Diving Deep into NFTs with Kav Temperley & High Tropics
Catch-up with two different artists at different stages of their music careers to find out all about their journeys into the world of Web3 & NFTs
NFTs are at an interesting stage of their life cycle. Having experienced a speculation bubble like no other, with people seemingly making millions of a shitty jpeg image knocked together in 2 minutes, the landscape has started to settle, and the music-side of NFTs is no different.
Musos have started releasing these digital collectibles for a wide number of reasons, ranging from cutting out the “middleman” to having a direct connection with fans and listeners, to taking away power from existing institutions like record labels and streaming platforms.
Rather than viewing NFTs as a “get rich quick” scheme, artists are looking to utilise music NFTs in a number of different ways, with any self-respecting artist ensuring the quality offered here matches their artistic integrity and output. While these NFTs can come in many forms, from a straight-up song sold on the blockchain through to specially created, digital one-off creations… and literally everything in between.
The world of Web3 and NFTs can be a confusing place, even for the tech-savvy or crypto-adept, which is where a company like Australia’s Ocean Floor Music ("OFM") comes into play. OFM “gives power to the artist and music community, bringing artists to the top of the value chain and driving evolution in the music industry. Our platform enables the music industry creator economy through digital asset and creative services trading, peer-to-peer project funding, next generation virtual reality music entertainment and a global community for music industry collaboration.” (For more information about OFM head here).
Two Aussie artists dipping into the world of NFTs with the help of OFM are W.A.’s Kav Temperley, frontman of Eskimo Joe and revered solo artist; and Queensland-based artist High Tropics AKA Josh Stewart, who we first met 6 years ago in this premiere, and has grabbed the NFT world with both hands.
Ahead of OFM's NFT Marketplace launching on Tuesday, November 22 (check the full line-up of artists here), we jumped on the line with Kav & Josh to find out all about their NFT journeys so far.
Note: Kav's answers are denoted by "K", High Tropics' answers with "HT"
To start off, Kav - back in the 90s when you guys were recording your first demos, if someone had tried to explain the whole Web3 and NFT thing, what would you have thought?
K: I’m not sure, because I’m still looking through it with the lens of the shifting sand of the last couple of years in the music industry, but I think for anyone who is in the world of music, and has been doing it for years, it actually makes sense, especially the NFT stuff. It’s really kind of like a combination between your merch and your b-sides. If you’re looking at the world of musical NFTs, it’s kind of those things coming together, which is this idea of a digital collectible and, you know, as musicians we create records, but then there’s all these peripheral things that happen around them, like you go on tour, you create a t-shirt just for that tour or you have a bunch of b-sides that didn’t make it on the record, and they still have this linear feel to the record, you know, it was from that record but it’s this other thing over here. Traditionally, those things were just things you put on the end of records, if they did well, or there were extra bits and pieces. Now it’s this kind of world where for maybe a brief moment in time, the artist might have a little bit of power. So I think if you had explained that whole world to me in the mid-90s or whatever, that’s kind of how I would have perceived it. As far as the rest of it goes, you know, how we trade and all the rest of it, I think that’s a whole other kettle of fish.
I really like that merch and b-side analogy, I hadn’t thought it like that, nice one. Before we find out how you both first got into NFTs, Josh - how was your music career going before you got involved with them?
HT: I’d say like a mid tier artist, not really making much money, you know, you probably need about 250,000 monthly listeners, just to get like, I don’t even know, maybe like 800 bucks, 900 bucks, you know what I mean? So you need half a million, this is if you want to be basically on minimum wage, like, it’s difficult, and that’s if you own all the rights, if you’re on a label, you’re going to get a small percentage of that. In terms of how my music career was going, honestly, it’s been such a passion project for me that like, I haven’t really viewed it as a career, I’ve just been doing it because I’m going to do it anyways. Now I’m trying to have more of a business mindset, I think the best way I can put it is like, up to this point, I’ve been operating basically in the red as a small business. But since NFTs I think this will be my first year in the green. So it’s kind of just like a supplementary income. I don’t think it’s going to replace streaming, like maybe one day, whole knows, but for now, it’s like an adjunctive thing you can do with every roll out. But the other cool thing is, it’s like so direct it’s cutting out the middleman, you’re going literally from fan to artist. With Spotify and whatnot, you get your money three months later, after all the accounting. This is literally instant, so I think it’s changing things, and also like Kav said, stuff changes so quickly, who knows what it’s going to be like in a year from now, but right now there’s so much opportunity/ There’s also examples of artists that aren’t selling out drops, because maybe they haven’t been onboarded to certain platforms, so I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s gatekeepers, but it’s not as simple as like mint an NFT and then people just but it immediately.
Yeah interesting a lot to unpack there, and before we dig deeper into some of that stuff, how did you both initially get involved with NFTs and Ocean Floor Music?
K: Well, the guys at OFM are Perth based, and me being a Perth artist, they came to me and said “hey, look, we’re doing this thing, it’s called a DAO” and we started to look into it. My wife then did a blockchain university course so we could actually get our head around what we were getting ourselves into. But, yeah, they basically approached me and said, you know, we’re doing this thing and the idea is to encourage musicians to make NFTs, and that way, in a perfect world, this will fund their records, you know, this will fund that front end idea of what musicians already do, but no one knows how musicians get money to make records anymore, the metrics don’t make sense. So I loved that idea. I did a lot of homework first to make sure I Wasn’t getting into a multilevel marketing scenario. But what I did like about it is, you know, for me, put me in a room and say “here’s a creative idea, just do something”, and I’ll be like “sounds great!” you know, off I go, that’s pretty much my happy place. So as soon as they said “look, it’s up to you, but if you want to mint some of your songs as NFTs, that’d be great. If you want to create something on the side that’s a whole other thing, that’d be great too”. So I went away and then came back with this idea, which was a collaboration with the guy who had done all the artwork for my record which has just come out, and I created this thing, which I think I’m going to keep running with from now on.
The first set is called Love In The Key of ABCDEFG. Basically, I wrote this song, they’re all about a minute long, these songs, but it’s the same song rewritten in the key of A,B,C,D,E,F and G. Each song presents like this kind of animated playing card which looks like an extension of the artwork for my record. What I love about it is it has this kind of linear thread going from the art that I’ve created on my album to this kind of Web3 extension of what I’ve done. So then I presented that back to the OFM guys, and that’s another thing that’s beautiful about this whole world is, you’re kind of making it up as you go, you’re like “well, this is, my NFT”. They were really supportive and they were like “this is great, we’re gonna run with this, let’s do this properly”. What I kind of got out of it was that, you know, if you’re gonna step into this world of creating art and presenting it as NFT, it has to be art. Like, when I make records, I make records that try and sound as good as my favourite records that I grew up listening to, I feel like the NFT has to be the same thing. Yes, it’s a digital collectible that’s got a code on it that you can buy as a trade as well as a fan, but it needs to present as art, as something that you just want to consume. If you’re creating like, if you’re fucking Van Gogh and you’ve just created an awesome piece of art that in hundreds of years someone’s going to throw soup at, then it should just be good enough as a piece of art. I feel like, again, it’s a brand new world we’re getting into, but that’s my passion for the whole art form is to create stuff that’s as good as art that you would buy and put on your wall.
Well said, I think you nailed that, and again, you’ve opened a lot of questions and things I did want to touch on. Josh, what about you getting into NFTs and tell us about your latest drop?
HT: I just want to say, I totally agree with Kav, and also like, if you think about digital galleries which are going to be - in the future everything is only going to get more and more digital, so you can imagine the value of owning a piece of art in the digital gallery. Yeah, it’s pretty cool. But yeah, almost a year ago I got into trying to do music NFTs but there’s just such a wait to get onto the platform. I think the first thing I saw was this platform called Catalog, like they do one-of-ones. So you know, if you’re a musician coming in and have a backlog of songs and you release them as one-of ones, and at that time if was almost at the peak of the speculative bubbly, so there was stuff selling for a good couple of Ethereum, like maybe four of five E. And Ethereum was like three to four grand Australian, so I was just seeing these dudes make like, 15, 20k off one sale. It was mind boggling because it was just like “well, you can actually do this”, like people are buying it if the song is good and it resonates with someone, it goes back to that utility of owning an amazing song. I just couldn’t wrap my head around that people would actually pay for stuff without owning equity in the song or owning IP rights, but they do, you know, there’s value in owning it because they can sell it for more. But yeah, it took me ages to get onboarded to these platforms, so I kind of went into that rabbit hole of buying NFTs and trying to make money and as soon as I had a little bit of success, I was like “this is going to make it easier trying to make it as a musician”. Then I finally got the call to be on board and made enough friends in this space - that’s the other thing I’d say is this space kind of runs on support, like a lot of the people that collect your music are also artists themselves and they understand the value of art, like, they get it.
Yeah cool, and I guess by that they’d know what they’d want to buy when working on their own stuff. Before I ask for any advice you’d give to artists looking to get involved in this stuff, I’m curious if there’s been any weird stuff you’ve encountered on your NFT journey so far, like any weird scenarios or things you discovered when first dipping your toes in?
K: I guess my first thing was I just went and did some research, I was like “well who else is putting out musical NFTs” and you know, the spectrum of all the different things that were coming out, and what was selling and what wasn’t selling was really interesting, Things that I thought were really cool is that Flum had done a set of NFTs with this amazing animated artist. And so he, you know, in classic Flume style was like *Kav does his best bass heavy electronic music impersonation* going on in the background, but then there’s this kind of weird, animated plant that’s kind of opening up, and I thought that was beautiful, like really freaking cool. But then on the other side, you just had like, some, like, iPhone selfie of some dude and he's uploaded this hip hop track and I’m just like dude…. A lot of advice that was coming to me initially was like “you should upload your voice memos, it should be the first version of an idea”, and I felt like there was a kind of a middle ground between, you know, those two places that needed to be reached, and which is that this should be something exclusive that only exists, so when you buy it, you know that you've got this exclusive thing, because it's about collectibles. We all know collectors, like we all know these people out there who are those who are right to become NFT collectors, because they'll just want those exclusive one of one things in the world. There's just those people who exist. So you need to have that exclusivity about it. But then again, like me and Josh have both talking about it, it needs to be art at the same time, you need to resonate with whatever you're buying. So I felt like with the Flume stuff, it was really good, but it was too abstract for my liking. I felt like it wasn't really in the world of musical NFTs because that's not a track that I would be addicted to and be like “this is special to me, this song”. Whereas the guy with the, you know, the thumbs up and his like, dodgy home recording, I was like “there’s no context to that”. Like if Chris Martin from Coldplay uploaded a voice memo of the first time he wrote Yellow or something like that, then that would mean something because there's context to it, because he's become a megastar. So you know, if you're not a megastar, and you're, you're not a nobody or whatever, you're actually someone in the music industry. I feel like there's a middle ground of creating something that goes in between and that was where I kind of came out of my research at. I think there’s an instinct that kicks in straight away where you’re like “oh, that feels not quite right”, so it’s got to be just right, you know what I mean?
HT: Yeah currently that’s the thing - once it’s on the blockchain, it lives forever, so you want to be fucking happy with it before you put it out, otherwise you’re not going to be able to take it down. Yeah, I don’t know, like we talked about with Flume, it’s almost like I don’t know if you’d call that a music NFT, it’s almost like a visual art piece, like they’re a thing in themselves and there are definitely a few of those that I’ve seen, I’ve been kind of mind blown by it, I don’t know where to start with that. So I don’t know if I was skeptical at first, I was almost - like as soon as I saw people buying those one of one I was like “whoa’ you’re not giving away any IP”, it sounds almost too good to be true, like you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into and that might very well be the case. There are like on-chain aggregators that you can stream music NFTs on that no royalties are generated from mechanically, so when you upload those NFTs you’re kind of waiving those rights, so that is a trade-off. But the thing is, I still don’t think that’s going to hurt you at all because 99% of people are going to stream the way they usually do right? It’s such a small percentage of people that are doing NFTs, and the other thing is if people want to listen to music for free, they will find a way so you might as well monetise it if you can. You don’t know if you don’t try.
K: I think Josh brings up a really, really, really interesting point, which is that the world of NFTs, as far as artists creating some kind of control and monetising things in a much more meaningful way is really attractive. But one of the problems is that you’ve got people who have these existing contracts, which may be a record contract, a publishing contract, and at the moment these particular companies have no way of exploiting NFTs. To my knowledge, none of these guys would be like “cool, put out an NFT and we’ll help you mint it, we’ll help fund it”, you know all that, so they’ve got no reason or way to actually get that money back. But you’re talking about creating recordings and new songs, which you may have signed a contract with these people that have some ownership over that. But if that song is not registered, it’s like a piece of collectible art so it’s not a song that’s getting uploaded to Spotify, or going on the radio or whatever, then how does that work? So there’s this massive discussion to be had, because at the end of the day, everyone wants the artist to make money and be able to actually make records and all the rest of it. I’ll be having a conversation with my publisher in the next little while, before I put these NFTs out and be like “I’m going to offer you this percentage, you probably don’t deserve it, because you’re not fucking doing nayhing, but I honour this arrangement that we have for the time being”. And again, just like the art that we’re making up, we’re having to make up those percentages based on what we think is the right thing to do, because even if you get a lawyer, they don’t know either, but then it starts to get really tricker when you have these aggregators, like Josh was saying, who start to play the songs, because you can probably convince your publisher or record label that this is never going to see a radio station or streaming service. But then if these guys start to do that, then it’s kind of fucking you in a way as well, so once again there should be a middle ground, that these publishers and record companies shouldn’t be looking at this like the Wild West, they should be looking at this as something that they should be putting a toe in and saying “great, we support you making an NFT, this is what we’re going to do to justify our 10%” or whatever that is. They can’t take the same percentage as registering a song because it’s a different format.
We’ll just have to wait for the landmark case of Temperley versus so and so…
K: Oh stop it, please...
*laughs* So with all that having been said, how have Ocean Floor Music helped you guys navigate through this stuff?
K: Well I guess first of all by making me aware of what is going on and they’re minting my NFTs on their platform this time around, so having been someone who hasn’t done a lot of it and like Josh said, there’s kind of waiting lists to get on certain platforms and all the rest of it. That’s gonna be really, really handy. So when you’re getting with someone like and OFM you have this instant community of people and they’re already quite prolific in that Web3 space and your Discords and your Twitters and those kinds of things. Like, I do a bit of that stuff, but my community exists in the web2 world, which is your Instagrams, your Facebooks, just because that’s what I’ve had to work the last 10 years or whatever. So having those guys ask me to get on board, I probably wouldn’t have made as quick a steps into it if they hadn’t done that, which is great, and being involved in their community is super helpful.
HT: Yeah I’ll add to that - they’ve been really, really good. They do regular Twitter spaces literally every week, and they’re onboarding a lot of musicians through that. And they’ve been really good support, like they will pick up my drops on Sound, which is a different platform, almost like a competitor, but they’re happy to literally just support the artists. So yeah, they’ve been great, and I’m really looking forward to their launch.
Nice one. So I guess finally, what do you guys hope or dream for the future of all this stuff?
K: I guess my vision is that each time you make a record, you have your physical version of just that classic album that we all love, but then there’s this web3 extension of that record every single time that is everything from your b-sides to your merch in this kind of digital realm. People buy that and then that funds what the artist does, how they move on to making their next record. I like the idea that this is a sustainable way to invest in art, because if streaming exists and we can’t go back and, you know, maybe people sell some vinyl, cool, but there needs to be some kind of cash money sale that goes on, and I see that NFTs and collectibles can be that.
HT: I think where the real money lies is like, being able to, if you have a song, and you really believe in that song, and you’ve given it your all - it’s a good fucking song. And you find 20, 30, 40… probably 20 people, because the more people the less the equity is going to be worth. A lot of people in the space are going to be more than happy to spend Ethereum on a piece of art they connect with that they’re going to have equity in for an agreed upon period of time. The cool thing about that is, like, there’s no better way to incentivise people to care about your music than giving them skin in the game, and I think that’s something that we haven’t been able to do before. There’s a scene that’s swarming around songs as collectibles that’s warm, and it’s borderless and anyone’s welcome. It’s really, really cool.
Ocean Floor Music’s NFT Marketplace launches Tuesday, November 22