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What are Generative Music NFTs? (And Can They Be a Hit Record?)

Is it possible for a computer algorithm to create a beautiful piece of music?

With generative music NFTs, the answer is yes.

Generative music works by feeding different musical layers (like drums, bass, synths and vocals) into a computer. An algorithm then mixes them together at random to create thousands of unique and surprising possibilities.

And if you get it right, it sounds incredible. Listen to this:

This track is a piece of generative music. The artist, Kaien Cruz, started by recording various different ‘stems’ of their new track ‘Back in Time’. Many different vocal takes, lots of different bass parts, etc.

Our team at SoundMint created an algorithm that randomized them and turned it into hundreds of completely unique tracks.

And thanks to NFTs, you can now own one.

Think of it like owning your own personal remix of the song.

Although we’re using brand new crypto technology, there is actually a deep history of generative music going back to the ‘60s.

The History of Generative Music

The concept of generative music dates back to the ’60s, but it was popularized by artist and producer Brian Eno in the ’90s. With Ambient 1: Music for Airports, he cued up several loops and let them run simultaneously at different intervals (Steadman, 2012).

The aptly-titled project featured wandering tones perfect for levitating aimlessly off the ground to. When it was released, reviewers panned the release. But with time it became widely-heralded as groundbreaking by critics and fans alike.

For Eno, it made sense to let go and let music happen.

“Generative music is like trying to create a seed, as opposed to classical composition which is like trying to engineer a tree.”

— Brian Eno

While the interest in generative music seemed to die down in the early 2000’s, it started to gain momentum again in 2020 — coincidentally with the growing interest of cryptocurrencies and the birth of NFTs.

Generative Music of Today — Turning Method into Audiovisual Art

Currently, the music NFT market is in its early stages. One thing we know for sure is that music NFTs are a new way for artists to earn a living from their craft in substantial ways.

However, one of the overarching issues of music NFTs is rarity. How can we introduce rarity into a collection of music NFTs? Generative music is one way to do that because every piece is completely unique.

There’s also a fine balance between the quality of the music and the price. Music NFT platforms often have to compromise one for the other. Generative music NFTs lower the barrier to entry for investing in music NFTs and, in many ways, answer the rarity issue.

Generative music NFTs allow an artist to create multiple unique NFTs based on variations of an original track. This allows the NFTs to retain a similar uniqueness to a typical 1/1 sale but can lower the price point to make them a more accessible purchase. Generative music NFTs, unlike regular music NFTs, help create experiences that are equal parts experimental and accessible to a community — two attributes that are attractive for any NFT project.

We already know that visual traits and rarities dominate the conversation around NFTs, especially profile picture NFTs. Now, songs can also have their own set of ‘traits’.

Coincidentally, producers of today’s most popular music create these traits all the time. Whether it’s hip hop, pop, or electronic; artists in these genres create layers (drums, bass lines, vocals, etc) and loops that can be randomized into any arrangement. It sounds chaotic, but when these traits are created within the same key and beats-per-minute, the combination of traits starts to feel like a real song.

Generative Music NFTs: Human vs. AI

There are two different ways that generative music NFTs can be created. On one end there’s fully automated music composed by AI that is outputted by specific rules. This can create music NFTs at scale — but can risk outputting music that is not audibly pleasing and lacks the creativity of an artist’s involvement.

On the other end, artists can be heavily involved in the creation of generative music NFTs. Although slightly harder to scale, the quality of the NFTs usually comes out better, and it has the artist’s touch in every output. Music is such a large part of human connection and bringing people together — it’s no surprise that people are speculating that this type of music NFT will be the one to retain value long-term.

SoundMint’s BACK IN TIME project is an example of generative music done right — with heavy involvement with our audio and visual artists in every stem. Hit play on any one of the unique pieces from the collection and they sound distinct from the last while maintaining a high standard of music.

SoundMint’s music NFTs have a soul — they are curated pieces of audiovisual art that capture the spirit of the original work but maintain individual traits that make them all unique. Another great example is the Oksami and Seerlight-led Secret Garden project which allowed enthusiasts to create their own mix through an interactive music player. Never has there been a time when artists have been able to define how their audience gets involved, blurring the lines between appreciation and collaboration.

The next big thing after generative art?

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because we saw a similar trend in generative art NFTs during 2021.

Some generative artwork sold for several million dollars, and continues to fetch huge prices. Artwork like Fidenzas, Autoglyphs, and Ringers are now considered among the most important works of modern art.

And not just in the crypto world. Many have sold at auction houses like Christie's and Sotheby’s.

Like generative music, the artist creates an algorithm and sets a few parameters. But the output is completely random and unique.

And similar to music, this can create beautiful and stunning pieces of art.

We think it’s possible to trigger a similar cultural breakthrough for generative music.

The Future

There are still roadblocks that stand in the way of the generative music wave. It takes a team and not every artist has access to developers who can help them set up their drop.

Most music NFT platforms have opted for a more curated model because they lack the resources to accommodate every artist looking to participate. On top of that, what if the majority of music fans aren’t crypto-native or feel priced out of hyped projects from artists they want to support?

The NFT space is still a work in progress. As the world adopts web3, more resources will be available to make generative music more available to creators and their followers. The technology will evolve and so will the ways to create.

Keep up with SoundMint’s approach to generative music NFTs at www.soundmint.xyz

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