A number of musicians – among them Doja Cat, John Legend and H.E.R. – are racing to sign up to OneOf, a marketplace for NFTs (non-fungible tokens) that is backed by Quincey Jones and which sells itself on its green (well, greener) credentials.
OneOf has serious backing – beyond the celebrity endorsements – with $63 million in seed funding behind it.
Its marketplace is built on the Tezos blockchain (most NFT activity to date has been on the Ethereum blockchain) and it is reported that Tezos “uses over 2 million times less energy than other networks”. The claim that using it to mint NFTs causes about as much of an energy drain as “sending out a tweet” has been widely repeated by tech and music business publications, yet that statement has not been properly qualified as one NFT use is not going to be the exact same as another.
Even so, it is a sign that musicians are finally awake to the fact that the boom in NFTs this year has not happened without consequences.
It really started for musicians when Grimes sold a range of digital artworks as NFTs in February for $6 million; but the floodgates burst wide open the following month when electronic producer 3LAU reportedly made $11.6 million from his NFT sale.
Suddenly NFTs were the “must-have” item for musicians – working as both a sign that they were plugged into the mains of the digital zeitgeist but also a means for them to make some money (and additionally a form public validation that they were the sorts of artists that people would want to buy an NFT from).
The inconvenient truth, however, was that the bonanza around NFTs comes with an environmental cost.
Wired ran a piece earlier this year that suggested NFTs burn their way through energy “on the scale of a small country”, but added the caveat that how that translates into carbon emissions is challenged in some quarters.
“How exactly that energy use translates to carbon emissions is a hotly contested subject,” it wrote. “Some estimates suggest as much as 70 percent of mining operations may be powered by clean sources. But that number fluctuates seasonally, and in a global energy grid that mostly runs on fossil fuels, critics say energy use is energy use.”
In short, any technology that powers through vast amounts of energy (and to keep cryptocurrency operational requires a lot of energy) is going to cause environmental damage: the question is not about if NFTs are an ecological problem but rather a question of how much of an ecological problem they are.
Some musicians and music companies have chosen to sit out the NFT gold rush until they get a clearer picture of what the environmental cost could be – or, at the very least, if there will be greener ways of doing things in the near future.
Matt Black is one half of electronic act Coldcut and co-founder of the Ninja Tune label. Both band and record company have a deep fascination with technology and how it intersects with art. Black, however, struggled to square the circle here with regard to backing Ninja acts looking to create NFTs and the environmental toll that could result from their activities.
He posted a detailed blog about his reservations here while trying to work out what, exactly, his standpoint should be.
“Discussion raged at Ninja about whether we should do some NFTs,” he wrote. “We are an artist led label and so when an artist said ‘we want to do an NFT’ it is not right for us to try to block it. We have to allow it, even support it. Yet, Ninja works hard for our business to become balanced, less environmentally damaging, to fund environmental actions and be engaged in activism (Ninja Tune sustainability policy). What to do.”
Is OneOf the green NFT solution that the music industry has been waiting for? The company is keen to flag up its altruistic side by saying that a percentage of revenues from music NFT sales will go to environmental charities (or other causes nominated by the artists involved).
Yet this may mean there are a now a lot more music NFTs being sold as ecologically hesitant acts finally jump on board.
The environmental cost of an individual NFT may be lower but the sheer number of NFTs could shoot up considerably.
This may begin to echo what has slowly started to happen in the live music business.
Musicians like Coldplay have publicly stated that they will not tour again until they can do so in a way that is carbon neutral at least while others like The 1975 have been investigating ways to make their own touring much greener.
Ultimately the business of being a musician – from touring and pressing vinyl to having their music consumed on streaming services and selling NFTs – comes with an unavoidable environmental cost. How different musicians acknowledge this and, crucially, what they do to lower it is what will now separate them.