The music industry may be struggling through the pandemic, but Max Shand, founder of Serenade, a performance and NFT platform for musicians, believes the creator economy has created a blueprint for artists.
Serenade is a platform that gives fans access to bands and artists from across Australia, the US and the UK, through exclusive one-off performances, along with NFTs (non-fungible tokens) in the form of artwork, animations and other personalised digital collectibles.
The company enables musicians to sell digital products, which Shand argues isn’t all that far removed from selling physical products at a gig. It offers personalised video performances and NFTs that can be anything from a song, to cover art, to a handwritten note.
“It was only really a matter of time before ownership could exist online as well,” he told Business Insider Australia. What the business offers, he said, is simply a way for fans to “stake ownership in a digital world”.
Serenade was founded in 2020 amid the pandemic. But Shand says he has been invested in innovating within the music industry for much longer.
Shand joined Australian buy now, pay later company Afterpay as its first employee while he was studying at uni, before working in management consulting and eventually founding a venture capital firm named Strange Love.
At the same time, he reached out to lend his services to Sydney public radio station FBi, where he joined the finance committee and eventually became a member of the board.
He wanted to be more than “just a fan going to a lot of gigs”, he said.
Through networks in the music industry, he was gradually developing a thesis around how artists could better integrate themselves into the growing creator community.
There, individuals increasingly use multiple monetised platforms and income streams to independently manage a business built around their identity as a brand.
“It got me thinking about the relationship between artists and fans, and the different business models in the industry, and how difficult it can be for artists to build a career out of their art,” Shand said.
He wanted to help musicians create “things” that fans would be willing to pay enough for that they would be adequately compensated.
The first iteration of Serenade in April 2020 offered personalised music performances, similar to US-based platform Cameo, that lets fans request birthday messages and shout-outs from celebrities that have signed onto the app.
The next phase, an NFT platform, enables the same concept with digital goods that Shand says create even more value for artists, with musicians able to be compensated “time and time again” whenever that object is traded between people.
“I want to give as much creative licence and authority back to that original creator,” Shand said.
To get to this point, the business has spent months building relationships and an international platform with artists across Australia, the UK and US, including Super Furry Animals, Kaiser Chiefs, Ladyhawke and more.
It’s also acquired venture capital support from a fund based in Australia, along with music industry investors in all three countries.
But Shand is quick to note that the business model puts the success of artists, who are, in a way, its clients, at the centre.
When an artist creates a collection of NFTs for fans, they receive 85% of the revenue from that release, with Serenade netting 15%.
Similarly, when a fan sells the work to someone else, they take 80% of the profit, the company takes 5% and the artist receives 15% of that sale.
Companies that treat creators as consumers
As the creator economy becomes more legitimised, more companies are springing up to service it.
It’s just like services in any other industry, including examples like Lumanu, a US influencer marketing software startup that helps creators manage brand partnership projects.
Agencies are also going beyond traditional PR efforts.
Powerspike, an influencer-marketing agency and tech platform, works exclusively with gamers, primarily on Twitch, to connect them with brands and execute campaigns.
Shand sees Serenade as part of this new raft of business-to-business platforms. He considers artists to be both independent businesses and members of the creator class.
“I think musicians are content creators,” he said.
“They write songs and that’s their content. And, I think, finding ways to package up what they create with integrity in a way that fairly compensates them is the future of the industry.”
Hype around NFTs – digital objects that are sold to buyers through a blockchain-enabled proof of sale – peaked with the record-breaking $US70 million sale of digital artist Beeple’s NFT-based artwork at international art auction house Christie’s in March.
And while the news cycle has largely moved on, the NFT market has continued as creators across industries experimented with how they can be used.
Shand thinks NFTs, which are increasingly providing a new model for ownership in a digital era, are a solution for musicians in the shift from ownership (like records and CDs) to accessibility through streaming.
“The really exciting thing with NFTs is that you can actually attribute ownership to a digital good,” he said.
“In the past, it was enough to put out albums and to tour. Now, putting out albums doesn’t make that much money. Touring isn’t always feasible. And so things which fit within the broad category of merchandise are becoming really, really appealing.”
The platform also makes this easier for the average fan by creating a digital crypto wallet for buyers so they can use a credit card.
Shand said he sees the products on the site as the next iteration of merch connected to an artist’s brand, whether that’s an indie band’s T-shirt or Kanye’s Yeezys.
“It’s all about thinking of new innovative ways to capitalise on both your music and your art, but also your established brand name and people who love you, for the sake of you beyond everything that you create.”
In comparison to subscription platforms like Patreon, which require artists to develop a certain amount of content for superfans who pay a monthly subscription, Shand argues Serenade aligns itself better with the way musicians tend to produce, which is to periodically work on and release songs and albums.
“The thought of rolling out periodical content, like you are an influencer” can be overwhelming, he said.
Personalised content and particularly NFTs enable artists to continue offering interesting, unique content to fans.
“But in a way which is much more aligned to the objectives of an artist, which is I want to give really meaningful special things when they come to me, not controlled by the monthly cycle of Patreon.”
He also thinks fears the NFT bubble will burst are overblown, arguing that, like any new technology, it will shift and change as producers and consumers experiment in the space, “however, it will exist as much as ownership has always been a compelling driver for behaviour”.
Soon NFTs will be an ingrained part of the digital product landscape, Shand said.
Serenade is not “paving some new crazy world,” he said. “We’re actually looking back to the past and finding a way to apply that same collector mentality in a new format.”
‘Artists are taking control over their destinies’
As broader institutions continue to fail creatives, Shand sees his, and other companies, stepping in with tools that empower artists to monetise creativity.
“I think artists are taking control over their destinies more,” he said.
“All of these tools, both in terms of the creation of content, but then also the monetisation of that content, allow artists to present themselves honestly and authentically to their fans… and to have those fans fund their careers.
“It’s a tightening of the relationship between an artist and a fan.
“And I think that all the good creator economy platforms are achieving that.”