How TikTok tried and failed to create NFTs with pop stars

NFTs have been the source of headlines all year long: a million dollar sale here, a $ 10 million sale there, and the sudden feeling that there is profit and prestige. all over. But people who worked on NFTs long before they gained mainstream attention are quick to point out that these digital collectibles aren’t synonymous with easy money and well-known cachet. .

“People love to brag about their successes and never their failures,” says Justin Blau, DJ and producer (as 3LAU) who hit the headlines with NFT’s hit sales in late February. “I can tell you that having been involved in this world for seven years, I have failed more times than I have succeeded. The people come in blazing arms; they don’t really know how to navigate in space; and they get burnt.

Maybe that’s what happened with TikTok earlier this year. The company announced this fall plans to commemorate popular moments on the app through a series of unique NFTs featuring musicians like Lil Nas X and creators like Curtis Roach (2.1 million followers). But TikTok never released the Lil Nas X NFT. People familiar with the project and its deployment described it as “messy” – the spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing that TikTok would penalize them otherwise – and when the release date for the first digital collectible came and went with no products in sight, at least one other artist was already planning to give up the effort.

Now, it looks like Lil Nas X’s removal may have been a symptom of bigger challenges for TikTok – or had a mini-domino effect on the entire project. The big company has attracted over a billion monthly active users, but it also hasn’t been able to produce any planned digital collectibles involving other prominent musicians – such as Bella Poarch and Grimes – as well as one linked to popular designer Brittany Broski (6.3 million TikTok subscribers).

“I’m glad mine was able to perform,” says Jess Marciante, a designer who participated in a unique NFT that was auctioned at the end of October. “But it’s a shame those weren’t the six that were supposed to happen.”

NFTs – short for non-fungible tokens – are digital data often linked to a file of an image, song, or video. Blau actually prefers the more understandable description “limited digital asset ”, noting that the non-fungible token is“ a terrible term ”. Thanks to the blockchain code where the NFT is stored, it is guaranteed to be unique.

TikTok’s most successful NFT in terms of auction price was Curtis Roach’s “Bored in the House” video – a clip that went viral during the early weeks of the pandemic and became the inspiration for a single by Tyga. This NFT was purchased for just over $ 100,000. (TikTok was hoping to attract a bid for Poarch’s NFT of at least $ 1 million, according to two members of the crypto community who spoke to Rolling stone earlier this year.)

But all the biggest artists in music ended up bailing out the TikTok project. For some viewers with extensive NFT experience, TikTok’s over-promises and under-delivery were not surprising. The company, at its core, encourages hyper-centralization, ensuring that teens around the world can emulate the same dance or perform the same 15-second song sample. But some NFT supporters note that the power of TikTok, while formidable, doesn’t necessarily match their philosophy.

“With TikTok or Facebook, they see the fire of Web 3.0 burning and they want to be a part of it,” says Georgio Constantinou, a music director who also co-founded 6 Agency, the company that recently helped negotiate the sale of L Wu-Tang’s single album to a crypto group. “But it doesn’t necessarily freeze. The beauty of what happens with NFTs is that artists can do it themselves, you don’t need a big company to do it for you.

Because of this position, some artists may also have feared that working with a large company like TikTok on an NFT could be seen as a bad start, forcing them to step down. “There is not much appetite for that [in the crypto community]”Constantinou said.” Anything unethical, people in the community would resist, “Blau agrees.

Sources claim that logistical hurdles, rather than philosophical differences, have also hampered TikTok’s ability to produce the promised NFTs. “This whole project was rushed,” said a frustrated source involved in the deployment. “When [Lil] Nas [X] abandoned, [TikTok] I should’ve taken a minute to collect their shit before I move on to the others [of the planned NFTs]. Unfortunately, they didn’t. (Blau notes that “a lot of people rush things” in the NFT space, where it’s best to have “a long-term mindset”.)

In several cases, TikTok has not been able to reach the key milestones necessary to complete its project, according to sources who requested anonymity. Even though Marciante’s NFT has seen the light of day, she notes that making it “was definitely a long process with so many moving parts.”

In the case of the NFT proposed by Lil Nas X, sources claim that one of those moving parts proved elusive: TikTok was unable to secure the music publishing rights to the hit “Montero (Call Me By Your Name) ”. This may be due in part to the complications of paying future royalties in cryptocurrency. Whenever an NFT is resold, rights holders must pay a small percentage of royalties. This represents a new challenge for music publishers, in this case Universal Music Publishing Group. (UMPG representatives did not respond to requests for comment.)

In a statement, Nick Tran, global marketing manager for TikTok, praised the artists and creators whose NFTs have been published. “We’re happy to have been able to support some of our favorite creators and give them opportunities to connect with their fans,” he adds. “While we’re disappointed that we couldn’t make it happen with some of our favorite creators and artists, we’re happy the door is open for future TikTok projects.”

Marciante says she learned a lot from working with TikTok on her NFT. She was especially excited that, as part of her collaboration with the app, her work was showcased at the Museum of Moving Image in New York City alongside other planned NFT videos. “I’m a videographer and photographer, so having my job in a museum is insane,” she explains. “So to have it auctioned off?” [The original video] is just something i did in my room one day.

She adds that it was “cool” that names like Lil Nas X and Broski “were even going to be involved. [with the project] at some point. “” But, “she continues,” I wish it had all turned out. “

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