Since the Recording Industry Association of America introduced the idea of “going platinum,” the milestone of selling 1 million albums has been coveted by musicians throughout the evolution of formats. Now, DeadMau5 has a plan to go platinum in the crypto era.
Deadmau5—whose real name is Joel Zimmerman— has collaborated with the rock band Portugal The Man on “This Is Fine,” a new single minted as a non-fungible token (NFT) that debuted today. The project also poses somewhat of a public challenge to the music industry: Can an NFT song go platinum if all 1 million copies are sold? While RIAA has a set of standards for streaming and downloaded music, NFTs are new territory.
“I’m excited to see how the RIAA recognizes it,” Zimmerman told Forbes in an interview. “If things go the way of the DAO, then the RIAA is going to have to do something about it. They’re going to have to track something. It’s going to be the new contender.”
The musicians’ NFT, which went on sale today, was minted on the NFT platform Mintbase using the Near blockchain, an alternative to blockchains such as Ethereum. Each “This Is Fine” NFT costs .25 NEAR each—or around $2.19 USD as of this week—with 750,00 available this week during Art Basel Miami. Others in the million will be sold as individuals or as bundles. For example, one “Ultimate Bundle,” will total 50,000 units and include artwork, a limited edition NFT, merchadise pack and a spot on DeadMau5’s guest list. Another 200 will include 1,000 NFTs, with each pack having their own unique artwork.
To support the NFT drop, DeadMau5, Portugal The Man and Near are running an out-of-home campaign to promote both the new NFT and also market Near and blockchain technology in Miami and several key cities. The OOH ads—will will be roaming around on several buses—are in Miami this month, in New York City from late December through early January, and then in San Francisco all of next month. With messages such as “Crypto, but easy” and “Crypto without the Carbon”— along with QR code’s that direct people back to Mintbase—the ads are an attempt to make the world of crypto easily understood and accessible to people who are perhaps not as familiar yet with the space.
DeadMau5 is no stranger to crypto. Over the past year, he’s done a number of other crypto and NFT projects. In April, Deadmau5 collaborated with the fellow Canadian DJ REZZ to on an NFT drop around the song, “Hypnocurrency,” which now has more than 14 million streams and is currently both DJs’ most popular hit on Spotify. In August, he launched a second blockchain card collection on the Worldwide Asset eXchange (WAX). And just last month, he helped launch an NFT music streaming platform called MODA DAO.
“When we wrote the track, it was really just kind of something to put on the album and nothing more. And then over the next year was when we started to delve into all our other blockchain and crypto projects.”
Other Web3 project that DeadMau5 projects include collaborations with Roblox, the blockchain-based gaming platform Mythical Games, Sandbox and Decentraland. He also recently worked with music producer Richie Hawkin to launch Pixelynx, an augmented reality gaming platform. Zimmerman has also sold DeadMau5 art on platforms such as SuperRare, an Ethereum-based digital art market. (Portugal The Man has also been experimenting with crypto this year: In January, the band debuted its own coin as a way of building a new kind of fan club.)
The bands are working with Mintbase and Near to also make NFTs more accessible beyond just the cost barrier. Rather than requiring people to download a crypto wallet to buy the NFT or pay in crypto, fans will be able to buy the NFT through Stripe making it easier—and more accessible—than many other NFTs.
“People like Joel have to be those flag-bearers and sledgehammers,” Wilson told Forbes. “That’s what we’re doing. It’s the first step through the door.”
Zimmerman also see NFTs as a strategy against to overall music industry, including music-streaming giants. And rather than sell something for the highest bidder for millions of dollars or let someone bid on the only copy of a Deadmau5 album, he said “music is different” than other types of NFTs in the art world or elsewhere.
“We want to use it as a social utility for governance over our property basically and having better control over it,” Zimmerman said, acknowledging that, in five or 10 years, he may not have to rely on companies such as Spotify. “There’s a reason why these companies have billions and billions of dollars, and it’s not from viewers like you, you know? It’s from out of the back-end dividends that the artists provide.”
It was actually Wilson that got Zimmerman into NFTs in the first place when they took the DeadMau pins from vending machines at shows and made them into a digital trading cards on WAX.
“We took what was happening in the physical and brought it to the digital, and it really took off at that point,” Wilson said. “And for the first time in any artists’ life, there’s a secondary market income—which we’ve never seen apart from our tickets be sold by scalpers forever and watch them make incredible amounts of money while we never saw a cut of any of it. Now, any IP owner now has new income stream and life forever, which is pretty amazing.”
When “This Is Fine” was written back in February 2020—long before the current NFT craze began, but right in the middle of the broader momentum with blockchain and cryptocurrency. However, the origin story for the song had nothing to do with Web3. However, during the past year, DeadMau5 and his manager, Dean Wilson, started to dive into a variety of crypto and blockchain projects, and yet wanted to better understand the ecosystem and also the legalities around it.
Working with DeadMau5 and Near on the project is Mintbase, an NFT startup based in Lisbon that began as an NFT ticketing platform on the Ethereum blockchain back in 2018. Nate Geier, CEO and cofounder of Mintbase—which raised $1 million last year led by the Chinese venture capital firm Sino Global—said the fees were “going to murder us” last year, prompting the company to switch over to Near.
Geier first got connected with Deadmau5 after the company did a burning beers NFT at the Berlin Beer Festival, where they used Apple Airdrop to send digital beers to people who could then “burn” their NFTs in exchange for a real-life beer at the festival.
“People like Joel have to be those flag-bearers and sledgehammers. That’s what we’re doing. It’s the first step through the door.”
DeadMau5 also has experimented with other emerging technologies. In 2016, he created an interactive virtual reality game in collaboration with Absolut Labs, an incubator run by the vodka brand, Absolut. Along with releasing his own NFTs, Zimmerman is also collecting them and now has between 20 and 30. However, for the ones he owns, the DJ said he treats them more like art than utility.
“I like the art and a lot of the artists, because as much as everyone loves to put ‘NFT artist’ in their bio now, a lot of them have always been digital media designers,” Zimmerman said. “Like Justin Maller and Steven Baltay and a lot of really talented GGI artists that have just been doing it before the NFT craze, and then when the NFT craze slammed down, it was just all of a sudden everyone’s biography changed. Which is good for awareness and stuff like that, but kind of leaves me a little salty.”
According to Geier, the exciting part of the project is printing NFTs en masse rather than doing a limited collection that sells for a lot. He referenced the now famous NFT by the artist Beeple that Christie’s sold back in March for $69 million, adding that people aren’t getting excited about NFTs because of the money, but because of “what they’re going to do in the future.”
“Selling one NFT for $69 million to me is a yawn,” Greier said. “It’s like who cares…There’s no innovation there. Selling a million NFTs to me is next-level. This is real innovation. This is something for the masses. This is something that I think is just really starting to prove this whole idea of what we’re getting excited about.’’
Near, founded in San Francisco last year, isn’t as popular as other blockchains such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. However, it’s selling point is lower fees compared to some other more popular protocols. Last year, Near raised nearly $22 million in funding from A16Z and now has 1,600 active developers building within the ecosystem.
“In 2017, it was come to crypto, stay for crypto,” said Near CoFounder Illia Polosukhin. “Now it’s come to learn about crypto, but open up this new world of interactions. The future is every single new startup I’m seeing in the consumer space is embedding crypto into their strategy.”