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10 ideas for NFTs in (classical) music today

Guest Post Series: “NFTs and the (classical) music industry”

This post is part 2 of the series “NFTs and the (classical) music industry”.

Part 1: “NFTs are boring. NFTs are revolutionary!”
IDs and Bored Apes: Connect your wallet!

Coming soon:

Part 3: “How to build a sheet music NFT with OSMD”
Walk through building, minting, and selling a sheet music NFT using the Open Sheet Music Display kit. 

In part 1 of this mini-series on NFTs, I discussed why I think NFTs are so revolutionary, but that they will ultimately be so commonplace as to be boring. This article will share ideas about how the (classical) music industry can use NFTs now, including some actual examples of people doing so. The final part of the series will walk you through an example of creating and publishing an NFT using Open Sheet Music Display.

But first, what do I even mean by “Classical” music? Really, I just mean music that gets written down as notation, as opposed to music created entirely either electronically, or through improvisation. Music that you can express using Open Sheet Music Display, for instance. 

So what can musicians do, now, with NFTs, to avoid the FOMO and be part of the revolution? Here are 10 ideas! 

The obvious ideas

1. Release an album or publish a piece using NFTs.

This is the most obvious use case as it is an extension of how musicians and composers work today. They create art, then release it to the world and hope that people like it and buy it. The model can be enhanced with NFTs in many ways. Check out this overview of music NFT projects in 2021 for some ideas on how successful musicians have been pioneering this space. 

2. Fund an upcoming project 

Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutscher have set a great precedent on how to do modern crowdfunding using NFTs. Their Stoner Cats project raised $8 million in 35 minutes to fund the creation of their animated series. NFT holders get early access to the show. 

3. Make Collectibles for your fans

The major force driving NFT adoption so far has been Collectibles: assets or art works that you want to own and collect for the intrinsic value of possessing something unique. This can largely be understood by making analogies to stamp collecting or baseball card trading. The collectors want to possess items that have meaning, and they want to fill out their collections to be as complete as possible.

Rarity and scarcity serve as motivating factors for prices. Just like rare baseball cards and stamps sell for enormous sums of money far beyond what they were originally purchased for, rare NFTs in popular projects garner millions of dollars of transactions as collectors scramble to be part of the project and not miss out (FOMO).

For instance, orchestras, operas and ensembles should study the NBA Top Shot project and create similar ecosystems based around moments from concerts. There could be collections formed around specific soloists. Collectors might try to collect whole catalogs of their favorite composer or conductor. I’ll trade you your Alfred Brendel for my Lang Lang, whaddya say?  

The Dallas Symphony in collaboration with The Metropolitan Orchestra dabbled lightly in this approach recently. 

4. Ticketing and Token Gating

NFTs (tokens) can be sold and used as tickets to events (online or in real life), and can also be used to gate access to apps, websites, videos, streams, or even the deluxe bar at the back of the salon. Here are some examples of how token gating could be used, and here are two services that have built the infrastructure for you to use to do that, today:

5. Sponsorship

Many classical music organizations do fundraising through sponsorship. This is a natural model to be enhanced by NFTs. Sponsors can buy NFTs which grant perks, like season tickets, access to special events, or air drops (eg. from the NFT collectibles that the organization is also offering). 

Musicians have also benefited from sponsorship (or patronage) through sites like Patreon, where fans can pledge recurring amounts in return for access to various levels of the artistic output. This also is a model which is easily replicated with NFTs. This article, Why NFTs are better than Patreon, explores this idea in depth, and I highly recommend reading it in general.

Show me the innovation!

Those were all ideas that replace or augment concepts and programs that already exist. Let’s think about some things that can be done only with NFTs and the underlying technologies.

6. Asset governance through NFT ownership

One of the concepts that blockchain technologies have introduced is the DAO – Decentralized Autonomous Organization. You can think of it as a board of directors where the capabilities and the treasury are expressed on the blockchain, and the voting members who govern it have to have some stake in its ownership. Using NFTs to express this ownership is a prevalent pattern. For example:

  • SongADAO is an organization that manages the rights and revenues generated from the nearly 5,000 songs that Jonathan Mann has written over the past 15 years. Each song is an NFT, and the NFT owners comprise the governance body of the DAO. 
  • I am planning a DAO+NFT strategy to govern the ForeverGoldberg digital archive from Kimiko Ishizaka.
7. Programmable music

The programs that live on blockchains (aka Smart Contracts) that govern NFTs can be made to do quite interesting things. They can be made to interact with the music or recordings, introducing variation or factors that make the NFT experience unique and unlike just a traditional recording. 

MozartBeats is a great example of this. The project, which is performed by a Viennese string quartet, is based on Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and encompasses 625 possible variations of the piece. The current variation that people can listen to is determined by owners of the stems (the individual voices, eg. Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola, Cello), who can independently switch the active variation of their stem at any time. Collectors can then mint “Recordings” of these mixes as limited edition NFTs. 

I recently interviewed the creators of the MozartBeats project. Here’s the video.

8. Infinitely collaborative music

This is my own idea =) 

Some NFTs can contain other NFTs, and it is possible for one NFT creator to send their NFT to another. Imagine that a musician makes an NFT of a base track, and some other musicians make NFTs to add on top of that. They independently send their tracks to the base (no permission or central organization needed).

Then a collector comes and picks which tracks (each an NFT) to combine, makes their own mix, and mints that combination, forever locking it from ownership by someone else. This would fit well with many styles of music including Jazz, electronic, dance, and others, but in classical music, it’s a beautiful fit for a “Music Minus One” model where a pianist or an orchestra records the accompaniment for a work and NFT soloists then play over that.

9. Ultimately provable copyright

An asset minted to a public blockchain as an NFT is the ultimate irrefutable timestamp of creation. A forever-provable “First”. Furthermore, with IPFS hashing technology, you can publish the hash of the creative work without actually releasing the work itself.

Essentially, you can prove to the world that a work, as represented by its IPFS hash, was created by you on a specific date and time. The WIPO agrees.

10. Generative music – Euler Beats

No conversation about music and NFTs would be complete without talking about the generative genius of the EulerBeats project. The project created the algorithm and scripts to generate each unique beat directly on the blockchain, and these permutations are what people buy as NFTs. Each unique beat can then mint a number of Prints which are copies of the beat, as subsequent NFTs.

The original beat owner earns royalties on the Prints. This is explained quite well in this article, which also reports on how successful the project has been financially, generating millions of dollars for the owners of the NFTs. 

It’s just the beginning

Hopefully, these ten ideas have given you some more insight into what the music world might gain from NFT technology. I didn’t even touch topics like fractional ownership or royalty splits. The exciting part, for me, is that this is just the beginning. Already, projects are racing to expand the capabilities of NFT technology to include more concepts and functionalities. 

Fundamentally, the ability of blockchain technologies to eliminate gatekeepers and middlemen in the industry should be welcomed by all musicians. With the amount of buzz (and cash) sloshing around in the scene at the moment, it’s also a ripe opportunity for adventurous musicians to test the waters and do something new. 

NFTs are here to stay, and you can take part in defining what influence they have on the music industry. What are you waiting for?

About the Author

Robert Douglass

Robert Douglass is the Executive Producer for Kimiko Ishizaka and Christina Jones, and is the Artistic Director of the Open Goldberg Variations project. As a technologist, he explores the intersection of technology, community, and art. 

Guest Post Series: “NFTs and the (classical) music industry”

This post is part 2 of the series “NFTs and the (classical) music industry”.

Part 1: “NFTs are boring. NFTs are revolutionary!”
IDs and Bored Apes: Connect your wallet!

Coming soon:

Part 3: “How to build a sheet music NFT with OSMD”
Walk through building, minting, and selling a sheet music NFT using the Open Sheet Music Display kit. 

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