Cirkay co-founder Simon Scott has a lot of thoughts about web3 technology and how it connects with fans. “No one is going to become a fan unless they buy something” is one. “The most important thing that web3 has got to do for an artist is to make fans buy again” is another, as is, “In some months time, there are going to be a lot of initiatives that make sense beyond the hype and Ethereum nonsense.” His conclusions and beliefs are foundational to what Cirkay is trying to build.
What is Cirkay?
Cirkay is a social commerce platform from the team behind e-commerce services company Push Entertainment, who have worked with artists like Elton John and Chase and Status. Push describes Cirkay as “the home for all your creative artefacts.” Fans can get hold of something called a “Cirkay Fan Pass”, which “is a personalised Utility NFT giving fans access to exclusive content via the Eluvio blockchain.” More on what that means later.
In March this year, Cirkay made headlines with its first NFT drop for the band The Amazons – billed as “the first chart-certified album+NFT release in the UK.” While this aspect of the drop is certainly interesting, it’s not only what Cirkay is all about. Co-founder Simon Scott’s philosophy around Cirkay connects to the product they’re building, and where it sits in the historical context of the music industry.
(Simon’s Music Ally guest column on why he thinks “the NFT is as fundamental a technology as the mp3” is insightful for anyone interested in the long-term potential of web3 and NFTs and how it can work for their artists.)
Cirkay sees NFTs as “access cards” for fans – their proof of ownership that enables them to interact with stuff from their favourite artists. A popular narrative is that NFTs are just an “expensive JPEG” – however Cirkay is clear that they are much more than that: “it’s the smart contract that lives on the blockchain”.
In Cirkay’s view, getting someone to buy something is the first step of making them a fan. However, Scott – who has deep experience building digital fan experiences – says this has become more challenging: “Us and the team have been around in this space since as long as you can be around in this space. We broadcasted Oasis from Loch Lomond and 600k people listened to the stream. The same sort of number of people signed up to the Daft Club with Daft Punk. Over the years, fundamental human behaviour hasn’t changed apart from one thing: below a certain age, people don’t pay for specific music anymore. Unless they’re superfans. And they get increasingly difficult to find – and the group gets increasingly smaller, because there’s nothing for them to buy. So that’s what you’ve got to fix. Because no one is going to become a fan unless they buy something.”
So to become important, web3 has got to make fans buy again. However, Scott acknowledges that there is a lot of scepticism around the web3 and NFT space due to it being a highly complicated technology, as well as the myriad scams and other negative headlines that surround it. He says the vast majority of our population will not want to exist in an environment without trust and with that level of uncertainty. Therefore, the music industry needs to build their own tools to deal with this world – the core philosophy behind Cirkay.
The team has been working on Cirkay for over 18 months. According to Scott, they’ve focused on “how you apply the technology to meet the business need.” Cirkay’s first product is this “Fan Pass’. Currently, the company is working with selected labels and artists to ascertain what this “Fan Pass” looks like, verify demand and figure out where the real value is. According to Scott, their first conclusion is that the Fan Pass is going to look different for all artists: “Web3 is not about the NFT. Web3 is about the blockchain, the semantic web users and how those things all interoperate. Our job is to help artists package up content to sell in that world […] and you want to go and monetise it from your fans – and then reward and connect with your fans.”
Cirkay creates the Fan Pass and sells it back to artist teams at a wholesale price. The wholesale price will depend on what content the Fan Pass has got on it, whether it’s chart reported, whether publishing is being paid, how many drops are being done over a period of time, and so on. “It’s no difference to when [a retailer] used to buy a CD and decided how much you’re going to sell it for. So there are none of these rev share complex obligations on the wrong side. The business model is going to be right,” says Scott.
Fan Passes, what goes in them – and when to sell them
The Amazons collaboration, which was their first Fan Pass drop, is an interesting case study. The limited edition Fan Pass was launched six months prior to album release, to see how the label could extend and give meaning to that pre-order phase. Scott says this long lead-in was a deliberate and helpful decision: “to understand how much marketing and promo they’re going to put behind it. We found that pretty interesting. And we found out from talking to the band that one of the members of the band was an amazing archivist who has about 300 photos that he’d taken throughout the band’s career. Another member would always hand-type out the final lyrics of the track, and they had voice notes of all of their demos at every stage of incepting the song. So we decided to release that.”
The original plan, he says, was three or four drops throughout the release, and, on the night before the full release, to have a track-by-track launch event, and get all of the fans together. “And that then starts to create an ongoing thing and fans start to talk about it: they’re all on Discord, and people know what’s happening. It links that important phase for the artist and record company with the fanbase – because the fanbase is getting value during that period.”
One of the main ideas behind the Fan Pass is to collect all of the artefacts that fans love – like unseen photos – and sell them when the artist is at their peak, unlike in a boxset, where they effectively get sold 20 years later. “How many years is an artist’s peak career for the average artist? Oasis was five years. Arctic Monkeys’ peak career was the ten years until “AM”. If we were doing with them what we are doing with The Amazons, I think 100k people would have bought that, because 100k people cared enough about them and what they were going to do next at that time. They would probably have spent £20 on that – so that’s £2m.”
Make the boxset now
Cirkay, Scott thinks, will allow fans to buy the “boxset” artefacts when the fans are at their most excited – which means more fans, and more money for the artist. “In a few years time, the record company is going to release [the resissue] for the 20th anniversary. How on earth are they going to find those 100k people – and how many of these 100k people are going to care enough to spend £20 on the reissue version? It’s not going to be 100k. So the fundamental belief why we’ve built the product is to satisfy that inherent need and inherent revenue opportunity.”
He talks about the research that’s required into creating those boxsets – delving into archives, finding stuff, digging out interviews. “Move that bunch of work forwards. Get a bit organised. Because all of that stuff is being created. It’s all happening. Start selling it to fans of the Fan Pass at the time when there’s 100k people who care. You can still sell the boxset later on! That’s just one example of how thinking about the whole thing in a different way.”
The shape that the Fan Pass is going to take is going to be very different for different artists. For example, the Fan Pass could be a one-day window on an artist’s social media posts – or a limited edition, exclusive generative avatar image – which fans can then use to go and unlock a special page on the artist’s e-commerce store, and get a merch item with their avatar on it.
Scott has another example: “If you have someone who very much leans into important issues you would expect that their Fan Pass would probably include PFP NFTs that encourage their fans to change on their socials to communicate a broader message that they are concerned about.” He gives an example: “The official ‘Leona Lewis supports the NHS’ PFP – which fans can then put on their Facebook. That’s going to be important because that’s what the connection is. For some it might be a tour pass. Fontaines DC are in North America at the moment. If I could pay £30 for a photo of the setlist and similar stuff, I’d pay for that. I want to know what’s going on!”
The future, and getting involved
Cirkay is currently in an invite-only phase. However, the company encourages artist teams to go to the website, sign up for an invitation and have a conversation to see if their beliefs align. Scott says that artist teams who have the goal of making an NFT drop on Ethereum in order to make as much money as they can will not be a good match for the company. “Not because it’s not a valid thing to do but it’s not us and it’s not where we really want to be. We want people that really want to work it out.”
What excites Music Ally is the ease of the process: acquiring a Fan Pass is extremely user-friendly, and doesn’t require the fan to buy crypto – eliminating two of the big hurdles that currently stand in the way of mainstream NFT adoption. Cirkay may prove to be a great opportunity for artists to make NFTs accessible to their fans.
The team is currently working on pilots with other record companies trying to solve and look at specific individual challenges and use-cases. They’re also working with distribution companies, and these pilots come to fruition over the next three to six months. “The benefits that web3 is going to bring to the industry as a whole isn’t understood,” Scott says. “And I realistically think that it’s going to take another nine-twelve months to understand what the real shape of it looks like.” The team also plans to be able to offer chart-eligible NFTs in a growing number of countries. The next round will include North America, but plans are global.
Scott says that marketing their platform to consumers will be key, but the company will start to talk about this next year. “But we’re not a consumer facing brand. We’ll be a community – and the community will define what it is.”
Get A Free Music Ally Account
Access unlimited News articles on the site, PLUS a trial of Music Ally’s subscriber-only services, including our industry-leading daily Bulletin email.