***The VÉRITÉ Crewneck is on sale now! Click here to get yours now!***
The last eight months have been a test of resilience. Technically, this is a follow up to my piece analyzing my first year in web3, and while I feel as though my initial learnings are still applicable, the landscape has clearly changed. This has allowed me to zoom out and refocus on my career as a whole and critically look at my intention and strategies moving forward, analyzing where the tools and ethos of web3 fit into the larger picture. Since February 2021, I’ve been experimenting with different modes of distributing NFTs, dissecting the motivations for both purchase and participation, riding the rollercoaster of what feels like a full hype cycle—capturing the adrenaline at the top all the way down to the sobering perspective of the crash.
This journey has left me and many others asking–why web3?
Challenging the practical impact of technology against the movement that technology represents is really helpful in distilling legitimate use cases for the tools being built.
Web3 has a branding problem that is hard to see if you’re too close. It’s not a monolith nor is it a definitive movement outside of the bubble. “Hashtag Music NFTs” has been meme-ified and doesn’t accurately represent how this technology can be utilized in the context of a full, sustainable music career. The language we use and the framing we build around emerging technologies and industries matters and has an impact on how that tech gets adopted by new users.
Web3 has a scalability problem. The message of web3 doesn’t resonate with non crypto native audiences. Sentiments range from active vitriol and distrust to mild skepticism to a general lack of interest. The message of artists monetizing their work, developing new modes of distribution, streamlining valuation and payment mechanisms within the music industry do not peak the curiosities of the average music fan. We are not building solutions for audiences—we’re building solutions for entities to better understand who those audiences are.
Web3 has been framed as a creator centric movement, but the entities we sought to disrupt are working on integrating the tech to continue their control of data in the pursuit of profit. Projects and platforms are unknowingly recreating many of the same systems that have already existed and building a better mousetrap that in the long term will become home to the same issues we are facing on web2 platforms today. Companies in web3 are looking to artists to innovate, share insights and build with them without offering proper compensation and equity.
None of these observations are meant to diminish the strong community that has been built on the promises of web3—decentralized ownership, access to new channels of distribution, new means of networking and community building, a revaluation of art and music, etc—but meant to peel away the surface level enthusiasm and idealism to expose how artists can practically utilize these tools to their benefit while creating meaningful impact to their audiences and communities while recognizing the complex and competing motivations for participation.
Recently, I’ve felt like I’m walking a tightrope. How do I balance creating art, distributing that art, and building meaningful communities while ideating, building and deploying new products and experiences, while consulting for companies, optimizing myself for the algorithm, keeping my chops in touring shape, remembering to hydrate, and avoid collapse from burnout? Add to that navigating different sentiments on web3, operating carefully to not undermine my existing fan base as I build simultaneously in a new world. I’ve learned that my core audience doesn’t care about technology. I’ve learned that attention is a scarce resource and having an expectation that people will change existing behaviors is futile. I’ve learned it’s much easier to talk than to build something that will survive and thrive after the crash.
As a career independent artist who’s spent the last seven years intentionally building a project on my own terms, my goal has always been to actively advocate for artists to capture their full value though expanding their considerations into entrepreneurial mindsets that allow for sustained autonomy and creative freedom. This forces artists to view their projects holistically, focusing on the balance of art and commerce and recognizing that to make a living as an artist, you can’t have one without the other. What I’ve learned from my own experiences is that it’s important to have an artist centric mindset for one’s project that isn’t solely dependent on any label, entity or platform, but utilizes the limitless tools at our disposal in a strategic manner that fits each individual artist’s unique needs. Coming from this perspective and entering into the era of my third album, my strategy has been refined and refocused on how I can utilize the tools built on the blockchain to solve the challenges I’m facing and best amplify the rollout of this record to fans and collectors alike.
So if the question is—why web3?
The answer lies in what specific problems we are trying to solve for on the blockchain. After so much experimentation, I’ve narrowed my strategy into two pillars that will be my main focus as I begin to release this next album.
Scarcity and Access.
Last week, I dropped The VÉRITÉ Crewneck, a sweatshirt embedded with an NFC chip that will act as the key to the next era of VÉRITÉ and unlock premiere access to my upcoming record. This is the first artist merchandise that will utilize this technology in collaboration with IYK*, a company bridging immersive digital and physical experiences, built with painstaking attention to detail in every aspect of the drop, from the point of sale, to the flow of the experience once you receive your garment, to the language used when discussing this drop to non-tech native fans. This crewneck is a high quality garment paired with an experience—getting to see and hear this new record first. The floor of value has been clearly articulated so that people are clear on what they are purchasing. Fans don’t have to interact with anything web3 in regards to the Crewneck, merely tap your phone to your wrist to hear my new single before anyone else. If fans want to “Claim” their Crewneck, they’ll be able to claim an NFT of their sweatshirt which will act as a digital certificate of authentication, transferred from my wallet to theirs. The VÉRITÉ Crewneck is at a $100 price point, available to purchase with USD or cryptocurrency on my Shopify.
Access is key to adoption. Providing audiences with a simple and intuitive user experience and allowing the web3 component to exist as an option to explore—a doorway to an enhanced experience will allow for more natural exploration of the technology, giving fans the experience of digital ownership and the ability to receive the benefits of it.
Web3 isn’t the product, nor should it be marketed as such. A great example of this is my experience with Royal, where I sold 39% of my single He’s Not You to collectors and where I saw the first glimmer of interest from any non web3 versed fans. This is because the proposition is clear—you can own a piece of your favorite song. We honestly framed our value proposition—you get to own a small piece of a song you love, you get an exclusive signed cassette tape and you get to be in the first cohort to do so. I communicated that this was not an investment, warding off purchasers who were trying to make a quick ROI from royalty payments. We sold out 505 tokens in less than 5 minutes, making 90k. The experience and the sentimental value were primary, the fact that tokens and payments are issued on the blockchain is a secondary and almost invisible process.
For me, web3 is a vehicle for identifying my earliest and most consistent supporters without having to rely on a platform. I have access to some of this data through analytics on various platforms, but as audiences shift and algorithms change how content is disseminated, there isn’t a clear way to identify and reward my longest and most avid fans over a prolonged period of time. A story I come back to is early in my career, 2015, I had just quit my day job at Applebees on 42nd St. and I was having trouble transitioning into full time creative work. I had to go to the post office and randomly posted on twitter that I would write letters to fans who sent me a DM. Hours later, I had to set up a separate email and had over 500 fans send me their addresses requesting letters. I spent the next two weeks hand writing and mailing letters to fans. How amazing would it have been to have each of those letters claimable as a token, so that now, years later, I could identify those individuals and reward them for being there at the very beginning?
My strategy for access in web3 is enhancing and rewarding behaviors and participation. Some of these behaviors are monetized (attending a show, purchasing merch, etc), but I believe in the future we’ll be able to identify baseline participation and engagement, eliminating financial barriers for fans who don’t have means. This Crewneck drop is just the beginning of how we can add layers of value on top of existing fan behaviors to better serve our communities, reward our patrons and understand what they’re looking for.
The issue then becomes, how can we create ubiquitous access and maintain a high value? In the music industry we’ve seen that this access has severely diminished the core value of music. Limitless choice leaves less leverage for artists and even labels to set their own price. One of the core benefits of web3 is the ability to create digital scarcity. Everyone can listen, one person can own. See: The Mona Lisa, which is how this concept was explained to me. Everyone knows the iconic image, anyone can look it up on the internet, print the image and pin it to your wall, buy a fine art print, even go see it in person at The Louvre, but there is only one entity that owns the painting—The French Republic. So actually, ownership of the Mona Lisa is somewhat fractionalized—owned and governed by the French people.
My strategy for scarcity is directly derived from the Mona Lisa.
As the crypto markets have shifted, it’s been interesting to see the impact on strategy and pricing. I’ve seen a trend of pricing down to match diminishing demand for music NFTs, using collection as a tool for access and community building. We’ve seen that the consumer base for NFTs is not as strong and stable as it was in the bull market and that new audiences aren’t entering the space. While I understand the impulse to lower the price to attract more of an audience, I fear that we’re recreating the same fundamental issues we’re trying to escape from–devaluing the core asset for more reach. This could be because there’s too much dependency on web3 as an audience builder vs having web3 as a part of a larger tool box one can use to build a solid foundation for a holistic, sustainable career that can withstand the ups and downs of any market.
I want to embrace the creation of digital scarcity to fully capture the value of my music, which I fully view as fine art. For this next record, my goal is to maintain the high value I’ve established for my work. Like the Mona Lisa, there will be one NFT for each individual song. There’s then room for accessible, fractionalized ownership of music without losing the rarity. For me, this feels like the main ethos of web3–the ability to reinvigorate the baseline value of music while captivating a larger audience and using that larger audience to bring more value to the original work.
Moving forward, the challenge is how to integrate my experimentations in web3 into my existing career seamlessly. There is no such thing as a web3 artist, just entrepreneurial artists embracing new tools at their disposal to better create and connect. Each artist and entity will use this technology in unique ways. There is no one size fits all—nor should there be. The more I build in this space, the more I realize that “why web3?” is actually the wrong question. As artists, we should be asking ourselves how we can sustain our independence as entrepreneurial artists, preserving our creative autonomy while building sustainable businesses using all of the tools at our disposal, regardless of their origin.
If you’re interested in learning more, I highly suggest you buy The VÉRITÉ Crewneck and come learn more with me. You can also join me in the rollout of my upcoming record by pre-saving the first single, are we done yet? now!
This is just the beginning.