Wu-Tang Clan's $4 Million Album - The Precursor to the NFT Music Movement?
In 2015, the legendary hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan did something unprecedented – they released a single, exclusive copy of their album "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin." This daring act not only fetched them a significant price but also sparked a discourse on the value of music in the digital era.
Today, this discourse is poised on the brink of a revolutionary leap, with Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) and Web3 leading the charge. As we delve into the intricate workings of the music industry, we see that the Wu-Tang Clan story may as well have been a harbinger of a much larger shift – a digital renaissance where artists regain control of their art and its value.
The Current Landscape of the Music Industry
As mentioned by Web3 music streaming and NFT platform Pianity in their recent blog post, artists have long found themselves entangled in an online music distribution system that dilutes the unique essence of their creations. A stream is a stream, a track is a track, and the economic model treating all music equally neglects the very ethos of art: diversity and individual expression. As a case in point, 97% of artists on Spotify reportedly earn less than $1000 annually, reflecting an economic structure not conducive to artistic growth or sustainability. Especially when considering that artists will sometimes spend thousands of dollars to record, mix and master those very songs that are being streamed.
Trends and algorithms have become the guiding force, pushing artists to adapt their creations to gain more streams. This phenomenon is evident in the notable decrease in the average length of songs and a growing tendency for songs to be more danceable and explicit, says Pianity.
The Promise of NFTs and Web3
Enter NFTs and Web3, promising to redefine these conventions.
NFTs transform art into a digital asset, reintroducing artists' rights to determine their art's value and earn directly from its sale. They free artists from the constraints of stream-count-dependency, enabling them to freely express creativity.
By controlling the editions (digital copies) and pricing of their art, artists can introduce scarcity and uniqueness, further accentuating the value. As an example, consider the Wu-Tang Clan's album "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin." The group chose an unusual launch strategy, releasing only one copy of the record.
The goal: to return the value of music, which has been lowered by the advent of streaming and piracy, to the level of other types of fine art.
For art to change the way people think, it has to come from an extreme place, said RZA. “No monumental change ever started with a compromise or a small shift. It starts extreme.”
Source - Forbes
This one-of-a-kind album initially sold through Paddle8 on November 24, 2015, for $2,000,000, before fetching $4,000,000 at resale in 2021. NFTs introduce the Artist's Resale Right into the music world, enabling musicians to earn royalties whenever their song's NFT gets resold on the secondary market. If this album were an NFT, and Wu-Tang Clan had implemented a secondary sale fee, the artists could have earned a significant payday from that resale.
Oh, and it's no surprise that PleasrDAO bought it up in the end.
PleasrDAO have a passion for buying digital collectibles and honoring “anti-establish rebels”. “This beautiful piece of art, this ultimate protest against middlemen and rent seekers of musicians and artists, went south by going into the hands of Martin Shkreli, the ultimate internet villain,” says Jamis Johnson, PleasrDAO’s 34-year-old Chief Pleasing Officer (yes – that’s his real job title). Johnson [continues] “we want this to be us bringing this back to the people. We want fans to participate in this album at some level.”
Source - BlackAmericaWeb
Source: Griffin Lotz for Rolling Stone / Griffin Lotz for Rolling Stone
Artistic and Economic Liberation through NFTs
NFTs liberate artists from the existing economic model that ties their income to the number of streams. They enable artists to receive more support from their fanbase, especially the most engaged fans who might desire exclusive collectibles and perks.
Artists can offer various editions of NFTs with different levels of scarcity, providing varying degrees of support options for their fans and cultivating stronger connections with their fanbase. Exclusive perks can be incorporated into specific NFT editions, enhancing their value within the community.
But there's more than just that to NFTs and Web3 entering the music industry.
Collaborative Opportunities and the Power of Web3
NFTs can foster collaboration and transparency in the music industry. They allow public royalty splits, automatic payments to all rights holders, and encourage transparency in collaborations - all through the simple method of code. By coding an NFTs smart contract, all royalties from transactions can automatically be shared between those owed them.
The collaborative opportunities are endless, as seen with the recent release of "im fine : ( :", a song featuring the voice of Grimes but created using her AI voice software, Elf.Tech. Despite not being directly involved in the production of the song, Grimes was compensated for the use of her voice, showcasing a new future for copyright handling.
Copyright handling can be directly coded into a smart contract, without artists ever having to worry about whether or not they are getting what they are owed.
NFTs as Digital Containers
The beauty of NFTs is that they can be programmed in many ways. As such, NFTs can act as digital containers. Darkblock is revolutionising this unique feature of NFTs via their NFT digital unlockables. They allow artists to add additional content like album artwork or digital art, amplifying the value of their creations.
NFTs are essentially open to each artist's interpretation of what they want to offer their fans. Can I quote myself? - Azriel
NFTs in the Music Industry: Taking a Page from Wu-Tang Clan's Playbook
In retrospect, the audacious move by Wu-Tang Clan to create a single, exclusive copy of their album "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin" demonstrated a bold vision that transcended the norms of the last decade. They dared to value their art in an unprecedented way, challenging the mainstream paradigm of the music industry. Little did they know, their radical strategy was an unknowing harbinger of today's blossoming era of NFTs.
In today's landscape, with the advent of NFTs, artists now have the tools to replicate and even surpass the entrepreneurial spirit of the Wu-Tang Clan, shaping the very economics of the music industry. Thus, Wu-Tang Clan can be recognized as not only musical pioneers but also as inadvertent visionaries of the NFT revolution in music. Their foresight embodies a compelling prelude to the limitless potential of art, technology, and the value of unique creative expression.