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The rise of hip-hop and the metaverse
It’s been two years since Travis Scott’s Fortnite show attracted 28 million viewers and sparked a wave of interest in the metaverse. It was a turning point that, I’ll admit, I was way too bullish regarding the future of live entertainment. In-person concerts aren’t going anywhere, go check Live Nation’s stock price!
It will be tough to replicate Astronomical’s impact in a post-quarantine world, but it still inspired an industry to create their own experiences. Every week, there’s a new project announced — from The Notorious B.I.G. to Snoop Dogg, from Bun B to French Montana. But there are a lot of lessons learned from the past two years, and plenty of gaps that can still be filled.
Finding that sweet spot
For every massive event like Travis Scott- Fortnite and Lil’ Nas X – Roblox, there were several others that didn’t match the impact despite the stars attached:
– The Weeknd Experience with TikTok: August 2020 – 2 million unique viewers
– Ariana Grande’s RIFT Tour on Fortnite – August 2021 – no official numbers disclosed
– Young Thug’s Meta Concert – December 2021 – 140,000 views.
– Post Malone’s Pokemon concert – 800,000 views
– Justin Bieber’s Wave concert – undisclosed
Did these events fail? Tough to say. We don’t have all the data. Young Thug’s Meta concert did seem fairly low budget, so it didn’t need Fortnite-level numbers to be a success. But still, only 140,000 views? Even the trailers for new episodes of Facebook Watch’s Ball In The Family have more views than that.
For a wave of events that were largely inspired by Travis Scott, some of them likely had higher expectations. Pandemic fatigue aside, there were two other challenges:
– Smaller livestream audiences or demand on the platform: Fortnite and Roblox concerts occurred on platforms that already had audiences that actively engage in interactive events on that platform. TikTok, despite its 1 billion monthly active users, is not that. Most TikTok users mindlessly scroll through viral dance clips and memes. They’re not trying to immerse themselves in a scheduled concert.
This is also a challenge for newer virtual reality and metaverse platforms. Even if the technology is top-notch, they still have to build an audience.
– No product-market fit: Ariana Grande’s majority-female fanbase is much less likely to spend its free time on Fortnite than Travis’ fanbase (more on this later). It was a tough sell and tough timing. Her August 2021 show came out as the world was getting vaccinated and finally going outside.
These events aren’t cheap to run, especially with superstar talent. But if superstar talent alone can’t ensure a massive audience, then the metaverse may soon look like the Hollywood box office. Major companies may only spend money on IP-driven projects that are safe bets.
Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn way
The Notorious B.I.G.’s estate will soon launch “The Brook,” a gamified virtual experience that brings fans back to Biggie’s world in 1990s Brooklyn. The Universal Hip-Hop Museum also plans to bring legacy artists into the metaverse through holoportation. Both experiences sound similar to the world I laid out in my April 2020 essay Why Hip-Hop And Gaming Are Still Scratching The Surface:
“Some of the most well-known hip-hop artists have introduced listeners to characters, alter egos and newly-imagined settings. Most Lauryn Hill fans have a vivid image of the classroom in The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. They know what the students look like and can picture themselves in the classroom. Other artists like Missy Elliott created the imagery for us with outrageous music videos. A Hype Williams-inspired Metaverse would be peak Hype Williams.”
The potential is great but as sexy as starting your own metaverse sounds, it’s another piece of content fighting for attention. Creators at every level, from hobbyists to moguls, form partnerships with established companies to maximize distribution.
These standalone experiences may struggle to match Young Thug’s Meta concert numbers without the support of companies that may already reach those audiences.
The overlooked opportunities
Two of the biggest opportunities for music in the metaverse are letting artists and fans create their own worlds, and getting more women artists and fans involved.
Let’s start with the DIY world creation. If Lauryn Hill doesn’t want to create a metaverse experience of the Miseducation, that’s fine. She has plenty of fans who would love to do it themselves.
As metaverse interactivity increases, the self-made experiences will likely become easier too. In an interview with CoinDesk, Water & Music’s Cherie Hu spoke about how Minecraft allows this to happen.
But Minecraft, like many metaverse experiences, is male-dominated. There’s huge potential for women in the metaverse, but the platforms need to address their issues, and they need to build where those audiences are. Gaming itself has long had a bro-centric culture, but that has more to do with how games are made, not necessarily “gaming” itself.
There’s a Fortnite-level opportunity out there to be had, but it takes an industry ready to embrace it.
The need to be everything, everywhere, all at once
As exciting as the metaverse, NFTs, and web3 are, it heightens the desire for artists to be on every medium and platform possible. As entertainment becomes more and more fragmented, it takes more effort for artists to be everywhere, even the superstars.
That’s why Travis Scott’s 2020 Fortnite concert has become a tougher benchmark for any 2022 metaverse event. After a while, the comparisons sound like The Oscars trying to bring back the 44 million viewers who watched the award live on ABC in 2014.
The world is a different place. Those viewers aren’t coming back. But the more people that are aware of that, the better. There are still plenty of opportunities.