NFT Music: the gatekeepers are changing

How NFTs are creating a new idea of patronage and empowering musicians

Earlier this year, Singaporean-Tamil entrepreneur Metakovan aka Vignesh Sundaresan ignited an entire movement about the way art is valued in the digital world when he purchased an NFT (non-fungible token) artwork for $69 million.

Then in late April, Metakovan once again made headlines for purchasing an NFT of Tamil singer-composer Kaber Vasuki’s 2012 demo version of a song called ‘Vasanam’. He bought it for the price of 50 ethereum, a cryptocurrency which roughly converted to ₹1.5 crore at the time of sale. Although Vasuki is a Chennai-bred artist who is now based out of Toronto, the deal — conducted on international NFT marketplace OpenSea — made him a record holder in terms of Indian-origin musicians who have sold their music on the blockchain.

Metakovan tweeted about his affinity towards the song — eventually released by Kurangan, the band Vasuki co-founded in 2016 — and quoted the lyrics, ‘Between intention and action, there is an ocean of time.’ He added, ‘I’ve felt that time warp. I’ve felt Kaber’s verses at every turn of my adult life. They are my moral compass, mirror, and succour in the real world.’

Over the phone from Canada, Vasuki recalls how he met Metakovan in 2012 in Chennai at a writer’s workshop. They became friends, with the latter contributing to Kurangan’s album crowdfunding campaign for Azhagu Puratchi in 2014. “He’s interested in independent arts, in artists who have new perspectives and who are trying to do something original,” he adds about Metakovan.

Metakovan   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Shifting power to musicians

What NFTs are doing for art, they’re also doing for musicians — creating a new idea of patronage at a time when earning music royalties is a circuitous route and live touring is still down for the count due to the pandemic. Internationally, musicians like Grimes, Deadmau5, Mike Shinoda, Kings of Leon, RAC, among others, have been active in the space. As Vasuki puts it, musicians are often “forced to accept deals that may not be in your best interest”. Having researched cryptocurrency, he likes the infrastructure coming up around this new world. “It’s like you have a decentralised monetary network. Also, it’s permission-less,” he says.

Kolkata-bred, Mumbai-based drummer, tabla artist and percussionist Sambit Chatterjee was convinced about the power of NFTs after he came across news of Vasuki’s sale. He and his bandmates in What Escapes Me decided to sell their original demo of a sarod-infused metal track called ‘Section 66 Pt. 5’. It’s currently available on Indian NFT marketplace and cryptocurrency exchange platform WazirX on their bespoke currency, valued at 2121 WRX or $2,307.65. “When it comes to us, these things are more of collectibles for people who want to keep rare things to themselves,” says Chatterjee, who has also got a recurring royalty set on it.

An open market

WazirX, which has been wooing Indian musicians through July, announced nine “spotlight musicians” — including Chatterjee, pianist Lydian Nadhaswaram, beatboxer Abhishek Bhaskar and electronic producer Kohra aka Madhav Shorey — who will launch NFTs exclusively on their platform this month. Vishakha Singh, vice president of the NFT Marketplace at WazirX, highlights their relatively lower “gas fee” (a sort of transaction fee) of approximately $1 on the Binance blockchain (which acquired WazirX in 2019) and added push for Indian artistes. She says electronic artists are one of the most eager music communities when it comes to selling NFTs on WazirX and reasons that it is because “they are heavily into tech”.

Kohra, who is also a graphic designer, confirms this. His eerie audio-visual work ‘Kaliyuga 2025’ is a 31-second clip that’s selling for 3000 WRX or $3,240. “As an electronic music producer, we’re constantly trying to figure out new ways of doing so many things,” he says. In the world of cryptocurrency and NFTs — even if the Indian government is still working out a concrete cryptocurrency policy for exchange — Kohra feels there is a uniform space. “There’s no hierarchy in terms of who has access to what. Even if you’re a nobody, you can be compensated in an honest market space,” the DJ-producer says.

Kaber Vasuki
Kaber Vasuki   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Keeping the faith

Kohra is testing the waters, as are several musicians around the world on different platforms. Singh at WazirX tells artists to have faith in their work, not to be disheartened if they haven’t sold their NFT yet (Kohra and Chatterjee are yet to see a bid) and to keep adding more collectibles. A day ago, electronic dance music festival, Sunburn, announced its collaboration with WazirX to launch their collection of NFTs around music and art (starting July 23). They claim 49% of their fanbase on social media expressed their interest to invest in NFTs.

As for Vasuki, will he be putting out another NFT soon? He says he’s keeping his ear to the ground and looking out for initiatives which he believes “have potential to be hugely disruptive”. He adds, “I’m waiting to see how this intersection between crypto technologies and music business plays out over the next year or two.”

Published By : The Hindu


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