Recently, an artist called Beeple became the third most valuable artist alive after selling a collage of prints called Everydays: The First 5,000 Days. Made up of thousands of digital sketches produced every day for the last thirteen years, the piece sold for $69 million. This was no conventional artwork: it is the product of a ten-year long trend that has quickly been gaining momentum and making a lot of money in the world of cryptocurrency and Blockchain.
Beeple’s collage was not on canvas, in fact it was not in traditional physical form at all: it is in the form of a JPEG. But it was sold as a non-fungible token (NFT) providing the buyer with ownership of the ‘original’ collage. Kings of Leon’s decision to release their latest album, When You See Yourself, in the form of an NFT is only the latest advancement in a long blockchain (excuse the pun) of progress in the NFT world. It is also part of an increasing trend and surge in usage and value of cryptocurrency as we have recently seen the trend in meme stocks cause havoc on Wall Street.
NFT’s could also be used as a proof of ownership at gigs or events to access exclusive content, products, or access
Essentially, NFT’s are a digital certificate of authenticity for unique and valuable assets in digital form. Their value is determined by their scarcity as only a limited number of NFT’s exist and this threatens the possibility that they are only a fad. A Blockchain is where the information of who owns an NFT is recorded, blockchains are digital ledgers showing the transaction data of a cryptocurrency.
Something is fungible when it can be exchanged or traded for something else of the same type and value, such as a currency. NFT’s are non-fungible, they are unique and cannot be exchanged for something similar – there is nothing like a unique piece of art, for example. Therefore, they are valuable. Various trends in recent years have demonstrated how lucrative NFT’s can be due to the worth prescribed to them by the buyers.
By releasing an album as an NFT, a band could make a lot more money as it removes the third-party streaming service or retailer. If you purchase When You See Yourself in this form, you receive the digital download, a limited-edition vinyl, and a limited-edition piece of album artwork. These ‘limited-edition’ products and content are one of the primary offerings for those who purchase the NFT, as well as the prestige and potential value of owning the NFT itself. There is also the possibility it will increase in value if demand is high.
Since When You See Yourself is unlikely to go down in history and has already received mixed reviews, the NFT for this album might not do so well. While this is probably more of a USP to try and sell the album than a concerted attempt to change how music is consumed, it is a significant move. In using the NFT to sell vinyl and artwork, Kings of Leon could precipitate an increased revival in the already growing vinyl and cassette tape trend which could only do good things for artists, especially at the emerging level.
The way we consume music has changed dramatically in the last 20 years alone so we shouldn’t expect current trends to stick
NFT’s could also be used as a proof of ownership at gigs or events to access exclusive content, products, or access. In this sense they probably won’t revolutionise the music industry, but they will keep it steaming ahead into the 21st century and the internet-era. NFT’s raise questions about the future of the art world in all its forms. Could the art galleries of the future just exhibit rows of screens? Could successful artists make a living just by releasing exclusive NFT content to a select group of wealthy fans whilst only a trickle reaches the masses?
If history is anything to go by, probably not. The way we consume music has changed dramatically in the last 20 years alone so we shouldn’t expect current trends to stick. It is questionable how many fans will buy into this and when the pandemic era does end, such content and ideas might not become the vogue.
Artists need to make a living, but the exclusivity of NFT’s should not be the way to do so. As we emerge from the pandemic, I anticipate a revival of live music which will not only allow us to appreciate digital content more but to value the physical nature of music as more than just an audible experience too.