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NFTs could be a vehicle for song evolution.

Image credit: Nigel Allan https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

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Matt Kolbe
Matt Kolbe Apr 07, 2021
Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are making quite the buzz as a potential for artists to be fairly compensated and for digital art to be digital artifacts to be traded as authenticated relics. If you’ve been following the value of cryptocurrencies, you’ll they’ve exploded in the last few months, with Ethereum reaching new peaks by the day.

I’m not diving to any conclusions as to whether this is a hyped-up story or if NFTs really are the future of high art, but it seems to me that if enough people believe in it, then it will become real. All currency is based on mutual belief. Since we got rid of the gold standard, $1 USD equals $1 USD because enough people believe that’s true.

I believe that NFTs have immense potential in influencing the evolution of art, especially music. Let me explain why.

With sound technology expanding perhaps more rapidly than ever, people are constantly exposed to better speakers, headphones, and other high-fidelity playback systems. Because of this, artists keep remastering their tracks for maximum enjoyment. Take for example PJ Olsson, who won a Grammy for remastering the album “Eye in the Sky” by The Alan Parsons Project for 5.1 surround sound. Perhaps since the advent of stereo audio artists have been remastering songs to catch up with the times.

Also consider the culture of remixing and sampling songs, an art largely stemming from Hip Hop. Today there’s a huge appetite for Lofi music that recycles, say old jazz songs. One way to sample a song is to use its stems, which are all the individual tracks and files separated in a folder. There’s a market for these files…

Here’s where NFTs come in. Artists can use cyber currency by encapsulating within “tokens” stem folders that curators, labels, and other artists can buy and trade for purposes of sampling, remixing, and remastering. Artists can put whatever they want within the blockchain—previous versions of the songs, alternate takes, plugin settings, visual art, etc.

Tod Machover and Charles Holbrow of MIT argue that the future of music involves artists continually developing and revising songs. I'm taking a lot of ideas from them, including the future outlook of song evolution.

Music will evolve along with audio technology and the soundscapes we engage with. As cars become quieter and ear health becomes more integrated into our lifestyles, I predict we will become more sensitive loudness and develop an appetite for richer, more dynamic songs. The Loudness War will transform into a war to use machine learning to make songs sound as perfect as possible no matter where they are or what playback system they’re using. Artists will be able to decide the “perfect mix” and how it responds to listener environments. NFTs provide an opportunity for artists to sell encrypted folders and keep making a money every time it’s traded.

Ideas for artists:
  • Make NFTs including stem folders and market for remix/remaster
  • Create different mixes/masters for songs depending on what environment/playback device they’re played on (i.e. car, headphones, quiet room)
  • Mix/master songs for different niches
  • Create membership programs for NFTs (i.e. raffles for rare collectibles)
  • Consider songs as dynamic artifacts that will change with technology and taste
  • Sell NFTs as merchandise, art, tickets, etc.
Ideas for labels:
  • Hire mastering engineers that specialize in domains, e.g. Radio, streaming
  • Labels can specialize in different mediums, creating competition and incentive for NFT trading
  • Produce mass/limited NFTs that customers can purchase, including a percent for artists
Ideas for venues:
  • Create ticketing agencies that distributes a form of NFTs as tickets so that attendees have a digital artifact of attending the concert. Could include access to concert footage.
  • Work with artists to sell NFTs of different tiers (i.e. VIP, autograph session, etc.)
  • NFT raffles
Ideas for streaming platforms:
  • Experiment with different playlists of the same songs but mastered for different purposes (i.e. for the car, for headphones
  • Experiment with using microphone (with consent of the user) to adjust playback according to environment
  • Use different masters submitted by artists, fading between them depending on the user environment
  • Allow more versatility for artists to submit different mixes/masters of the same song
  • Perhaps adding a “select version” option for songs
  • Play versions of songs at set intervals (i.e. the first time you listen to the song is different than the second or third time)
  • Set default versions in response to listener’s tastes, location, referral, etc.
  • Allow artists to sell NFTs of songs through streaming apps
  • Allow access to versions of songs depending on users’ NFT status
  • DON’T throttle quality to make users purchase NFTs
Ideas for mastering engineers:
  • Create different masters of songs based on different listener environments and playback devices
  • Save, organize, and back up all stems and files
  • Specialize in different avenues
  • Collaborate with other mastering engineers, trading files and NFTs
  • Work with labels and independent artists
  • Replace Loudness War with Race for Richness
Important note: The current biggest drawback to NFTs is the immense environmental impact they create. While it’s great to ideate about their potential, I believe we should wait until they’re more efficient until we start minting NFTs.

[1]Nguyen, Terry. NFTs, the digital bits of anything that sell for millions of dollars, explained. Vox, 11 March 2021.

[2]Harford, McKenna. The power of music: Local musician PJ Olsson nabs Grammy nomination for project with Alan Parsons (with video). Sky-Hi News, 4 January 2019.

[3]Machover, Tod and Holbrow, Charles. Towards New Musics: What the future holds for sound creativity. MIT Media Lab, 26 July 2019.

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General comments

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Povilas S
Povilas S5 months ago
Hi Matt Kolbe, welcome:)
You emphasize a lot the quality of the sound in music industry (remastering songs, adapting the sound to evolved speakers and sound systems, adapting it to the environment in which the user is, etc.). While this is an important aspect, I think what's much more important, from the technological standpoint is the possibility to adapt the music to the listener more and more (personalization). Algorithms are getting better and better at recommending personalized content.

For me what seems very exciting about this when it comes to music is the notion that a moment might come when an algorithm will be able to find a song for you that you will like at any given moment, like a perfect personal Dj. From huge amounts of songs ever created, it will guess which one you'd enjoy the most next (based on your listening habits, personality traits, personal history, mood swings, etc.) or even be able to create it for you and thus continue a never-ending set of amazing super personalized music. Or at least that's a technology I'd love to see realized:)