The Brooklyn-based VÉRITÉ is a very modern artist, with multiple threads running through her career that connect with audiences and generate income. She’s not only an independent singer-songwriter, but is also a podcast host, and is experimenting with selling parts of her master recordings via NFT auctions. We asked VÉRITÉ to write about the value of music in 2021 from this modern independent artist’s perspective, and describe how this has affected the career choices she is making – including the decision to sell a percentage of her rights in perpetuity as an NFT.
What is the value of music?
Ask a teenager, a parent, a grandparent and you’ll receive a universal, cross-generational answer. Music is priceless. An imperative part of what it means to be human. Tweak the question and ask about the monetary value of music and the way people think about the value of music can change. In a world of streaming, YouTube and NFTs, what is a song worth? $.009? $.99? $99,000? Free?
I’ve been contending with the practical realities of this question since the inception of the VÉRITÉ project. The democratization of music creation, distribution and consumption created inroads for artists to begin professional music careers without reliance on traditional gatekeepers. This has given committed independent artists like myself more freedom and choice in how we approach our art and our careers and how we capture value for the music we create.
I’ve been consistently more optimistic than most on streaming’s potential to generate revenue for artists while providing artist’s with wider access to prospective audiences. Ubiquitous access to music is inherently good, and I’ve been experimenting with value creation and capture in the industry for the entirety of my career. Unfortunately, while streaming entered the scene as the David, advocating for the people, it has grown into a Goliath whose algorithm has become a new, shinier gate, making it near impossible for smaller artists to break through, engage and access their audiences.
So what’s the next experimental frontier for the independent artist?
NFTs have been the vehicle for my experimentation this year. As an independent artist, embracing the technological innovations and the inevitable cultural shifts they cement are the key to building sustainable projects that last a career, not just a song. Six years and 350M+ streams into my career, I’ve been able to build a project in which I have complete ownership of my music, full creative autonomy to write and release records that excite me and an extremely loyal fanbase and foundation to continue to build on.
Despite this foundation, this year I found myself at an impasse, questioning my path forward in a world dominated by a callous algorithm, feeling a pressure to contort myself into a more palatable product to be consumed by the scrolling masses and felt a strong need to find a path that felt more sustainable and less volatile: community.
Micro/niche communities of engaged fans are the future of independent music and will exist in silo alongside traditional models of operation and distribution. In a culture dominated by the macro–more is better, NFTs subvert this reality and provide fans the ability to not only listen to the music and interact with an artist they love, but have an actual stake in the future success of a project.
Fans are the lifeblood of music, they are the coal in the engine and should benefit from their contributions and roles in projects. What if artists focused on the quality of our communities and how we can incentivize participation versus the obsession with the sheer volume of passive listeners and likes?
My experiments in community ownership have been extremely encouraging. For my single, By Now, I sold 2.3% of the master recording revenue in perpetuity via NFT to a fan, who is literally the only person to ever own a piece of my recording, which funded the entire single’s creation and release. This same collector participated in another auction for an NFT of the acoustic version of By Now that commissioned two additional custom acoustic recordings which were given back to the VÉRITÉ community.
Another collector, who wished to remain anonymous, communicated how happy they were to support art that has helped them in hopes of providing me the freedom and ability to continue to create. These early stage offerings, amongst others, have allowed me to explore what my community values, how they wish to participate and how, as an artist, I can continue to engage in meaningful and beneficial ways with the people who play an integral role in my future success.
Fans will pay to support the artists they love
Many people are focused on the mass-market adoption of NFTs and how and when it will be catapulted into the mainstream, but I think this focus is misguided and ignores the mission to create equitable, decentralized ecosystems of like-minded individuals. What my experiments this year have shown me is that patronage is alive and well and NFTs are a tool to reinvigorate the ownership of music.
Fans are hungry to support artists they love and they are willing to pay for it. They simply need to be shown new ways that are rooted in community, experience and a co-creation with the artists they love.
All photos: Nicole Mago