In the third of a special four-part series, Forkast.News looks at how NFT platforms and fans support those non-crypto active fans. Part 1 examines how NFTs and blockchain technology could redistribute money and power in the music business. Part 2 explores K-pop’s new token economy.

With some music industry players and artists going all-out on non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as they look to generate new streams of revenue, it can be daunting for those who aren’t crypto active to get involved. 

Some NFT platforms seek to make it easier to lead music fans into the world of NFTs by cutting through the jargon, especially when the emerging technology could, to a certain degree, help musicians earn some more money.

Industry experts have told Forkast.News that NFTs could bring back the value of music once again, with music streaming having brought down the unit price of musical works to near-zero.

That said, in the hope of amplifying marketing efforts, it’s seen as essential to guide the existing fans of singers or musicians who already have a large fan base.

One challenge, however, remains over what NFT minters could do to lure their fans to buy the new form of digital collectibles.

“One big challenge is to introduce this new [NFT] idea to the general public,” Pochang Wu, a co-founder of Taiwan-based NFT platform OURSONG and the main vocalist in rock band Echo, told Forkast.News, adding that media exposure is helping. “There have been quite some news reports on those big-name artists creating NFTs, which has started to make more people become aware of this.”

New technology could be intimidating for some, but Wu said people don’t really have to know exactly what an NFT is. “Just like how some people wouldn’t know how to spell out CD, DVD or WiFi, a new technology might look daunting at first.”

Wu added that one major goal of OURSONG, which features huge collections of music-related NFTs, is to offer intuitive products with easy access for users and those who are “technical newbies” to still feel the joy of digital collection.

OURSONG, launched in 2019 and dedicated to digital collectibles for music, started life as a research project within KKBOX, a major music streaming service in East and Southeast Asia.

Terence Leong, another co-founder of OURSONG and chief content officer of music streaming service KKBOX, told Forkast.News the company’s onboarding process is much smoother than it was. “I remember the first day we went live. I shared it with other colleagues in our office and they were like, ‘What is a recovery phrase?’ So those days are gone.”

“We found much more user-friendly ways to kind of circumvent that,” Leong said. “Our onboarding process for the average person is much easier than it was before. But there’s definitely a lot more room for improvement and that’s one area that we’re very focused on because we’re very end-consumer centric.”

OURSONG has also incorporated PayPal as a payment method to help fans feel less intimidated.

Power of fandom

As more independent creators are jumping on the NFT bandwagon, fan support has become more essential.

Leong said it’s not just like giving fans an MP3 that people can find online anyway, but “giving them something that’s unique.” OURSONG has launched a feature where artists can engage with their buyers in chat groups. “They kind of become your army,” he said, adding that was essentially how K-pop act BTS has gone global with very strong fan support.

Such fan activities are especially active among communities surrounding K-pop, broadly defined as Korean mainstream pop music, which has emerged from a subculture into a global mainstream phenomenon.

See related article: NFTs and the music industry: K-pop’s new token economy | Part 2

As NFTs shake up the art scene in Asia, the entertainment industry — especially in South Korea — is sparing no effort to join the NFT world in a move that leverages its huge and loyal fanbase, particularly at a time when K-pop has thrived online amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

For example, JYP Entertainment, one of South Korea’s four biggest entertainment conglomerates, which counts K-pop acts such as 2PM and TWICE among its stars, in July unveiled a plan to partner with local blockchain company Dunamu to set up an NFT platform dedicated to K-pop.

Brave Girls, one of K-pop’s most prominent idol groups, also in July teamed up with Upbit to release limited edition NFTs in time for a comeback.

“There will be a bit of a steep learning curve. But K-pop fans are fairly persistent, so I can see them learning about it very quickly,” Thomas Baudinette, a lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney whose research interests include how K-pop innovates, told Forkast.News in an interview.

Areum Jeong, an assistant professor who teaches Korean pop culture at Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute, shared similar views that K-pop fans are highly networked and organized.

“They’re highly organized communities with very specific communal goals,” Jeong said. “Even if fans are not familiar with the process or how things work, they will teach you. They will team up. They will come up with how-to tutorials on YouTube or Twitter in like seven different languages.”

Indeed, many K-pop fans are very tech-savvy. For example, many fans in China would go through the hustle of climbing up China’s “great firewall” to download Korean music streaming apps to boost traffic for their favorite bands and idols or voting for them for TV shows.

“I could see some kind of K-pop crypto guru emerging somewhere who’s going to then provide all the necessary tutorials,” Baudinette added.