The music industry is evolving. Musicians and record labels have begun experimenting with NFTs to help them engage with their fanbase in ways they never could before, in hopes of seizing on the positive possibilities of blockchain tech, separating the signal from the noise.
And for the last year and a half, Atlantic Records has been doing just that. Since it partnered with rapper Rico Nasty to release a 1-of-1 animated NFT in honor of the artist’s music video for “OHFR” in March 2021, the storied record label has been slowly and steadily working with the artists on its roster to educate them on what possibilities Web3 has to offer. The slow-burn strategy could end up paying major dividends for the label while empowering its artists and organically onboarding millions of fans to Web3 in the process.
Atlantic Records’ Web3 strategy
Non-Web3-native companies are often wary of blockchain-based tech, but, as brands like Nike, Gucci, and Lamborghini have proven, moving into the world of crypto and NFTs can work out rather well for legacy brands. Apart from developing strategies that appeal to Web3-natives, companies need to ensure they’re not alienating or scaring off their consumer base by playing too fast and loose with a technology that is still poorly understood and widely maligned.
The team at Atlantic understands this well. That’s why they’ve been focused largely on crafting Web3 engagements for the artists on their roster involving free mints — NFTs that cost nothing to the fans. In August, for example, the company helped indie artist Arden Jones send a free NFT to fans that pre-saved his monthly Age Tape project. Earlier that summer, they also introduced Jones to the Dented Feels NFT collection and community, all of which helped grow his presence in the Web3 space while familiarizing his fanbase with the same. But Atlantic knows it can’t throw its artists into the deep end with NFTs — that desire has to come from them.
“We don’t convince artists to get into the space. It’s got to be their interest,” explained Jordan Chalmers, Senior Director of Custom Activations and Emerging Technology at Atlantic Records, while speaking to nft now. “It’s got to be their passion. They’ve got to be curious [about the technology]. And then, it’s our job to educate and empower them and put them in a position to step into the space as a human being — not as this big celebrity who’s trying to monetize their IP. We show them the playing field and let them take the first steps.”
Some artists are more eager than others. For example, singer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Sueco became Warner Music Group’s first artist to be featured in The Sandbox earlier this year. Part of the success of that partnership came from the artist’s pre-existing enthusiasm for the Web3 space. That excitement, Chalmers explained, carried over to his fanbase.
Singer-songwriter Foauzia is another example of someone who was already an NFT enthusiast when Atlantic began to help them organically grow their Web3 presence. Already an owner of a Boss Beauties NFT, Faouzia and the Atlantic team began brainstorming ways for the pop star to get more involved in the community without having to do a drop. They eventually got the artist’s song “Puppet” licensed to be used in Boss Beauties’ announcement trailer for their Supper BB collection. Since then, the artist has become an active community member, joining the project’s Twitter spaces and engaging in its women-led mentorship program.
Navigating the bear market
The team at Atlantic has found that the deepening crypto winter has positively impacted the frequency and type of conversations they’re having with their artists. The last six to nine months have “supercharged” the kinds of questions the team is getting about the crypto climate, what’s causing its fluctuations, and how it could impact their ambitions in the space. Those are crucial learning opportunities that, regardless of the broader economic context in which they’re playing out, further serve to familiarize them with Web3.
IRL POAP activations
One of the more natural Web3 fits for musicians is the POAP protocol, which enables users to create digital badges or collectibles through the use of blockchain technology. POAP engagements aimed at fans attending a concert, for example, can significantly incentivize fans’ Web3 interactions while organically educating them about token-gated activities and benefits. The Atlantic team has experimented on several occasions with POAPS, like when they did an activation for fans who showed up to singer and producer Oliver Tree’s pop-up event celebrating the launch of his album Cowboy Tears earlier this year. Likewise, the label helped plan the appearance of a massive QR code on stage during rapper Kevin Gates’ Red Rocks April performance, allowing fans to mint an NFT by simply pulling out their phones.
“We’re thinking about ways to retarget those fans and offer them some value,” said Joseph Khoury, VP of A&R and Marketing at Atlantic Records, in an interview with nft now. “[We want to] give them an opportunity to really understand and experience first-hand of how token-gating works and how cool the opportunity is to be one of 75 people to claim [something like] a physical or digital wearable. We’re always thinking about interesting ways to get as many people to mint their first digital collectible. And we’ve seen a growing number of people doing that, which is really exciting to us as we try to grow out our strategy.”
Atlantic Records’ Web3 plans
Atlantic is currently in talks with some well-known entities in the NFT and digital securities space alongside “some major gaming platforms” for potential partnerships to coincide with the label’s upcoming 75th anniversary next year. Khoury and Chalmers are also focused on slowly building up the company’s Web3 foundation and showing the music community how NFTs can work to their advantage if they want them to. Khoury and Chalmers also sang the praises of Warner Music Group’s business development team for striking Web3 partnerships that allow them the freedom to engage with artists on their roster creatively. When asked what advice the two would give to non-Web3-native musicians who are wary of the volatility of the space, the pair responded by emphasizing optimism and education.
“I would focus on the good,” Khoury underlined. “Focus on the great work that a lot of really amazing creators are doing in the space. It’s very easy to get sucked into the headlines and the negativity. It’s easy. But really look and uncover the amazing stories that are happening from both visual artists and musicians that are navigating and using these tools to their benefit.”
Likewise, Chalmers stressed that musicians looking to get into the Web3 space should do it in a way that feels natural to them.
“First of all, it’s not right for everyone,” Chalmers emphasized. “But if you are curious as a musician, go and look at [an NFT] collection and pick one that speaks to you. It’s no different from why we wear the shirts we wear, and why we shop at the stores we shop at — it’s because it resonates. My advice to them would be to keep it authentic. Don’t just do it to do it. There’s got to be a reason.”
Such attitudes are refreshing, especially set against a backdrop of NFT releases from major entertainment entities that often feel like shallow cash grabs. And given the music industry’s unfortunate history of mistreating and taking advantage of the artists that power it, Web3 is poised to bring an injection of equity and invigoration to the sector that sorely needs it. If they stay on course, Atlantic Records could very well end up leading that charge.