Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) have brought a new dimension to two age-old questions: fair recompense for creative workers and the value of original work. In the NFT patronage model, a piece of media is paid for by a single person or entity. The work is then available to everyone for free but reselling may continue. Wealthy patrons may buy such NFTs from the initial buyer, for various reasons, including as investments. This brings echoes of when wealthy patrons like aristocrats, monarchs, or the Church, used to commission works of art and support great artists. Catalog is a well known NFT website, where musicians offer token-based albums.
In fact, a crypto investment collective paid four million dollars for a copy of “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” the Wu-Tang Clan’s seventh album and turned it into a NFT. The collective, PleasrDAO, have been focusing on NFTs and find the concept of the album to align with the values of NFTs. The album was conceived as a singular physical CD, and whoever bought it was contractually forbidden from distributing it. The album may be familiar to many from its previous owner, pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli. Shkreli held it from 2015 to 2018, when it was confiscated by the government after his conviction for securities fraud.
The future for artists?
NFTs may open up a new arena for artists, especially musicians. Streaming platforms are unprofitable for most musicians, with Rolling Stone suggesting that on Spotify only the top one percent are making 90% of the revenue. However, for small or unknown musicians, it seems equally unlikely that they can make significant revenue from NFTs. The arena may remain limited to early adopters, investors and other stakeholders.