Mapping the fan journey in music and Web3
This report maps the fan journey in music and Web3 from project discovery to post-mint community engagement, based on interviews with 22 music NFT collectors and subject-matter experts in the field. Our main takeaways:
- Two essential aspects leading to a cohesive, delightful experience for music NFT projects are great music and shared values among a community.
- There were low expectations for shared experiences beyond the music itself in NFTs — which suggests that there is a significant opportunity for artists to engage with and please collectors through engagement and innovative design.
- The process of music NFT project discovery stems primarily from one or both of the following factors:
- Web2 artists building out a strategy for Web3, with platform partners to help deploy smooth onboarding experiences for all fans.
- Trusted sources, referrals, and word-of-mouth within Web3-native communities.
- Transparency, peer-to-peer support, and participatory collaboration are all reasons for fans to continue investing in an artist’s community long-term.
You can find a full list of contributors at the bottom of this article.
Much of the narrative and research surrounding music and Web3 has focused primarily on artists and platforms, inadvertently overlooking the fan experience. We recognized the opportunity to speak directly with fans to better understand the consumer perspective and journey in Web3, pulling out key opportunities for improvement and implications for artists’ marketing strategies.
In this study, we analyze the sentiment of 22 active members of artist-led NFT communities — ranging from first-time participants and emerging collectors to long-term investors. We aimed to collect perspectives on the current Web3 fan journey, including entry into Web3 and music NFTs, experience participating in artist communities post-purchase, and future considerations to identify similarities across “successful” music NFT experiences for artists (creators) and fans (consumers). To do so, we asked:
- What experiences work for both artists and fans in Web3?
- What are the throughlines and nuances among artist-led NFT communities?
As we’ve learned from our previous music/Web3 studies, Web3’s cultural values and underlying technologies allow for different or additional measures of success compared to what we would expect from Web2 industry frameworks. This study aims to articulate that difference through unveiling patterns in successful fan-creator relationships, primarily from the fan perspective.
This report is the product of an iterative, community-led process and builds off several of our previous Web3-related projects, including but not limited to our 2021 report on Web3 fan onboarding strategies and our cohort-based course on building Web3 music communities.
Our report on genre-specific music NFT strategies in particular enabled us to speak with several Web3-native artists about how they release music and engage with their fans. In collaboration with the contributors to that project, we then asked these artists to connect us directly with a collector of their work for follow-up interviews.
We developed a standardized set of questions to guide our interviews, capturing how artist and platform interactions shaped our interviewees’ attitudes and behaviors towards music and Web3. We also scoured Twitter to gather critical social context, especially via Twitter Spaces where fans convened in real time.
Altogether, this process produced 18 interviews with collectors, and four with industry subject-matter experts. The individuals we spoke with were associated with a wide diversity of projects, including NFT projects from artists with large-scale, existing Web2 fanbases (e.g. Muse, Avenged Sevenfold, Slipknot), as well as projects from emerging artists who are growing their followings with a Web3-first approach (e.g., Daniel Allan, Violetta Zironi, among others). We also spoke with Web3 Community Managers and Moderators, who were able to provide firsthand accounts of their experience working within the music NFT ecosystem. (You can view a full interviewee list at the bottom of this article.)
We analyzed our interview data in a multi-stage process, including community-led reviews of interview transcripts to identify critical thematic throughlines, as well as multiple research meetings where our contributors compared notes to identify themes that repeatedly appeared across interviews.
Ultimately, this process yielded a rich study of the current attitudes and behaviors of Web3 music collectors and provided high analytical validity. Our dataset will also be helpful for future research, as we plan to undertake a longitudinal study to better understand the attitudes and approaches towards engaging with the music/Web3 ecosystem over time.
As we probed for preference on descriptor (fan vs. collector vs. investor), we found most interviewees were comfortable with the terms “fan” and “collector.” The primary difference between these two is prior experience in the ecosystem. For instance, a collector usually stays a fan regarding their musical interest, and over time becomes more advanced with their investment of both time and resources attributed to Web3. For clarity, in this report, we will use the term “fan” throughout, to encompass individuals who have collected specific music NFTs and engaged members of the Web3 music ecosystem or specific Web3 artist communities.
From curiosity to discovery
We begin our exploration of Web3 music fan journeys at the entry point. That may seem like a clear place to start, but how fans find out about music/Web3 music NFTs in the first place is often a nonlinear process.
Broadly, outside of direct word-of-mouth discovery, our interviews uncovered two primary means through which fans enter the music NFT ecosystem. First, via other blockchain-related participation, such as general purchasing of crypto, DeFi, or visual art NFTs — we’ll call this the Web3 to Web3-Music pipeline. And second, via the fandom of an artist with an existing career that decides to release a music NFT — we’ll call this the Web2-Music to Web3-Music pipeline.
The Web3 to Web3-Music Pipeline
Across our interviews, we repeatedly heard from collectors that they first learned about music NFTs through their general explorations of the blockchain — investing in the world of DeFi or purchasing visual art NFTs or PFP projects, and, at some point, learning that music NFTs exist.
This pathway demonstrates the interdependence between other areas of Web3 and the Web3 music ecosystem: The broad awareness and success of Web3 and crypto supports the more specific growth of Web3 music. Fans going down the Web3 to Web3-music pipeline also hold the benefit of bringing the knowledge obtained from their initial blockchain forays into engaging specifically with music.
Jarrod Tafoya from Huddln, a collector who holds “hundreds” of music NFTs, told us they traded crypto “off and on for years.” This familiarity led them to discover the Token Smart Discord, a community focused on bringing new people into Web3. They then stumbled into a voice-channel hangout featuring artists performing live cyphers. Jarrod explained to us the power of seeing this community play out in real-time and how it immediately converted them into a music NFT collector:
“I thought that was like the craziest thing I’d ever heard. I didn’t know that they did live cyphers in Discord…and then Louis C. Rhymes got on and I was like, ‘Oh shit,” he’s actually pretty decent. And I bought one of his NFTs to support. And since then I’ve collected a lot of music NFTs.”
Another fan we interviewed, Daniel Morales began by purchasing general cryptocurrencies, delving into visual PFP NFTs, and finally collecting music NFTs. He posited that general knowledge regarding NFTs preceded and enabled music NFT purchases, observing that “it might have been different coming into it directly without any experience in that area.”
Likewise, D Freshmaker, a music NFT collector we spoke with, told us how their background in financial services allowed them to understand the general idea and value around cryptocurrencies first: “As someone with the financial background, you’re like, okay, cryptocurrencies, make sense.” In his case, his knowledge of crypto led him to immediately understand the value of blockchain’s intersection with musicians’ careers and, precisely, how the technology could enable the “next level of collectability and access to artists.”
The Web2-Music to Web3-Music Pipeline
A second standard route for fans to explore music NFTs is supporting existing Web2 artists as they experiment with releasing music in Web3. Across our interviews, this route was particularly prevalent among fans of well-known artists who have released music NFT collections, like the alt-rock band Muse or the heavy metal group Avenged Sevenfold.
Quiriana, a Muse fan, told us they learned about music NFTs when the company Serenade announced their recent Muse NFT Genesis drop. As a Muse superfan and self-described “lifelong collector” of various objects, this announcement was highly motivating and left Quiriana so excited that they “couldn’t sleep for months.” For Quiriana, there was never a question of whether they would buy a Muse NFT, only how.
This specific pipeline presents some interesting questions that have led to various discussions within the Water & Music community. For instance, there is an ongoing debate around whether there is a need for more mainstream, established artists and organizations (like major labels) to experiment with music NFTs in order to expand participation in the Web3 music ecosystem overall.
While there are several considerations as to the pros and cons of that type of major-player entry into music/Web3, our findings do suggest, at the least, that well-known artists experimenting with Web3 provide a practical on-ramp to bring in new fans who might otherwise have ignored the burgeoning ecosystem entirely. For example, while it’s hard to know precisely how many of the 1,000 purchasers of Muse’s sold-out NFT collection were first-time crypto users, there were likely many fans similar to Quiriana in the group of purchasers who saw the release as an opportunity to support their favorite band, while also learning about music NFTs for the first time.
What makes fans purchase?
It’s the music, stupid
Regardless of their entry pipeline, we heard almost uniformly across interviewees that once they learned about the music NFT ecosystem, their primary focus was on the music itself, and on the specific stories around the artists from whom they purchased NFTs. Music was the conduit for deeper emotional connection with projects, and was almost always front-and-center.
Mary Maguire, a collector who also engages with music NFTs as an investment strategy, described the importance and power of music to engender affective connections to specific music NFT projects:
“You align, you connect with the music, you connect with the story. It’s something that you don’t have to think about. You know, you’re excited to share the story behind it, or the reason why. And that just kind of comes naturally and aligns with your values, and what you spend time with … And to have an artist express something maybe that you couldn’t piece together in a different way. Of course, that’s the beauty of music.”
Another collector, Matt, who collects under the name GhostTrain, spoke similarly about how the music itself and the artists’ story interact to engender a feeling of connection for fans:
“The connection to the artist and just kind of being in the space and just having access is very, very different. Knowing people, hearing them talk about their journey, really getting to know the artists through what they’re posting, what they’re talking about and sometimes one-to-one conversation. It adds texture to the art in a way like I can’t really describe it, but it’s like, you told me about this experience or like what you were thinking when you created this piece and that really resonated with me and added some texture to what this song is, rather than just sort of flipping through a playlist.”
This finding may seem somewhat counterintuitive to those of us who are actively engaged in the public music/Web3 discourse, where discussions around music NFT “utility” are often front-and-center. Within the context of music NFTs, utility typically refers to some additional benefit that a collector might receive beyond owning the NFT itself. To be clear, the collectors we spoke with were not indifferent towards utility. However, the utilities they were most excited about, and found the most value in, were those that dovetailed with their enthusiasm for the music itself and for artist stories and connections.
Illustrative of this desire for affective connection with artists is Spinz808, a fan and collector of the artist Daniel Allan, who told us how the unique, direct connections formed with Daniel were an essential benefit that emerged from their NFT purchase:
“When I bought my first NFT from Daniel, he DM’d me, and he retweeted something with me too, and he followed me on Twitter. I think that’s a really cool thing that Web2 doesn’t enable. Artists can identify you and then follow you on social media, and it’s so hard to get a follow on Web2, right? That connection… that’s why it was really special and I love when artists do that.”
These findings are crucial for artists looking to launch NFT projects strategically. Where new forms of advanced utility are emerging every day, our research revealed that fans are happy to be recognized and receive perks, but first and foremost are interested in simple utilities connecting them with artists.
Supporting artists financially
Extending from the desire for connection with artists, we also heard from many interviewees that they purchased music NFTs to support artists directly as they experiment with the potential of Web3 as a new, sustainable avenue for career growth. Ian Shane, a prolific music NFT collector and community member, distilled this reasoning well, explaining that he “loves that this [NFTs] is the future of art and artists being able to take power over their own revenue and their own stories…take that back from labels and then establish community. I’m all for it and I support it.”
Mary Maguire framed up the challenges of the traditional music industry, arguing that supporting artists via music NFTs can help to incubate experiments in new and more sustainable business models for artists:
“I think I was interested because I was really intrigued by how artists were experimenting with technology, in terms of new formats and how that allows them to be able to have a different career than is possible today based on the existing hurdles and complications. I think that this mirrors other industries where it’s difficult to break in and to make money and to support yourself, and to prove that too. So I really liked mobilizing the independent artist, and being able to use the tools of crypto to make that possible and to make that accessible to others, too.”
Artists like Vérité, WYMN (aka Blaire Michael), Black Dave, and many more consistently share their thoughts and insights online regarding how music NFTs impact artist careers, enabling fans to better understand the challenges of creating a sustainable career and where Web3 potentially adds value. Fans aren’t blind to their favorite artists’ struggles, and many want to support artists through these challenges directly.
A Ben Kessler fan, Rachel Miga, puts it this way:
“I buy [an NFT] to show my support for the artist. Like I think Ben Kessler made like two or three months rent in one day with his last NFT drop and that makes me feel good that I’m helping an artist have a sustainable lifestyle. So I have to care about the person that I’m buying the NFT for. I like the way that the Web3 economy leans towards valuing content creators and artists at the top of the hierarchy. I’m not a fan of capitalism, but in a version of capitalism where we value artists, I feel like my values are reflected in the economic system on Web3.”
In some instances, the opportunity to show that you were there from the beginning substantiates the purchase. Consider CXY, who likened his experience purchasing music NFTs to an improvement over what happened ten years ago when he supported an artist directly after reaching out via DM. He shared that he invested $25,000 in mastering and executive-producing an album and supporting the release of an album by the artist. Later, when visiting the UK, he reached out to the artist, who invited him to tour around the town. For CXY, music NFTs could act in a similar manner, enabling fans to forge affective connections with their favorite artists.
In this context, it’s vital to remember that many music NFTs are expensive, and purchasing requires thoughtful consideration. For fans to provide this level of monetary support to Web3 artists upfront in support of their careers and long-term sustainability emphasizes how committed many are to the music NFT ecosystem at large.
Buying into FOMO
For many of our interviewees, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) was another pertinent reason for purchasing a music NFT, speaking to the wider role that digital scarcity and exclusivity play in Web3 as critical marketing tactics.
Quiriana, a Muse fan and first-time music NFT buyer, shared that when she discovered Muse was going to release a music NFT, she was overwhelmed by her desire to purchase one, noting:
“There were only 1,000 copies. And there wasn’t a lot of hype about it. So I was really anxious because I was trying to gauge how popular this was going to be. One of my fears was that it was going to sell out really quickly, just like their concert tickets, just like their merch, but I managed to snag two copies. So I was really happy.”
This behavior highlights how fans would rather take the plunge of purchasing an item to support an artist they follow, than live with the regret of “what could have been.”
The mint: Fan expectations
An artist’s aim in minting an NFT is typically to galvanize a strong fan community that is continuously excited to engage with and promote their music, and to catalyze the ever-important network effects that will allow the artist to grow their community continually. Thus, to produce this continuous excitement, artists must, at a minimum, create a positive first-minting experience that creates momentum around fan engagement and participation.
While ongoing experiments for providing utility to collectors are essential and will help push the ecosystem forward, interviewees noted their initial expectations upon first purchasing are relatively simple. Most collectors we spoke with had few or undefined expectations when they purchased. For example, when we asked NFT collector Jarrod what they anticipated from their purchase of music NFTs, they were candid about how open their expectations were: “I mean, I will accept anything that you’re offering, to be honest with you.” Where it might be tempting to release an NFT project by promising a multitude of utilities or an extensive roadmap of perks for collectors, our research shows that this might not be essential to engage collectors.
In addition, several of our interviewees explicitly sympathized with the limitations placed on artists launching projects, and the potential perils of overpromising and under-delivering. Speaking about the joy they felt when unexpectedly receiving a free, personalized t-shirt as a perk for collecting an NFT, Jarrod noted that, though they were excited to receive this perk, it wasn’t an expectation, given the challenges to scale that off-chain utility from one NFT edition to the next. Further, Jarrod shared his concern with artists launching NFTs who might overreach and “try to come up with something that’s cool that they can’t really keep doing.”
Rather than overpromising, artists could play down initial expectations and then surprise collectors with new utilities or opportunities, showing collectors new possibilities for connection that they might not have considered when purchasing. Rachel Miga explained how delighted they were when Ben Kessler reached out to share additional benefits of their purchase, noting, “I didn’t know that I was gonna get a free ticket to his show. So that was like a pleasant surprise that exceeded my expectations.”
All this said, our interviewees clearly located a difference in expectations between what it means to purchase music in a more traditional format, like a CD or vinyl, and buying an NFT from an artist exploring Web3. The sentiment followed that while artists launching NFT projects shouldn’t feel they need to provide an extensive roadmap of future perks, interviewees did expect some minimum effort from an artist to engage and connect.
NFT collector Spinz808 told us that when buying music through more traditional mediums, they “wouldn’t expect the producer to DM me and [say], ‘hey, thanks for buying’,” but with NFT purchases, they felt differently. In our interview, they walked us through a recent NFT drop they purchased and subsequently spent time supporting through socials, explaining that they were left “really disappointed” when the artist failed to like or respond to any of these efforts.
Among the simple expectations fans told us they held for music NFT purchases from Web3 artists, the opportunity to become enmeshed in an artist’s community came up multiple times. Rachel Miga explained how they highly value simple forms of recognition from an artist: “I love getting a ‘like’ anytime he tweets or gets a comment back. It makes me feel seen. It’s all about feeling seen.” Similarly, they told us that having access to insider information is a simple perk that further deepens their connection with an artist: “I love hearing backstage, what goes on in the background and stuff. It makes me feel in the know, and like I’m a part of the process almost before it reaches the general public.”
We found that even among collectors who were primarily interested in music NFTs as investments to sell for profit, many still chose to hold onto their purchases because of the meaningful connections they formed with the artists. While the nominal goal for these individuals was to resell their NFTs to produce financial returns, when we dug in and asked these collectors if they had managed to resell any of their purchased NFTs, they frequently responded in the negative, pointing to the unexpected relationships that they had formed with the artists and other collectors as fueling an unwillingness to sell. When we asked investor-collector Daniel Morales if he had managed to sell any of his music NFTs, he told us, “Oh, I’m really bad at that,” while acknowledging the deep enjoyment he ultimately gets from being involved in specific music NFT communities — and even how the connections formed have led to him to worry about how an artist would feel if he were to sell their NFT.
Going beyond the first touch
After the initial excitement of connecting with an artist via Web3, what’s next for the fans?
During Water & Music’s recent Summer School series of workshops, Sean Adams, the founder of the long-running music community Drowned In Sound, brought forward the idea of going beyond the purchase to a greater community built with Web3. He posited:
“It would be interesting to see the artists which treat community as a kind of form of enriching what they’re creating, not just a way of charging their fans to interact with each other, like Soho House… There’s something in all the excitement around what ‘community’ is at the moment. We’ve created public spaces and I think how we invest in making those spaces is valuable.”
Furthering that concept, we gathered that fans feel fulfilled from the ease of access to artists enabled by Web3. From being on a first-name basis with artists to receiving personalized experiences and more — all of the right ingredients for an elevated user experience are present in the music NFT ecosystem. Currently, fan consensus seems to be that artists are far more accessible in Web3 than in Web2.
Matt (GhostTrain) shared an experience to support this:
“There was an artist that I was collecting a lot and then I did my own drop and they collected one of my works and I thought that was cool. Then, I collected another one of theirs and then they collected another one of mine. So we’ve kind of had that rare connection of collecting each other’s work and supporting each other.”
Daniel Morales reinforced this notion of balance, offering:
“Web3 artists are very down to earth. There’s almost a collective sort of feeling of engaging, helping out a bit more. You’re in it together. Whereas, in Web2, it still feels like the culture is different.”
Lynae Cook, a Mark de Clive-Lowe fan, expanded on this further sentiment, adding:
“…there comes the social currency of them, being sort of on a first-name basis with somebody who you respect and like, that’s always a good feeling.” She further shared: “I also expect Web3 artists to be more friendly. Because Web3 to me lends itself to community and conversations and stuff. So, I do expect that from the Web3 artist. I don’t expect that from a Web2 artist at all; I’m fine with it being a one-way street of me listening to music and us never talking or engaging.”
These viewpoints offer perspectives on expectations and standards for Web3 artists, collectively signaling that unlike Web2, music NFT fans and collectors won’t tolerate the bare minimum from artists when it comes to engagement.
Holding vs. selling
To flip or not to flip? Flipping — or buying low and selling high, like a short-term trade for higher profit — may naturally be assumed when considering the possible reasons behind an NFT purchase, given public discourse around NFTs as valuable, speculative assets.
Yet, we discovered that some collectors are interested in something other than flipping their music NFTs. Instead, on-chain ownership of the music is of more value to them, as it represents proof of their identity as a fan and allows them to stay connected to the artist’s community.
For many fans, ownership comes with a sense of pride that they’re a part of their favorite artists’ stories. To Quiriana, a Muse fan, that’s “really special because you get to be part of musical history and also your favorite artist’s history as well.” For those who identify strongly as fans of a particular artist, selling an NFT of that artist for profit could raise questions about what it means to part with a core aspect of their identity.
Most collectors we spoke with have yet to pull the trigger of selling their music NFTs on the secondary market. Yet, it’s worth noting that during this research, cryptocurrency and NFTs at large entered a “bear market” environment, where asset prices dropped and NFTs lost monetary value in broad terms. Many investors choose to hold assets during bear markets, until wider market conditions turn bullish.)
Building transparent community
As important as an artist’s supply of music is to fans, operating with democratic, transparent, and collaborative values as a community is also a critical reason for fans to invest time and resources. As fan communities grow, their members often find new ways to galvanize around an artist to support a vision for upcoming drops and releases.
Our research revealed that well-received NFT experiences provide high levels of transparency for collectors. Fans have a healthy skepticism as they engage with NFT projects and collect their first pieces. Given the nascency of the ecosystem and the novelty of many Web3 approaches, coupled with the track record of a few outlier projects that broke community trust, the music Web3 ecosystem can often feel like the wild west with respect to trustworthiness. Hence, providing clarity around aspects of a project, like drop logistics, offerings, ongoing communication expectations, and downstream rewards, has been essential in community-building and collector longevity.
As crucial as transparency is to developing a Web3 fanbase, it can also come as a double-edged sword. The perils of over-promising and under-delivering can irreparably damage reputations and add strain on the artist looking to move forward. Early losses or missteps in community and fan interactions may derail the early stages of a career. The required knowledge base to acquire a wallet, transfer cryptocurrency, gain access through an “allowlist,” make time for the minting process, and numerous other factors are also inherently prohibitive and lack clarity to the layman audience.
Against this backdrop, a critical insight we uncovered from the artist’s perspective is that rapid collector adoption is not the top priority for the most successful projects; instead, Web3-native artists tend to prioritize longevity and a sustained collector base. The sweet spot is maintaining a collector base while engaging new audiences, and persuading both cohorts to stay over time.
Beyond simply collecting music NFTs, we often saw collectors get more involved in the business operations of the artists from whom they purchased NFTs. Some of the more tenured artists in the space have highly functioning, participatory fan bases that engage as both patrons and teammates.
Being in a fan community with an artist can become a source of organic training in music-industry operations. For instance, one of our interviewees Nikki started as a fan of September Mourning’s Emily Lazar, and ran her Discord server as a moderator for several months. While this emulates what one might suspect when a fan or friend is close with a band offline, in this case, it’s jumpstarted by the Web3 journey and untethered from close physical or personal proximity.
Still, Nikki didn’t register her service as part of the music industry — a sense of detachment that feels equal parts refreshing and jarring. The baseline act of helping an artist develop their career seems like an instant qualifier for industry participation, while the organic progression of community shrouds the credential. These dynamics will shift and evolve as Web3 music communities continue to grow, possibly unveiling a new framework for getting started in the industry at large.
Challenges and future implications
Access and listening experiences
If so much of the Web3 fan journey is about the music, it’s ironic that a central barrier remains: The path to listening to the music attached to a music NFT is riddled with friction and extra steps. A pertinent point that puts a damper on fan excitement is figuring out how to listen to their music NFTs, which artists often need to clarify as part of the onboarding process.
Serenade, the company responsible for supporting Muse’s Genesis NFT launch, stepped up to help educate the band’s community on how to access and listen to the music from that drop. Two fans we spoke to who purchased Muse NFTs, Quiriana, and Angie, described similar experiences. Serenade helped fans set up wallets and hosted Discord calls and Twitter Spaces to prepare fans. Then, representatives from the platform continued to engage and consult with fans on the Discord server.
In many cases, this initial interaction of listening to a music NFT is still mediated by a third-party platform rather than by the artist themselves, and it is therefore essential for artists and platforms to work together to develop seamless experiences for fans. By simplifying the user experience and guiding fans directly towards an exceptional musical experience, artists and music projects can gain a significant advantage over their competitors in Web3.
Expectations of collector sustainability
After speaking with collectors, we discovered an emerging issue of managing expectations regarding the viability of relying on highly concentrated groups of collectors for financial support.
BlackDave summed it up best in the Web3 channel in the Water & Music community Discord server when he said: “I often talk about how the music NFT whales exist partially to prop up the ecosystem as it proves itself.” At what point does that stop being sustainable as whales outspend their resources, while fans at large already have onboarding and access challenges?
Given the potential misaligned incentives around chasing secondary sales of music NFTs, artists would do well early on to consider the pros and cons of messaging towards the speculative tendencies of Web3-native collectors and whales, versus towards more general fan bases with other incentives aside from financial upside (such as direct artist connection and the music itself).
Web3 data literacy, portability, and security
The integrity and interoperability of a Web3 platform experience is a crucial consideration for artists and fans alike. A poor experience — one that does not allow for easy portability of fan and purchase data around music/Web3 projects — can disrupt the buyer’s journey, replacing the joy, excitement, and anticipation and replacing it with confusion. (The abrupt shutdown in January 2023 of Rally, a popular Web3 platform that had partnered with the likes of Portugal. The Man on custom NFT and social token offerings, is a prime example.)
On the flip side, we’ve seen new platforms like Future Tape and Spinamp emerge that allow fans to experience music NFT collections in new ways, by aggregating songs from multiple NFT platforms into more robust audio player experiences. However, the technical details of how these platforms work — by pulling audio from across minted music NFTs on the blockchain — are not always readily apparent to NFT buyers, or even artists themselves, creating confusion and more hesitancy to engage in the Web3 music ecosystem, especially when it comes to licensing and rights.
Some fans are too scared to undertake any actions around their purchased NFTs because of said knowledge gaps — for example, attempting to transfer their NFTs across wallets or engage with them across platforms, with these fears ultimately limiting their experience of that music NFT to the initial purchasing platform alone. Thus, more knowledge on the technical aspects of the blockchain and NFTs should be made readily and easily accessible by platforms to help fans and Web3 users, in general, eliminate this fear.
Free labor and bartering
Labor in Web3 music is uniquely amorphous, a quality that underpins the newness of the ecosystem while echoing the pitfalls of unregulated work. While earlier in this piece we pointed to how music NFT community members may gain new opportunities to learn about and engage in the business side of the music industry, we’d be remiss not to point out how many of these collectors-turned-community-leads have gone unpaid, instead having their work valued through various forms of social currency.
In the absence of fiat payment, participants exchange tokens as speculative assets that may one day hold monetary value or, at the very least, provide access to the artist. Some artists and community leaders and members barter with others for connections like tickets to give away.
It is crucial to establish clear guidelines for navigating ambiguous situations related to labor in the communities-to-employment pipeline of the music NFT ecosystem. Such standards are necessary to ensure that all parties involved benefit from fair and equitable treatment. Presently, fans are enthusiastic about directly supporting their favorite artists, but this can create a power imbalance between fans willing to provide unpaid labor and artists who may take advantage of this labor. Although artists may view this unpaid labor as a valuable opportunity for career development, relying on exploitative labor relationships can ultimately create more problems in the future than it solves.
In developing this report, our team sought to demystify the Web3 fan journey and music NFT buying experience. We explored patterns in fan behaviors and sentiment across a wide range of emerging to established artist projects. From the nuances, we learned what differentiated projects and discovered what fan engagement tactics do and don’t work in Web3.
In many cases, the overarching themes that were most resonant with our interviewees were quite different from the heavily financially-oriented stereotypes that are often depicted in popular media coverage of Web3. As we noted throughout, some of the throughlines include:
- For many participants, motives for purchasing music NFTs aren’t purely transactional; instead, experiential interactions hold great value. Fans and artists are excited about the increased opportunities within music NFT communities to build relationships, find community, and engage with each other, as compared to the more transactional nature of traditional forms of music consumption.
- Community members are more proactively tying their behaviors and motivations to artists’ marketing needs than in Web2, especially through transparent financial support and the word-of-mouth referral culture that builds from it.
- The expectations of fans following the purchase of a music NFT are largely undefined. As a result, artists have the opportunity to strengthen their connections with fans by setting realistic expectations and surpassing them.
- A large number of music NFT buyers are not seeking extravagant functionality from their purchases. Instead, they are content with basic benefits like personal engagement and acknowledgement from the artists whose NFTs they have acquired.
The clear takeaway from the research is that for an artist selling music NFTs, meeting the basic expectations of direct connection with one’s collectors is an effective way of engendering continued interest and participation in their community, and potentially producing long-term, stable bonds that will pay dividends for years to come.
Project Lead: Kristin Juel
Writers and analysts: Kristin Juel, Brodie Conley, Bana Hatzey, Tomi Olobayo
Interviewers and notetakers: Kristin Juel, Maceo Wheatly, Brodie Conley, Maulin Hemani, Yung Spielburg, Natalie Crue
Editors: Brandon Landowski, Cherie Hu
Fans and collectors interviewed (alphabetical order by last name): Lynae Cook, Natalie Crue, D Freshmaker, Nikki Labell, C.Y. Lee (a.k.a. CXY), Louise, Matt (a.k.a. GhostTrain), Mary Maguire, Kane Mayfield, Rachel Miga, Daniel Morales, Quiriana, Radniik, Ian Shane, Spinz808, Jarrod Tafoya, Angie Wells