omgkirby Web3 ‘Record Label’ Turns Fans into Songwriters and A&R – Billboard
Imagine a future in which a decentralized artist releases music through a community-governed record company co-owned by thousands of members who collaborate on the songs of said artists. From there, they could vote on the next single — its beats and hooks, release date, and marketing plan — and start the process all over again with a built-in base of invested superfans supporting the cause.
This future is now.
Outside of the splashy NFT drops of Snoop Dogg, The Chainsmokers and Diplo, omgkirby is one of Web3’s most popular musical acts – a faceless Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO)-led project that quietly launched in 2020 and currently has more than 1.2 million monthly listeners on Spotify and 22.1 million official US on-demand streams, according to Luminate. In the first week of June, omgkirby had the top two NFT collections of music in the world, based on secondary sales according to OpenSea, the Internet’s largest NFT marketplace. In total, omgkirby has already generated over 293 ETH, which was worth around $330,000 at press time after Ethereum’s value dropped dramatically earlier this month. (119 ETH had gone to the DAO, as of June 9; the rest was split between omgkirby’s creator, the team, and online trading platform Notables.)
Even if omgkirby embodies what a Web3 musical project can be, it was not born from a futuristic ideology. Its creator – an under-the-radar musician with a background in technology, who asked Billboard using the pronouns them/them to maintain their anonymity – started the project simply as a way to connect with others feeling isolated at the start of the pandemic. They didn’t want to hear pop bangers from Top 40 stars or songs about epic romances; they wanted heartwarming lo-fi tunes for lonely days. So they started taking famous songs and remixing them, slowing them down and adding reverb.
As Web3 began to emerge as a hot topic of conversation last year, the creator of omgkirby paid close attention. They soon realized that they could best capture a sense of unity by making omgkirby a collaborative entity. That’s why they don’t want to share identifying details: “As we build a DAO and a community and these bearers themselves begin to embody omgkirby, it’s important that there isn’t a figure singular representation of the project”, declared the creator. Billboard on the phone from Los Angeles. “There are people of all ages, genders and identities who are now part of this community.”
The first “drop” in mid-March was a batch of 3,000 auto-generated lo-fi songs tuned to the same BPM and key in the form of NFT – the omgkirby Genesis collection, inspired by other NFT collections from popular generative visual art, except with music. Generative art is common in the field of profile picture NFTs (PFPs) – collections like Bored Ape Yacht Club or Crypto Punks are created by algorithms that randomly put together design traits for unique avatars – but, the omgkirby founder says, “I hadn’t seen anyone build great leads using generative technology.
Purchasing the NFTs grants membership in the omgkirby DAO, as well as ownership of the recording stems and master and publishing rights. The collection sold out within minutes. One buyer, wallyPDF, uploaded two omgkirby tracks to Spotify – without even editing them – and they both ended up on the platform’s popular “lofi beats” playlist; together they now have over a million Spotify streams. Venture capital firm Castle Island Ventures turned its stems into intro and out music for its crypto-focused podcast On the Brink. According to omgkirby creator Jaden Smith also bought an NFT that he is now Frankensteining to create something new. “We didn’t want to make music that would sound generic,” explains the creator. “We wanted to make music that could stand on its own and be as successful as a song created entirely by a human being.”
While the Genesis collection showed that omgkirby could reach an audience, the DAO that these NFTs helped create would manifest the next stage of the project. The original song “Don’t Let Me Down,” released in May, was the first test of this committee music process. The core DAO team asked the community to submit sounds and samples they wanted to record on a Twitch stream, then the beat was created live with the DAO providing real-time feedback. Then they sent in an instrumental version of the track and held a songwriting contest, asking members of the community to submit verses, choruses, and lead lines to that beat. (Singer-songwriter Sad Alex ultimately won). “For members who were really committed to it, we offered them a token version of the song via airdrop.”
The song itself is owned by the DAO, meaning all streaming and sync royalties from the track — and possibly an album — will go to the Treasury to fund its future projects. The goal was to plant a seed for a sort of “community record label,” says the omgkirby creator. Ultimately, they plan to create an “artist fund” to support members who dream of other decentralized artists who could live in the omgkirby universe: “People will have the opportunity to formulate proposals and ask the DAO to decide if they want to vote for and support these artists. They plan to give grants – whether for touring, buying equipment, recording music, filming music videos or otherwise – to active members who want to pursue music themselves.
The concept was compelling enough to result in another sold-out drop earlier this month, this time of 5,000 NFT generative profile pictures (more like those monkeys and punks) that also grant access to the DAO and offer priority access to new projects. The excitement surrounding this release was enough to propel both omgkirby collections to the top of the OpenSea music sales chart.
Last Saturday, kicking off the NFT.NYC conference taking place this week in New York City at a party hosted by the Deadheads NFT Collection, omgkirby created his first live performance with a custom mask similar to the one by Deadmau5. omgkirby is currently working on another generative collection, but this time they are collaborating with acclaimed artist Channel Tres. These 5,550 songs are slated for release in late June or early July and the project’s creator claims that despite recent downturns in the crypto market, they don’t feel the need to push the release back. “We need to be more aggressive than ever with this decline,” they say. “It’s a time when people are now looking for real value, so I think projects like us will be more celebrated.”
This time around, the creator of omgkirby says they’ve changed the formula significantly. Not everything will be in the same BPM or key with “new attributes around the structure of the song” that can alter those aspects. “Drum strokes are always the same drum strokes,” he explains. “They now exist in another area of musicality. With this collection, you’ll be able to buy one track that sounds like upbeat house and one that sounds like slowed-down hip-hop with a soaring Travis Scott beat.
Looking ahead, the omgkirby team wants to collaborate with “the greatest musicians in the world – the Billie Eilish and Justin Biebers,” says its creator, adding that they hope to do so while staying true to their independent beginnings. Apparently, the labels reached out with pitches to partner up, still to no avail: “We’re blazing our own trail.”
When asked if their team was at all worried about the possibility of a dystopian future – a future in which record labels could similarly use machines to produce pre-made songs as if was about hot dogs – omgkirby creator seems uninterested. They aren’t worried about an algorithmic approach that depreciates the art form and the human aspect of music. “I think the day AI can completely remove all human involvement in these tracks, that AI will likely have much greater implications in terms of fear of what it can create in other areas,” they say. . “So many aspects of the internet and the art we consume are already a unique blend of human and machine. Advances in sound and music production have always been driven in many ways by different forms of instrumentation and electronic techniques, they insist that they are committed to finding a balance while innovating, even if they upset “some purists” along the way.
The omgkirby creator also recognizes why many mainstream players remain wary of the Web3 space in which they exist and claim to have been skeptical themselves. “I understand why people ask, ‘What is this? Is this all just vaporware or people swapping jpegs? they say. “But Web3 tools have huge implications if used in the right way… It’s not a grab on the goods. We’re pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a musical artist and what it means to creating and owning music is actually quite disturbing.