Canon, Collectibles, and Copies: A Music NFT Experiment

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May 17th, 2021

On Thursday May 20th, I’m dropping my new album.

Not on Spotify. Or on Apple Music. Or on any of the other streaming platforms.

Why?

Well, because there are new ways of releasing art on the Internet. And they are a whole lot more fun.

Not only do they extend one’s creative reach past the artmaking and into the art’s distribution — but they also allow us to explore the value of that art’s resonance.

We have too long been stuck in an online world that solves for reach.

As Tony Lashley speaks of in this incredible episode of Interdependence, reach is a whole lot easier to measure than resonance.

Streams, views, likes, subscribers. This is reach. We are living in a digital ecosystem built for it, and thus we build our distribution plans (or worse yet, the very art itself) around it.

How can I get on more Spotify playlists? How can I increase my Instagram followers?

These are the questions so many artists are stuck asking, with no path towards something different to solve for. Something more creative. Something more in line with the very spark that brings them to their craft in the first place.

Now, of course, it’s not completely black-and-white. There is some resonance to be found in our current metrics.

Someone liking your Instagram post means they resonated with it enough to double tap their thumb on the screen. Someone liking your song on Spotify, or subscribing to your Youtube channel, means they resonated enough with your content to click the little heart button.

The problem with these metrics, however, is two-fold.

First, there is an unlimited supply of them. There is no finite supply to tapping your thumb on a screen, or clicking a button.

And because of this, the value of those actions — though they do fall somewhere on the spectrum of resonance — fall far too short in terms of realizing any significant value for the receiving artist.

Thus, in order to get any level of action taken on our artwork that can realize real value (i.e. paying for our groceries type value), we must inevitably solve for reach. We must feed an already bloated system with more and more content, beg for more and more playlist coverage, accumulate more and more streams from more and more passive listeners so our numbers grow more and more and more and m—

There has got to be a better way.

Jon-Kyle and Patrick Riviera of Mirror have been thinking a lot about this. They raise the question: what if there weren’t an unlimited number of likes you could give out? How would that change our behaviour?

Suddenly those double-taps of yours are a whole lot more precious. And receiving one is a whole lot more meaningful.

We can see something to this effect happening with Mirror’s weekly $WRITE race. Every Wednesday, 10 new people are let into Mirror’s beta. Those people are chosen through a voting process, in which participants have a limited supply of votes they can give out to others.

In the $WRITE race example, people are given finite “likes” to give out. And the result of receiving those likes really means something. There is value on the other end — access into a highly sought-after beta program.

So there is limited supply on both ends. People get a limited number of votes. And only a limited number of people get into Mirror.

If we suddenly land in a world where the likes we can give out on Instagram or Spotify are finite, we’re going to feel way more cautious about hitting that button. We’re going to really think about what we use it for, because each one is a sacrifice. So we better get some real value for taking that action.

This idea starts to move ever closer to something we are very familiar with: buying stuff. We spend our money — something we have a limited supply of — on that which brings us value.

Music brings us value. Tons of it.

Yet the only ways we are able to truly express that value is through buying stuff that orbits that art. Things that point to that music, like merchandise and concerts. And while those things also hold weight, they circle around the artist’s actual artwork — the music.

Today’s online mechanics simply don’t allow us to properly express the direct value that we receive from the song itself.

This is because we have an issue of unlimited supply — on either end of the relationship.

On Spotify, you have an unlimited supply of likes to give out. And my song has an unlimited supply of streams to give out.

There is something missing. Right in the middle of our relationship. Right at that point of contact — where the resonance of creation meets the resonance of experience.

We haven’t been solving for that resonance.

But perhaps now we can…

NFTs allow us to build in a limited supply to digital content, something that up until now has only had an unlimited supply. Some refer to this as “artificial scarcity”, and argue that we are forcing scarcity into something that is inherently abundant.

I beg to differ. I am not here to say that music, for instance, should be locked away in NFTs that only the owner(s) can listen to.

I instead believe that by creating a scarce vessel through the use of NFTs, we are in essence building a space for the weight of art’s resonance to be housed. As I mention in that tweet at the top of the page, the weight of art is not found in the medium nor its file type. It is found in its resonance, and by giving that resonance a localized home in digital space, we can attempt to measure its value.

This is perhaps an esoteric way of saying that while a song’s MP3 file may be found ubiquitously across the Internet, that song’s creative resonance is inherently rare. The spark that led to that song’s creation came at a distinct moment in time from a distinct human or group of humans. And that natural rarity deserves a home. It deserves a place that we can point to, look at, and perhaps one day in the metaverse, even touch.

This digital playground is new. People are just starting to get their feet wet, and we aren’t all that sure how to use these tools. For that reason, I am very interested in throwing stuff at the wall and experimenting with how we might.

It is my view that the future of music will have an altogether new release mix.

So let’s see if we can try and figure out what that release mix might look like. For this release, I am experimenting with a release mix I like to call Canon, Collectibles and Copies.

Which brings me back to where I started: on Thursday May 20th, I’m dropping my new album...

Textures Of A Long Forgotten Assumption is my third album. The project includes 9 songs. 6 of those songs are finished. 3 of them aren’t. I need your help to finish them.

I’ll be using the Canon, Collectibles and Copies release mix for Thursday’s drop. Let’s get into what that means...

The Canon

The word canonical seems ancient and obsolete. That is how I felt about it at least when I first heard it being used to reference Catalog NFTs.

Catalog is building the music-first NFT platform, with the ability to mint — or “press” — 1-of-1 digital records.

At first I saw these 1/1 NFTs akin to a 1-of-1 trading card that represents the song. But as I began to play with Catalog and taste it for myself, my mindset began to shift. I started to see these NFTs not as a rare collectible that points to the song, but as the very song itself. I think of it as the original Internet master of the song, encapsulating the creative spark and story behind its inception.

It is like the original pressing of a vinyl record. For instance, the first ever vinyl pressing of The Beatles’ Abbey Road holds a lot of meaning and value to people. The 10 millionth vinyl pressing holds a lot less value than the first. They may be the exact same object in a material sense, but the story encapsulated in that first pressing makes all the difference.

We can now port this ability to harness the origin story of a song into digital space. And this, to me, is where Catalog NFTs come in. By shrinking the supply down to 1, we create an artifact that holds the genesis value of that art. And suddenly, the words canon and canonical take on fresh meaning.

My Catalog NFTs make up my canon — a genuine collection of my original works, housed forever on the Internet.

This Thursday, four of the finished songs from the album will be released as 1/1 Catalog NFTs and put up for auction here on Mirror. (The other two finished songs have already been minted and sold on Catalog — here and here.)

The Collectibles

Creating a canonical 1/1 NFT allows us to capture the essence of a song in a digital record. But it doesn’t solve all the problems I got into above. Shrinking supply down to 1 has its value. But in between an unlimited supply and a supply of 1, there is a whole spectrum of creative space to play in.

This is where collectibles come in. By creating 1/N editioned collectibles, we can create a middle ground of supply that both artists and fans can benefit from. As mentioned before, expressing the value of music directly is quite difficult in today’s online ecosystem. With collectibles, artists can create verifiably rare artifacts that reference a specific song. And they can sell those pieces at a price point that allows fans to express their love for that song without absolutely breaking the bank.

While we may think of 1/1 Catalog NFTs like original vinyl pressings, multiple-editioned collectibles are like merchandise that more directly represent the song than, say, a t-shirt. They carve out a space for superfans to express their fandom by giving up something of limited supply (i.e. money) in return for something of limited supply (a rare digital collectible).

To take this a step further, artists can bake utility into these collectibles, such as access to exclusive content, or access to them personally. For example, everyone who collects any NFT of mine also receives an invitation into my private community Homemade Universe.

Perhaps we can take this a step further... If the resonance of a song is met at both the point of creation and point of experience, what if artists could melt those two points into one. This is what I intend to experiment with in Thursday’s drop.

The Textures Of A Long Forgotten Assumption album is made up of 9 songs. On Thursday I will release a series of 9 collectible NFTs, each one representing one of the songs.

However, 3 of those songs are not yet complete. One of them is missing a second verse. And the other two are still in demo stage. Through the use of collectible NFTs, I will test out different ways of involving my audience in the completion of those 3 songs. Here’s how...

For Flavors, the song with the missing second verse, anyone who collects any NFT of mine will have the opportunity to submit a verse — be it vocals or instrumental production. One of the submissions will be chosen to become the official featured artist on that record. They will also win the Flavors collectible NFT, and be involved in the eventual Flavors 1/1 Catalog NFT.

The other two unfinished demos will be completed with creative direction from those who collect their respective NFTs — one is a 1/1, meaning 1 person will be involved on that song, and the other is a 1/100, meaning 100 people will be involved together! More details on this to come.

The Copies

We’ve gone over 1/1 canonical pieces, and limited edition collectibles. Lastly, there are copies.

A copy is the form factor we have grown accustomed to — streaming services like Spotify and online stores like iTunes and Bandcamp offer unlimited copies of a song. They reduce the value of each instance of the song, while increasing its ability to spread. This solves for reach, which — while over-emphasized in the current ecosystem — is still extremely valuable.

By including canonical and collectible NFTs into our release mix, we are able to solve for resonance while still solving for reach. This is because NFTs allow us to transcend the supposed conflict between scarcity and abundance.

Again, it is not our intention to “lock away” these songs in NFTs that only collectors get to enjoy. Instead, collectors also benefit from the widespread popularity of the song’s copies. As the song grows in popularity, that cultural value flows its way back into the canonical and collectible pieces.

For this release, I am going to be selling the first copies of the album myself.

While streaming services allow for greater reach, they also limit control immensely. Spotify for instance gets to designate the price of each copy.

It also limits the malleability of my record. I can’t change songs once distributed to their platform. I can’t add more songs to a distributed album. My creativity with regard to the release is incredibly contracted.

This is also my way of bridging the gap between those who are in crypto land and those who aren’t. By offering copies in this way to people, for a price that can be paid in fiat, I also create a group who I can eventually airdrop NFTs to once they have Ethereum wallets. In this way I turn copies into collectibles.

After all this is said and done, I will then release the finalized 9-track album on streaming platforms. Only after I’ve solved for resonance, will I switch gears and solve for reach. Because only then am I willing to commodify and freeze my album in the ways I must in order to benefit from platforms like Spotify.

So there you have it.

If nothing else, I hope this release demonstrates that artists actually have a choice. That the model of releasing on streaming platforms and running on the neverending hamster wheel of reach-optimization is not the only way. That the creative levers to releasing music are only unlocked once we see that there are avenues that solve for art’s resonance.

The level of autonomy and imagination that will come from this unlock — as more and more artists jump into this new sandbox — is impossible to overstate.

Textures Of A Long Forgotten Assumption drops Thursday May 20th — via the Canon, Collectibles and Copies release mix.

Full details of the actual drop will be released on Wednesday.

Thanks for being here. 🌻

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