Snopp Dogg said he was bringing his music to the metaverse. He wasn’t lying.
On 4/20, the rapper, songwriter and entrepreneur dropped Death Row Session: Vol. 2 as a non-fungible token, or NFT, on platform Sound.xyz. All 1,000 copies quickly sold out for a total of 100 Ether, or just over $300,000, in a single day.
Snoop isn’t new to Web3, a name for a decentralized iteration of the internet that relies on blockchain technology. He owns several digital assets, including CryptoPunk and Bored Ape NFTs, and has created many of his own in the past. He’s even previously released songs and a music video as NFTs. But this time, he did something different. On the mix, he included four musicians known for paving the way for artists in Web3: Iman Europe, MoRuf Adewunmi, Black Dave, and Heno.
Many celebrities have touted NFTs recently, either promoting their own collections or hyping a new investment. But up-and-coming musicians are increasingly turning toward the space as a more appealing way to earn a living than the options they may have in the traditional music industry.
Rather than relying on a label or a streaming service, blockchain technology allows artists to control their pricing, earn royalties in secondary market sales, and connect with their community. Artists like Europe, MoRuf, Black Dave, and Heno see Web3 as the future for the industry.
“Web3 is credible and a real thing,” MoRuf, 34, told Fortune. “This gave us a chance to live off our art and build a community that we never knew existed. That’s power.”
Web3 is ‘not a utopia. It’s not perfect. But it’s special.’
Although Europe, MoRuf, Black Dave, and Heno were just featured on a major mix with Snoop, they’ve all been selling music NFTs since 2021, a lifetime in the Web3 world. Black Dave, however, started making other kinds of NFTs way back in December 2020.
All with longtime experience in the traditional music industry, they initially got into Web3 for a variety of reasons, including better pay opportunities, access to community, and appreciation for the tech underpinning NFTs.
Europe, based in Los Angeles, has been in the music industry for more than 10 years, and began selling NFTs of her songs in November 2021. She says that artistic freedom is what first piqued her interest in Web3.
“I enjoy being able to release the music I want, when I want, where I want, and how I want,” she said. “I appreciate the financial freedom that comes with finally having my music valued at the price point it deserves.”
Europe lists her songs and albums as NFTs for thousands of dollars. She’s earned around $60,000 total.
Rapper Black Dave started making his music NFTs in March 2021, and also referred to Web3 “as a place to be free.” Based in Charleston, South Carolina, he didn’t have much “IRL success” in the traditional music industry, but has built up a Web3 following. The tech underpinning NFTs was especially appealing to him in the beginning.
“I was interested in experimenting with new ways to release content and media,” he said.
Among other things, the tech offers a transparent way for artists to be paid.
MoRuf has been “doing this music thing” for a decade, but started creating music NFTs after getting “pretty tired of the old traditional formula,” he said.
In about eight months, MoRuf, who is based in New York, dropped over 16 NFTs, and says he’s able to support himself and his family with the money he made. MoRuf earns thousands of dollars per drop, more than he’d earn from streams on a traditional service.
Streaming services pay artists less than a penny per stream, MoRuf explains, which “just doesn’t make any sense, especially for the independent artist.”
Rather than not being paid at all or having to wait a year for a royalty check, pay with NFTs is immediate, artist and producer Heno, 28, told Fortune. Artists can also make their own smart contracts, or collections of code that carry out a set of instructions on the blockchain. Smart contracts remove any reliance on a middleman or a record label: Artists can code a contract themselves to ensure that they’re paid appropriately for their work as it sells and resells, and deploy it when they release their NFTs.
Web3 “redefines what artists can create within their own power. It’s beyond groundbreaking,” MoRuf said.
Europe, MoRuf, Black Dave, and Heno have all been able to earn thousands of dollars per NFT drop, and additional royalties—typically at least 10%—from sales in the secondary market.
“This place is special. It’s not a utopia. It’s not perfect. But it’s special,” MoRuf said. “I quit my job just about a year ago, and it’s allowed me to be able to support myself and my family, as well as invest back into my art, from production, videos, et cetera. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Snoop’s latest NFT mix release
The first drop of Snoop’s Death Row Session: Vol. 2 NFT music release sold for a total of 100 Ether, or around $300,000.
Artists Europe, MoRuf, Black Dave, and Heno each earned 1% of the initial sale, and in the secondary market, they will each make a 10% royalty on their earnings share, David Greenstein, cofounder of Sound.xyz, told Fortune.
“The idea of getting paid $3,300 for your song on a mix by Snoop Dogg is unheard of in today’s world. It wouldn’t even happen,” Greenstein said.
All of the artists featured on Snoop’s mixtape agree that with NFTs, they can earn far more than what streaming services like Spotify offer.
“One ETH is the equivalent of almost 1 million music streams,” singer and songwriter Europe told Fortune. She adds of her collaboration with Snoop, “I made that in two minutes. A complete paradigm shift for sure.”
This ability to split payment through smart contracts is a major driver of Snoop’s interest in the NFT space.
“Throughout my entire career, my fans have never had the opportunity to truly make money off my music. Not only that, but it’s always been a major issue to distribute payments to my team from my songs because nothing is transparent with these record labels,” Snoop Dogg told Fortune in a statement. “I highlighted a few new artists in the Web3 space on this last mix and gave them splits in the smart contract. Easy as that.”
“We always try to do it different over here now because the old way doesn’t work for anyone,” he added.
A greater trend
The use of NFTs and Web3 for music is a growing trend. Europe, MoRuf, Black Dave, and Heno are early innovators in the space, but many other up-and-coming artists have also used the tech in addition to—or in replacement of—traditional methods like record deals and streaming services.
There are Web3 platforms made specifically for music NFTs, like Sound.xyz and OneOf, that artists can use to release their own songs. In addition, there are the popular NFT marketplaces, like OpenSea, Nifty Gateway, and SuperRare, where songs, albums, and music videos can be listed.
There’s a growing market for music NFTs as well. In 2021, primary sales of music NFTs totaled over $83 million, according to research organization Water & Music. Though it’s unlikely that the entire sum went to artists, as platforms charge fees and collaborations split revenue, it’s substantial considering NFTs have only jumped in popularity recently—the digital assets became mainstream around March 2021 after Mike Winkelmann, or Beeple, sold his $69 million NFT.
“In Web3, the cap for how much you can value music is kind of removed,” Greenstein said. “It’s not this dog-eat-dog world. People can play alongside each other.”
If you ask Europe, MoRuf, Black Dave, and Heno, the future of music in Web3 is bright.
For Heno and MoRuf, Snoop’s decision to collaborate with them because of their early Web3 work, saying their names correctly on the mix and Twitter Spaces, was huge. They hope this will be a catalyst for more major artists to bridge the gap and enter the space.
“I think this was a really big moment for Web3, music, independence, Black artists, and this exponentially growing community,” Heno said.
When looking to the future, highlighting and uplifting Black artists in Web3 is “extremely important to continue to push this space forward,” Europe said.
As time goes on, Black Dave thinks that we’ll see more and more of a push into a “digital lifestyle.”
“Being in the traditional music industry, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy working on things with other people that didn’t serve me or appreciate me the way I know I’m worth today,” Heno said. “This [Web3] space means a lot to me…and I’m really excited for where it all continues to go.”
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com