Article by Aaron Vick & Taeghan Rice

Music is the next artistic medium to embrace the use of NFTs. 

I’m sure you’ve heard the stories and seen the behind-the-scenes documentaries showing us the sweat and tears that went into any musical artist trying to get signed to a label.  The struggles endured by artists on the business side seem to be the same record with regards to success through finding a label.  While “the times they are a changin'”, artists have predominately been fed the standard path to success by working hard to make your music then work harder to get on to a label.  Even mainstream television has adopted this route based on shows such as The Voice and American Idol which have musicians competing with the hope of finding a label.

The angst with labels crosses decades, music genres, and artists regardless of their fame. Some of the most famous artists of all time such as Johnny Cash, Prince, and Dr. Dre had major disputes with their respected labels even after becoming major contributors to the evolution of music.  Maybe the most prolific of all artists has been Taylor Swift, who has been in a very public dispute over Swift’s early work while signed with Big Machine.

Most recently, the extremely well-developed documentary, Jeen-Yuhs, explores the early days of Kanye West’s grind to get signed to a label. He spent countless hours trying to be seen as a rapper by making random drop-ins at the label and at the studios with other artists. However, per the film, the label did not propose an aggressive timeline for releasing Kanye’s material after successful efforts of getting the label to sign him.

Fast-forwarding a few years, we saw many artists attempt the independent route where the musicians launch their own content.  Many artists began launching content on Youtube which has become one of the most influential websites on the planet where millions of people are actively searching for video content on a daily basis. 

Soundcloud is also a great platform to share music as it provides a direct way for artists to have their songs played on the new “radio” which is Spotify which has over 100 million paid subscribers. However, even publishing content directly to streaming seems to have its challenges for artists trying to make a living from the royalties.

Granted the streaming platforms seem to be a great way to reach millions of potential fans. The problem is that artists simply don’t have a lot of control over where their music is broadcasted or how to further connect with fans beyond the upload. Additionally, the majority of streaming services have payouts that are significantly lower than royalties received from an album sale or concert ticket sales.  There have been disruptors in the streaming space such as Landr and Distrokid who take flat fees with 100% royalties back to the artists but these platforms are not mainstream methods used by consumers thus minimizing the artist’s reach.

As an example of a streaming payout, Spotify pays rights-holders between $0.003 and $0.005 per stream on average.  This means that royalties are a much smaller number than the money spent on the production or marketing of a song before it even gets released.  To generate ~$4,000 USD, a song would have to be streamed over 1 million times!

This isn’t to say all things are bad with labels or online streaming services. However, the technology is evolving which may be providing more options for musicians to release music and content direct to consumers.  Many media outlets and music insiders are speculating that the upcoming technological revolution will change the way we create and consume music.

Blockchain and NFTs

What if there was a way for musicians to have more control over their music?

In comes the blockchain; specifically NFTs.

Embracing blockchain via NFTs provides the artist with a way to get paid for their music without having to sign a record contract or deal with a major label (which many artists are trying to avoid these days).

NFTs are essentially digital assets that are transferred between parties by simply sending an encrypted identification code.

In the music industry, NFTs are a gateway allowing artists to gain instant access to their fans and monetization, regardless of which platform they are publishing on or what country they’re located. The blockchain is disrupting how the music industry works in order for new opportunities to emerge for musicians.

This type of revolution may be allowing artists to earn more from their content. Success may no longer depends on labels to publish and promote songs.

Also read: Grinding the NFT Community to Death

The artists will have complete control over their content and even provide hardcore fans the ability to own parts of the music via IP sharing. The possibilities are endless when the ability to monetize through NFTs is available. This isn’t to say labels aren’t important nor that progressive labels will be right beside artists helping build out the web3 space. However, traditional labels will need to evaluate their approach to the future as the technology becomes easier and easier for artists to upload their music directly to the blockchain.

Changing the Game

In a recent interview Mike Darlington, CEO of Monstercat said:

NFTs are becoming one of the most powerful tools for community-building and engagement. They also enable a new form of perpetual royalties that can be shared with visual artists. There’s no longer a need to reach hundreds of thousands of fans to achieve career sustainability — with just a small group of passionate collectors, artists of all sizes can make a fair living from their work.

The benefits of this new technology may provide an unexpected change that may forever alter how we listen to music, but certainly establishes a new route for artists to connect directly with the fans.  As an example, Sammy Arriaga is an artist who is all-in on Web3 and recently a single called Metagirl that has reached #5 in the Open Sea music chart.

Sammy not only decided that the metaverse would be his primary stage for launching his single, but he also ventured into the NFT space as well.  The Metagirl NFT launched a 1,500 generative piece NFT project where NFT holders are provided a number of utilities beyond the imagery. To start, the NFT does contain access to the Metagirl single but also unlocks access to areas of Sammy’s website that contains exclusive content including remixes of Metagirl by artists such as Dre the Noid and others.

Dre the Noid is another artist who is making waves in the Web3 space.  He is gearing up for an album drop directly to the blockchain. On March 18, 2022, he tweeted out “it’s crazy that I’m gonna have my music & art on the blockchain forever.” Dre the Noid also hosts a Friday night Twitter Spaces where he showcases emerging artists and helps onboard them to Web3.

Community, of course, is a strong component of the current NFT space.  Like Dre the Noid, other NFT fans and artists have been offering their part to the growing community.  PaperhandPapi, a.k.a. @PapiOshu on Twitter, has begun an online space for emerging musicians where everyone is able to openly collaborate, learn, and share.  PaperhandPapi encourages artists to “stay in their creative process” but don’t be afraid to get involved, find friendships, and work collectively towards a Web3 movement.

The importance of small movements to build a groundswell of knowledgeable community members shows that solo artists aren’t alone and out there navigating Web3 alone.  BYAC Holder CryptKing, a.k.a. @Cryptking_1 on Twitter, pushes the importance of the connection between artists, owners, and fans in Web3.  CryptKing typically plays at least one of his purchased music NFTs during his Web3 Twitter Spaces.  CyrptKing said “If you’re going to run a space and you’re going to put music up then try to own it. [T]ry to make sure it’s NFT music that way if everybody refuses to put anything but NFT music up then maybe the musicians will feel more at home.”

As of now, the early days of Web3 have created an expansive playground for all artists to explore and harness new ways to express themselves or assist their craft.  One musician, Emily Lazar, was already an established artist prior to Web3 but has taken vast leaps forward in the space by embracing the technology. 

Emily has been able to expand her creative side through Web3 by blending artistic drawings and music into NFTs offering fans exclusive access to even more content such as her comic series. The ability to create new entry points for collectors and the community has provided parlayed success for Emily from becoming the first female metal/rock musician to mint & sell an NFT to a sold-out generative art collection titled September’s Mourning.

Even mainstream artists have hopped onto Web3 such as Snoop Dogg and Shawn Mendes who both have launched various items for sale on the blockchain from music to digital wearables in the metaverse.

NFTs have been progressively bridging the gap between fans and artists enabling fans to get even closer to the art through ownership.  It will be interesting to see how the blockchain will continue to evolve as a marketing and outreach tool for artists.


As seen earlier with artists and labels disputing over ownership and payouts, having control over the art is an essential part of how an artist survives in the industry.  By embracing Web3, the artists have full control over their intellectual property and how ownership is handled.  However, the use of the blockchain to authenticate ownership and intellectual property is still in its infancy just like the rest of the space. So, we should expect to see the introduction of more smart contracts between artists, fans, and labels as time moves forward. Artists are still testing the proverbial waters and exploring methods for harnessing NFTs whether it’s for shared ownership of a piece of music or exclusive behind-the-scenes access.

The new music revolution is changing the way we listen to music but it also has the potential to provide a new revenue stream for artists.  Historically, getting royalties on every single song you upload can be a challenging process, but musicians may be able to access new ways of getting paid for their work. NFTs and the metaverse will continue to unfold ways to help artists maintain ownership, stay connected with their fans, and have exposure to new audiences. 

The views and opinions expressed by the author, or any people mentioned in this article, are for informational purposes only, and they do not constitute financial, investment, or other advice. Investing in or trading cryptoassets comes with a risk of financial loss.

Featured image via Unsplash