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Behind the headlines: Analyzing Web3 onboarding strategies for music fans

December 16, 2021

tl;dr: Despite headlines about big sales and big possibilities for artists’ futures in Web3, a close examination of fan onboarding tactics suggest there will be numerous hurdles before this possibility becomes a reality. As narrative and technological friction weigh down Web2 fanbases, artists are finding support in niche, Web3-native communities — and in tactics that, perhaps counterintuitively, don’t scale.

This is Part IV of a five-part, collaborative research report that the Water & Music community has put together over the last two months on the state of music and Web3. Contributors to this research thread on Web3 fan onboarding practices are listed at the bottom of this page, sorted by role. You can view the current state of our report rollout, and a full list of our member-contributors, by visiting stream.waterandmusic.com.

Read our previous installments here:

I. Will music NFTs ever get their PFP moment?
II. Defining music NFT ownership, from the digital to the analog world
III. The state of music/Web3 tooling for artists


There is an underlying assumption in many music-industry circles that for Web3 projects to be successful, it would have to scale to the same level as Web2 projects, requiring an onboarding of all of an artist’s Web2 fans. It is tempting to fantasize about combining the hype behind recent NFT headlines with an artist’s mainstream user base, pulled from the hoards of hundreds of millions of Spotify and Apple Music listeners. However, when we compare the graveyard of ill-communicated, ill-received NFT drops from artists operating in the upper echelons of the Web2 music industry with the grassroots efforts put forth by many artists catapulting out of Web2 obscurity into the Web3 spotlight, it becomes clear that a large Web2 fan base does not necessarily translate into Web3 success.

Back in 2013, investor Paul Graham offered the following, evergreen advice to pioneering entrepreneurs at Y Combinator: “Do things that don’t scale.” In other words, don’t be afraid to do the hard, manual work of recruiting, onboarding and delighting users one-by-one early on, which has compounding effects on future growth.

Fast-forward eight years later, and we are seeing this strategy of direct, micro-level outreach — daily Twitter Spaces, one-on-one Zoom calls, Discord AMAs — being embraced over and over again by many of Web3’s most prominent artists in order to rally fans and court collectors. This is in stark contrast to the one-off, set-it-and-forget-it approach that we’ve seen from many celebrities with their NFT drops, which may have landed press but have done relatively little to move the needle on adoption and have left collectors and fans with valueless tokens and sour tastes in their mouths. 

In this article, we examine the methods by which artists have attempted to onboard fans and supporters into the Web3 music ecosystem, with the goal of debunking and clarifying misconceptions about what processes do and don’t work. Analyzing information from a combination of artist interviews, a fan onboarding survey and qualitative analysis of press releases, we identified four key categories of fan personas, which sit across a spectrum of engagement with crypto, as well as the four top concerns these fans had with embracing music NFTs.

We found that in many instances, the fan onboarding strategies that had the most impact intentionally decided to start small. While perhaps counterintuitive, it makes sense that the first step in improving the overall music/Web3 fan experience is in being humble enough to meet fans where they’re at, on the ground.


METHODOLOGY

Interviews

We conducted 11 one-on-one interviews with artists and representatives from Web3 startups who have launched or are launching music NFT projects in the near future. Interviewees included Black Dave, The Disco Biscuits, Dyl, Fifi Rong, Haleek Maul, Ibn Inglor, Iman Europe, Latashá, Rome Fortune, Vérité and the team from music NFT platform KLKTN. The majority of artists interviewed are independent or unsigned; this was intentional, as we believe the independent sector is setting the standard with respect to effective community leadership, onboarding and communication practices within music and Web3.

Fan survey

We produced and distributed a short, online survey aimed at collecting general fan perceptions about music, Web3 and onboarding experiences. Due to the survey being distributed primarily within the Water & Music research community and extended member networks (including Anjunabeats, Drowned In Sound and Metaverse Music Fest), the demographic skews towards electronic-focused genres, indie communities, analog-first communities and music-industry professionals reporting as fans. The survey returned a total of 157 unique responses.

Press release annotations

We annotated a selection of press releases for flagship music NFT drops, based on collections we had already been tracking in our ongoing, members-only artist NFT database. We chose artists with various label affiliations (major, indie, unsigned), genres (hip hop/rap, electronic, pop, rock, etc.) and platform partnerships. Press releases were skewed towards more recent announcements, as that is where we had the most press data. By the very nature of those who can afford PR teams in the first place, the artists represented in these releases tend to have larger followings. That said, we also included sample materials from smaller artists that are comparable to traditional press releases in terms of content and purpose, but differ in, for example, means of distribution, type of language used, etc. (e.g. Spottie Wifi’s promotional video and Async’s blog post about Mighty33). The press releases we examined complement our artist interviews and fan surveys by providing a picture of how the more established artists and music industry players are attempting to move into Web3.

DEFINITIONS

Fans

In this article, a “fan” refers to any potential buyer of an artist’s offerings. Throughout the report, we will discuss the nuanced concerns and tendencies of fans across both Web2 and Web3 communities, as distinguished in the results of our fan experience/onboarding survey.

Onboarding

In the context of music and Web3, “onboarding” can be defined as the process of bringing a given audience or fan base into a new tech or community ecosystem. A clear onboarding strategy consists of at least two core components: 1) who exactly is being onboarded, and 2) where or what they are being onboarded to.

We make a distinction in our research between artists dropping a one-off NFT with no additional context or investment in Web3 infrastructure, and artists who have dedicated more time to learning the technology, speaking with other artists and developers, setting up channels for fans and communicating a clear philosophy around their plans for using the technology in the future. The former is a marketing campaign, the latter is onboarding.

Web3

Web3 refers to a digital ecosystem of decentralized infrastructure that utilizes blockchain technology. The ethos of this movement is to move away from centralized authority towards more personal control and responsibility of one’s assets, and therefore more direct relationships between transacting parties.

In this piece, we focus in particular on the pursuit to bring fans onto a public, decentralized network that touts an active developer community and democratized user access and token distribution. A core tenet of a decentralized network, especially with respect to the purchasing or trading of digital assets, is the trust that one’s assets are “on chain” — meaning they are stored in a secure blockchain and are only submitted to what is explicitly programmed, in perpetuity. (You can view a more in-depth discussion about the importance of networks in the music/Web3 landscape in the tooling section of our collab report.)


PART I: FAN PROFILES

The results of our fan survey provide a relatively clear picture of the multiple approaches fans have taken to understanding and engaging with Web3.

Based on our survey results, we’ve developed a general typology or spectrum of four categories of fan participation in Web3 — ranging from those who have not engaged in the Web3 world at all, to those who are engaging with the technology in multiple ways:

Fan Profile 1: Crypto-Hesitant

Response: “I don’t currently own crypto” (30.6% of respondents)

These fans have chosen not to purchase crypto yet because they are morally opposed to some facet of crypto (e.g. environmental costs, capitalistic nature), confused by the process or just have not gotten around to it. Notably, 60.4% of Crypto-Hesitant respondents claim they do not plan on owning cryptocurrencies. 

Fan Profile 2: Crypto-Only

Response: “I own crypto, but do not own NFTs” (28.6% of respondents)

While these fans range from novice to familiar with crypto, many of our survey respondents haven’t purchased NFTs because they don’t see any value or utility, which puts NFTs on the bottom of the priority list. Additional factors that deter these fans from moving forward and ultimately purchasing a NFT include environmental concerns, confusing purchase processes and cost.

Fan Profile 3: Non-Music NFT Owners

Response: “I own crypto & NFTs, but no music NFTs (21% of respondents)

There are a number of fans who have purchased NFTs that fall outside of music. When they were asked to consider why they don’t currently own any music NFTs, these fans most commonly stated that they are waiting for the right music NFT to come along before jumping in, and that they want to be sure it’s for an artist that they care about. 

Fan Profile 4: Music NFT Owners

Response: “I own crypto & own music NFTs” (19% of respondents)

Many of these fans self-identified as crypto-literate prior to purchasing their first music NFT. However, many were driven to onboard to Web3 either by their desire to support an artist directly, to assuage their own FOMO (fear of missing out) or purely to satisfy their own curiosity. Though they are already onboarded to music NFTs, it is important to 0% of these respondents were new to crypto and without concerns – highlighting the opportunity for artists to address new fans prior to having them come onboard. 

For fans who had concerns, but still purchased a music NFT, the below is their reasoning on what alleviated their concerns or led them to move forward:

1. Supporting an artist 

  • “Supporting a friend.”
  • “My relationship with the artist, desire to support them & cause it’d be a cool thing to tell my friends about.”
  • “Support and openness of the community.”
  • “I wanted to support the artist and see what it was like. I don’t think there is a way to spend that much on individual tracks going forward, though.”

2. Fear of missing out (FOMO)

  • “Desire to participate! FOMO!”
  • “The crazy gains that were being made. The aha moment when I realized digital ownership is a revolution. The real communities that were being built online, and how I was starting to use the internet as a means of connecting, rather than only consuming.”

3. Curiosity

  • “Curiosity for new technology”
  • “I just decided to bite the bullet because I wanted to start experimenting within this space.”

4. Other

  • “I understand that the system is as functional as it can be, and I felt comfortable with the various price points.”
  • “I trusted the artist behind the NFT”
  • “Layer 2; eco-friendly chains”
  • “If you haven’t been scammed then you are probably new to crypto and NFTs.”
  • “NFTs are dope, yo.”

Our fan survey provides a framework to think about fans and their concerns when critically assessing the varying strategies being employed by artists and platforms to onboard their fans onto Web3.


PART II: FAN CONCERNS

What are the biggest factors influencing a fan’s decision to either participate in the music NFT world or avoid it entirely?

Drawing from the survey data presented above, we identified four primary concerns that impact a fan’s decision of whether or not to engage with NFTs. The issues include environmental concerns, cost as a barrier to entry, lack of education on the basics of crypto and confusion over the actual utility value of NFTs. 

Below, we discuss each of these concerns — ordered from which concerns artists have the least ability to address themselves, to those where an artist is most able to directly respond to the concern via their onboarding approach. Where applicable, we have also included examples of concrete solutions that we’ve seen artists use to combat fan concerns in designing their own approach to Web3 onboarding strategies.

1. The environment

Environmental concerns have weighed heavily on the NFT ecosystem. As plenty of ink has already been spilled on the topic, this report is not here to debate the environmental impact of NFTs. Rather, we use our research to explore how these concerns are tangibly impacting the ability and approach used to onboard new fans into the ecosystem.

A clear theme in fan responses to our survey is the strongly-held perception that NFTs are bad for the environment. This concern alone is enough to stop many fans from even entertaining the thought of Web3. For Crypto-Hesitant (Profile 1) fans, the environment was the number one reason why they had not yet purchased any cryptocurrencies, with over 43.8% of respondents in this category claiming this concern. Even among survey respondents who had purchased NFTs, 13.3% registered that they had reservations about the environmental effects of NFTs before diving in. Fan sentiment around these concerns was also very passionate, with write-in responses frequently linking environmental concerns to broader social issues. As one fan stated: “The simple act of minting an NFT causes a startling amount of carbon emissions and costs a not-insignificant amount of money. They are inherently inequitable and perpetuate systems that would be better off dismantled.”  

How artists are addressing environmental concerns

Both artists and platforms are acutely aware of this detrimental narrative — and both lean on each other to minimize the damage. Many projects released have proactively addressed the issue by emphasizing their careful approach to choosing environmentally conscious partners in their press releases — often going so far as to frame sustainability as the main utility of the drop as a whole, independent of the actual core fan experience. For instance, the very first line of Doja Cat’s NFT drop press release classifies her platform partner, OneOf.Com, as the “Green NFT platform designed specifically for music artists and fans.” DistroKid’s NFT debut, Sellouts, also noted how their specific process was carbon-neutral — yet even that particular tweet was later deleted after a relentless flurry of negative comments. 

Outside of press releases, environmental concerns are also tangibly impacting tech startups’ decisions about which networks to build on. For instance, co-founder and chief creative officer of the NFT platform KLKTN, Jeff Miyahara, tells us in an interview to us that he saw “environmental impact” as the number one improvement he wanted to see in music/Web3 tooling at large: It is “the constant [issue] that always comes up…that was the reason we went with Flow.” (Flow is Dapper Labs’ blockchain, which verifies transactions using the less energy-intensive proof-of-stake rather than proof-of-work consensus mechanism, ultimately reducing the environmental impact of minting.)

Artists are also taking care to share their own personal environmental concerns and awareness of the issues surrounding minting on the blockchain. The press release for an NFT collaboration between the band Interpol and artist David Lynch notes mitigating environmental and social issues as a prerequisite to entering the ecosystem:

“Just as important to all parties as the quality of the art is being conscientious about its execution. ‘We are pleased to enter the NFT space in as ethical a manner as we could, in conjunction with Aerial,’ Banks continues, pointing to the platform’s tools for offsetting carbon footprints as key in the decision to use them for this project.”

While environmental messaging across major artist NFT projects provides a signal to fans that artists do consider climate-related concerns, in practice, PR for these projects generally fails to articulate the actual environmental impact around NFTs in any meaningful way, and can even be misleading. Several of the climate-conscious NFT press releases we analyzed emphasized their use of alternate chains to Ethereum (e.g. Polygon, Tezos), highlighting the lower environmental costs associated with minting transactions. While this messaging is accurate, it leaves out other environmental costs racked up by NFT purchasers. For example, many will purchase ETH on the main Ethereum network and bridge it over to a secondary chain to purchase an NFT. Once all of these additional externalities are accounted for, it becomes unclear what the net impact is of any of these projects on the environment.

While there is very little that individual artists can do today to solve the inherent environmental problems of blockchain technology (outside of waiting for Web3 technology to improve and become less energy-use intensive), artists can attempt to mitigate fan concerns by consciously choosing like-minded environmentally-conscious partners and addressing the issue head-on — especially if their fanbase is largely Crypto-Hesitant or Crypto-Only. Upcoming changes in the blockchain ecosystem, including Ethereum’s move to the more enviro-friendly proof-of-stake consensus mechanism, will have a major impact on the gross energy use around NFTs. But until that change occurs, environmental concerns will continue to play an outsized role in fan decision-making for the foreseeable future, and it may be more realistic for artists to focus on addressing concerns where they have more agency.

2. High costs and fees

The combination of highly priced NFTs with transaction fees makes cost a major barrier to entry for Web3-curious and even Web3-onboarded fans, in a way that would be completely unacceptable to even the most committed fans in any other context. The perception that NFTs are outlandishly expensive is also driven by the ongoing media coverage of NFT markets, with many mainstream headlines hyper-focused on eye-popping auction bids and projects raising capital in the millions of dollars.

Cost is the third most common reason put forward by our Crypto-Hesitant respondents for why they had not yet purchased crypto. Likewise, 25% of Crypto-Only (Profile 2) respondents state that they find NFTs too expensive to take the time to invest (as one fan put it, “NFTs create an expensive barrier to entry for an otherwise useless item”). Even Music NFT Owners (Profile 4), the most Web3-oriented of our fan survey respondents, listed cost as the #1 concern prior to minting a music NFT. Together, our fan survey results illustrate that regardless of one’s direct involvement or interest in Web3, cost remains a barrier across the entire ecosystem.

How artists are addressing cost concerns

Many of the press releases we analyzed emphasized how NFTs will allow for a fairer revenue distribution for artists themselves — but the high cost and financial barriers for fans interested in purchasing NFTs were generally only recognized on a surface level.

On the surface, more artists are now conscious of launching projects at more reasonable price points for fans who can’t afford to participate in high-ticket auctions. To that end, multiple press releases included short paragraphs explaining the democratizing power of NFTs and the seemingly low sticker price for purchasing their tokens. But at the same time, they also fail to fully explain to potential buyers all of the associated costs with purchasing an NFT, such as gas and transaction fees.

For instance, the press release for the recent Doja Cat OneOf NFT trumpeted their project as “designed for fans of any economic or technical background” and “starting at just $5. However, this language becomes empty once accounting for the costs, both time and financial, that a new crypto user will face. This includes costs for moving cryptocurrency from an exchange such as Coinbase over to a crypto wallet, and gas and transaction fees associated with bridging assets to mint or purchase an NFT on a secondary market, not to mention the time spent learning how to do all of these things. 

There are not many levers that an artist can pull to help fix this problem of transaction costs, which is a byproduct and limitation of the current technology. Independent avant-pop artist Fifi Rong recently released 2 NFTs for “free+gas,” acknowledging the transaction cost. KLKTN’s head of marketing Ping Lam tells us that their company is intentionally trying to buck the wider trend of NFT companies “focusing on the allure of scarcity and desirability of higher-ticket items,” by accepting fiat on their platform and listing NFTs at price points that would be analogous to those of physical merch ($10–$500 each). (On the platform level, a significant impact of transactions costs is that many music/Web3 startups are still opting to run on more centralized payment systems in order to reduce perceived financial costs for fans, instead of fully embracing decentralized infrastructure.)

Summarizing from the above approaches, there are currently not many options for artists to absolve fan concerns around cost when it comes to NFTs. Outside of consciously offering items for lower price points, directly subsidizing fan purchases of NFTs (Fifi Rong) or retrofitting platforms to make overall costs more transparent to consumers, the reality is that artists will need to wait for further Web3 technology development to truly reduce the costs associated with NFTs and change fan perceptions around expense.

3. Education 

Education is a critical part of the Web3 onboarding process. Not only is there a steep learning curve to navigating this complicated, novel technology — where ultimate personal responsibility around one’s financial assets is required — but there are a number of public misconceptions to be debunked. 

General lack of education around crypto and associated products is the second most common fan-cited barrier to onboarding into Web3 and NFTs. 33.3% of fan survey respondents noted that they do not currently own any cryptocurrencies simply because they find it confusing. As one fan put it, “education around NFTs continues to be the biggest barrier to making them ubiquitous.” Several survey respondents also wrote in responses elaborating on this concern, citing lack of time (“need time to know and study it the right way”; “I don’t have time”) as a major roadblock to onboarding into the crypto world. In short, lack of simple onboarding educational resources, combined with a lack of time available for learning, creates an environment that is inhospitable to newcomers.

How artists are addressing education concerns

Our analysis of project press releases indicates that many of the more mainstream artists promoting NFT projects are failing to communicate even the most basic information needed to empower fans to jump into the ecosystem. For example, crypto wallets — a basic necessity for engaging with crypto as a whole, let alone acquiring and holding NFTs — were only mentioned in four out of ten press releases highlighted in our report. Even then, none of these mentions were in the context of explaining what a crypto wallet is, or clearly guiding potential buyers through how to acquire one in order to purchase an NFT. For instance, Doja Cat’s NFT project press release guarantees NFT owners access to a gated Discord community and “a chance to win luxurious rewards, airdrops, and merchandise” — but there is no elaboration on what an airdrop, companion drop or Discord server is.

This is in stark contrast to many independent artists’ time-consuming and personal approach to educating their fans — a call back to the YC approach of “doing things that don’t scale.”

In our analysis of the rollout for Wobblebug — the latest NFT project from music producer Wuki and digital artist Florian Tappeser — we noticed over-communication as one of the most crucial aspects of their launch. We broke their onboarding strategy down into the three categories below, including questions that other artists can use to guide their own thinking on their approach:

A. Before Mint: Focus group or survey

  • What are your fans interested in?
  • What is the extent of their knowledge?
  • What are their concerns?
  • What utility are they interested in?

This will help tailor not only specific products or offerings, but also the accompanying educational content and attention that fans might need. One day we may see Web3 technology adopted to the point where this focus-group approach scales or becomes obsolete, but for now it remains a critical part of the process — establishing trust with and protecting fans early on, which helps ensure they stick around for the long term.

B. During Mint: Omnipresent support team available

  • Monitoring Twitter and Discord for potential scams

During mint is when projects typically see the highest volume of attacks and scams. Many attacks come in the form of social engineering or phishing — a method where a scammer manipulates a potential victim into handing over their private key and seed phrase information for their crypto wallets, usually by posing as official support staff in a crypto-facing Discord server. Scarcity is one of the driving factors behind the value proposition of NFTs, and it has very acute psychological effects, with people often clicking in a frenzy across site tabs and social apps in the race to mint. In this environment, there are endless projects that have stopped or postponed minting because of so many fans getting scammed in the process. 

C. Post-Mint: Passionate collectors as untapped consultants

  • Ask collectors about their views on their specific NFT purchase, and on the music NFT ecosystem in general
  • Follow up on utility desired, and implement learnings for current and future NFT holders

Post-mint is when artists may realize their NFT purchasers are not only supporters and fans, but may also have knowledge or expertise that can add long-term value to the artist’s wider community and growth strategy. Given that Wobblebug, for instance, is a producer-heavy community, one could imagine any number of follow-up drops or community engagement opportunities that encourage interaction among token holders, ranging from sample packs to production tutorials and collaboration/remix opportunities.

Several other artists we interviewed are taking a similar boots-on-the-ground approach to educating their fans about Web3 fundamentals, on a weekly or even daily basis. For instance, Fifi Rong holds two-hour, beginners-oriented onboarding calls on Twitter Spaces on a daily basis, in addition to monthly private Zoom calls with her supporters. Hip-hop artist Latashá, one of the most visible and celebrated artists in the music NFT landscape, still takes the time to hold a weekly Twitter Space aimed at being a safe place for people from both tech and cultural circles to learn about NFT basics. The NFT platform KLKTN set up Instagram Live sessions for their artist partners Kevin Woo and MIYAVI to educate fans about NFTs and how to buy them using a crypto wallet.

Philly-based jam band The Disco Biscuits used QR codes at their live shows in Las Vegas to help Web2 ticket buyers claim exclusive NFTs, which gave holders access to a broadcast-quality live-set warehouse recording. While overall adoption was well under 10% of attendees (240 fans out of 6,000 tickets sold), they considered each token activated a success, and took solo customer support calls and video chats for two weeks after this initial offering to help fans do things as fundamental as setting up a crypto wallet to prepare for future drops. This hands-on approach laid the groundwork for a successful second NFT drop from the band, which sold out within days. Moreover, only 25 out of 791 of their NFTs are listed for sale on the secondary market, a strong sign of a healthy long-term community.

4. Lack of utility — and abundance of scams

Having so many free or low-cost ways to consume music is leaving many fans wondering: What is the point of buying a music NFT? Consumer sentiment around the lack of utility in NFTs is putting pressure on many artists and platforms to innovate.

Looking at our survey responses, we see that over 60% of Crypto-Only respondents largely “do not see the value” in NFTs. Even 12% of  Non-Music NFT Owners from our survey say they haven’t purchased a music NFT because they don’t see the value. Some sample quotes:

  • “I have no desire to possess what is essentially a virtual, purposeless baseball card for my favorite artist(s) or song(s).”
  • “It’s not that there’s a particular artist I am waiting for, but mainly I just would like to see something that makes sense for a fan in terms of perks, community, and value where the barrier to entry isn’t overwhelming.”
  • “I saw an NFT that claimed to give exclusive access to the download of a mix of a track, yet you could download it directly from the preview website without much effort.”
  • “I haven’t bought a music NFT because I haven’t seen one that has made sense to me.”

The lack of perceived utility among NFT purchasers also has a direct tie to another common theme mentioned in our survey responses: Fear of being scammed.

At its core, a scam is a failure to deliver on a promise. In Web3, the stakes of making a promise are much higher than in Web2. While blockchain technology allows for personal control over one’s assets like never before, it is also a perilous place where personal responsibility is essential and falling prey to bad actors can have dire consequences; no centralized authority means no one to call when things go bad.

Even among those survey respondents classified as Music NFT Owners, 23% responded that prior to purchasing their music NFT they were worried about being scammed. Throughout our fan survey, we had dozens of respondents going out of their way to communicate their strong feelings about the scammy nature of NFTs — namely, that they were “Ponzi schemes,” “dogshit,” “money laundering” and “for idiots.” 

Negative perceptions around the potential of NFT-related scams are also a product of the language used across NFT press releases — specifically related to the description of NFT projects as “investment opportunities,” regardless of whether the agreement is actually legally structured as an investment or a legitimate financial opportunity. Kings of Leon’s NFT Yourself press release from this past March makes this inflation clear, proclaiming that “over time, all of these NFTs are expected to increase in value” — a statement that is unknowable and largely contingent on things outside of the hands of the project creators.

While some NFT purchases may eventually turn into valuable investment assets, the lack of clear education or explanation around the full costs of investing (transaction fees plus item value) can lead to fans not fully understanding the financial risk they are taking on when purchasing an NFT. Referring back to our earlier definition of a scam as a “failure to deliver on a promise,” we can see how contingent claims of future value associated with an NFT, if unfulfilled across time, could be perceived by fans as a scam.

How artists are addressing utility/scam concerns

Unsurprisingly, none of the press releases that we analyzed explicitly mention scams or concerns about NFTs being linked to unsavory business practices. However, this does not mean that there is nothing to learn from the carefully formulated PR in this area.

One salient point to emerge from our analysis is that selection of language is essential to guiding initial fan perceptions of a project, and can ultimately influence whether an individual might perceive a given project, let alone the concept of NFTs at large, as a scam.

Emerging projects are understandably excited to claim new territory, reflected across repeated claims of Web3 “firsts” in the press releases we analyzed. For example, Async’s blog post about their interactive music NFT project with multimedia artist Mighty33 proclaims “blockchain ‘firsts’ are happening on a daily basis,” before noting that their project is “one of the very first programmable music pieces in the NFT space.” Elsewhere, Doja Cat declares her project partner OneOf as “the first-ever eco- and fan-friendly NFT platform.” The press release for Method Man’s Tical Universe NFT project boasts that “the first-ever Tical Universe NFT is not some cash-grab NFT drop,” alluding to concerns around scams.

While the use of exaggerated qualifiers to sell products is not an issue on its own, when claims of novelty are combined with corporate-speak PR language and lack clear details on the medium and long term utility of owning an NFT, projects may be viewed on the whole as suspect by fans who are already primed to view the entire cryptocurrency world as a potential scam. To this end, Vérité — an indie artist with both a prolific slate of NFT sales and a large Web2 fanbase that has been supporting her for nearly a decade — does not even market her NFTs deliberately to her Web2 fans. “I’m not telling fans to go buy ETH and participate,” she tells us, because the perception of those fans is that the proposition is “too risky.” Instead, she maintains a realistic perspective that perks such as exclusive content, social clout and artist access works well only for a relatively small subset of fans and “collectors.”

Because of the many value propositions that are available using Web3 technology, artists are forced to wrestle with the question of why a fan would support a Web3 offering to begin with. What do they want to “get” out of this purchase?

Though Crypto-Hesitant (Profile 1) and Crypto-Only (Profile 2) fans cited lack of utility as a primary reason why they were not bothering with NFTs, many of those who do own NFTs claim the opposite, listing utility as their primary reason for minting.  When asked to rank in order of importance, NFT-Owners’ (Profiles 3 + 4) votes for “utility” were tied  with “art” for first place — outranking both “investment” and “social status.” In second rank, “utility” received 10 more votes than “art” (see chart above).

This leads us to believe that utility is one of the most important — if not the most important — features that NFT owners consider when purchasing NFTs. At the same time, this article also makes clear that there’s a much larger group of fans who still need to be convinced that the utility artists are presenting to them is worth going through the immense financial and technological barriers to entry.

Parallel to our fan personas, emerging forms of utility for music NFTs also fall along a spectrum of Web2- versus more Web3-native target audiences. Below are a few examples of the most common value propositions and use cases for music NFTs that were both offered by the artists included in our datasets, and highlighted by fans in our survey. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, as Web3 technology continues to evolve and the broader population of Web3 users create and implement new use cases each day. (We also outline emerging forms of platform- rather than artist-centric utility in our music/Web3 tooling market map.)

Web2-centric utility: Community dialogue and co-creation

Fan survey quotes:

“[What motivated me to buy an NFT were] the real communities that were being built online, and how I was starting to use the internet as a means of connecting, rather than only consuming.”

“I also saw another unrelated music NFT that I really loved — it was Songcamp’s Elektra. The storytelling and collaborative nature of their NFTs fascinate me.”

“Was delighted to have dialogues with the artists during the auction and post purchase of 1/1 NFTs.”

Asking your current community to get involved with your project launch may be a great way to build up hype and marketable content. For instance, Wobblebug tapped into their engaged, pre-existing community to involve them in the creation of the project. Discord users had a chance to either make a song with samples provided by the Wobblebug team, create a meme featuring the Wobblebug images available, or make a video of themselves dancing with a custom AR filter the Wobblebug team had created (image below). When both the artists and community were ready for launch, NFT presales were awarded to various fans based on the quality of content they created for the project. The team then used the massive amount of fan-generated content as marketing material — which not only played an important role in the growth of the group, but demonstrated that fans had agency to contribute value to the community in a tangible way.

Moreover, owners of these Wobblebug NFTs also had a license to continue the co-creation process long after the sale was over, via creative perks such as access to royalty-free samples for remixing Wobblebug songs. Community-driven talent scouting is also a natural byproduct of these kinds of perks.

Web2-centric utility: Physical/offline/live Experiences

Fan survey quotes:

“I am more interested in utility based projects that have real world interactivity ie: vip tickets, etc”

“My favourite has got to be Mattia Cuttini that sends postcards of his NFTs if you send him your physical address. Crypto 🤝 real world

The bridge from online to offline has been a core part of the artist-fan relationship over the past few decades. Now, with the advent of NFTs, many Web3-facing artists are focusing on working in the opposite direction, offering up physical, offline perks to fans in order to incentivize them to onboard into Web3. In fact, many of the high-profile, mainstream press releases we analyzed around major artists emphasized physical or offline benefits, such as free tickets (Lil Pump, Kings of Leon) and collectors-edition vinyl releases (Kings of Leon).

In her interview with us, Iman Europe stressed the importance of having a physical component to her genesis NFT drop on Catalog — the perks of which included “a self-published affirmation book, ‘Nami Says’, along with a framed copy of the lyrics + a handwritten note.” Similarly, rapper Dyl’s “Crypto Rich Album” drop offered several different forms of utility to token holders, including lifetime meet-and-greets, merch care packages and exclusive vinyl albums.

While not “offline,” livestreams can also serve as an entry point to bring Web2 fans further into Web3. For example, jam band Umphrey’s McGee hosted a concert in the Decentraland metaverse, where the only requirement to enter was to hold a MetaMask wallet — no purchase necessary. Ultimately, over 1,000 fans downloaded MetaMask to attend. The call-to-action for fans was relatively simple to understand and execute, and required much less time spent onboarding than, say, the Disco Biscuits token claim. In fact, Disco Biscuits bass player Marc Brownstein coyly calls Umphrey’s McGee’s approach “real onboarding,” because the latter band is using their platform to incentivize onboarding not for the sake of profit, but rather for the sake of furthering collective education. This, then, could be a great model for artists to signal to their fans they are interested in the long-term, mutually advantageous benefits that Web3 technology can offer.

Web3-centric utility: Creative marketing around the technology itself

Fan survey quotes:

“It seemed like a very new and innovative experiment around patronage for a musician.”

“The minting experience from Creature was absolutely incredible. It was a literal video game.”

“Interested in the latest deadmau5 drop from a systems perspective since they used an off-ETH blockchain to mint $2 NFTs to the consumer.”

While doing the very important and detailed work of onboarding fans who are Crypto-Hesitant, the beauty of marketing to Web3-native communities is that the majority of those fans have effectively already been onboarded — the early friction of wallet setup and basic education assuaged. Still, these fans still need somewhere to be onboarded to. With the fundamentals covered, artists have more freedom to focus limited resources away from basic education, and towards more creative offerings.

In particular, the barriers to entry for the Web3 ecosystem make creative marketing around the technology itself a powerful strategy for attracting fans who are already more familiar with crypto. As we discuss in the music/Web3 tooling chapter of our collaborative report, there is a strong case for crypto experiences in this context to emphasize the complexity of blockchain at the application layer, instead of abstracting that complexity away. By embracing complexity, and even making it part of one’s Web3-native marketing plan, artists can help certain segments of fans more directly understand the benefits of engaging with a user-owned internet.

Though there are good arguments for abstracting away a lot of the technological friction in order to drive fast, massive onboarding, it’s also important to figure out how to message out the fundamental value and implementation differences between Web2 and Web3. If people can start to understand the ways that Web3 can allow for more fairness and equality, then it should become a much easier sell to onboard.

Multidisciplinary hip-hop artist Domino has taken this approach across his recent NFT projects. His early NFT drops in 2021 took place during a time when gas fees were soaring, so his pitch was simple: “Get 7 NFTs. Pay only 1 gas fee.” The marketing around the drop focused on walking through the technical details of how bundling works with the new EIP1155 standard for bundling multiple different token types, how it differs from other token types like ERC20 (fungible tokens) and ERC721 (NFTs) and how the EIP1155 format can ultimately minimize transaction costs for fans. Ultimately, his drop cleared over 26 ETH in sales.

Web3-centric utility: Governance

One of the key advances offered by blockchain technology is the ability to provide governance benefits to individual token or NFT holders — and, as a result, to allow for novel ways for artists to share governance of their project with their community of fans, facilitating multi-way rather than just one-way interactions and relationships.

Black Dave is one artist exploring the possibilities of new governance structures around songs — particularly what a “support-to-earn” relationship with his fans might look like. 

“Social tokens with monetary value go against the point of a social token. Social tokens that can only be earned through interaction and through support and through investment in a community, non-financially, is the only way I think social tokens can be earned. Imagine if I could say, ok here’s my social token for retweeting me. Thank you, here’s 5. Oh, and by the way if you have 30, I have t-shirts for sale for 30 of my tokens, so go get that.”

He also set up a 3ETH PartyBid for the 1:1 NFT of his song “Sharp,” which was listed on the Catalog platform, and gave contributors the opportunity to vote on items like whether or not to make a music video for the single and whether or not to upload the song to DSPs.

Of course, this type of interaction is not for everyone; a lot of fans may just want to enjoy their favorite artists’ music without coming on as “investors” or creative advisors. But for tech-savvy superfans who do want to engage meaningfully with the artists they love, explaining the ins-and-outs of what NFT holders can do to help move an artist’s career forward is just the kind of creative marketing that will drive enthusiasm and adoption. 

Web3-centric utility: Cross-promotion across Web3-native communities

Another effective way for an artist to onboard fans to their NFT project is to go out and court fans who purchased NFTs from other, creatively similar projects. For instance, independent rapper-producer Ibn Inglor’s groundbreaking 20ETH Mirror crowdfund for his upcoming album DANGER ZONE was directly inspired by that for Daniel Allan just a few days earlier, which also successfully raised 20ETH. The telling detail of Inglor’s supporter acquisition plan was that he began by cold-DMing every single Daniel Allan supporter (which is publicly viewable on-chain), then found like-minded and/or similarly priced crowdfunds on Mirror and cold-messaged those supporters on Discord as well.

This approach can take extra work on an artist’s part (another YC callback to “doing things that don’t scale”), as it often requires meaningfully engaging and becoming involved with other projects to understand exactly why they were successful, and to convince their fans to invest even more time and resources in supporting a new project. That said, as we’ve seen with above examples around directly engaging fans in onboarding education, this extra bit of effort to directly communicate with a potential new audience can pay huge dividends.


CONCLUSION: BALANCING THE TWO SIDES OF “WHY”

Our overall goal with this piece is to give artists and their teams the frameworks to understand how to think of their fans’ various concerns, and then to formulate an onboarding strategy that works for both sides. The above discussion also shows the value of starting small, and the clear distinctions between specific issues that artists have less agency over changing (e.g. transaction fees and environmental impact of specific blockchain networks) and other levers that they can more easily pull in designing their own projects (e.g. clear education about crypto, and clear communication and execution of utility).

To that end, we also want to drive home the point that before even thinking about how to onboard fans into Web3, it’s important to think super critically about why, as an artist, you are about to go on this extremely arduous and complex journey of introducing your fans to crypto.

Beyond the financial freedom and opportunity for the artist — which are both obviously valid parts of the equation — why will Web3 infrastructure make the fan’s experience better? Borrowing from frameworks like human-centered design, the first step to getting fans onboarded to Web3 is to understand who they are, what they value and what their primary concerns are. Only from there can artists and their teams have a clear idea of whether Web3 even makes sense for their fan base, let alone what a Web3-native solution might look like that meets their unique needs. “How many of my fans even want to come over here?” is a prerequisite to, “How can I get those fans over here?,” which only then is a prerequisite question to, “How can I make money?” (Or, as Fifi Rong puts it: “The why, then the what, then the how.”)

At the same time, the conversation about thinking of what fans want cannot happen without the artist — namely, why people become a fan of that artist. If you can cultivate and communicate that understanding in a genuine, authentic and consistent way, then where you meet those fans almost becomes secondary. What Web3 offers are the tools to marry these two “why’s” — what matters to the artist, and what matters to the fan — together in meaningful, unprecedented ways, opening up a whole new world of potential for growing and sustaining the next generation of music communities.


Contributors

Diana Gremore (A, B, C, D, E, H)
Yung Spielburg (A, B, C, D)
Lindsey Lonadier (B, D, G)

Xhjyl (B, C)
Brodie Conley (B, E)
Cherie Hu (B)
Jillian Jones (B)
Maarten Walraven (B)

Katherine Rodgers (C)
Duncan Byrne (D)
Sean Adams (D)

Greg Bates (F)
Garrett Perez (F)
Oliver Dawson (G)
Ana Carolina Laurindo (H)
Jeff Miyahara (I)

(A) Research project leads
(B) Writers/editors
(C) Interviewers
(D) Survey designers/collaborators
(E) Core press release annotators
(F) Case study writers
(G) Other press release annotators
(H) Visualization
(I) Member sources