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Illustration by Jess Ebsworth

Why the future of fandom looks like an NFT

A new mixtape from BACARDÍ offers both music, and a piece of the artist’s success.

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NFTs, you might have heard, are kind of a big deal right now. The much talked-about, little-understood digital tokens are now a multi-billion market, bigger than many well-established cryptocurrencies. And they’re quickly forming the basis of a brand-new, global digital art market: one that operates 24/7 from anywhere with Wi-Fi, and has created frenzied, multi-million dollar bidding wars over everything from fine art, to Tweets, to that classic driver of tech adoption — no, not that one, we mean cat memes.

While they’re currently most associated with the art world, NFTs are making inroads to music, too. Legacy and up-and-coming musicians are beginning to experiment with self-releasing their music as NFTs, and using NFT sales as a form of self-funding. Want to raise money to release an album without selling your idea to the suits at a record label? NFTs can do that — and a lot more.

And what makes NFT ownership of a digital asset different from, say, a downloaded song? That’s a little trickier to explain. “The NFT token is like a certificate of ownership, and since it’s recorded on this worldwide distributed network, anyone can easily validate who owns something and what that ownership entails,” says Deanna Audrey Hammond, Head of CX & Ops at NFT marketplace STURDY.EXCHANGE.

The wily, “what are they exactly?” quality of NFTs make them ideal sites for experimentation, which is one reason BACARDÍ chose the format for the third installment of its Music Liberates Music program, described by Laila Mignoni, BACARDÍ’s Global Head of Brand Marketing Communications, as an ongoing initiative to “champion and empower emerging artists and give them every opportunity to share their talent on a global scale.” This year’s edition puts the spotlight on underrepresented female producers in the music industry. Meet a mixtape unlike any other: The Music Liberates Music Mixtape.

Bambii, Denise De’ion, and PERFXN.
Courtesy of BACARDÍ

Presented by BACARDÍ and award-winning producer Boi-1da, it features three rising women beatmakers who are making waves for their Caribbean-inspired sounds and production styles: Bambii, Denise De’ion, and PERFXN. Boi-1da hand-selected each artist for their innovative sounds, and worked closely with them to finalize their tracks for the MLM mixtape. The resulting tracks were sold as a limited-edition NFT — available at $100 each through NFT marketplace STURDY.EXCHANGE, and each comes with a host of intriguing extras. In addition to an early release of the full tracks, buyers also receive a “Fanvestor Kit” complete with poster layouts, stickers, and social-ready assets to help spread the word about the artists. In effect, the kits invite each fan to become a “social manager” who is equally invested in the music they love.

Courtesy of BACARDÍ

The album cover art for the BACARDÍ Music Liberates Music NFT Mixtape. Top left: Bambii; top right: Denise De’ion; bottom left: Music Liberates Music NFT Mixtape; bottom right: PERFXN.

And why would they want to do that? That leads us to the coolest “extra” of all — every purchase of an NFT Mixtape gives the buyer a percentage of the songs’ streaming royalties for a year. So the more the tracks are played and loved, the more the owner earns. Music fans already evangelize for the artists they love — that’s why they’re always asking for the AUX cord. With this Mixtape, fans can own a piece of the success they help create.

For artists, the benefits are clear. The NFT mixtape offers the stage to artists often underrepresented in the music industry, and empowers them to take greater control of their creativity. NFTs could shift the balance of power back toward the artists, says Mignoni. “NFTs let artists release their own music, on their own terms. They have more control over how their music reaches the public, which allows them to have a larger share in their revenue, clear ownership over their work, and more autonomy over their own success.”

Offering fans a stake in the artists’ success via streaming royalties is, Mignoni says, “a first-to-market model that we feel is particularly important for talent at the start of their career, while also helping foster a deeper connection with fans.” Incentivizing an artists’ most obsessive fans to promote them — it’s an idea that makes so much sense, you’re surprised it hasn’t happened before.

Collaborating on an artist-first initiative like NFTs is a natural fit for Music Liberates Music, BACARDÍ’s ongoing program to champion underrepresented voices in the music industry. As one recent study noted, only 2 percent of music producers identify as female. “Everything that we do at BACARDI ladders up to our overarching brand platform of ‘do what moves you,’ and for these producers, their music and their craft are what move them, what drives them,” Mignoni says. “We want to support that: With music being in our brand DNA for generations, it’s very important for BACARDI to continue to champion and empower emerging artists and give them every opportunity to share their talent on a global scale.”

As artists increasingly awaken to their potential, NFTs could occupy an ever-growing part of the music landscape. By cutting out middlemen and putting control back in the hands of creators, NFTs offer artists something that’s all too rare in the music industry: control over their creativity, a direct line to their fans, and, let’s hope, a bigger cut of their revenues. NFTs also offer a solution to questions of ownership that can plague the art world — art curators could easily check the provenance of digital artwork, for example, or music fans could determine exactly who owns that hyper limited-edition album. It’s also, well, kind of a flex. NFT owners don’t just have the personal satisfaction of knowing they own an original piece of artwork. They get that glowy feeling that everyone else knows they own it, too. It’s a value proposition likely to tempt artists the same way Kickstarter campaigns did in the 2010s. “Artists are beginning to understand NFTs as the evolution of crowdfunding,” Hammond says. “If they can connect their community to NFTs, they can see huge rewards.”

NFTs also represent a sea change in everyday consumers’ tech adoption curve. “The transition from physical CDs to digital streaming completely transformed the industry. I see the movement toward NFTs as the next nodal transformation point in history,” Hammond says. More than simply a format change, music NFTs offer the added value of clear ownership, collectibility, and the exciting prospect of real-world benefits that may be offered to owners, such as merchandise giveaways, exclusive access to events or performances, and fan meetups.

NFTs are just beginning to move from the fringe “tech enthusiast” space, into the “early adopters” phase, where they’ll begin to shape a new reality around how we fund, engage with, and consume art and music, and could pave the way for virtual and augmented reality to create even more immersive worlds. “We’re going to see a rapid expansion of artists and fans entering the space in the next two to five years,” Hammond says. “It’s still early — but it’s exciting to help shape the space for good.”

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