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Singaporean Chinese musician Hanjin Tan talks about his latest NFT single, and what he believes NFTs can do for the Chinese music industry
Hanjin Tan is trying to solve a very specific problem. Based in Hong Kong, the 45-year-old Singaporean Chinese artist dons many hats, as a singer, songwriter, producer and even an actor. But it is his affinity with music that has led him to his latest endeavor.
Tan has delivered hits such as 沒時間後悔 (No Time for Regrets), 愛是懷疑 (Love Is Suspicion), 戰爭(War) and Down, songs which have hit hundreds of thousands of views on Spotify and YouTube, becoming rock and hip hop anthems for some. He is also the first amongst China’s music scene to have converted a single into a non-fungible token (NFT).
In crypto-speak, NFTs are tokens, or data units, that are stored on a blockchain and are not interchangeable. What this means is that these are crypto assets that have unique digital identities that are recorded on a decentralized ledger, or blockchain.
The NFT scene has blown up in recent times, turning into nothing short of a frenzy. They have been used to tokenize and sell all kinds of digital creations, from digital art and memes, to even a video highlight of NBA star LeBron James.
“It seemed to give me an answer to this problem I’ve been trying to solve for the past three to five years,” Tan tells Jumpstart.
Monetizing music through NFTs
To Tan, NFTs represent a way to monetize for China’s music industry. He recently auctioned his single, Nobody Gets Me on crypto-goods marketplace OpenSea for 7 ETH (about US$17,000 at the time of writing). The single was meant to prove the validity of his thesis, which Tan is working to evangelize. Eventually, he aims to move towards testing the sustainability and economics of his approach with a few more releases.
The Chinese music industry has a “huge income gap” outside of the celebrity circle, Tan explains. This affects producers and musicians in the industry. Incomes are dropping across production, performance, streaming and merchandise, he notes.
A study by the Communication University of China reports that 52% of Chinese musicians do not have any income from music. For nearly a quarter of the survey’s respondents, income from music comprised less than 5% of their total income. In fact, up to 70% of independent artists in China make less than $150 from their music every month according to a 2016 study, SCMP reports. Lax copyright protection only acts as an enabler for piracy, further eating into licensing revenue.
It’s what inspired Tan to take the route that he did with Nobody Gets Me. In his initial plans for the drop, Tan was going full-throttle with a release campaign that included 3D graphics, unlockables, nostalgia pieces, and even possible collaborations with leaders in the crypto space.
But there was a catch. “[I realized that] if I drop this pretty NFT, I will be sending out the exact wrong message, which is you can’t come in if you don’t have resources, if you don’t have a legacy,” he says. “I decided I have to drop a simple music NFT as a demo for young and current Chinese musicians,” he says, showing that all you need is a laptop to make it happen.
The auction for Nobody Gets Me started at 0.07 ETH and closed at 7 ETH on Sunday, April 4 at 11:27pm, much to the delight of Tan (who has a self-professed fascination with the number 7). The NFT unlocks a 7 second long MP4 file that is made up of 7 video and photographic elements. “This proves the value of narrative in an NFT. My buyer made an emotional connection with me by buying at 7 ETH” he giggled.
Should musicians take to NFTs?
Much has been said about the arrival of NFTs into the arts space, because of its potential benefits. As Tan has demonstrated, the foremost of these is that NFTs can help artists make hard money off their work. It also makes ownership of their work transferable, with the blockchain tracking ownership history, creating room for possibly royalties. Moreover, it also gives artists irrefutable proof of credit as creators.
To Tan, NFTs are also a revamp of the artist-patron relationship. These patronage relationships were historically the bread and butter for artists, with wealthy patrons having commissioned some landmark creations in art and music history.
Tan explains that NFTs could give this relationship a technological rebirth, enabling fans to become patrons, or buyers. For his own NFT single, Tan’s buyer received the right to play, the right to possess the audio file, and a 50% voting rights on decisions regarding the song (Tan holds the remaining 50%).
“I don’t think that many musicians are going to get rich by doing this. But I want them to find their [niche fan base]” that can act as potential buyers for their NFTs, he says.
Tan himself does not have many vested stakes in how the use-cases for NFTs in the artistic space will evolve — he is, after all, established in the scene. However, he foresees that validating these use-cases will start to attract a trickle of big names.
Eventually, he sees the space getting populated enough to crowd out up-and-coming musicians, who are central to his vision of tokenized music and the new-age artist-patron relationship. This is why Tan is taking after NFTs with a sense of urgency — he hopes for growing and current Chinese musicians to be able to build a base of patrons and sustain themselves, and bide time to hone their craft, until the day they get their big break.
“It’s going to be a long road. But as of now, I feel it’s a meaningful thing,” he says.
Images courtesy of Hanjin Tan