Kings of Leons music isn’t complicated. They don’t jam and they don’t do progressive – their by-the-numbers rock has as many sharp, tricky corners as the hockey arenas they used to fill. Lyrically? Sex on Fire counts as deep metaphor in their universe. But the Kings are no fools.
Their new album, When You See Yourself, is available in the form of a non-fungible token (NFT). It’s cutting-edge stuff and the talk of the music industry. The hope of its boosters is that fans will choose to own music again, rather than streaming it at little or no cost. As the first major band to offer their album as an NFT, the Kings of Leon’s marketing savvy is on fire.
Like Bitcoin, an NFT is a kind of cryptocurrency. But where a Bitcoin represents money and is basically interchangeable – like a dollar, one is the same as the next – an ownable NFT holds unique assets, such as art, music and concert tickets. In the parlance, the Bitcoin is “fungible.” The NFT is not and, as such, its value is subjective and prone to the whims and volatility of the market.
Ownership of NFT assets are recorded on a blockchain – a digital ledger of transactions used to keep track of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The sale of one-of-a-kind digital goods represents a new revenue stream for artists seeing a big dip in cashflow during a pandemic that has crashed the concert industry.
Along with Kings of Leon, leading the non-fungible frenzy are Canadian artists. Last week, pop star Shawn Mendes teamed up with Genies (a company that makes 2D avatars as stand-ins for celebrities) to produce digital versions of his jewellery, clothes and signature Fender guitar. Indie-pop provocateur Grimes hopped on the NFT gravy train last weekend when she auctioned off digital artworks of hers that fetched US$6-million.
On Thursday, Montreal duo Belave stole a bit of Kings of Leon’s thunder by re-releasing their 2020 album Does the bird fly over your head? in NFT form.
To be clear, Kings of Leon’s When You See Yourself is also available to purchase as a traditional physical or digital product, and it can be accessed using streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.
What’s exciting their fans, though, are the NFT options developed by YellowHeart, a company that facilitates artist-to-fan relationships and self-proclaims as “the world’s first socially responsible ticketing platform.” A variety of perks and bundles at different prices include more than two dozen pieces of unique digital art.
The tokens are a limited-time offer, thus making the ones in existence a collectible commodity – like a baseball card.
The biggest splash has to do with “Golden Ticket” tokens up for auction. The winning bids – a Kings ransom? – allow holders to redeem a pair of front-row tickets to any Kings of Leon headline show. A luxury SUV will be at their disposal for the night and a dedicated on-site concierge will handle backstage access.
Real Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory stuff.
Overshadowed in the NFT hoopla is the musical content of When You See Yourself. The eighth album by the Nashville-based group of three Followill brothers and a cousin is as unadventurous as its business plan is innovative. For a hard-partying Southern crew, the Kings of Leon are strikingly boogie-free, sticking to the type of taut guitar jangle more in line with Yankees such as the Strokes than Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Second track The Bandit is a fine tribute to the Foo Fighters’ Everlong. Bass lines dominate the whole record. With an album that is safe and corporate, these guys really know how to take the fun out of non-fungible.
Taking chances is not what this band is about, though. When the Wall Street Journal described the album this week as “‘less than visionary,” the Leon team up in the RCA offices probably broke out the high-fives and champagne.
On new song Golden Restless Age, Caleb Followill sings that “time won’t turn the page.” He’s wrong. This red-hot NFT trend is likely just the start. There’s talk that the use of digital tokens will extend deep into the music industry, applied to everything from ticket sales to royalty payments. It’s complicated. It’s new. The oldies are skeptical.
But remember what Willy Wonka said in the 1971 Gene Wilder film: “You should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about.” Artists are looking for ways to take control of their careers and cut out the middlemen. NFTs just might be their ticket.
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