The DJ-producer bought an NFT album for $11.7 million and disrupted the music business.
Whereas finding out economics at Washington College in St. Louis, Justin Blau (aka 3LAU) confronted a fateful determination between taking a finance job at BlackRock or dropping out to pursue his burgeoning DJ profession. Because it seems, his option to go all-in on music would pay surprising dividends.
“I met the Winklevoss twins in Mexico on spring break in 2014, who principally helped me to find Bitcoin,” Blau recollects. “I used to be simply fascinated with this concept of distributed ledger, banking past banks, permissionless worth switch—all of the ideas behind ledger expertise that I assumed would add lots of worth to the world.”
Over the following few years, Blau rose by way of the ranks of the highest digital dance music DJs, taking part in at marquee festivals like Lollapalooza, Electrical Zoo and EDC Las Vegas. Regardless of a bear marketplace for cryptocurrency, he remained fascinated by blockchain expertise’s potential to empower artists.
“All of us get enthusiastic about these applied sciences as a result of we view them as superb options to a much less environment friendly world that we dwell in,” Blau says. “However when these assumptions are challenged by the market, you undoubtedly begin to doubt your individual beliefs. I’m fortunate I’ve held on for therefore lengthy.”
When the cryptocurrency markets rebounded in 2017, Blau noticed a possibility to place a few of his concepts in motion. He launched Our Music Competition, the primary blockchain-powered music competition, in San Francisco the next 12 months with a lineup headlined by Zedd. Whereas the venture was forward of its time, the expertise proved formative in giving Blau a glimpse into the way forward for digital possession.
“I had a 3LAU loyalty badge collectible that you could possibly get to your competition app pockets for those who discovered me and scanned the QR code I had on my cellphone,” Blau says. “I solely had 50 of them and so they have been gone in 60 seconds once I was out and about. We’d introduced it on Twitter and other people have been simply so enthusiastic about proudly owning this unique digital asset. In order that was type of my lightbulb second, the place I had this sense that the entire world was going to worth digital collectibles in an excessive method.”
Whereas sidelined from touring final 12 months as a result of COVID-19 pandemic, Blau started to delve deeper into the NFT (nonfungible tokens) area and realized that the expertise carried game-changing potential for unbiased musicians to straight monetize releases. Constructed largely on the Ethereum blockchain, NFTs allow possession of distinctive digital belongings in a method that wasn’t beforehand doable.
Blau teamed up with well-liked visible artist and previous collaborator Slimesunday (actual identify: Mike Parisella) for a collection of music NFTs underneath the collaborative moniker SSX3LAU, releasing their first drops on platforms like Blockparty and SuperRare.
“It’s a really collaborative course of and we’re each closely concerned within the end result,” explains Parisella. “Our final venture was probably the most time we spent on any SSX3LAU venture. It took roughly three months to finish the music video.”
In January, Blau tokenized the primary full-length tune on main platform Nifty Gateway and bought $175,000 value of tokens—a payday that would have required billions of streams in a conventional label deal.
The next month, he introduced the historic public sale of his first tokenized full-length album, Ultraviolet, by way of his personal website in partnership with Origin Protocol. Comprised of 33 distinctive NFTs tiered and paired with rewards and bodily vinyl information, the public sale was gamified to increase the countdown clock by three minutes for any bids positioned within the remaining three minutes. When the mud had settled from a heated bidding struggle, Blau had bought an unprecedented $11.7 million in complete, capped by a record-setting $3.6 million high prize.
“I undoubtedly didn’t anticipate it in any respect,” he admits. “We didn’t use a conventional NFT platform, so we principally needed to depend on my viewers of present collectors and followers to take part, and I used to be simply completely amazed by how far the group got here out for me.”
The music business continues to be scrambling to catch up. Regardless of greater names like The Weeknd and Snoop Dogg coming into the market, Blau’s public sale nonetheless holds the alltime gross sales document for music NFTs. Revered as an early adopter by the group, Blau’s shut relationships with high NFT collectors like WhaleShark, 888 and Seedphrase have contributed to his success.
“It began with lots of cryptonative collectors. Individuals who have been capable of generate lots of wealth inside the crypto area who wish to hold it in that ecosystem and assist the humanities,” Blau says. “However I’m additionally fortunate to have [former T-Mobile CEO] John Legere as a collector of mine. He owns many truly lovely items from the legacy artwork world and is so supportive of this concept of technological artwork. I believe it’s solely pure that [traditional] collectors will begin to exhibit that habits.”
As mainstream consideration fuels elevated adoption, Blau believes that extra artists, collectors and followers will heat to the idea of digital provenance by way of NFTs.
“You should purchase the ‘Mona Lisa’ for $53 on Amazon. It’s the identical measurement, and it seems to be precisely the identical as the unique. Do you wish to personal that? Most individuals would most likely say no,” Blau explains. “That’s what makes digital artwork particular. Anybody can view it, or rip it, or put it on a display screen, however there is just one proprietor of this particular piece. There’s a sense that you simply get from having that official possession, the identical method you don’t wish to purchase a faux pair of Yeezys. You wish to personal the actual ones.”
Wanting forward, Blau plans to create a basis to assist artists and academic efforts to convey wider public consciousness to the NFT area. He additionally has a brand new venture that may enable followers to put money into artists and share of their successes as their careers progress.
“The place I see it going subsequent is definitely getting fan possession in music and letting them take part within the outdoors success of a tune,” he explains. “It has to adjust to sure safety rules and present authorized frameworks.”
For the second, Blau already seems to have secured his legacy as a trailblazer whose perception within the energy of music NFTs will change the business calculus for years to come back.
“3LAU will probably be remembered as a pioneer and group chief,” says Parisella. “He was speaking about this expertise again in 2018 and most thought he was loopy. In 2021, he flipped your entire music business on its head.”
Images by: Prime to Backside: PHOTO BY SHERVIN LAINEZ, PHOTO COURTESY OF 3LAU