But how many collectors will pay thousands of dollars for digital collectibles, and for how long? Even those with a vested interest in NFTs are wondering.
It’s impossible to know if and when the fervour will die down, and it seems safe to say that we’ll see some attempts to cash in before it’s too late. There’s some reason to believe it won’t last forever. The “initial coin offerings” that dazzled the crypto world in 2017 have already lost their lustre. Regulatory scepticism could be another risk factor.
Music, unlike visual art, doesn’t have a strong historical basis in the sort of sales NFTs encourage, with a single buyer paying top dollar for a single rarefied object. However, in recent years, as widespread streaming has made it harder for many musicians to make money from their recordings, a vanguard of artists, especially in hip-hop, has experimented with artificial scarcity. The most notorious example was Wu-Tang Clan’s one-of-a-kind album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, which was released in 2015 and bought by pharmaceuticals honcho Martin Shkreli before his seven-year prison sentence and government order to forfeit the record.
One common question that remains though is around sharing the wealth: of course, big names of the industry can sell NFTs for top dollar, but how does that trickle down to the next generation of artists?
Watching headline names rake in six figures for their auctions could be understandably triggering for an artist who’s spent the past 12 months unable to tour, struggling to make ends meet.
And the truth is, if you don’t already have an audience, the likelihood of seeing significant returns from posting a looping video to an auction site is quite low.
If one positive can come out of the sometimes-absurd NFT auction gold rush and the resulting media frenzy, it’s that more people will become aware of blockchain and its potential for a genuine, artist-first, alternative digital existence. For music lovers, the most optimistic scenario for NFTs might be that they will give musicians the economic clout that they lack in the internet’s most recent iteration.
Let’s hope that whatever the future internet holds, the “Web 3.0” is better for recording artists than Web 2.0 has been, with its economics of virality and attention. For now, NFTs look less like the antidote than a way for venture capitalists and their friends to buy feelings.