Since the popularization of digital music downloading and streaming services beginning in 1999 with Napster, artists have struggled to recover financially from the decline of physical album sales. Streaming services like Spotify have been scrutinized for low royalty payments to artists—an issue that was exacerbated over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. Following the successful debut of non-fungible token (NFT) collections by musicians including Grimes, Kings of Leon, and deadmau5 early in 2021, some of the biggest mainstream reporters in music began calling NFTs the future of the music industry. The decentralized funding structure NFTs offered appeared to provide a solution for compensating artists fairly; however, in practice, NFTs have primarily only benefitted musicians of celebrity status. This article provides a brief introduction to non-fungible tokens and examines why they have appealed to musicians. Additionally, it establishes the difference between visual art NFTs and music NFTs by situating the latter within both historical and neoliberal capitalist understandings of musical value. Drawing from evidence demonstrating how NFTs have been used in practice, this essay suggests that by assetizing music, NFTs re-legitimize the undervaluing of musicians by establishing them as productive laborers in technoscientific capitalist societies.
The NFT Boom and Bust: Musicians as Productive Laborers in the Post-Streaming Music Industry
Hannah N. Krasikov is an independent researcher, production editor, copyeditor, and interdisciplinary artist. Her work focuses on topics in contemporary and electronic music, institutional theory, musical value, spatial philosophy, and utopianism. She received a master’s degree in musicology from Florida State University and a bachelor’s degree in music industry from James Madison University.
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Hannah N. Krasikov; The NFT Boom and Bust: Musicians as Productive Laborers in the Post-Streaming Music Industry. Journal of Popular Music Studies 1 December 2022; 34 (4): 39–60. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jpms.2022.34.4.39
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