When British rock band Muse release their ninth studio album, Will of the People, on 26 August, the NFT (non-fungible token) edition will become the first release of its kind to qualify for the charts in the UK and Australia. It is the first new format to be added to the charts since album streams in 2015.
It will be sold via the “eco-friendly” NFT platform Serenade, which sold official Brit awards NFTs for £10 each in February.
Serenade’s founder, Max Shand, describes the Muse release as “the black T-shirt of NFTs”, a utilitarian digital format that is straightforward to buy. “What a fan wants is something simple and understandable but that gives them a sense of proximity to an artist and a sense of recognition from other fans,” he says.
Unlike with many NFTs, buyers will not require a crypto wallet. After the purchase is made on Serenade’s website, a digital wallet is created and the NFT transferred to that wallet. If users have an existing crypto wallet, such as for BitCoin or Ethereum, they can use that.
The UK’s Official Charts Company (OCC) made NFT albums eligible for the charts several months ago but this is the first release where the vendor, in this case Serenade, is approved as a chart-return digital retailer.
“There has been loads of noise about NFTs being the future of music, the future of entertainment, the future of ownership,” says Martin Talbot, chief executive of the OCC. “It’s great this is becoming a reality.”
He says the Muse release did not force an update of the OCC’s chart-eligibility rules, it will be the first that meets the entry criteria.
In April, UK indie rock band the Amazons released a digital box set NFT, limited to 100 copies, that came with pre-orders of their How Will I Know if Heaven Will Find Me? album, due in September. That was sold as part of a bundle rather than as a standalone release.
Serenade had been in discussions with Warner Records, home to Muse, about releasing an NFT album for several months. Muse, who had worked with the blockchain platform CryptoKitties in 2020 to create digital collectables, were deemed the obvious first choice.
“The band have always been at the forefront of technological innovation in their creativity and artistry,” says Sebastian Simone, vice president of audience and strategy at Warner Records in the UK.
The Muse NFT album will retail for £20 and will be limited to 1,000 copies globally. As both an NFT and a limited-edition format, it is relatively sparse in its offering. Buyers will get a downloadable version of the album – complete with different sleeve – as high-res FLAC files; the members of Muse will digitally sign it and each of the 1,000 buyers will have their names permanently listed on the linked roster of purchasers.
“We wanted to keep it more about the product than about the ancillary experience,” says Simone.
With the number of copies limited – and not all of them to be purchased in the UK – the release will not significantly skew the anticipated chart performance of Will of the People.
“If you want to make an impact on the chart, there are definitely ways to do that,” states Simone about the potential for NFTs to dramatically inflate first-week sales. “With Muse it’s actually not essential as they are [already] on tens of thousands of pre-orders. We anticipate the No 1 spot to be very clear that week.”
As with other NFTs, the original buyer can resell it, and 15% of the resale price will revert back to the band and the rights owners – Warner Music for the sound recording rights and Universal Music Publishing for the composition rights.
The OCC confirmed that resales of the album will not count as a “new” sale.
“There are absolutely no plans to change the fundamental principles [of the charts] where we count the sale of something when it is brand new and you first buy it,” says Talbot. “We don’t count the sales to the second buyer.”
Future releases could include extras and fan rewards that are added to the album as the campaign around it evolves. The OCC will ensure the extras on release are not so bloated as to fall foul of the chart rules. “What you’re always looking for is something of such high value or such desirability that it overshadows the music itself and people aren’t buying it for the music, they’re buying it for the [added extras],” says Talbot.
On the matter of whether this could all collapse into gimmickry, Simone says Warner is already planning similar releases for other acts. “It will become more widely adopted,” he says. “This is going to be the beginning of the door opening.”