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There’s fantasy football (both kinds), fantasy baseball, fantasy basketball—and surely a fantasy game for just about every notable sport. But what about a fantasy game for musicians?
Currently in a private alpha, Vault’s Fantasy Music game tasks players with building a roster of five artists from the Solana-based NFT music platform, with points awarded for increases in Spotify monthly listeners. To lock in their roster, players will have to own the artists’ limited-edition NFT drops via the Vault platform.
As it stands, Vault is releasing an average of five new drops each week including its Cassette Culture 3.0 project, with most of them eligible for the Fantasy Music game. Older editions are also selling out due to the size of the drops, which typically run between 50 and 100 NFTs each.
Last week, 50 players took part in the private alpha, with $500 given away in prize money. That tally will increase as the game scales, according to Vault CEO and co-founder Nigel Eccles, who described the current setup as “very janky” to Decrypt. But he said that Vault hopes to launch a more polished beta version in the next four weeks with signups available here.
Eccles, who co-founded fantasy sports website FanDuel in 2009 and was CEO of the firm before departing in 2017, had been toying with the idea of a music-related fantasy league game for a while but couldn’t work out how to gauge popularity.
But then he started tracking the Spotify stats of artists who’d got involved with Vault, and found playlist inclusions and the impact TikTok had on their exposure really interesting. For the game, Vault is focusing on artists with less than 50,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.
“The first thing people say is, ‘I don’t know any of these artists’—and that’s the point,” said Eccles. “It lends itself to our Vaults mission, which is to celebrate emerging artists, but it’s also more fun. We don’t have Taylor Swift in the game, because she’s been discovered. Can you find the next Taylor Swift, though?”
The game uses Spotify’s data, because the streaming music platform has fast become the industry standard for measuring popularity, with numbers updated daily. Rather than total streams, Vault is interested in monthly listeners.
“One person listening to your track 100 times is great, but 100 people listening to your track is even better,” explained Eccles, with artist discovery very much the name of the game.
“Originally, I thought it would just be a marketing exercise and a bit of fun,” admitted Eccles, with the prize fund taken from Vault’s marketing budget. “But it’s already more than that,” he adds.
Along with tracking the Spotify stats of the artists, Eccles said that players are already asking for tour dates, release schedules, and the backstory for each of the bands involved. Vault wants to showcase both the raw data and the artistry behind it going forward. Some players are also taking to social media to promote their artists of choice once they’ve locked in their rosters for the week, in a bid to increase their listeners—but also because they’re invested in the music.
“In the long run, I think that exposure will probably be more valuable to the artists than the money they make from selling NFTs via Vault,” said Eccles. “Discovery is so difficult at the moment, and it’s hard for new bands to connect with an engaged fanbase because there’s so much music around. I can really see people going on a journey with this product, and the bands are taking part.”
In 2009 we did an internal alpha of a simple fantasy game. It ran on Excel and was super janky. That game became @fanduel. Today we are doing a private alpha of a new fantasy game but instead of drafting athletes, you are picking emerging artists. Sign up to the wait list below.
— Nigel Eccles (@nigeleccles) October 19, 2023
Hachi Mugen makes jazzy, lo-fi music, and has seen a steady increase in listeners since the start of October, with two Vault music drops supporting a string of singles. Mugen told Decrypt that they found Vault through Drip, a Solana-based NFT discovery service, and reached out to Vault about working together.
“One of the biggest topics on the mind of new artists is, ‘How can I get people familiar with my music and have a chance to be seen?’” they said. “It’s the most important factor in creating a path in this industry to have a career.”
They believe NFT projects like Vault can build a better relationship between the artist and listener. “Artists spend so much time on the music, the artwork, and the general sense of storytelling, but we are losing that sense of connection with songs just getting compiled on playlists,” they explained, with the Fantasy Music game already increasing their profile.
Excited to finally show you this!
— Hachi Mugen (@MugenHachi) September 1, 2023
“We’re all still trying to find innovative ways to promote our music,” they added. “The standout artists will get noticed through this opportunity and it will be a path for some to reach success.”
Tactics are already coming into play with Fantasy Music as well. Smaller artists are less likely to explode in listeners, but they’re also less likely to lose them all as well. Some players are buying up Vaults from artists they believe will go on to big things, and there’s already a lot of friendly teasing in the Vault office. In the future, Eccles hopes to introduce the ability for players to communicate with one another, while genre-specific games are also in the works.
“It’s still very much a work in progress,” said Eccles. “But we’re going to see how it develops. The way FanDuel grew was by us talking to our top players, seeing how they used the platform, and asking what they needed. It’ll be the same approach for this.”
When FanDuel was first taking off, plenty of people asked if fantasy sports games were bad for the sports industry, with worries about fans supporting their fantasy selection more than their home team. But the opposite appeared to happen—fan engagement saw a boost instead.
“People just ended up watching more games and built a deeper appreciation for the sport,” said Eccles. He believes Vault’s Fantasy Music game will have a similar impact. “It directly supports the artist at the beginning of their career, it gives fans an exclusive product, and it allows for a more direct relationship between the two,” he added.
Eccles said that Vault is being careful not to simply turn the art of music into a numbers game, staying mindful of the overall impact of such an interactive experience.
“We’ve asked the question, ‘Does this commoditize music?’ and we’ll continue to think about that as we shape the product, so that it doesn’t,” he explained. “We want to celebrate the artist and we want to help them be more successful.”
Edited by Andrew Hayward