Can NFT Albums Become a New Age Merch Bundle?

Billboard has a chance to help artists and follow the lead of OCC & ARIA by allowing NFT albums onto the charts

In many ways, the future of creativity in music distribution lies with our official charting entities.

Like it or not, the rules they use to count albums as an “official sale” quickly form the guidelines for innovation surrounding music distribution.

And for the first time ever, two well-respected chart entities are accepting NFT albums onto their charts.

We argue here that Billboard should align with OCC and ARIA on NFT albums, and give artists the freedom to experiment with creative methods of distribution.

 OCC LogoARIA Logo

What exactly is an NFT album?

To us, an NFT album is a product that includes both an NFT and a digital or physical album.

For a variety of reasons (most eloquently put by Vaughn McKenzie-Landell), we think that music files themselves do not belong in NFTs.

In our eyes NFTs more resemble a digital form of merch - e.g. a limited run poster or limited print shirt, so when delivered with music would form something like a "digital merch bundle".

The Merch Bundle Wars

There was a brief moment when Billboard allowed merchandise to be tied with charting albums, and artists in the U.S. prospered.

Future Merch Bundles

During this period, an album could be “linked” with a piece of merchandise by being sold together as one item. When the box arrived, the shirt was separated forever from the music album itself. But at the moment of purchase, the merch and album were intrinsically connected.

Internet Money Album Bundles

Yes, there was the occasional news story that talked about Artist A including an album with low cost energy drinks in order to boost their sales.

But more significantly there were real artists using merchandise bundles as a way to better connect with fans. This practice drove creativity as artists expanded their album offering to include album specific merchandise.

Kesha Merch Bundles

Since Oct 2020, the merchandise + album rules have been restricted to “box sets”, a practice that requires investment in custom boxes and dividers and mostly caters to major label artists.

What makes NFTs different

NFTs are more powerful than a t-shirt in a traditional merch bundle because an NFT provides a key to future interaction. There are a few properties of NFTs that make all of this possible:

Auditable

Because of the nature of blockchains - public & transparent - this can usher in an era where artist sales are publicly auditable in places like Etherscan or Solscan.

Single works to ensure Billboard’s rules are built into our system. We communicate with their data team, Luminate, to guarantee sales are genuine and any fraudulent sales that make it past our filtering are ultimately excluded.

Imagine a world where this purchase data exists on-chain and in public. Artists would be incentivized to stay within Billboard’s rules as their actions would be out in the open for everyone to see.

Composable

Because NFTs are built using various blockchain “standards”, anyone can create applications or games that interact with or ingest data from them.

Some first iterations of this are music aggregating players like spinamp.xyz & futuretape.xyz - which rely on music minted publicly on chain. But any type of application is possible that interacts with these tokens, digitally or IRL.

Artist <-> Fan Stay Connected

With streaming services or even any brick + mortar physical album sales, artists never know exactly who has streamed or purchased their album.

While album sales are great, an artist's understanding of their core fan base is important above all else; it is the key to a sustainable career.

An artist can airdrop additional NFTs or provide tokengated access to content for only a limited time, like an album cycle. Web3 artist Black Dave writes about thinking of an artist's work in “seasons”. NFTs could help artist facilitate releasing content to fans over a defined period of time.

Help Artists Help Themselves

Our argument is simple. Billboard should follow the lead of OCC and ARIA and allow NFT albums onto their charts.

This is a new opportunity for Billboard to support artist innovation on a path to a sustainable career, by allowing them the freedom to experiment with album distribution.