Hey Hot Dogs,
There’s been lots of chatter (and cash flowing!) these days with regards to NFTs. I’ve had many great conversations about it these last few weeks, and a few of you have asked me for my thoughts, so I thought I’d share my 2 cents.
If you’re not familiar with NFTs, here’s an article that gives a background
I’ve toyed with a few ideas of minting my own NFTs for my music, stems of my tracks, Manjumasi’s tracks, forming a new NFT record label, and even minting an NFT representing myself. After thinking through all these approaches, my current stance is that NFTs are not a worthwhile investment of my time and resources. In their current incarnation, the NFT ecosystem may be destructive to most artists. I’m highly skeptical of the movement, but at same time, deeply interested in seeing how it plays out. I’m certainly open to changing my mind.
A few thoughts that got me here:
Whenever there is any new technological, political, or cultural movement, I think it’s important to take a step back and consider who the clear winners are. In this case, there’s a small group that I like to call the crypto-oligarchy. These are early cryptocurrency investors and infrastructure stakeholders (hobbyists, institutional, VCs) who have multiplied their investment by orders of magnitude through the crypto market. It’s still not clear to me that cryptocurrencies currently have much of a real-world value, other than speculation (I acknowledge this is an extremely loaded statement here – but let’s save that for another chat)….so it’s in the oligarchy’s interest to pump the value of crypto as high as possible to maintain and enrich their fortunes. NFTs are a perfect vehicle for injecting perceived value into their currency. The oligarchs get artists onboard to mint and sell their wares on the blockchain, under the pretense that they are democratizing art and giving a middle finger to the man!
I call BS.
Upper class artists
I believe the only artists who truly benefit from this are what I call the “upper class” artists – those who already have enough social or financial capital powerful enough to draw attention to their endeavor. A bedroom artist can spend $50-$100 and mint an NFT amongst the overwhelming firehose of content, but it’s unrealistic for them to expect any kind of meaningful return as they will be ignored and forgotten in the digital ether. Unless, of course, they bring on a management team and runs a PR+social media campaign, but exactly that’s the kind of thing some of the NFT utopists are fed up with – those music business middlemen. I think the current state of the music industry is highly problematic for everyday artists trying to make a living, but this new ecosystem feels like a lateral move, at best.
It’s worth mentioning that I’m generally a fan of regulated capitalism, though I do think American capitalism reveals its worst blemishes. The NFT movement is currently a microcosm of the huge income disparity we see in the US. The rich artists get richer, and those at the bottom are promised many things, but at the end of the day, exploited, while the crypo-oligarchs are laughing all the way to the bank.
Capitalism without any guardrails is a terrifying thing. I think of the NFT market as the NYSE without any regulations or oversight. Will this economic system help improve a majority of struggling artists? Hell no. We’ll still have hedge funds, scammers, and day-traders, with even LESS accountability and MORE anonymity than ever before. I struggle to see how the honest little guys come out on top here. Again, the current music industry is a disaster, but I’m taking caution before jumping into a pool with 10x as many sharks.
Haven’t we been here before?
I was only 18 years old at the time of the 2001 dot com crash, but I remember enough to see some of the same warning signs here again. The internet was emerging as the next new thing in the late 90’s / early 2000’s. Insane amounts of capital were being thrown around for ridiculous startup ideas that brought no value to society. These days, I’m told that an entrepreneur merely has to mention “NFT” in their funding pitch, and American investors will throw money at them. This is a bubble.
Now of course, the internet did end up completely revolutionizing the world and many of those companies brought immense value to society and long-term financial return. But for every 1 idea that survived, 1000 others failed.
As for how this relates to my artist career: I’m not a speculator, I’m not an investor, I’m not a startup founder…I’m not looking to make a bunch of cash overnight. I’m interested in establishing a sustainable long-term career through music, building real long-term relationships within our community.
And to be clear, I am also a technologist and I’ve also worked as an engineer at an early stage Silicon Valley startup – I get it, this shiny new thing is REALLY exciting. I’m happy to read the articles, have ongoing conversations, and keep my ear to the ground within the community, because I do think it’s possible we may see real value in this space emerge over time. But it’s not there yet, so what’s the rush?
Agree, disagree? I’m curious what you think!