Photo Credit: The Milla
July 31, 2022
Set-backs, self-acceptance & Music NFTs. A message from Zack Gray.
Firstly, I want to thank Jacob Lee for asking me to write this piece for Lowly Labs. I haven’t been in the NFT space for that long and have only released two drops to my name, so it means a lot that he still wanted my perspective. I will do my best to explain how I see Music NFTs fitting in with what I’ve already seen, as well as what I envision for my projects in the future.
Photo Credit: The Milla
I, alongside many others, got into crypto in 2017 with the encouragement of a close family friend. The stories of “magical money-making with minimal investment” seemed like a no-brainer, but by the end of the year, we all know how that panned out.
I was in a relationship doomed to fail.
I was just dropped by my label, and I crashed my car looking down at some Discord server about whatever crypto coin I was into at the time. Luckily I wasn’t injured, however the collision happened while driving for Uber, which was the only income I had at the time. To put it lightly, let's just say I was at a very low point.
Somehow, despite all the negatives. The moment I crashed my car I thought, “I don’t know how, but this is a good thing”. As crazy as that sounds, I genuinely meant it. I had faith in God, and even though things looked bad, I knew there was a silver lining. It was from that moment I built everything I have now.
I tell this story because it's so important to remember that when things seem like they couldn’t be worse, you always have a choice. You can decide to let this so-called, terrible thing ruin you, or you can ask yourself, “what can I learn from this?”. Even though there was no tangible solution in sight, I affirmed that what happened was ultimately for a purpose.
I believe the most successful people have a habit of thinking and responding this way. It's this mentality which keeps me pursuing music. I know deep in my heart that music is my calling, and without the difficulties I've faced in life, I don’t believe I would have anything meaningful to write about. So regardless of any trial I experience in my life, I feel it's my duty to keep creating.
Photo Credit: The Milla
They say that your talent is a gift from God. But what you do with it is your gift back to Him”.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “How does this have anything to do with Music NFTs?”. Well it does, and it doesn't. I mentioned these stories so you gain a general idea of who I am as a person. As well as to show you the beginning of where I started with crypto/NFTs.
After 2017, I completely gave up on crypto. I cut my losses and moved on with my life. From that point, I built my music up to where I had real streams, a local fan base, and got booked to play the Las Vegas Festival, Life is Beautiful, in September 2019.
That month I also released my debut album, Imperfect Love, and once that was distributed, I played some more great shows and was looking forward to 2020. Just like many others, I said, “This is gonna be my year!”.
Well... It was for a while, and then we all know what happened in March.
Up until covid, I had been working a job as a server. Then, with a new management team in the EDM space to fuel the top-lines, I quit my job to pursue music full-time. Funnily enough, I broke my arm skateboarding that same day, but miraculously was still able to get unemployment. Thank God, right?
While healing, making music with one arm, and temporarily receiving monthly government income, I started looking into stocks and crypto again. With the advice from the same close-friend back in 2017, and some great moves made by my own research, I turned approximately $4,000 into $30,000!
I'd love to tell you there was a happy ending to this story, but again, like so many others, I let greed and emotion get the best of me. I was thinking, “It's going to reach $50K, & then $100K. HODL.” Right?! I mean “Diamond Hands, baby!!!”.
But long story short, I rode that investment down to about $6,000 - $4,000 again. Never selling when I wish I would have. But hey, again - what could I learn from this?
In October of 2021, with the remains of what I had left, I met a fellow DJ who informed me he had a crypto/stock consultation business. He sold me on the idea that if I paid him $2,200 (of the crypto I had left), I could make $100K in a year with his advice and strategy. Sounded awesome. I gave him that $2,200, and the first project he had me invest in was a complete rug pull. I was now down another $1,500-ish. I decided to put the rest of my money into other projects, but was very discouraged.
Throughout the next few months I tried everything I could to strike a deal to get my money back from this guy. Even though it wasn't his intention, it felt like I got seriously scammed. Thankfully, eventually, he paid me back.
Even though I was so discouraged from these experiences, they inspired me to learn about the space more independently, and pushed me to discover the incredible community of Music NFTs.
One day sitting bored in my kitchen, I discovered that Twitter had added a new feature called Spaces.
I was familiar with Clubhouse, so I understood the concept. Fortunately, the first Twitter Space I entered was 3LAU talking about Music NFTs and his company, Royal. From that point, I was instantly hooked.
Over the next few weeks, I would spend a lot of time in Spaces listening, learning, and connecting with other musicians and collectors. Nifty Sax was one of the first individuals I found who was extremely knowledgeable about Music NFTs. I frequented his space along with 3LAU’s and also Commander Crypto’s. I often tried to engage, ask questions, or perform/share my music. Between these Spaces and a couple of others including OnChainTV, is where I discovered Jacob Lee (Lowly), Violetta Zironi, Josh Savage, Fifi Rong, Scott Foo, & Dyl, along with a bunch of other great musicians and creatives. I soon connected with Nifty Sax, and we agreed to do some drops together as a part of his new Nifty Music App.
With some work and a couple of trades, I managed to sell my first two drops out, and I got a real taste of how to market an NFT collection. After that, the plan was, and still is, to do a bigger drop with Nifty Music. I’ve personally been experiencing a big transition in my life and music career, but I do still plan to develop more drops within the NFT space. I’m just biding my time until I figure out what that looks like.
While working with Nifty Sax, I watched very closely what Violetta Zironi was doing. Another musician on the Nifty Music Team. I knew she had a couple of smaller drops and was working up to a bigger one. Now, as those in the NFT space know, was Moonshot, which completely sold-out and has been super successful. I'm super proud of her and the work she has put into that project.
Violetta Zironi. Source: Italia Music Export
As we’ve all talked about in Spaces, the music industry is a tough place.
Unless you manage to write a viral hit, have a loyal fanbase, record covers, create music for licensing, or gig all the time, it’s almost impossible to make a living as an artist without a 'regular job'. The fact that most labels take 50-70% of our streaming revenue, management another 20%, and collabs / co-writes splitting another 50% of whatever remains, is nothing short of demoralizing. The ROI of an independent artist is generally non-existent.
So, in saying that, with Violetta having experienced the same struggles as myself in the industry, I will use her as my primary reference for the positives of Music NFTs.
Whether you’re trying to sell your music in Web2 or Web3, it goes without saying that your songs need to be both quality and authentic. From there, as long as you’re a genuine person with a real story and message, you’ll most likely see some form of success. Within Web3 specifically, the primary tactic I've seen make a real impact in terms of success is being present and consistent. I have seen Violetta Zironi hosting Spaces almost every day for the past 6+ months.
Zack Gray with Andy Kautz
As I think about selling a large collection of my own, I can honestly say it’s quite daunting to see how much I would need to be in Twitter Spaces. Every. Single. Day. However, if you’re willing to put in the time and work, it can really pay off. Even before Violetta sold out (when ETH was still around $3K) it equated to more than $200,000+. Which is an insane amount of money for an independent artist. Sammy Arriaga is another artist who has found great success with his song, MetaGirl. As well as Nifty Sax with his Spheres collection.
As far as I’ve seen, if you can be present, support other projects/communities, and build a real community of your own, the Music NFT space could very well be a lucrative and fulfilling place for you. The audiences in Web3 are so passionate, and they’re literally looking for genuine creators to support. It’s a place where we, as artists, can sustain ourselves monetarily, and that’s exciting.
Regarding my next drops, I’ve had a lot to think about lately. Let me fill you in on where I've been at mentally, so you can see a full picture of how I see myself moving forward with music as it pertains to Web3.
Since 2020, I’ve spent most of my time singing on EDM music. I found that it was a great way to make money while everything was put on hold during covid. I thought to myself, “I’ll just do this for a while and see where it leads. At the end of the day, I’m still pushing the Zack Gray brand, even though these aren’t all Zack Gray songs.”
Along the way of singing on all these EDM songs, and with my 10+ years experience as a producer, I decided I would just come out as a DJ/producer in the EDM space in addition to being a singer. The vision was to start getting booked at shows as a DJ, and a live performer simultaneously.
In the process, I distributed my latest EP as a solo producer/DJ on Lost in Dreams, one of Insomniac’s latest Melodic Bass labels. (They also have a self-titled music festival in Las Vegas, which I am slated to perform at later this year).
For the most part, that's all been great, though in the last couple of years, I've noticed that the more I focus on EDM (primarily singing/featuring on other DJ’s music), the more I lose motivation to work on my music.
I suck at working on two things at once because I intuitively put my heart and soul into everything I do. It’s been hard to find the time or energy to work on my own music because unemployment ended for me a while ago, and singing on other DJ’s songs has been my biggest way to earn an income. To be real, I miss making music that’s not just EDM or 'music with a drop', and secondly, I’m getting tired of having to make money by doing something that's not entirely mine. With the returns I've earned on vocal fees plus the terrible splits from label royalties, it's not been overly motivating at all. It's tough when you feel like you work so hard but you’re still respectively, broke.
Photo Credit: The Milla
After EDC, I attended a convention where I listened to Gary Vee speak, alongside a ton of other amazing entrepreneurs. That same week, Jacob Lee posted a thread about how he had independently built his music up 250+ million streams. To top it off, he also sent me the Royal Space where Russ (someone who has greatly inspired him) spoke about being independent, and touched on all the shady things about the music industry. Let’s just say this culmination of events got me fired up about working on my music.
As I transition back into my own music, and contemplate how I can be more independent, it’s worthwhile knowing that the energy and money you put in will directly come back to you. I clearly see how Music NFTs will become a significant part of that business model for indie artists.
My ideas lately have been twofold. The first has been to release a NFT collection to raise funds for promotion and label services, using that revenue to build momentum for a traditional Web2 release. Secondly, I’d like to create a limited collection for after the initial drop, with additional content, remix stems, limited edition merchandise, access to show experiences and unique groups like a private channels in my Discord or website.
Music NFTs are an excellent way for fans to be involved in an artists career.
Being able to invest in an artist you love is game-changing. Giving fans a real stake in an artist, just like a stock in a company, strengthens the connection between the fan and artist. I’m currently more interested in this side than the complete integration of music in Web3.
It’s somewhat unrealistic to think that companies like Apple Music, SoundCloud, YouTube, and Spotify will just vanish. We are still a long while away from mass adoption. Yet even so, the utility, as a direct-to-consumer digital collectible with exclusive utility/stock in an artist is where I ultimately see the most value with Music NFTs.
Zack Gray with his mother on stage
To quote my friend Disco Fries, “The phrase digital collectible is the primary phrase I think we need to continue to use in onboarding people into the Web3/Music NFT space”. With that, I feel as though digital ownership, as well as collecting digital art, is not that difficult to comprehend.
I’m looking forward to growing with this already incredible group of innovators and revolutionaries. I’m grateful to be a part of the still small, but powerful Music NFT community. It sounds cliché to say, but we really are still early.
Besides being another male singer whom I happen to connect with, Jacob Lee is a peer in the space that I am highly inspired by. I’m excited to see how he continues to build Lowly Labs, along with his music.
I’m honored to be involved in his community and happy to have connected with him this year. Everything he has been doing has continued to inspire and motivate me, and I’ve appreciated his friendship during what I’ve been going through lately.
If you made it this far, I want to thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to read these words of mine. I’m excited to share all the new music I have been working on, and grow my label, 191 Collective. Alongside my Every Shade Community. I will never stop trying to make the best music I can, while simultaneously exploring how I can add value to others.
Much Love, God bless.