Short

A music fan’s guide to the weird and not-that-wonderful world of NFTs

Funge your own adventure

We here at Loud And Quiet pride ourselves on our sceptical nature. When our humble magazine launched back in 2005, it was all the rage to wear Livestrong bracelets. We kept our wrists rubber-free. A few years later it was de rigueur to add kale to all kinds of culinary products. We said, “No, thank you.” We were even asked us to launch our own cryptocurrency, L&Qcoin. We politely declined.

But recently, everyone has started banging on about a new tasty idea, and we finally bit. They’re called NFTs, and if the hype of internet nerdjocks is to be believed, they are the best thing since Loosely Typed Variables (don’t bother looking this up). Could this be the trend for us? Will we become millionaires overnight, able to buy all the kale, motivational wristbands and cryptocurrencies that we originally missed out on?

Well, friends, we shall find out together, as we take a journey into the strange, divisive, stupid world of NFTs. From here on out this feature is a Choose Your Own Adventure special – and you have arrived at the first signpost.

YOU START READING AN ARTICLE ABOUT NFTs. DO YOU:

  1. A) Think “I am sick of hearing about NFTs.” (Go to section #10)
  2. B) Wonder “What the fuck is an NFT?” (Go to section #01)
  3. C) Say out loud “I already own NFTs and I think they are great!” (Go to section #05)
Section #01

Yes… what the fuck is an NFT? NFTs – or non-fungible tokens, to give them their full name – allow people to “own” digital things. For example, with an NFT you can own a digital piece of artwork, like a cat GIF, or even a PDF of this magazine. But unlike when you own a physical piece of artwork, and therefore it’s exclusive to you, the “exclusivity” of NFTs is pretty questionable. Everyone knows how to save a GIF or read a PDF – NFTs are just made technically impossible to save for free. But in a world of screenshots and Photoshop, NFTs, or something so similar that you can’t tell the difference, are rather easier to replicate than your favourite Cezanne. Obviously this changes somewhat if you’re working with an audio or video-based NFT – but there are still similar ways around the exclusivity. You could call it ownership for the sake of ownership; its value (effectively, if not technically) arbitrary.

The other major use of NFTs is as a kind of digital ticket. You can create an NFT that gives the owner the right to come to a concert, to join a private online message board, or just about anything else.

As for how that ownership is decided, that’s controlled by something called blockchain. Blockchain is a code that keeps track of who owns something and, in the case of NFTs, allows the chain of ownership to be tracked. Each item (a jpg, a PDF, whatever) is tied to a single token, and they can never be separated. And while you’ve probably heard of the most famous cryptocurrency Bitcoin, the most common blockchain for trading NFTs is called Ethereum.

YOU COME TO THE END OF THE SECTION ON NFTs. DO YOU:

  1. A) Decide that you still don’t understand NFTs (Go back to the start of section #01 and read it again… only this time read it slower. Or wait until you’re less drunk/hungover/stupid, and then reread it)
  2. B) Decide to buy an NFT (Go to section #08)
  3. C) Want to learn more about NFTs and how they’re used in music (Go to section #02)
Section #02

NFTs have become best known for the crazy bubbles that have built up around certain digital art collections like CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club (they are both as lame as their names suggest). But in music NFTs can actually be pretty useful. For example, an artist could sell 10 NFTs that give the buyers an exclusive acoustic concert in their own home. Or you could create an NFT that gives the buyer the rights to a percentage of the profits from your yet-to-be-recorded album. There are other options too: Kings of Leon also went the whole hog and made an NFT album in 2021, the first band to do so; a few months earlier, Azealia Banks, never one to be outdone, had made an NFT audio sex tape and sold it for $17,000.

Both of these examples aren’t really anything new: people have been offering exclusive content and crowdfunding albums for some time now. What is different is that by using NFTs the artist can guarantee themselves a percentage of all future sales of that NFT. So, in the digital ticket example, an artist could sell a ticket for £10, but with a clause that gives them 10% of any future sales. If the first buyer then resells it for £50, the artist will get an extra £5. And because this is all controlled by blockchain, it happens automatically.

YOU NOW KNOW HOW MUSICIANS ARE USING NFTs. DO YOU:

  1. A) Want to read what an expert thinks about all of this (Go to section #03)
  2. B) Decide to buy an NFT (Go to section #08)
  3. C) Ask “Could my band/solo project get rich via NFTs?” (Go to section #06)
Section #03

“NFTs have the potential to be very useful for musicians because they can build a sense of community,” says maths researcher Andrea Baronchelli from City, University of London. “You can create special products for your fans and sell them in a way that can’t be counterfeited, like giving them access to a Discord channel where you interact with them, or selling exclusive backstage passes.”

He continues: “The best thing about them is that they’re easy to set up, and you get to keep all of the profits – minus a small listing fee. The blockchain means all of the admin is automated and it’s easy to keep track of. If you want to change a detail, like the number of NFT tickets for a certain event, all you do is change a single parameter.”

YOU HAVE NOW HEARD FROM THE EXPERT. DO YOU:

  1. A) Want to hear more from the expert (Go to section #04)
  2. B) Decide to buy an NFT (Go to section #08)
  3. C) Ask “Could my band/solo project get rich via NFTs?” (Go to section #06)
Section #04

One of the big selling points of NFTs is the idea that they will democratise art, allowing artists more control over their careers. But, unfortunately, the reality can be somewhat different.

“When we analysed NFT markets we found that a small fraction of traders are making most of the money,” says Baronchelli. “This is probably not surprising – it’s the same situation that you get in the stock market. Really, you need to already be rich in order to make money from trading NFTs.

“But this isn’t the fault of the technology,” he adds. “The technology is actually democratic. The problem is that our society has existing structures that have just been recreated in the world of NFTs.”

YOU ARE FEELING A BIT DEPRESSED ABOUT THE INESCAPABLE NATURE OF CAPITALIST SUPERSTRUCTURES. DO YOU:

  1. Proceed immediately to the end of this article, attempting to self-medicate with a bottle of Buckfast Tonic Wine (Go to section #10)
  2. Buy into the whole thing – after all, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! (Go to section #05)
  3. Wonder if things could get even more depressing (Go to section #07)
  4. STILL ask “Could my band/solo project get rich via NFTs?” (Go to section #06)
Section #05

Congratulations! You are either a bastard, an idiot, or a combination of the two. There is a 1% chance you will become rich and a 99% chance you will help someone else become rich. You have appeased the gods of capitalism and served our technocratic overlords well. Please put down this magazine and proceed immediately to the CRYPTOCROM for your inculcation ceremony.

Section #06

Probably not. NFTs are just a new way of commodifying art. Yes, you can sell an NFT of a new song or an exclusive concert, but if no one wants to buy it then… well, you won’t make any money. Basically, we still live in an economy of attention, and so unless you can get people to look at what you’re doing, you’re still going to be a starving artist, with or without NFTs. I’m sorry.

YOU HAVE HAD YOUR DREAMS OF UNTOLD WEALTH SHATTERED. DO YOU:

  1. Want a second opinion (Go back to sections #04 or #05)
  2. Decide you can still get rich by trading in NFTs yourself (Go to section #08)
  3. Give up (Go to section #10)
  4. Wonder if things could get even more depressing (Go to section #07)
Section #07

Yes, things can always be more depressing. And so it’s time to talk about the energy impact of NFTs. In order to keep them secure, blockchains like Ethereum use complicated codes that require a lot of computer power. So, each time you make an NFT, you’re basically putting a bunch of pollution into the atmosphere.

Now, there is some good news. Ethereum – the main blockchain for NFTs – is changing to a new model that will use far less processing power. And other NFT blockchains like Wax and Voice are already carbon neutral. For now, though, the problem remains, and experts estimate that Ethereum has been responsible for releasing 96,200,000 tons of CO2 since it launched in 2015 (although this includes all Ethereum transactions and not just ones related to NFTs).

YOU ARE IN A VERY DARK PLACE. DO YOU:

  1. Get under a blanket in the foetal position (Go to section #10)
  2. Shout for your mum while rocking back and forth (Go to section #10)
  3. Decide to chase your losses – maybe you can trade your way out of this depression (Go to section #08)
Section #08

Okay, so you want to buy an NFT – fair enough. Lots of people who are far smarter than you or I have done this. But there are some downsides you should be aware of.

First, there have been plenty of NFT scams, and there will be plenty more as people rush to try and get rich off them. For example, the Fame Lady Squad NFT was supposed to be raising money for feminist causes, and plenty of people got on board – the project took in some $1.5m. However, it turned out that the Fame Lady Squad was actually just two Russian guys who had faked the whole thing and then walked away with the cash.

Another issue is the minting of an NFT itself. It’s actually pretty easy to just steal a song someone else wrote (especially if it’s obscure) and turn it into your own NFT. Aggregator sites like SuperRare and Foundation claim they check the validity of all their NFTs, but really it’s hard to know for sure unless you speak directly with the artist.

And finally, NFTs are tied to the value of the cryptocurrency they work with. Most NFTs work on the Ethereum blockchain, but there are tons of other currencies that support them. But regardless of which blockchain your NFT is on, if the value of the currency collapses, then your NFT is worth nothing. Think about that.

YOU UNDERSTAND THE RISKS INVOLVED IN NFTs. DO YOU:

  1. Decide all this is nonsense and NFTs are the greatest thing ever (Go to section #05)
  2. Balance the risks, and decide there’s one place you can definitely invest your money wisely – Loud And Quiet (Go to section #09)
  3. Give up. Maybe there’s something good on Netflix? (Go to section #10)
Section #09

Yes, NFTs are complicated and it’s hard to know who you can trust. But you do know you can trust us. Instead of a .jpg of a monkey with a cigar, why not just buy something from the Loud And Quiet shop? It might not be an NFT, but it’s guaranteed to lose you less money, and we’ll try really hard to make sure it’s not funged. Whatever the fuck that means.

Section #10

You have completed this L&Q adventure. Please sit quietly and wait for the next edition to be delivered to your home or place of business.

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