Network column: The vinyl of the future

“Music festivals on the blockchain” – that sounds more like one of the usual catchphrase remixes that uninspired digital prophets come up with during their lunch break in order to snag a few measly funds. In fact, several of these events are to take place in the coming weeks, logically on the Internet and with a top-class line-up that could also fill hip and highly credible clubs.

On closer inspection, the “festivals” turn out to be less of a digital equivalent of moshpit romance and camping excess, and more of an undercooled NFT project based on digital technology. For an investment in the form of cryptocurrencies, enthusiasts receive short sound snippets, possibly garnished with an exclusive animated GIF as the icing on the cake. What used to be called a hidden track. A little aha experience for the fans.

Could the one-of-a-kind files that have been so much criticized lately actually have subcultural value? Not as a disdainful mass of speculation, as you have mainly gotten to know them in the past few months, but rather as a new object of longing for real lovers? Can there even be a digital equivalent of the vinyl junkie who mainly spends his free time in dimly lit record stores?

Music label heads also draw inspiration from the video game industry

You can hardly blame struggling artists for trying new forms of monetization. After all, the current music streaming income model is fundamentally unfair. Of course, it’s not just the small musicians who hope to get a little better income from the crypto scene. The major labels are also involved. Both Warner and Universal have embarked on a slew of collaborations with Metaverse and NFT platforms over the past few months. For example with the audio NFT platform or the virtual world “The Sandbox”.

Oana Ruxandra, Warner’s chief digital officer, describes the collaboration as “a new opportunity for greater engagement that allows us, our artists and their fans to create and build community together.” The linchpin of this new form of interaction is the Discord chat platform. There, as the former Hipster magazine knows pitch fork, fans “could become their idols’ best friends, collapse with them, or be unpaid interns”. In the past, this would probably have been described as the dream of every pop fan.

If you listen to the statements of the label managers responsible, being a fan in this new interpretation of the Internet has to do primarily with consumption. Records, streams, concert tickets and analogue merchandising products are no longer enough. You get ideas from the video game industry, among others. There it has long been common among fans to buy digital “skins”, i.e. costumes for their own characters, for real money. It’s now a billion-dollar market, and when Ruxandra says you can “incrementally monetize” this way, it almost sounds like a threat.

Meanwhile, Universal Music has come up with an act that only exists in virtual worlds. The project called Kingship, according to the associated press release, is a “groundbreaking, exclusive agreement to form a Metaverse band”. This is of course reminiscent of blur-Chef Damon Albarn founded Gorillaz, who have been doing this for more than 20 years and accordingly shows rather little innovative power. Virtual concerts are also nothing entirely new. Mainstream musicians like David Guetta or Lil Nas X have already tried the formats and even the members of Abba now have avatars performing for them.

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