NFTs Offer Alternative Revenue Source for Asian Musicians

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Hong Kong-based singer-songwriter Hanjin Tan sold out his NFTs in just one minute on Thursday, earning him $200,000 and a new record for a musician in the Chinese-language music industry. But the award-winning musician believes this is just the beginning of his long-term experiment with the technology which he hopes will be a lifeline for his peers struggling against corporate dominance.

Tan’s latest work “The xxxx is an NFT” is a 27-second MP4 of a brand new song with a music video, available in a limited 77 pieces, each costing 7 BNB (Binance Coins). They were listed on Treasureland, a multi-chain NFT issuance and trading platform. All 77 pieces were sold out for a total amount of 539 BNB, currently the equivalent of around $200,000 or HK$1.3 million.

NFT stands for non-fungible token, a unique digital asset that is tracked and valued through blockchain, a secure, publicly accessible ledger. NFTs took the creative world by storm in recent months particularly following Christie’s auction of Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” which sold a record $69 million in March.

Around the same time, NFTs also became a hot topic of discussion on audio-based social media platform Clubhouse, where Tan first learned about the acronym and the new property.
“I thought it could solve the problem that I’ve been trying to address for the past five years, which is the income gap in the music industry,” Tan told Variety. “Musicians [in the Chinese music industry] have been bullied for about 30 years.”

Originally from Singapore, Tan has written and produced music for some of the biggest names in the Chinese-speaking world such as Jacky Cheung and Sammi Cheng since 1999. He picked up a Hong Kong Film Awards best newcomer prize in 2010 playing a friend of the young Bruce Lee in the drama “Bruce Lee, My Brother.” Tan said back musicians could still make a decent living despite the “bullies.” But the emergence of streaming has made the lives of musicians difficult.

“Ninety percent of streaming income goes to 1% of celebrities. Not all of them are musicians. They aren’t even singers. They are podcast celebrities … More than 50% of Chinese musicians don’t make money from music itself. They have to find other forms of income,” Tan said, citing a 2020 report published by the Communication University of China.

Tan’s discovery of and experiment with NFTs have brought him hope. He released his first NFT in early April on platform OpenSea and auctioned off his single “Nobody Gets Me” for 7 ETH (about $17,000).

“The xxxx is an NFT” is his second effort. He deliberately experimented with a different platform and another crypto currency, and rather than selling through an auction, he made it available in limited editions. “The key is not to be greedy,” he said.

The experiment could lead to a new movement that would revive the direct relationship between patron and creators that was once prominent in the times of Renaissance, Tan says. Patrons who love one’s creative work are willing to pay a premium for a scarce product, creating a lifeline for artists, he explained.

Tan is working on his next NFT, which is scheduled to release in June. He expects obstacles lie ahead, but says he may be able to set an example for younger musicians.


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