, vinyl or whatever. This might be because they want to support artists, or because they’re collectors who like to own their favourite releases.

Secondly, when you buy a music NFT, you’re often getting more than “just” a track. Thanks to the concept of interoperability I mentioned above, NFTs can bestow upon the collector free tickets to future events, discounts on other purchases, access to backstage areas of the artist’s website, or anything else you can think of. These added extras are known as utilities: optional perks that turn ownership of a music track (or any other NFT) into a key that unlocks other experiences or exclusive items.

Thirdly, verifiable digital ownership—made possible by blockchain technology—brings with it an opportunity for fans to receive financial returns by supporting the artists they love. This can happen in a number of ways. In the most straight-forward example, a fan could buy an NFT from an artist and sell it to another fan at a profit. This actually benefits the artist because a percentage of the secondary sale (usually 5–10%) goes to them in perpetuity. So every time an NFT is resold, the original creator earns additional revenue, forever. 

To put this into perspective, imagine it’s 2006 and a 20-year-old Canadian aspiring actor called Aubrey Graham releases his debut mixtape Room for Improvement as a limited-edition NFT. (Of course, they didn’t exist yet then but bear with me.) You buy one of, say, 50 editions for the equivalent of $10. 

Fast forward to today and Aubrey—aka Drake—is the most streamed artist in the world. Drake decides to reward his earliest supporters with exclusive merch, free concert tickets and a meet-and-greet on his next world tour. That $10 NFT you bought 17 years ago is now highly sought-after and worth a small fortune. You decide to sell it for a significant profit, Drake gets a cut, another fan gets to meet their favourite artist—everyone wins. That is the potential of NFTs.

This is a completely new income stream for both artists and fans. Until now, the only significant secondary market for music has been for second-hand vinyl. But if you buy my record on Discogs or at a used record stall, I don’t see any of that money, even if someone’s making a profit on the sale. That doesn’t seem right, and NFTs offer a fairer solution.

Another way music fans can earn money in web3 is through royalty NFTs. These are limited-edition tokens that bestow upon the holder a percentage of a track’s streaming royalties, either for a specified time period or in perpetuity. There are marketplaces like Royal that specialise in only this kind of music NFT. As with any kind of investment, it’s important to do your own research and that’s especially true of highly speculative assets like this.

Of course, not every fan cares about making money from owning the music they love, and not every artist likes the idea of their releases being treated like financial assets. But even if a small percentage of an artist’s fan base buys their NFTs for speculative reasons, this can have a significant impact on the musician’s bottom line. That’s an option that hasn’t existed before, and at a time when sustaining a career as a musician has become virtually impossible, every new opportunity to get paid should be a welcome addition to the artist’s toolkit.

Taken together, all these tools are facilitating a reassessment of the value of music, determined by artists and fans instead of extractive platforms.

I’ll just add that owning a music NFT doesn’t automatically grant the holder any rights to the underlying intellectual property (although it can do). Think of it like buying a kind of digital vinyl: you own that copy, but not the compositions or master recordings included on it.

NFTs have introduced the concept of “tokenizing” music. What does it mean for a piece of music to be tokenized, and how does it affect the way artists distribute and monetize their work? In your opinion, what potential does this concept hold for the future of the music industry?

Tokenizing a piece of music basically means uploading (or “minting”) it to a blockchain. 

The process involves storing the actual audio file on a decentralised server like IPFS and generating a digital receipt that represents ownership of that particular file. So the token (the “T” in NFT) is not the actual audio but a unique identifier that points to it. When you mint a track, you set the following parameters:

  • how many editions to make available: 1/1s are single-edition releases and the focus of Catalog; batches of around 25 are common on the other leading platform, Sound; more recently, open-edition drops have become popular, though some argue that removing the notion of scarcity dilutes the value of music NFTs.
  • minting period: when the drop will go live and how long people will be able to mint for. It’s common for there to be different phases—typically a pre-sale for fans on the “allowlist”, then a public sale open to everyone.
  • price structure: you might want to offer discounts to collectors of previous releases, and/or those on the allowlist.

Once you’ve configured those settings, you click to confirm them, pay a small fee that validates the transaction, and the NFTs are minted to the blockchain. This is always an exciting and slightly nerve-wracking moment because the nature of blockchains is such that all transactions are permanent: you can’t edit or delete NFTs once they’ve been minted.

As I’ve mentioned above, one of the main advantages to releasing music this way is that you can cut out all the middlemen (distributors, streaming platforms, payment processors etc) and keep 100% of revenue.

Artists can also create custom minting experiences on their own websites instead of directing fans to third-party platforms. This allows me to design a drop in a way that aligns with my own aesthetics. That’s virtually impossible on streaming apps because the options for customising my artist profile are really minimal, so you end up with a uniform look across the whole platform.

Up until recently, the model for most music NFTs has been fairly close to existing paradigms, wherein fans buy a copy of something, be it a vinyl record or a download of audio files. The fact that these transactions now take place on a blockchain affects the user experience (usually negatively) but doesn’t in itself represent a major industry shift. However, we’re starting to see musicians use NFTs in more interesting ways: as crowdfunding tools; as tickets to virtual experiences; as sync licences etc. I think these kinds of use cases will unlock the real potential of NFTs for the music industry.

As NFTs gain popularity, there are concerns about the environmental impact of blockchain technology. Have you considered the carbon footprint associated with creating and trading NFTs? Are there any steps you have taken or platforms you prefer that aim to minimize the ecological impact?

I’m very conscious of my environmental impact in every area of life, whether it’s the food I eat (I’ve been vegan for many years), the modes of transport I use, or the way I release music. 

I’ve never put anything out on vinyl because it’s an ecological disaster, as I discussed in this Twitter thread. Although streaming has a carbon footprint too, I calculated that it was a greener option for my music, so I’ve opted for digital-only releases since 2014.

When the discussion around the environmental impact of blockchains intensified in mid-2021, I stopped minting for a while in order to do my own research and come to an informed decision about whether it was a responsible way to distribute my work. To understand the issue, you need to dive quite deep into the way the technology works.

Simply put, there are two main types of blockchains. The difference comes down to the way that transactions (minting an NFT, for example) are validated. This is known as the consensus mechanism, and the two main ones are proof-of-work (PoW) and proof-of-stake (PoS).

With PoW protocols like Bitcoin, network participants known as “miners” compete to validate transactions (and “mine” the associated reward) by solving complex cryptographic puzzles. The more computational power they have at their disposal, the faster they’ll be able to solve these puzzles, and the more fees they’ll receive. This has led to people running supercomputers 24/7, and companies setting up large-scale crypto mining operations, all of which consumes a lot of energy.

PoS blockchains select validators based on the number of coins they hold (i.e. the size of their “stake” in the network, hence the name). This consensus mechanism is vastly more energy-efficient compared to PoW, but risks a greater degree of centralization because a small group of validators could potentially control a majority stake.

The most popular blockchain for NFTs is Ethereum, which at the height of the NFT market in 2021 was still using a PoW consensus mechanism. That’s why I started using Tezos and Polygon, which are both PoS. However, in September 2022, Ethereum switched from PoW to PoS, cutting its energy usage by over 99%. I timed the launch of Zyla’s Scene 1 to coincide with this switch (known as the Merge) so that I could have access to Ethereum’s user base without leaving a huge carbon footprint.

All this said, the situation is actually more nuanced than the media narrative made it seem. 

For one thing, more than half of Bitcoin mining uses renewable energy sources, and this is likely to increase as greener energy becomes increasingly cost-effective compared to fossil fuels. There are also reports that Bitcoin’s energy usage is less than half of more traditional industries like gold and banking. And there are even claims that Bitcoin mining is slowing down climate change by burning methane. In any case, there are hardly any NFT projects on Bitcoin, and now that Ethereum is PoS, the issue is effectively resolved.

NFTs have also opened up new possibilities for artists to engage with their fans. Have you explored any interactive or immersive experiences that accompany your NFT releases? How do you envision the relationship between artists and fans evolving in the context of NFTs?

Yes! This is an area I’m really interested in and excited about. 

The Spectres project I mentioned above is an attempt to create an interactive and immersive experience around my music—in this case the debut album under my Supersigil moniker. It’s a world-building adventure reimagining the album release format in a web3 environment. As I like to say, it’s not a concept album—it’s a new album concept.

Spectres brings together a team of meta-architects, character designers, visual artists, choreographers and 3D animators to place the 13 tracks at the heart of a truly multidimensional experience. I describe it as “immersive music theatre for the metaverse era.”

The thinking behind Spectres demonstrates many of the advantages web3 offers to artists, and many of the limitations of web2 platforms. I’ve spent much of the last decade composing for dance, theatre and film productions. I love when my music is heard as part of a multidimensional experience in which narrative, memory, visuals and movement combine to create a feeling of transcending time and space. But that magic is difficult to conjure in a digital music release, where there’s no shared space in which to gather. While I appreciate the convenience of music streaming, I envision a fuller artistic offering—and a deeper connection with listeners—than Spotify et al can facilitate.

To achieve this with my releases, I’ve realised that I need to craft the experiential context around the audio to an extent that is only now becoming possible with the emergence of web3 tools. That’s why I’m manifesting Spectres as a fully-fledged virtual world, custom-built around the 13 pieces on the album. I regard this as an evolution of my work in multimedia theatre and film-scoring, making use of new tools to create the ideal setting for my music.

This kind of project requires a sizable budget, and I suspected that the usual routes for fund-raising (Arts Council etc) wouldn’t be open to me due to the newness of the concept. So I came up with a plan to build the fund-raising into the project itself, embedding NFTs into each phase of its development to fund the subsequent one.

Spectres will eventually include five different NFT collections, each with differing utilities in the project’s ecosystem. These range from visual artworks to tracks to music videos filmed inside the experience to a secret drop that can only be collected in-world. Each one gives the collector special rewards, like access to the Backstage area of my website, where you can listen to exclusive tracks; discounts on subsequent drops; private listening parties; free tickets to live or virtual shows, and so on.

I actually think the future of music NFTs will be more like this rather than continuing to emulate the download model but on the blockchain. Fans will become participants in their favourite releases to a much greater degree than has ever been possible. And albums will become even more collaborative endeavours, with multidisciplinary teams producing unique experiences that convey the artists’ stories in ever more powerful ways.

For a deep-dive through some examples of projects in this area, read this Twitter thread I wrote a while back.

NFTs have been associated with unique or exclusive content. Have you experimented with offering additional perks or experiences to NFT owners, such as limited edition merchandise, backstage access, or special events? If so, what has been the response from your fans?

I mentioned above the backstage area of my Supersigil website where NFT collectors can listen to exclusive tracks. 

The whole Spectres project is really structured around this idea of rewarding collectors, whether that’s through discounts on subsequent drops, exclusive access to online spaces, or token-gated virtual experiences. 

For Zyla, I set up a Discord server (basically a customisable online forum) and there are channels (rooms within the forum) that are only accessible to collectors. I use this to share news of upcoming projects and releases before I announce them publicly, and to ask collectors for feedback on certain aspects of our activities.

I think it’s essential to have somewhere for a community to gather, whether that’s in person or online. Given that NFT culture is natively digital, these community hubs do tend to be virtual, though there are opportunities to meet up IRL here and there.

To be honest, the response from fans has been varied. 

In my experience, only the most passionate listeners actually want these kinds of extra-musical experiences. This is a very small percentage of any artist’s community, so it tends to make more sense on a large scale i.e. for someone with millions of listeners. That said, direct and personal interaction can be an extremely powerful thing, and that’s only really possible on a small scale.

A key point here is that revenue per listener is much higher for NFTs than any other format/platform, as this chart based on Zyla’s Scene 1 releases shows:

Interestingly, this suggests that the value fans place on music increases in inverse proportion to audience size in a given medium. As a result, we’re seeing a reassessment of the “1000 true fans” theory. Today, 100 NFT collectors are more valuable than 1,000,000 monthly listeners. This offers an alternative to the “constant growth” model and makes it possible to sustain artist careers and label activities without sacrificing direct connections with fans.

So, for the time being, I’m quite content to nurture my community organically, listener by listener, collector by collector.

Finally, what advice would you give to other musicians who are considering entering the NFT space? Are there any key insights or lessons you have learned from your own journey that you would like to share with fellow artists?

The learning curve with NFTs is pretty steep, so I’d definitely recommend spending a concentrated period of time exploring and researching the space as a first step. 

Twitter is probably the best place to find out about web3 projects and connect with other artists, and some of the best commentators on web3 music also have free newsletters you can subscribe to. I made a list of my favourite ones here

Beyond that, it’s really a matter of figuring out what you want to do and finding the best tools with which to execute your project. The exciting thing about exploring an emerging ecosystem is that there aren’t really fixed ways of doing things yet: it’s up to each artist to test the limits of what’s possible with these new technologies and bend them to their needs.

Having said that, there are playbooks starting to emerge that have proved successful for some artists. But these often work because they’re the first project of their kind, or because they align powerfully with the artist’s personality. So really the most important thing in web3 (as in all other aspects of being an artist) is to use your imagination. Design a project that expresses what you’re about creatively, and be patient.

There was a time (when media attention was at its peak) when it probably seemed to onlookers like all you had to do was mint an NFT and wait for the crypto cash to start rolling in. That’s really not reflective of most people’s experience. Especially now that the wider crypto market is in a lull, it takes a lot of perseverance and genuine commitment to attract an audience. 

On the plus side, that audience will likely be completely new to your music, so you could end up reaching many more listeners. Furthermore, NFT collectors are generally much more invested in the artists they support, both financially and emotionally.

One of the key lessons I’ve learned—again, not exclusive to web3—is the importance of nurturing a community around your work. With music NFTs, that could be other artists in your scene who are exploring similar tools, listeners who are excited to try new ways of connecting with artists, developers and founders who are building the next generation of creator tools etc. So as you’re exploring, when you discover a project you’re excited about, send the founder an email, DM them on Twitter, or jump in their Discord server and say hello. That connection might one day prove invaluable.

On that note, if anyone reading this has any questions, feel free to get in touch!

Alex Roth by Klaudia Krupa
Alex Roth by Klaudia Krupa

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