Diminishing Dreams: The Scoping Down of the Music NFT

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M/C - Media and Culture
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In a 2019 report for the International Journal of Communication, Baym et al. positioned distributed blockchain ledger technology, and what would subsequently be referred to as Web3, as a convening technology. Riffing off Barnett, a convening technology “initiates and serves as the focus of a conversation that can address issues far beyond what it may ultimately be able to address itself” (403). The case studies for the Baym et al. research—early, aspirant projects applying the blockchain concept to music publishing and distribution—are described in the piece as speculations or provocations concerning music’s commercial and social future. What is convened in this era (pre-2017 blockchain music discourse and practice) is the potential for change: a type of widespread, broadly discussed, reimagination of the 21st-century music industries, productive precisely because near-future applications suggest the realisation of what Baym et al. call dreams. In this article, we aim to examine the Web3 music field as it lies some years later. Taking the latter half of 2021 as our subject, we present a survey of where music then resided within Web3, focussing on how the dreams of Baym et al. have morphed and evolved, and materialised and declined, in the intervening years. By investigating the discourse and functionality of 2021’s current crop of music NFTs—just one thread of music Web3’s far-reaching aspiration, but a potent and accessible manifestation nonetheless—we can make a detailed analysis of concept-led application. Volatility remains throughout the broader sector, and all of the projects listed here could be read as conditionally short-term and untested, but what they represent is a series of clearly evolved case studies of the dream, rich precisely because of what is assumed and disregarded.
M/C Journal, 2022