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    Stephen Egerton of Descendents June 7, 2016


The Future of Digital Media: What Do NFTs Have to Do With Music?

todayApril 2, 2021


Ever since the market boom of Bitcoin put eyes on the market, cryptocurrency has been a hot commodity in online trading circles. Recently, eyes in the art scene have fallen on cryptocurrency and its possibilities, and music is no exception to this new wave of media exchange.

The term “NFT”–or non-fungible token–describes a method of encoding a “blockchain” the way a cryptocurrency transaction is recorded across peer-to-peer networks. Blockchains essentially validate cryptocurrency transactions in the digital world, where everything would otherwise seem up-in-the-air. So what makes a NFT blockchain unique is its uniqueness–a NFT is non-fungible, meaning it cannot be replaced by something else. The “blockchain” produced in question after a NFT transaction is totally unique and essentially verifies a purchase as an original piece virtually, just like how a person would get a certificate of authenticity for pieces of original artwork in the physical realm of art trading.

For example, say you buy a limited vinyl press with only 100 produced and you receive a certificate of authenticity verifying that yours is the 43rd press of 100 total, making yours wholly unique and identifiable even from the other 100 produced. The NFT blockchain essentially does the same thing digitally.

NFTs are not the cryptocurrency themselves. Most NFTs are traded through Ethereum blockchains–another type of popular cryptocurrency–that make it possible to encode the unique blockchains required to enable NFT trading. Other cryptocurrencies have broken into the NFT scene, but Ethereum is the primary vessel in current NFT trading circles.

Now for the golden question: what does all of this have to do with music?

NFTs, or unique blockchains in general, have been experimented with as far back as 2012. They didn’t break into the wider realm of internet trading until 2016 in which crypto traders started to trade unique blockchains of “rare pepes” images, which was a popular internet meme at the time. While it was a bit of a joke simultaneously, this wave indicated that there was a market for unique digital items. The meme-trading market moved to Ethereum in 2017 and likened itself to card-trading. From there, the basis for NFTs was incepted, and it has been slowly building in the background of art-trading worlds ever since.

an image of the Rare Pepe Directory, a gallery of all known existing “rare pepes” traded by unique blockchain.

However, NFTs have, in their history, mostly been used for trading virtual images such as these “rare pepes,” but thanks to a recent explosion in popularity, musicians are breaking into the NFT scene as well.

Popular artists like The Weeknd and Calvin Harris have spoken on the potential value of NFTs for music sharing. Calvin Harris is quoted as saying “I thought ‘wow, this is a whole new tool for creativity that isn’t policed by radio or streaming, or someone from the label or any of this stuff. It’s a whole new avenue that you can really just put out whatever you want, and that’s kind of how music should be but it really isn’t” regarding NFTs and their potential involvement in music. As for The Weeknd, he’s already breaking into the market, dropping his first NFT music release Saturday, April 3rd.

So what does selling music by NFT entail? For The Weeknd, he’s selling the song itself with a unique blockchain–meaning there will only be one verifiable owner of the song in the entire world. Now, this doesn’t mean anyone won’t be able to listen to the song except for the owner. Just like how NFT images can be browsed online, the art itself is still free to be perused and enjoyed. At the end of the day, all it means is that there is someone who owns the technical minted “original” behind the scenes. Think of how art galleries can be browsed and viewed despite the pieces already being owned by someone, or how prints can be bought of the Mona Lisa and other popular pieces of art. These images are free to be shared and more non-exclusive copies are free to be sold by the rights holders, but those copies will never match up to the value of the original work–that is essentially how The Weeknd, and other artists like Lindsay Lohan, are placing their music into the NFT scene.

So what does this mean for you, music enjoyers of the world? Well, not much, really. The sale of a song’s unique blockchain will not limit outside listeners or even sales of “copies.” The most that it does is ensure that any future sales of the song are merely sales of “copies” in a world where the very distinction of copies and originals used to be impossible–the virtual world. So, unless you’re planning to bid big on the originals, you don’t have anything to worry about.

Written by: Evan