It sounds like a dream: songwriters and musicians get paid to create tracks before any work is done, stripped of the greed of lawyers, managers and parasites.
But a new project has proven it’s possible to shake up the standards of music-making, by rethinking how songwriting camps work and how those behind the music get paid for their work.
Over the past month, a 50-piece “headless band” has become one of Web3’s biggest hits. The project, called Camp Chaos, brought together songwriters – along with 30 other designers, storytellers, engineers and agents – from around the world and grouped them into three-piece teams over the course of eight weeks to write and produce a song each. . After two weeks, these groups were separated and their members reunited again for another songwriting collaboration. This played out three times, until 45 songs were written and recorded, then released as NFTs.
The various headless groups gathered in Camp Chaos wrote their songs, the story being told through Radio Chaos, a multi-part podcast, with episodes streaming quarterly on Spotify. The songs were released on June 3 as 21,000 unique artworks sold through NFT, with each of the 45 songs receiving specialist artwork and up for sale, giving the creators money back in addition to their UBI . While creators’ shared shares fluctuate based on the perceived value that each artist has contributed to the project, as defined in a blog post, the Camp Chaos founders say that each participating artist receives on average about 0.8% of all sales revenue.
Since dropping on June 3, Camp Chaos has become one of the biggest music NFT projects of the month: 2,334 NFTs were sold at 0.2 ETH ($238 at current conversion rates) each for 446.8 ETH ( $532,750) in primary sales, plus an additional 7.3 ETH ($8,260) in secondary sales since then, as of Wednesday, June 29. For their initial time on the project, artists received a Universal Basic Income (UBI) of just under $1,000 each, paid at the start of camp. Project members are in discussions to release the tracks on digital streaming platforms, with a working group created to determine how the revenue would be split. The group is also considering a synchronization license. For holders of “Supercharged NFTs” who give a percentage of shared rights, the shared revenue will be earned on a stand-alone basis as long as the Chaos NFTs are traded and sold in both the primary and secondary markets.
Songcamp, the collective of artists behind the Camp Chaos project, was launched in March 2021, a brainchild of a Montreal musician who crosses genres Matthew Chaim, whose music is influenced by Bon Iver, Coldplay and Tame Impala. Chaim had recently returned to his hometown of Montreal from a stint in Los Angeles and was generally dissatisfied with his experiences at traditional songwriting camps.
At the same time, Chaim became interested in Web3, a vision of a new, decentralized version of the Internet, where power is wrested from the monopolies of big business and put in the hands of the people. He also started learning about non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which are entries in the blockchain, a public database that underpins much of Web3, and are often sold with artwork. “I basically wanted to tie it to what I was doing,” he says. “How does this meet the culture and stuff like that?”
On March 26, 2021, Chaim smoked a bowl and then launched a server on the Discord chat app as “a place where music and the new internet collide,” he says. The idea was explicitly to throw stuff against the wall and see what stuck. The first experiment was a digital songwriting called Camp Genesis, where nine musicians, two visual artists, and two project managers created three songs with associated artwork that were sold as NFT music for a total of 10 ETH (11 $316 at today’s price, since the cryptocurrency fell earlier this month – but $33,000 back then). A later follow-up, Camp Elektra, did something similar in the summer of 2021.
3 weeks ago 13 strangers came together on the internet to make art
today the value of this art has been realized – at a total of 10 ETH (equivalent today to 33,000 USD)
of those 10 ETH, 100% went to the people involved. immediately.
I’m going to go to sleep. 😴
— Matthew Chaos (@matthewchaim) May 5, 2021
The idea was exciting, says Chaim, because of the way it followed traditions while shaking them up. “[Traditional] Songwriting camps are so exciting because you fall into conversation with all of these amazing, creative people and create all of this amazing art that becomes an artifact of this moment in time that you just created,” says- he. “But then it gets lodged and stuck, and doesn’t go through what we call the music industry.”
This frustration rang with Marc Redito, a California-based Filipino musician, who attended Camp Genesis. Previously, he had participated in physical songwriting camps where as many as 36 songs had been produced in collaboration with others, only two of which were released commercially, and even then, years after the fact. “There’s already this feeling that musicians and artists feel undervalued in today’s music landscape,” he says. “I was just fascinated by how things are explored in the Web3 space.”
Camp Chaos promised to do something similar to the previous two camps, but on a larger scale. If the previous two camps had succeeded in proving that the concept could work in theory, the third attempt would test the utopian rhetoric of Web3, revising the usual power imbalances of music creation with a decentralized approach.
When the New York-based producer pozibelle joined the project, she says she didn’t know what to expect. She was first paired with a musician in Bangalore, India, and a singer in Ohio. The global nature of the band allowed them to work around the clock to produce their track – before being thrown into a new band to start all over again. “Everyone I worked with was all in, like, ‘Let’s go, let’s create something to our greatest capacity,’ which was really refreshing,” says Pozibelle. “Sometimes when you get into collaborations it can be fragmented.” But time pressure – and the newness of the project – meant that people worked intensively and collaboratively.
This pace of work was a boost for Redito, given his previous frustrations with the ice-cold pace of the mainstream music industry. “I’ve been in long threads with 100,000 people on them, mostly people in the industry fighting over percentage points,” he says. “Nothing ever comes out the other side.” This was an opportunity to avoid that, given that all the participants had already agreed on a decentralized way to share the profits, if they came, and would just release music. (In an email from late June, Redito admits that “when the value of ETH went down, our revenue went down as well,” but adds that “at the community level, members are more excited than ever about idea to continue to develop the project and look for creative ways to share the story further.) “One of the things that intrigued me about Web3 is that I saw that there was immediate value for the artist,” says Pozibelle. The UBI was significant, she says, as a way “to be immediately valued and not have to wait for your streams to arrive or a check royalties”.
Next, Chaim says Songcamp is going through a “quiet period of reflection” to reflect on the Camp Chaos project and build on the successes – and failures – for the next project. They are also considering an artists’ retreat for alumni and tentative plans for another camp in the fall.
“What really excites me is that I feel like an early adopter of this space,” says the Ontario-based musician Michael Onabolu. He points out that music has long embraced new technologies as a means of creating music and distributing it to the public, from physical stores, via Napster, iTunes and Spotify. He says, “I really see Web3 and NFTs and what’s being created with these different methods of connecting with our audience as a natural evolution.”