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How Gareth Emery channelled his live show into NFTs

Gareth Emery, renowned DJ and former CEO of crypto music streaming startup Choon, is hoping to capitalise on the current NFT (non-fungible token) boom with the release of his new collection LSR/CITY.

The city-inspired collection, which drops today on Nifty Gateway, comprises five NFTs ranging from $1 to $250,000 – each of which combines an original piece of music by Emery with the intricate laser work of his live shows. 

Ahead of tonight’s drop, Emery tells IQ why he’s jumping on the NFT boom, how the new business model could democratise the music industry and what the future of music and crypto looks like.


IQ: How did your live show inform the premise of the LSR/CITY NFT collection?
My thought was: how do we take the spirit of what we do at scale – an arena show with 10,000 people – and encapsulate it in digital art. It began with the music I composed for each city [London, Tokyo, LA and Genesis] and then laser designer Photon and I went and shot actual lasers using cameras – no 3D rendering or anything – to create a laser show for each song. We then displayed it within a glass cube in a virtual environment, designed by 3D artist Ilya Tsvetkov. So it’s this kind of collision between 3D art, lasers and music.

Tell us about your pièce de résistance, LSR/CITY: The Metaverse.
It’s a one-of-one NFT, a black chrome sculpture with a laser embedded in it. So, the sculpture will play the actual laser show that is the NFT. Whoever wins that will get to come to a show of ours to watch their NFT being performed to 10,000 people.

The sculpture will be kept in Art Angels’ state of the art, climate-controlled vault in Miami where it will remain in mint condition for future trades — or shipped to the winners when they choose to redeem it.

LSR/CITY:The Metaverse is priced at $250,000. Are you confident that you’ve got a diehard fan who’s prepared to part with that kind of money?
I think there may be one there. I do know that a lot of people who are into my music are big into crypto and a lot of people in crypto made kind of insane money in the early days. Is there one person that’s going to spend a quarter of million dollars on a bonkers laser sculpture? Not necessarily, no. But I also know that when you are launching an NFT product in a busy world when everyone’s shouting for attention, you want to have something that people can talk about.

How did you arrive at the quarter-of-a-million-dollars price tag?
It came from a conversation about how much it would cost us to do it, which was kind of well into the six figures anyway. And we thought, typically, the markup on luxury artwork when it’s being sold directly from the artist is probably about 60 or 70%. Even if someone buys the sculpture, it certainly doesn’t make up for what we would have lost in a pandemic year by a long way.

Why not do a Don Diablo and actually record your live set for an NFT?
I wanted the collection to be something people hadn’t seen before. If it was me performing live with lasers, people might have thought ‘well we can get that on YouTube’. It’d be pretty cool if you were able to buy your own exclusive set by an artist you really loved and then you know that not only are you the only person that’s got it though…

You started creating this collection months before the current NFT boom. Was that sheer luck or crystal-ball gazing?
We’ve lucked out a little bit with the timing. Crypto always comes in waves and you have times when everybody’s talking about it, then you have times when things go a little bit quiet. I spoke to my team and made sure everyone knew that there was a possibility we may do this and nobody’s really interested but I feel like we’ve landed in quite a good place.

Why do you think NFTs are appealing to music fans now?
Music fans are collectors, we have that DNA. I remember when I’d collect vinyl and I loved getting the limited editions and the overseas imports and the special vinyl because it had some different artwork. Sometimes I would pay a vastly inflated amount of money because I wanted some particular collectable. And I just think that’s something inbuilt in music fans but in this age of streaming, the places where we can get music, like Spotify and Apple Music, don’t really allow us to do that.

What kind of opportunities does the NFT market present to artists?
The current music industry is pretty far away from a free market where each artist could sell their art however they wanted – be it a subscription model or limited editions. So, I think right now, we’ve all been forced into this model because there are basically two monopolies that control the whole market.

Artists are getting excited about being able to control the economics of how they sell their work. With streaming platforms, there’s only really one way to make money: it’s mass. It’s just getting millions and millions of listeners – that is how artists make money because you get paid a very small price per stream. So the only way you can win big, or at least the only way you can make more than minimum wage and leave your job to pursue music, is by accumulating millions and millions of listeners.

But there’s room for artists who don’t have millions of listeners but who have tens of thousands of listeners that really like them – small amounts of diehards that support them and buy their merch and come to gigs and help them achieve multi-decade careers. So, in some ways, it’s allowing those kinds of models to exist and I just don’t think they have so far.

Do you think artists’ enthusiasm about the NFT model has anything to do with the absence of touring and a fundamental revenue stream?
Yes. I was definitely one of those artists that relied heavily on touring for income and I was like ‘oh shit, that’s like 90% of income gone’. So we’ve all had to be pretty proactive in thinking about new income streams and it has matched up with kind of a boom period in crypto. But I would say the biggest thing for a lot of artists is the realisation that touring can’t necessarily be relied on in the way it could in the past. So there’s been a need to go and find new income streams.

What’s the future of music-related NFTs?
I think what you’re probably going to see over the next year or two is lots of experimentation. So Don Diablo was selling for concert. Other people will do things like selling songs that change slightly every time they’re transferred. If you’ve been releasing NFTs for a while you could release something but only the top 10% of collectors can have them.

Gareth Emery’s LSR/CITY collection drops on Nifty Gateway today (15 April) here.


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