A beloved hip-hop troupe. A hated pharmaceutical brother. The most expensive piece of music ever sold.
This is really where this story begins.
Back in 2015: rap supergroup Wu-Tang Clan limits the release of their seventh album, “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” to a single copy and auction it off to the highest bidder.
Currently in jail, former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli, comic book villain Gordon Gecko-meets-Scrooge McDuck embodied with a thirst for price-spiking drugs, buys him for $ 2 million.
The point is that the album could not be exploited commercially in any way until 2103, only played at listening parties or for friends and associates, as a stipulation of its sale.
Spot Justin Blau’s raised eyebrows.
The Vegas-based DJ-producer, a techie with a background in finance who performs as 3lau, has long sought to disrupt the way the music industry does business.
“What Wu-Tang did with this album was a huge inspiration to me,” Blau, 30, said on a Zoom call Wednesday from Miami, where he attends the Art Basel art fair. He is here to sell a one-of-a-kind musical creation, the song “Waveform”, which will be offered as an NFT (non-fungible token) as part of the first NFT auction from the famous Christie’s auction house. , produced in collaboration with OpenSea, the peer-to-peer crypto products market.
The auctions started on Saturday and end on Tuesday.
As with “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin”, its purchaser will own the only copy of the song that exists. Unlike this album, however, the sale is unconditional.
“Back then, they gave a person the right to listen, but they didn’t give him ownership,” Blau says of “Shaolin”. “This person had the physical CD and the album art, but they did not have the right to distribute them; they couldn’t put it on Spotify. These were the rules. So we said to ourselves: “What if there were no rules? “
Blau has been at the forefront of introducing NFTs and crypto technology to the music industry. Three years ago, he launched OMF (Our Music Festival), the first blockchain-based music festival.
In February – in a year in which NFTs exploded into public consciousness, with sales of over $ 17 billion, according to crypto news firm Cointelegraph – Blau again positioned itself as an industry leader, selling $ 11.6 million in NFT, setting the brand at the time of overall sales for a single NFT delivery / collection, as well as the highest price paid ($ 3.6 million ) for a single NFT.
(In case you need a quick primer, NFTs are digital ownership certificates for digital assets like songs, artwork, NBA game clips, tweets, podcasts – just about anything can. be tokenized – which can be bought and sold on online marketplaces like OpenSea or NBA Top Shot, which use blockchain technology to verify the authenticity of an NFT.)
In May, Blau sought to capitalize on all this momentum by launching a new company, Royal, a blockchain-based platform that allows fans to invest directly in an artist’s music via NFTs like “Waveform. “.
“Where music has been as it stands in the NFT landscape today is that it is purely collectible,” said Blau. “You can buy an NFT of a song to show your support for your favorite artist, but that doesn’t give you any ownership over the song. Royal’s premise is this: What if fans could own music too? What if your fans could be your label? “
“Imagine if your record collection paid you a check every month”
Rarity is rare in the music industry.
Nowadays, you subscribe to Spotify to get unlimited access to almost any song in the world or pay 99 cents for one of the millions of copies of a hit song.
Apart from the limited presses of a vinyl record, which is aimed at an equally limited audience, music has always been widely available, inexpensive to own, and readily available for free on the commercial airwaves.
Yet rarity is what gives many works of art their value – from an original Picasso painting to a Fabergé egg to – in less exotic terms – one of the few front row seats for a concert of the Rolling Stones.
Blau cites a collector’s cartoon as an example.
“You are looking at a Pokémon Charizard card; the physical value of the card is the cardboard and printing, which costs only a dollar and 50 cents. The Charizard card is worth $ 350,000. Why? Well, this all has virtual value, as I can print another Pokemon Charizard card from the highest quality printer, but it won’t be an official card. So what we’re doing is trying to capture this excess emotional value in music by creating scarcity in a world that never had this component.
“If you can own an exclusive edition that gives you ownership of a song, what does that mean to you emotionally?” ” he asks. “When you’re at a music festival and you can say to your friend next to you, ‘I own this song that’s being played,’ it’s a reaction similar to how we modulate them. physical goods in real life. “
Now, fans who invest directly in an artist is not a new phenomenon.
Many bands, for example, have run GoFundMe campaigns in which backers have funded the recording of a new album, and in return, they can receive credit in sleeve notes, signed drumskin, tickets. for a show in their city or something like nature. But ownership of the record – and any profits from its sale or commercial use – remain solely in the hands of its creators.
With Royal, Blau is trying to create a platform where this kind of investment in an artist can potentially pay dividends in the money.
How it works: An artist determines how many editions they want to produce of a song for auction on the site, each designated by a single piece of art sold as an NFT entitling its owner to a specific portion of the royalties generated by the song.
“As the artist makes money on the song,” says Blau, “they pay it into a smart contract that each of these token holders can claim as the income comes in.
“The way I describe it,” he explains, “is, like, imagine if your record collection paid you a check every month because you owned a track of all the songs that were in your record collection. . “
Prior to “Waveform,” Blau gave Royal a try, giving 50 percent of the streaming revenue to their previous single, “Worst Case ft. CXLOE,” to 333 fans via NFT.
These fans then started trading NFTs on OpenSea.
“We completed about a million transactions in volume in a month,” says Blau. “The total valuation based on the price is $ 12 million today for a song – for a song. It’s so beyond the cash flow that exists through streaming. It proves that there is so much more emotional value in property than the world evaluates. “
That said, he recognizes that such lucrative success with NFTs would be difficult for most artists to replicate, just as it is difficult for an artist to earn a gold record.
“Everyone is like, ‘You did this first; maybe you are an exception to the rule, ”says Blau. “That may be true, but even if an artist does a thousandth of that, it’s still better than the other offerings he has on the table at his disposal.”
The next big thing to bank on?
It’s the music geek’s equivalent of soldier stripes, to being able to say that you discovered a band before everyone else, to have seen The Killers in front of 20 people in a dive bar on a Saturday night, well before they became famous.
What do you take away from the experience?
The right to brag, mainly.
But what if you could monetize those bragging rights?
What if you could invest in a promising artist and grow your portfolio with their career?
These are the two big questions Blau is trying to answer with Royal, which he started with his best friend from college, Opendoor co-founder JD Ross, and who counts Darkroom Records director Justin among his investors. Lubliner, best known for discovering Billie Eilish.
“Fans can only participate today,” Blau says of a listener’s relationship with an artist. “They can buy tickets, they can buy merchandise, they can listen to music, but there’s no way for them to profit from an artist’s success if they’re there from the start.
“These early fans provide immense value,” he continues, “because they share the music with their friends, they listen to it on repeat, which helps the Spotify algorithm, they added all that value to it. ‘artist. But then the artist blows up, their tickets get more expensive and it is more difficult to access the artist from a social point of view. What Royal does is create a mechanism to align the incentives fans with the artists.
He also sees Royal as a way to connect these artists with their industry peers.
For example, a singer could cut 10 vocal tracks, keep two for herself, and sell the rest on Royal to a producer who wants them for the songs they’re working on.
“It happens to artists all the time,” Blau says. “I’m sitting on a hundred incomplete songs that I might never get to, but someone else might want to work on them or own them. It’s a new way for artists to monetize.
As with anything new, it can all take a minute to figure out, especially when the context is the still nascent intersection between digital art, commerce, and investing.
Blau knows it, and that’s what this year has been for him: delivering tangible results from an intangible area.
“The idea of owning something digitally never made sense, because we’ve always lived in this right-click check-in mentality, where anything digital is copyable,” he says. “Creating authenticity on the blockchain for property completely changes that mindset – it turns upside down.
“This mentality has always existed in the world of video games,” he continues, “but it has not really existed in digital media. Now that people are starting to see it, it’s just explosive. It’s really, really explosive.
Contact Jason Bracelin at [email protected] or 702-383-0476. Follow @ jbracelin76 on Instagram.