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The music industry just got a little more connected thanks to Grammy-winning producer Ramon “Illmind” Ibanga Jr., who launched his own NFT collection called “Squad of Knights,” which is focused on mentoring and connecting upcoming musicians.
Illmind has produced music for some of the rap and hip-hop world’s biggest names, like Ye, Drake, Beyonce, 50 Cent, and Kendrick Lamar. Despite his success, the producer remains incredibly grounded and sees NFTs as a way to make the music industry a better place for all artists.
In an interview with Decrypt at NFTLA, Illmind shared the story of how he first got into NFTs—unique blockchain tokens that signify ownership of a digital asset—back in the fall of 2020.
“Being a music producer, everything we do is digital … right now, we’re going through this issue of copyright infringement, DMCAs, ownership of certain sound packs,” he said. “So when I heard about NFTs, and hearing that it was sort of like this way to provide authenticity for a digital file, I was immediately curious … and then I decided to release an NFT of a sample pack—of an audio pack—which is basically a collection of 10 original melodies.”
That NFT sample pack sold in February 2021 for 4.5 Ethereum (about $15,700 at time of publication).
“It was insane because sound packs go for like 30 bucks,” Illmind said of his first NFT sale.
Now, his collection of 8,888 Ethereum NFTs called “Knights” are designed to be membership passes to an upcoming community of collaborators. Illmind wants to build a community where singers and sound engineers can easily find each other and collaborate. The producer said he won't be profiting from the music created through the collection, emphasizing that anything artists make through the community is 100% theirs.
“We’re going to throw them in a pot and see what happens,” Illmind said.
In exchange for completing collaboration challenges, Knight NFT holders will earn the $KNIGHT token, a social token of sorts that can be redeemed for different rewards like recording studio access or other benefits. The token was developed by Moonwalk, a Web3 creator platform.
Illmind also shared that because Jonathan Master, senior vice president of A&R and marketing for RCA Records at Sony Music, is involved in the project, there’s the potential for holders to get connected with the traditional record label system. Through his industry connections, Illmind’s open to providing NFT holders with access to the very system other NFT music industry shakers like 3lau are trying to get away from.
While Illmind likes Web3 music platforms like Sound.xyz, MintSongs, and Royal, he’s not sure how mainstream they’ll become. He called Royal “awesome,” but also shared his reservations about royalty-based Web3 projects.
“I don’t know how mainstream adoptable it is, because your average fan might not really give a shit about owning royalties,” he said. “Like, they just want to go see you at the show and hear your new album … it’s gonna take time, and I don’t think it’s just going to be like one system that creates a new standard.”
In his view, it’s artists—not fans—who see the need to overhaul the music industry.
“Music is so accessible,” he said. “We have to figure out a way for NFT music to solve a problem that fans are experiencing and right now, they’re not really experiencing many problems. … I think musicians have to think about what more can they provide to their fanbase to justify, you know, a 10 ETH purchase on an exclusive song.”
As far as the big labels, Illmind wants the system to change, but he doesn’t see them disappearing anytime soon.
“It can’t be a war … that’s not sustainable,” he said of the battle between Web3 artists and labels.
“We need to either obliterate the system and create a new one, or figure out a way for them to coexist, and I think that’s going to take a few years,” he said, adding with a laugh, “I would personally want to obliterate them, honestly … just kidding.”