Digital assets like nonfungible tokens could help musicians build better relationships with their fans, according to Steve Aoki, a keynote panelist at last week’s NFT | LA conference in California.
The Grammy-nominated musician – known for popular remixes of songs like Kid Cudi’s "Pursuit of Happiness” – told Bloomberg he sees the decentralised world of Web3 giving artists more control of their work. In fact, he says he has made more money selling NFTs than he did in 10 years of making music.
That’s partially why he’s now building his own NFT platform, Aokiverse, in collaboration with other artists such as Snoop Dog.
Below are lightly edited highlights of Bloomberg’s conversation with Aoki.
Q: Why should artists be interested in the intersection between music and NFTs?
A: It’s like when social media came out. It’s just going to expand your connection or your reach with people. Do you have to do it? No, you don’t. There’s plenty of artists who don’t even do anything with social media. They aren’t on social media at all, but they exist. So it’s not like you have to do it, but if you want to expand your reach and connect with people in a different way ... the digital imprint of how we look at our lives, how we communicate what we do, it’s actually a very large part of who we are.
It’s more about control. It’s about what you own. So I think with that philosophy in mind, it’s already clear. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a musician or you’re a creator, whatever you are. You would rather own and then go in. I think eventually when people start seeing that, then it’s going to become very normal and then we’re not going to have this conversation of what is an NFT.
It’s like, "What’s the internet?” Those were questions when it first started out. Then two years later, how do you make these relationships more meaningful? How do you make it more sustainable? Those are the questions that are going to matter later on, right? It’s first about introducing this idea: "Hey, guys you own it.” Once you want to be part of it, you own what you go into and you can dictate what that looks like. That’s where the fun begins. That’s where the ideating begins of how to build a community.
I think one of the other major differences between the way artists communicate with fans through their music, which is how we do it, versus how artists communicate with their fans through Web3 and through music, is that you’re listening to [your fans] a lot more. You’re engaged with them a lot more. It’s more of a relationship than a one-way conversation. That’s the major difference. They’re gonna have to be more participatory in all these different worlds, outside of just making the music and dropping it if they want to participate in web3. They can still be part of web2 [the Internet now] and just drop music and carry on with their lives. But I want more. I want to build more.
Q: When you’re talking with people in the music industry about NFTs, what’s their biggest hangup?
A: For crypto-savvy people, it’s built on the blockchain, so they get it. People who aren’t even in crypto, you have to become crypto-literate to a certain extent. You have to believe in it. You have to believe in crypto, because once again, it’s decentralised. So just that alone is already like, "Well, I don’t want any crypto, I don’t even really understand it.” That’s a hurdle you have to jump first. And I always start with, it’s all based on market. Everything’s based on what people decide what it should be.
If they decide it’s worth a cheeseburger, this one is worth one cheeseburger. This one is worth a hundred grand. It’s what they decide and you let them decide, so you want to bring value. It’s different than just being a musician or artist. You have to understand the business model and understand, it’s a much bigger undertaking than just dropping music, and then people don’t listen to it. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to have to have a real conversation.
You have to bring a team in. I brought in a full-scale team to build out Aokiverse. There’s five people that are part of the Discord, three women and two men. I brought in two full-time employees to handle all the rewards and all the development of Aokiverse and what that looks like, so that the people that have invested in and been part of my membership, are getting what they want, or getting something that they’ve never gotten before. It’s much larger than a fan club. Definitely a social community, for sure.
Q: Do you think there could be an NFT-based or blockchain-based platform that replaces a streaming giant like Spotify in the future?
I don’t think it’ll replace it. You never know. I mean physical CDs were replaced by streaming, by downloads. I’m sure Spotify is smart. They’re going to think about what that looks like because there’s always an evolution. I’ve had a record label for 26 years. It was really important to have physical product. That’s how you made an income as a business and then it was all gone. So, will streaming be gone? Who knows. What’s the next thing? What does it look like? They’re going to have to be forward thinking about it. But you can’t stop web3. You can’t stop what the NFT engagement will be with music. It’s going to be the next frontier of where music is going. It just gives more options.
That’s what it’s doing. It’s opening up the palette of hey, you have streaming. This is very important. You have YouTube. You now have the NFT culture of, whether it’s royalties or the collectible side of things, where you can have scarcity and rarity on certain songs that may have emotionally affected you and you treat as art. I think the most important thing is building a broader community, which is what we’re doing with Aokiverse.
Q: Is it hard partnering up on projects with so much anonymous stuff happening in crypto?
A: It’s a little scary sometimes. You might happen into something that might rug [pull] because you don’t know what the intention is. You might see what they lay out, but then they just pull the money and run and we all make that mistake, especially people like myself that speculate a lot. – Bloomberg