Rapper Nas is dropping new music this month, and he’s working with fellow artist 3lau’s Royal NFTs platform to do it. Two of his tracks, ‘Ultra Black’ and ‘Rare’, will be released as “tokens with embedded streaming royalty rights” on 11 January through Royal, the startup which 3lau launched last year with a drop of one of his own new tracks.
For Nas, the two songs will be released as tiered NFTs: for example, $50 gets you a gold NFT of ‘Ultra Black’ with a 0.0143% share of its streaming royalties, but if you shell out $4,999 for a diamond NFT, you’ll get 2.14% of its royalties. Both drops will be limited editions: 760 and 1,110 tokens respectively. Buyers will be able to pay with credit cards or cryptocurrency.
Regular readers will know how much Music Ally enjoys a spot of speculative maths. At last year’s UK streaming economics inquiry, the session involving major labels included a consensus view that a million streams equals around £5k of royalties for the label – $6.8k at the current exchange rate.
So, let’s say you pay $4,999 for a diamond token of ‘Ultra Black’. Using the majors’ calculations, it takes around 735k streams to generate that amount of money for the label (note: Nas owns the label these tracks were released by: Mass Appeal) but don’t forget you only have a 2.14% royalties share.
Multiply that up, and the track needs to be streamed around 34.3m times before you’re in profit. Using the same workings, paying $50 for a gold token (with its 0.0143% share of the streaming royalties) won’t see you in profit until the track has been streamed 51.4m times.
Since its release in August 2020, ‘Ultra Black’ has been streamed just over 8m times on Spotify, while its official video has 4.6m views on YouTube, so these figures seem a tall order.
We’re not pouring scorn on Royal, Nas or this model, but rather trying to get a sense of where the real value is. For people buying the lower-tier tokens, it’s about fandom: the thrill of owning even a tiny share of the work by the artist they love. Access to a Discord is one of the perks accompanying the tokens, so there is a community aspect too.
For those in the higher tiers, it may be about profits from selling their tokens on in the future. Or just simply something to spend their spare crypto on because they love hip-hop. It’s just good to be clear – especially to fans – that streaming royalties ownership through NFTs is not necessarily a path to riches.