"Have an angle": Artists share tips on how to make it as a musician on blockchain - Tech - Mixmag
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"Have an angle": Artists share tips on how to make it as a musician on blockchain

We sat down with The Scumfrog and Disco Fries to find out how to make the pivot to NFTs

  • In Association with RCRDSHP
  • 19 April 2022

As the income from touring subsided during the pandemic, many musicians were forced to get creative to find new ways to connect with their audiences. For some, this was through using platforms like TikTok, designing new merch or producing at-home streams – for others, it meant looking toward the uses of new technology like NFTs.

The ability to directly attribute ownership to music and collectables via blockchain technology is an alluring concept for artists who can rarely make revenue from streaming. This year it was reported in Spotify's top 0.8% of artists, the majority were making under 36k a year from the platform — a reality that has led to most musicians using streaming services as more of an advertising tool than a viable method of income. Selling NFTs for artists means being able to make money directly from music and content, marketing themselves to brand new fanbases and ending sole reliance on in-person gigs.

Read this next: Is digitisation the way forward for our music collections?

So what's the downside? well, NFTs have had a bad rap. Though publicity stunts from artists like 3LAU, who famously made $11.6 million through selling his music as NFTs, make the concept appealing - it is also intimidating for artists who are just coming through. How are you supposed to learn how to use blockchain? How can you know if your music is worth millions of dollars?

Enter RCRDSHP, an online collectable market that uses NFT technology to sell artists work directly to consumers, without having to read up on the crypto jargon. RCRDSHP set prices based on demand, but are relatively affordable — more likened to an actual record store. Users can maintain an on-site wallet with everything they have purchased, stored in one place - while keeping up with news on the artists/collectives/labels that they are fans of.

We caught up with producers Disco Fries and The Scumfrog to find out how operating via blockchain has impacted their career so far and how other artists might benefit from the move.

Disco Fries

How did you guys get started? How did you meet? And how did Disco Fries all start off?

Danny: Nick and I met at the Berklee College of Music in Boston about 17 years ago and we started out making bootleg remixes of 80s records. Since then, we've created remixes for artists like Flo Rida and Katy Perry, done collaborations with Tiesto and toured the world. We’ve helped countless artists finish their records via our site FinishMyTrack.com and now we're pushing into the Music NFT space.

Before you started operating via blockchain what was your main way of connecting with your audience? For example, were you using a streaming service? Or producing merch?

Nick: When we were starting out with bootlegs we really got tons of traffic to our music via blogs, Hype Machine, and traditional socials - this was kind of at the end of Myspace, the beginning of Facebook days. So right away we had this social media following, and I think that’s always been a big part of how we connected with people. But over time, as there are so many different platforms, it’s become a bit fragmented. On streaming services though we have great support on Spotify, Apple and Pandora and a bunch of other DSPs, each tends to live in it’s own silo. So while we've made a lot of fans on all of those platforms, it’s very hard to connect with all of them in one place or connect with them at all.

What was the motivation to move into NFTs and blockchain? Were you unhappy in the situation that you were in or did you see it as a brand new revenue stream?

Danny: We both found out about the potential of Music NFTs through the 3LAU drop early last year, and since then we’ve really had our eye on the space. It’s not that we were unhappy with the streaming model or anything. Of course, we were bummed that we weren’t getting to tour anymore through the pandemic. That was a big way we connected with our fans. We quickly saw potential in the NFT space to connect with fans in a different way as well as generate extra revenue. As for how we got involved with RCRDSHP that was all Nick as he’d actually heard about them a few months prior to their launch.

Nick: I was introduced to one of the founders on the platform early on pre-launch, Obie Fernandez. Obie laid out this plan for RCRDSHP and the core of his beliefs around music collection, it’s intrinsic value and how to do it on the blockchain resonated with us in a big way. I asked him at the end of that call “where do I send a check?” This was something that felt right to get behind both creatively and to support financially as an investor. We’ve always wanted to push into territories that other musicians might not be looking at. It’s a way for us to be the test-dummies to kick the tires on new tech because that’s what inspires us. We do a lot of music for sync, started a service called FinishMyTrack.com and we had previously invested in two different gaming organizations: FaZe Clan and XSet prior to RCRDSHP, so we always think about how we can exist outside of the dance music space. RCRDSHP was really appealing specifically because it was going to remove a lot of the friction that consumers have with getting into NFTs. You don’t need a MetaMask, you don’t need to be familiar with buying crypto or have a wallet - you can just go on there with a credit card and buy something. The on-site wallet is pretty streamlined for the average consumer. So that was really appealing to us and frankly, that streamlined process is what it’s going to take to on-board people in mass into Web3.

How has your experience been so far with RCRDSHP and blockchain in general? What has the reaction been from your fans?

Danny: It’s been really interesting because I feel like very quickly NFTs got a bad rap. People view them as a scam or a get rich quick scheme. However, that hasn’t been our experience at all. RCRDSHP has a great community and a very active Discord. The more involved we are, the more we see in terms of feedback and response from the community. So that’s been the coolest thing about it so far. Also, we got in with RCRDSHP early which helped us get more visibility on the platform. As they’ve continued to grow, and as new functions become available it's really opening our mind to the possibilities of what we can do going forward.

Nick: Because they are on Dapper’s Flow blockchain, it's extremely environmentally friendly. Crypto gets a lot of bad rap due to the energy consumption it takes up to mine on most mainstream blockchains and being really unsustainable. That isn’t applicable to Flow - its energy usage is around 0.18 GWh annually, which is crazy considering Bitcoin uses 178.040 GWH a year.

We also did this RCRDSHP Studio challenge we dubbed “Participate-To-Create”, which is the first time an artist has done this. We had 250 people co-produce & participate in creating a record with us and Lena Leon. We could have done this on Twitch or in Web2 prior to this technology, but the benefit of Web3 is that all this happens on blockchain and it's verified and contracted. For us to verify 250 people in a Web2 setting would have been really cumbersome with paperwork - but on the blockchain it was a no brainer.

Has it been smooth sailing so far? Have you encountered any challenges?

Danny: I wouldn’t say there's been any real challenges or disadvantages. The only thing that hasn't clicked right away is support from our typical fan base. Say we go to an open format club in Las Vegas on the weekend. 99% of the people in that crowd are not knowledgeable on this technology yet. There's still a barrier to entry and some apprehension from the general public on entering the space. I think trying to spread awareness and get those people onto the platform is been the biggest hurdle. There is a disconnect between our fans on RCRDSHP, and then our fans who listen to us on streaming services or radio or wherever. But that's it really.

So it’s become to different fanbases?

Nick: In a way, but I think that'll change obviously, and the tech will get adopted by more and more people. It'll just kind of become part of the ecosystem of what we do. We're trying to push that forward as much as we can. The other challenge, I would say, is just getting traditional labels and other people we've traditionally dealt with in the music space to wrap their head around what we're doing and what other artists are doing with NFTs. We have our foot in streaming, we have our foot in radio. So there always will be somewhat of a need for us to have a traditional label structure. But then how does that business look with these labels and can you kind of change the agreement terms and things to reflect this new technology? So kind of working that into our system, educating our partners in the industry, and how we work is probably going to be the biggest challenge moving forward, but we're figuring it out

What advice would you give to new artists who are considering using blockchain? What have you learnt along the way?

Nick: Engage, engage, engage [laughs]. Test new concepts and ways of promoting your art, talk to your fan-base in Discord & on Twitter Spaces actively, and ask them what they want to see more of from you. The Web3 community is beautiful and the more you give, the more that comes back around in such massively positive ways.

Danny: Oh yeah, before they even jump in. There's a handful of these Music NFT communities: RCRDSHP, Arpeggi, Royal, Sound.xyz, etc. and they all have very active Discords. It's easy to join those and get a feel for what that community is about and what the platform offers. See what the artists on there are currently doing and what is connecting with their fans.

Nick: I'd say specifically with RCRDSHP, we kind of approached it right away as if these collectors were in a traditional fan-club. We’d ask them, “What do you guys want to see from us?,” “Would you want to have a virtual party where we hang out for an hour and play new music and drink cocktails?.” Everybody jumped in! Or “Do you want us to airdrop a DJ mix and an exclusive track?” Everybody wanted that, so we did it. It's about getting in there and talking to the community and asking them whats important to them from the artist, while then also surprising them with cool airdrops they wouldn’t expect. We did a live party on New Year's Eve where RCRDSHP was was a co-sponsor, so we gave everybody who showed up and registered to RCRDSHP a participatory card for coming and a limited edition shirt for coming out. That card will give those fans access to exclusives in the future. Coming up with creative ways to use your collectibles to access either real life experiences, or merch or other artist driven benefits down the line is really what we enjoy about this environment. I’d say to artists looking to get in… really, it's kind of open to whatever you want to make it as an artist. So if you come up with some off-the-wall idea, it's doable and more importantly, verifiable with this technology.

Do you see yourselves getting even more into the blockchain space in the future?

Danny: Yeah, definitely, we're both very excited about it. In the short time that we've been in this space, we've already been inspired to do new things that we hadn't thought of even a year ago. The RCRDSHP Studio thing that Nick mentioned was something that came together really quickly. But it was one of the coolest interactive experiences, or even studio experiences, that we've had. So just knowing that things like that are possible, and that there are going to be other opportunities that we haven't thought of yet is exciting. With that said, we're also not abandoning the traditional radio and streaming world, because that's what we built up on. We still have a large fanbase there that hasn't converted over yet. So we're excited about the NFT space, but we understand the general population still has a ways to go before they are fully comfortable with this new medium.

Nick: I also think in time these are things that are just going to become synonymous with each other. Obviously, we're early on all of it right now. But eventually I could see Apple and Spotify and Pandora integrating this technology into what they do, they have to move where artists are moving.

Danny: Yeah! So right, because if you think about exclusive access for example. If you were a holder of a certain collectible, you could have early access to an artist record on Spotify a week before everyone else. There's so many possibilities. Doing it on the blockchain and having that level of communication that's not there in the traditional entertainment space opens a lot of doors.

Nick: What's cool too is that in this space, kind of relating to what I was talking about with artists moving in this direction, it's the first time in a long time artists are controlling the narrative. Prior to this Spotify was created by a tech company with money and so forth behind it. Whereas this whole movement is directed by artists, it's not hinging on pressing vinyl and having the funding to do that or creating a platform from nothing. So now that we're able to control the narrative, the bigger players will have to follow - we’ll dictate what those terms are. I think that's where it gets really interesting for artists and I couldn’t be more excited about where the future of music is headed.

The Scumfrog

How did you get started as an artist?

Well, that dates me a little bit [laughs]. I got started as a DJ in the late 80s and then as a producer in the late 90s. Back in those days you needed quite a few resources to actually make a record and I didn't have access to a recording studio. I fussed around with some samplers and stuff, but it never really sounded decent until I had access to actual studios. These were the days of vinyl records, and it was easier to capitalize on music, even when you were only somewhat successful. You didn't need to be an A-list artist in order to pay the rent from record sales. The downside was, that it was a lot more expensive, and difficult to make a record. These days, if you get the right plugins, and you watch a few days of YouTube tutorials, you're well on your way. Technology these days allows everybody do really cool stuff. Back in the day, the entry level was higher, and so were the financial rewards once you were in

So before you started operating via blockchain, what was your main way of connecting with your audience? Was it selling physical records? Streaming services? Merch?

Musicians of my generation have the advantage of having lived through many incarnations of the recording industry and many phases of the record business. Each phase required us to adapt and change our outlook and strategy. As soon as my career as the Scumfrog took off, file sharing started happening, so I only caught the tail-end of the big record sales era. Then I had to adapt to people downloading music for free, followed by the rise of MySpace and the social media boom, which challenged artists to promote themselves directly to followers. All these shifts gave my generation of artists an opportunity to look beyond the latest tech-trends, and really identify which changes work for you as an artist and which don't. That flexibility has put me in the place where I am now. Throughout all these shifts in the industry, the main reliable stream of revenue was touring. Until the pandemic started, the big carrot on the stick for a lot of artists and DJs was that they could make a living from their gigs even when their record sales disappeared. As long as you were on the road you were doing fine. You could basically consider your productions as promotional materials to sell tickets for shows. I used all the streaming services and social media to promote my music – and made no money for any of that. But it was a strategy to get DJ bookings. That all changed with a pandemic. Artists like myself, who did not make enough money from streaming, had to look for alternative revenue streams during Covid. Then blockchain came to the rescue with yet another phase of marketing and selling music.

So it was the pandemic that made you start looking into blockchain? Where did RCRDSHP come into it?

I think most artists were already thinking about how we can move beyond platforms like Spotify and TikTok. These platforms try to convince creators and creatives that they are an endgame, but they aren’t. Spotify does an amazing job at marketing but it’s not the pinnacle of what makes a successful artist's career. It’s true when you’re The Weeknd and you have billions of streams, sure. But the irony is that artists at that level don’t even need that income anymore, because they have insane revenue streams from everything else. For underground artists, who will barely break a million streams – Spotify is one element in an artist’s business model, but certainly not the endgame. It’s the same with TikTok. These platforms are useful for promoting music, but not for monetizing. Selling digital assets using Blockchain technology the way RCRDSHP does - by creating profiles and an appealing structure to each release (drop), is so appealing because it really focuses on the music itself. Underground Dance music is predominantly made to experience on giant sound systems, in big clubs and festivals where you can’t escape from it because it is all around you. Spotify and TikTok just aren’t able to translate that energy adequately. RCRDSHP’s way of marketing is so good at putting the focus back on the music and the artists who made it, you get all this information on the site that you don’t get on streaming platforms. It makes it much more interesting for the user to really pay attention to the music itself, and listen to music more actively than the average Spotify listener.

What has your experience with RCRDSHP been so far? What have been the biggest advantages to you as an artist?

Well, it's still early, this is emerging technology right now. If I’m just talking about revenue then it's infinitely bigger than I would get from anything I’ve put on streaming services - so obviously that is very appealing. But I couldn’t tell you how that will be in a year - is it going to be tenfold or double? It’s definitely interesting enough for me to say: “Okay, this is going beyond what Spotify offers me.” If what is happening now sticks, especially with the administrative advantages of blockchain, then it would mean I can use streaming only as advertising. The advantages of streaming are the discovery element, those platforms today are what used to be radio back in the day. You heard a song that you liked for free on the radio, but you wanted to own it so you went to a record store. RCRDSHP is the modern equivalent of a record store. Another advantage of blockchain is that it forces people to reimagine the entire copyright system, which is terribly outdated and fails to address many new areas of content creation. Blockchain and NFTs allow us to experiment with creative ways to redefine what “owning” music means that's better for artists and consumers today. Personally, I love the experimentation of it all. Some artists go all-in on TikTok, but for me personally, I am more excited to do my marketing experiments on RCRDSHP. They are the most on the ball when it comes to the digital collectible scene because they managed to steer clear of the hype-element of NFTs. They aren’t going to pretend that a song that’s listed for 99 cents on Apple Music and Beatport is all of a sudden worth $6 million because that’s what somebody somewhere did for a publicity stunt. That stuff makes for cool headlines, but it not scalable. RCRDSHP from the very beginning was like, “we’re gonna sell your assets for $5, then they might organically go up to $25 or even $250 per asset” - but they aren’t coming up with unrealistic numbers. So it becomes much more like the community of Discogs.

Do you think you have a different fanbase that’s interested in blockchain avenues? Or is it still the same following?

I hope so! First of all, because the fanbase of digital collectibles, and that's the fanbase that RCRDSHP has - the vast majority were not familiar with my music. They’re younger, which for an artist is great because I’m already on my fourth generation of fans. The first generation are grandparents now [laughs]. It’s great because you have to prove yet again, why people should listen to your music and I love that challenge.

Have there been any challenges to using blockchain?

I think due to this being new technology, all the challenges are pretty temporary. For me now, the only real disadvantage is that you’re working with a smaller group of people. If I do a campaign for Spotify, it could be for billions of people potentially, if I do a campaign for Beatport, it could be for millions of people, but on those platforms, I compete with an endless volume of new releases each day. RCRDSHP on the other hand has a much smaller audience, but also a much more carefully curated content. its audience is much more likely to actually pay attention to the content and engage in what I'm doing. I quite enjoy dedicating my creative time to that demographic. It’s also great because I can easily bring my existing following onto RCRDSHP because they don’t require cryptocurrency to buy the assets. That was a huge selling point for me because my artist-friends in the past year, when they got involved in NFT stuff on other platforms, they would have to send a 10-page email to their followers to teach them how to use these platforms. RCRDSHP is accessible to everyone immediately.

What advice would you give artists who are looking to get into blockchain?

t's such cliché advice, but you need to have an angle - a specific thing that you do that other people don’t. Whether you start on TikTok, Instagram or RCRDSHP - you have to have a niche. That was what made me connect with RCRDSHP because I had been working on this collection of music, that I don’t call an album, called the ‘Collection 2021’ which is basically a 65-minute video. It’s nine tracks and all the tracks have their own music video and it’s mixed together like a live stream. I wanted to make a live stream where the visuals really connected with the music instead of distracted from it. I’d been working on the project for five-six months, which is now on my website and it’s not available anywhere else. It was a risk, because the audience for this video is literally only people who come onto my website, but it also made the content more valuable to those who found it, exactly because it wasn’t available everywhere else. I put the tracks on Spotify, but only two-minute versions - so basically previews. When I started talking with RCRDSHP, they were like, this is exactly the kind of project that we can tap into — all those music videos can be digital collectibles. Straight away I already had content ready to go, I was sitting on nine original music videos that had not been published anywhere else prior. It was a very serendipitous coming together of people that were just working on the same solutions. I’m follow RCRDSHP and see that all the artists in their own drops have their own real unique selling point but in completely different ways. It’s really refreshing to see.

Check out the Scumfrog collection 2021 right here

Discover RCRDSHP by heading to the website here.

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