Music NFTs are here. Some claim they’ve gone mainstream already, but really it’s just the beginning. It’s been a year since the first major drops in the space and also a year since Async Music (now Async Music Classic) launched. We’re now looking towards the next step in the evolution of music NFTs with Async Music Blueprints, which is due to launch in June 2022.
Recently, we held a Twitter Space to commemorate Async Music Classic (April 26th, 2022), listened to the first tracks minted on Async, and spoke with the artists who made them. Now, we want to reflect on the history of music NFTs, looking at wider movements in the space, as well as Async’s own footprints in this emerging art form’s recent history.
A music NFT is audio data that lives on the blockchain. It’s a digital asset that you can own: it can be a single, album, video, lyrics, or artwork. It isn’t just an mp3 that you can download. Music NFTs give artists an alternative way to sell, share and even produce their music. They aim to disrupt and tackle the problems currently faced by the music industry.
The music economy as we know it allows record labels and streaming companies to take huge cuts of artists’ revenue and exercise creative control over the works produced. Through peer-to-peer blockchain technology, music NFTs can give back control to the creators. Artists can retain the rights to their work, earn cash up-front and take their music in the direction they choose.
Async Music Classic (AMC) was Async’s first exploration beyond visual NFTs. Our CEO Conlan said: “When we launched Async Art in Feb 2020, we always envisioned other types of media beyond visual artwork. We still believe music NFTs have yet to come into their own.” AMC allowed artists to experiment with creating programmable music for the first time, to bring a new dynamic dimension to their music, and give fans a chance to interact with tracks like never before.
Programmable music made with Async Music Classic is constantly changing based on which Stems and States are activated by their unique owners, so when the listener tunes into the track it may be different from the last listen because a Stem has been modified by its owner. Async’s Community Manager MULTI said: “it reminds me of buying and collecting records, you don’t know what you’re going to be listening to at any moment”.
The innovative thing about programmable music is the way it allows artists to capture something beyond a static recording. Techno and electro DJ Maelstrom, an OG Async musician, described how “AMC allowed me to transcribe live music to the digital realm and for the way I produce music to be better understood. As a live DJ, with synthesizers, drum machines, and samplers, I’m rearranging pre-composed patterns in real-time, which means the live performance is never the same”. AMC allowed artists to give listeners the experience of how music sounds in the studio and at a live performance.
Programmable music is really breathing new life and a new dimension into music. Pradeep Kumar, another Async OG, one of the collaborators behind பண் (Pann), the 30-minute, 42-artist programmable music NFT said: “I come from a performing background, so as a musician, I always felt the composition needed a performance to become real. For me, digital releases made music feel static, so when I discovered programmable music and Async, I was so kicked about the idea.”
Music has been dabbling in the NFT sphere for a couple of years now. We saw the launch of Audius, a crypto-music streaming platform, in 2018, followed by the first concerts in the metaverse in 2018/9 (Marshmello and Travis Scott in Fortnite). In 2020, artists began exploring their options with virtual assets. Notably, Deadmau5 dropped digital collectibles (virtual trading cards and stickers), then Shawn Mendes launched a line of digital wearables. It was only in 2021, the music NFT sphere really began to heat up:
15 FEB 2021 - Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda became the first major-label artist to release the single “Happy Endings” as an NFT. It single was split between 10 tokens, each comprising a 75-second clip and animated artwork by Shinoda and artist Cain Caser.
FEB 24th, 2021 - Jacques Greene sold “Promise” as an NFT, which represented not only a 1/1 but also the publishing rights to the song. Upon its release, it was sold for 13 ETH.
FEB 25th, 2021 - DJ 3lau released Ultraviolet, a re-release of his 2018 album. This was the first album NFT, which comprised 33 NFTs and made $11.6 million in 24 hours. The NFT owners are entitled to unreleased music, special edition vinyl, and exclusive experiences.
FEB 28th, 2021 - Grimes dropped audio-visual artwork “Death of Old” and its bidding surpassed $100,000 within minutes of the auction opening. The whole auction amassed $6 million within 20 mins.
MARCH 5th, 2021 - Rapper Tory Lanez dropped three new tracks, releasing them as 450 NFTs, all of which included a meet and greet with the rapper.
MARCH 5th, 2021 - Kings of Leon became the first band – or at least the first high-profile band – to release an album as an NFT.
MARCH 29th, 2021 - Programmable music launched on Async, the first of its kind tool to help musicians create dynamic music NFTs without programming knowledge.
APRIL 2021 - Limited Editions launched on Async Music. For the very first time, fans were able to purchase a blank record and record the current state of an Async track.
APRIL 26th, 2021 - The first programmable classical music NFT sold on Async. “Betty’s Notebook” sold for 56.46 ETH ($375,000 at the time) to the winning bidder.
JULY 2021 - The Async Apple TV app added music support so users could listen to Async Music tracks.
JULY 2021 - The second wave of Async Music tracks dropped.
NOV 2021 - Universal Music Group announced the formation of KINGSHIP, a supergroup whose members own Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs.
MARCH 1st, 2022 - The final Async Classic piece was released. It was audio-visual artwork “PHONONS” from generative music and sound developer KOR3.
JUNE 2022 - Async Music Blueprints is set to launch.
We’re still at the start of this digital music evolution. PLS&TY, creator of programmable music “Ride or Die”, said: “What’s really exciting is putting out building blocks for other people to step in and become the musician. We're just providing the foundation as artists and then all the power goes to the collectors and listeners.”
Curious to learn more about the Async Music Classic tracks? Last week’s Twitter space is still available to listen. We welcomed artists from the genesis collection (17 Async Music projects) to talk about their projects and experience in the music NFT space, as we listened to clips of the original tracks. The mixes, of course, were a curated collection chosen by their owners. If you’d prefer, visit Async Music to listen to the current state of the tracks.