For years, believers in crypto have tried to put music “on the blockchain”. And while start-ups and investors say there is potential, many artists – at least so far – remain skeptical. Some services having taken a hit, but most are aimed at artists already immersed in blockchain technology. What about musicians put off by crypto, who just want to be paid for their work?
Enter Nina, a new digital music marketplace in the vein of Bandcamp and Discogs. Run by Mike Pollard, formerly of Arbor Records, it launched yesterday on Solana – an energy-efficient alternative to the Ethereum blockchain.
When a musician uploads their album to Nina, they make it available to stream for free, just like they would on Soundcloud or YouTube. But they also issue a limited set of tokens, which are not platform specific. Buying an album token doesn’t give you a digital copy of the music, but it can give you special benefits down the line.
“You can think of tokens as a sort of modular loyalty program, potentially,” Pollard said. “If an artist wants to say:” The sale of tickets takes place 30 minutes before the people who have this token “, [they could], or you can create token discord. There is some sort of value that we are not necessarily going to prescribe.
It is up to the artists to create this value and to choose to offer special benefits to collectors. Nina plans to offer music by Ryley Walker, Aaron Dilloway, C. Spencer Yeh, Georgia, Cloud Nothings, Bergsonist, Horse Lords, Jeff Witscher and more.
One oddity is that Nina only allows purchases in USDC (US Dollar Coin) – a popular “stablecoin” that is pegged to the value of the US dollar. It’s still crypto, but it’s much less volatile than Ethereum or SOL, the native token of the Solana blockchain.
It’s an approach meant to tackle one of the fundamental issues in cryptography and the emerging cultural sphere known as “Web 3.0”: accessibility. For many artists, crypto (and especially culture around TVN) remains a punchline. And navigating unfamiliar crypto exchanges, unhosted wallets, and token exchanges can seem daunting.
Pollard, who comes from the world of music, is well aware of this. He spent time in tech, as a developer for a Silicon Valley startup (and as a freelance writer for the company that became Mediachain Labs, the startup co-founded by crypto investors Jesse Walden and Denis Nazarov) , but with Nina he tries to reach a wider audience. “I think in order to bring in people who don’t care about crypto, you really have to do this stuff,” he explained. “Right now, education around blockchain stuff [involves] too many words that people don’t know. And you must feel that you are making some kind of ideological shift. But I think the benefits of blockchain can be provided without having to completely drink the Kool-Aid.
“5 USDC” is somewhat more user-friendly than “.00023ETH”. And you won’t find the acronym “NFT” on Nina’s website either. “Musicians make music, they don’t do NFT,” Pollard said.
Solana’s choice over Ethereum clarifies other potential issues, namely the prohibitive fee system (minting a “free” NFT can still cost around $ 200 in fees, depending on the time of day) and the consensus proof of work mechanism, which results in a significant environmental cost.
Much like the online marketplace Discogs handles sales of second-hand CDs, LPs, and physical cassettes, Nina operates a secondary marketplace for her tokens. If you buy a token for an album or song and at some point you’re done with it, you can just sell it to someone else. The musician also gets a share of each of these sales.
John Elliott, who records under the name Imaginary Softwoods (he was part of the group Emeralds), is among the first artists to download music exclusively on Nina. His new track, “Hi-Lonesome Conifers (edit), ”Was made available yesterday in an edition of 25 tokens. Within hours he was exhausted.
“I really like the idea that I can actually get that much residual sales in the used market, if people actually buy the thing and like it,” he said.
Where Bandcamp collects a fee on each purchase, Nina charges a one-time fee up front, to download a song, and then backs up most of the time. When you buy an artist’s token, they receive all of your money, less a nominal transaction fee; Nina then takes a commission on the secondary sales, which comes from the pockets of the users rather than the musicians.
Nina is clearly still in its infancy and there are still issues to be addressed. Since these tokens have inherent financial properties, there is always a possibility that speculators will come in and jack up prices, like ticket scalping, but for the tokens on the blockchain. This is already happening on Discogs, where rare record collectors turn albums like stocks, buying low and selling high. Another problem is that there is currently not much you can do with your token after purchasing it, other than reselling it.
For now, however, the platform is an offering to get musicians to try something new. Streaming was ideal for the music business and worse for most musicians. It’s hard to make money on Soundcloud. And Bandcamp, while excellent at channeling money to artists, only lowers fees on special occasions. Pollard is betting that Nina can value digital music in an entirely new way.
“There are background waves, of artists who are not afraid of the word ‘Web 3.0’,” he said. “I think some people see that this is going to be a really exciting way for them to break out of the platform addictions that make music a lot of fun.”