Why we’re minting Endlesss Rifffs as clean NFTs on a livestream

On Thursday, April 15th, 2021, Endlesss will livestream a collaborative jam session and mint the highlight moments as clean NFTs in real-time — one of the first events of its kind — and I want to share why we’re doing it.

Before I get into the why, here’s the when and where: Starting at 8 PM BST on Thursday, l’ll improvise live with musician and technologist 1x1 — the alias of guitarist Stevie J Jones, who’s performed with the likes of Brian Eno, Air, Florence + the Machine and more — on the Endlesss Twitch and Mixcloud. Once the hour-long jam ends, we’ll review all of the Rifffs created during the performance and select three highlights each, which will be immediately minted as NFTs and available on the Hic et Nunc digital marketplace.

The event is powered by Endlesss’s unique technology for real-time collaboration, which allows musicians to play together live from anywhere in the world while maintaining a complete browsable history of their collaboration, separated into individual Rifffs — our short-form musical equivalent to the tweet, Vine or TikTok video. Rifffs are an innovative format invented by Endlesss that encapsulate the magic moments from a live jam — a unit of creative expression perfect for capturing spontaneous highlights of collaborative creativity.

The entire process — from the first notes of the performance to the Rifffs being selected and minted as NFTs — is livestreamed to embrace transparency and provide inspiration to artists, who are more curious than ever to explore possibilities for reclaiming agency over their creative output both within and beyond the NFT ecosystem.

If you’re involved in music — or any sort of online creator culture — those three letters have almost surely popped up on your timeline over the past few weeks. There have been multi-million-dollar auctions, controversies about their environmental impact and concerns about what you really own when you buy an NFT.

I’ve been watching the world of NFTs since autumn 2020, enthralled by the evangelists and skeptics duking it out on Twitter and Clubhouse and the future potential of a technology that is nascent but advancing at a dizzying pace. There are plenty of viewpoints about how and why this all happened, why NFTs are the future of the music industry, or why they should be banished from the face of the earth.

Music as we know it has an enormous over-supply problem. There’s a huge appetite for musical creativity, but simply not enough ears to go around. Most creator tools focus on simplifying the journey from ideation to getting your song on streaming service playlists, but at Endlesss we believe this is the wrong problem to solve. That just makes it easier for musicians to create and upload ever more music that will never get heard. This doesn’t help musicians achieve their goals, or help listeners find music they like. In 2021, 14 million people will make a song, and 22 million new songs will be uploaded to Spotify. Taking a track all the way from ideation and arrangement through mixing, mastering, distribution, promotion and playlist marketing is painstaking and takes days, if not weeks or months. After all of that effort, many of those tracks won’t be played at all, and only about 55,000 artists will earn enough revenue from Spotify to survive.

The most enjoyable part of musical creativity is getting lost in an unhindered flow, following your instincts in search of those peak moments where everything comes together. We’ve streamed numerous events on the Endlesss Twitch channel as part of this attempt to reframe the spectacle of live collaborative music creation, and these experiences are thrilling for both creators and their audience, the musical equivalent of a sports match where the outcome is unknown. The magic of witnessing and taking part in those peak moments of a jam when everything comes together is unique to that moment, deeply human and irreplaceable.

Until now, that magic has mostly been ephemeral. There’s no reliable way to collect mementos of those moments. This Thursday, April 15th, we take our first experimental step towards changing that. I will jam live on Endlesss with musician and technologist 1x1 for an hour, livestreamed on Mixcloud and Twitch, and at the end we will pick our three favourite Rifffs — the peak moments from the jam — to mint and sell as NFTs on digital marketplace Hic et Nunc.

Hic et Nunc is the first widely-adopted NFT site using the Tezos network instead of Ethereum. Tezos uses Proof of Stake technology, as opposed to Ethereum’s Proof of Work, which means it uses a fraction of the energy required by Ethereum. Aside from the huge reduction in environmental impact, this also means that prices are more affordable for creators and collectors alike. Minting an NFT on Ethereum costs up to $150, and other network fees mean the lowest economical price to offer an NFT on Ethereum is over $200. This is way out of the price range of most music lovers. On Tezos, minting costs just a few cents since the network fees are so low, and in many cases NFTs are changing hands for less than $10.

Over the weekend of April 9th I stepped out and minted my first NFT. I put up 100 editions of one of the latest Endlesss Rifffs from my solo jam for free on Hic et Nunc, and was amazed to see them snapped up within an hour, with many already listed for sale on the secondary marketplace.

On an emotional level, I learned a ton about how it feels to mint a digital work and to have it collected by an enthusiastic community. It’s a new outlook on the world which I can’t quite describe. But after 20 years of feeling the things I and other people created had no intrinsic value, it feels like the economics around creativity now more accurately reflect the way I relate to it. As I move away from the experiences in my past, my memory forgets pretty much everything apart from a few key events, which become almost infinitely symbolic to me. They become part of my identity, keystones in the stories I tell about myself, navigational waypoints which help me relate to others around me through our shared culture.

I want the rest of the Endlesss community of creators to share in that feeling. I hope you’ll join us on this journey.

What do I own when I own an NFT?

There have been legitimate concerns about the clarity of the legal rights transferred when you purchase your NFT and the extent of the immutability of the media asset itself. The legal framework around ownership of a digital token which references a piece of media — a concept which is a little over 5 years old — has not yet caught up with the legal framework around physical ownership — a concept which is as old as legal frameworks themselves. The ‘immutability’ of the digital asset depends on the technical implementation of the platform. Most platforms including hicetnunc.xyz use a service called IPFS, a decentralised storage platform that is much more resilient that for example a corporation storing media on Amazon AWS servers. There are newer technologies such as ARweave which offer a similar service to IPFS with a different financial model more suited for ensuring the permanent existence and discoverability of the asset.

For this first event, we are relying on the legal and technical framework provided by hicetnunc.xyz. If this initiative proves successful, we will begin to move towards creating our own technical and legal framework for creating, storing and transferring rights for NFTs. In layman’s terms, we think of the model of ownership of NFTs as akin to ownership of physical media eg a 12” vinyl. When you buy a vinyl record, there is a complex legal framework that describes very clearly what you can and cannot do with the physical item and the media stored on it which can be played back. As the owner of a record, you’re entitled to play it back in various contexts and to do anything you want with the physical media — sell it, destroy it, display it, grind it up and sprinkle it on your pasta if you wish. But you don’t have any rights to alter, copy or broadcast the music.

In the long-run the successful adoption of NFTs will depend on the quality of the product — the media itself, how that media can be accessed, displayed, played or consumed and how technically durable the format is. Just like physical media. At the very core of the NFT is the token containing the metadata which references the media. This technology is considerably more robust than the physical media we used to collect and in some cases trade, which I believe is why we are already seeing such a buoyant NFT market. The next frontier is to develop the technology around it.

Our pledge at Endlesss is that as our platform and technology progresses, we will honour the spirit of our intent behind what we’re offering as NFTs on hicetnunc.xyz and any other platforms we might use. If at some point in the future we create our own NFT infrastructure, we will make all reasonable efforts to re-issue NFTs on this new infrastructure to the holders of any Endlesss-derived NFTs from other platforms.

To find out more about Endlesss, head to https://endlesss.fm/

Additional Reading
Memo Akten — The Unreasonable Ecological Cost of #CryptoArt (Part One)
Duncan Geere — The Environmental Cost of CryptoArt
Shawn Reynaldo / First Floor — Unpacking Crypto Cooties with Jacques Greene
Anil Dash / The Atlantic — NFTs Weren’t Supposed to End Like This
Ashleigh Kane / The Face — Why Should We Care About NFTs?
Ray Philp / Pioneer DJ — How Will NFTs Reshape Dance Music?
Dominik Schiener / TechCrunch — NFTs are Part of a Larger Economic Development in Finance Capital
Declan McGynn / DJ Mag — What Are NFTs and Why Should Electronic Music Care?
Hiroko Tabuchi / The New York Times — NFTs Are Shaking Up the Art World. They May Be Warming the Planet, Too

Musician and music technologist, founder of endlesss.fm, lover of the moment, timexile.com