Artists like Harry Connick Jr. are using web3 to engage with fans

Web3 has attracted people from all walks of life, from traditional finance analysts and hedge fund managers to software developers. But a fairly new group has been entering the space over the last 12 months: artists.

Whether it be big-name rappers like Snoop Dogg or small local painters trying to expand their reach, web3 is allowing creators to deepen relationships with their fans that go well beyond one-way communication and focus more on impactful engagement, Terry Leong, co-founder of OurSong, said to TechCrunch.

OurSong, an NFT-focused platform co-founded by award-winning artist John Legend, has seen that artists that use OurSong are able to bring in at least 5% of their Instagram following, Leong said. “While this might seem small at first, that 5% embodies their superfans, and in many cases these devoted fans collect more than half of the content created from any given artist,” he added.

While there are financial incentives, creators’ deep dive into web3 is more than just a new revenue stream, Leong said — it’s an opportunity to take their passion and bring it to the next form of digital content. The “next form” could relate to anything in the crypto ecosystem from NFTs to metaverse concerts or interactive artist-fan experiences.

“On the most basic level the metaverse is another way to experience your favorite artist, and while we’ve already seen examples of virtual concerts, the metaverse can also be a place where an artist can create a multiformat entertainment experience,” Michael Wagner, co-founder of Star Atlas, said to TechCrunch. “When it comes to long-term engagement, the metaverse provides artists with a lot of room to build and expand their personal brand.”

Meta‘s version of the metaverse consists mainly of virtual reality or augmented reality for friends to interact with one another, while web3’s take on the metaverse is more centered around how users will experience the internet in a digital world.

A number of artists in the space have shared a similar sentiment: They’re getting into crypto to be heard and seen in a new way.

Harry Connick Jr., a singer, pianist, and composer who has sold millions of albums worldwide, told TechCrunch that he launched his metaverse-focused startup, The Neutral Ground, last month on Discord so he could engage with fans without a “big company” directing him or his community.

“You don’t feel like there’s somebody watching over you — you can just be among the group and it gives the people in the community, myself included, a sense of freedom and power to explore and create and be on this neutral ground,” Connick said.

Compared to previous outlets that Connick has used to connect with fans, his platform is a creative collaboration where people can talk directly to him and discuss all things related to his career or a shared love for the piano.

“There’s always been a lot of gates that have separated artists from the people who admire their work, and through this new technology, it’s a really cool way to have new deeper relationships in the community,” Connick said.

For example, Connick did an interactive “Piano Party” on April 21 where guests could learn from him, upload videos of themselves playing piano, and connect with one another.

Additionally, fans who join Piano Party will get an NFT, similar to a graduate certificate, that will count as evidence of their participation and membership in the community, Connick said.

“If I had access to people that I admired growing up, imagine how that would have shaped me creatively,” Connick said. “You think about the opportunities that [fans] have now, being able to be right there and ask questions; it’s an incredibly exciting time.”

While there are opportunities for artists in the large land of web3, there’s still a learning curve and barrier to entry for some non-crypto-natives getting into the space, from downloading and using messaging applications like Discord, which has roughly 300 million users to date, to creating a non-custodial crypto wallet to connect to NFT marketplaces to buy digital collectibles. Not everything is crystal clear for fans unfamiliar with the crypto terrain. This could potentially limit the reach of these early artist efforts to connect more directly with their fans and could preclude those with less of a technological bent.

“There’s a lot I want to do that I can’t do yet,” Connick said in regard to technology that has yet to be created. “But it’s really exciting to think that in the next three, five, 10 years, all the things that have been buzzing around my head about the metaverse could exist.”

Still, on the other side of the creator spectrum, some small artists are also noticing the opportunity to dive beyond the physical world to connect with fans online through alternative mediums like NFTs.

Alex Maceda, an independent artist that creates both traditional fine art and NFTs, said that prior to last year, she wasn’t involved in the crypto economy at all but joined in when she realized there was an opportunity for her to expand her audience and craft.

“When I got into the NFT space I was still a part-time artist,” Maceda told TechCrunch. “But NFTs are a major reason why I’m able to be a full-time artist now.”

When Maceda entered the NFT space, she noticed people were interested in engaging with her artistic process, but also willing to support her monetarily by buying her NFTs. “It allowed me to be more experimental in my studio practice and I see it not as a replacement [to physical art] but a complement that enables other work.”

As an independent artist, she drives her own sales: posting her oil paintings and prints on Instagram and then posting NFTs on Twitter. Then something interesting happened: People began collecting her NFTs and buying physical paintings, too.

“I’ve found that on Instagram a lot of people are consuming art to look at, [but in] the NFT space, collectors were a lot more engaged with my art practice than the people following me on Instagram,” she said. “Which is super interesting and it’s not the prevalent narrative I’ve heard. A lot of traditional artists are afraid of NFTs, but in my experience there has been more crossover than I’ve expected.”

Since a lot of the NFT community engages on social platforms like Twitter, there’s much more of a conversation among artists and collectors due to the nature of the platform, Maceda said.

“I was finding people were much more interested in engaging with me, my process and what I had to say,” she said. “They would buy the NFTs because they bought into what I was sharing about the process in general. Those NFT collector relationships are much stronger than the ones who have bought paintings off of me on Instagram.”

The ability to connect with fans and communities alike has been a huge factor for creators. Before web3, there were limited ways for artists to directly speak with those who value their work.

Similar to Maceda, many artists have gotten into the NFT space in the past year to engage with fans and give them the chance to own something from their world.

In December 2021, Star Atlas worked with deadmau5, an electronic music producer, DJ, and musician, on an interactive NFT that featured both original artwork with an augmented reality experience and original music from him, Wagner said.

“This gave deadmau5 the opportunity to both engage the fans who are obsessed with his music but also those who know him as a passionate gamer who streams on Twitch,” Wagner shared. “As metaverse projects continue to grow, so does the opportunity for fan engagement as there is nothing stopping deadmau5 from creating his own space in the metaverse to interact with fans and share new content in ways that were previously unimaginable.”

All the artists and founders agreed: In terms of creative opportunities, the possibilities are seemingly endless for creators and fans alike in the metaverse.

It’s only a matter of time before artists having their own section of the metaverse becomes as much of a staple from a promotional perspective as social networks like Instagram and Twitter are today, Wagner said.

“Creating [in web3] is much more collaborative, in a creative and in a two-way street sort of context,” Connick said. “It’s about this direct engagement with the community that I think exists now and is going to happen more and more. … It’s just unbelievable and completely liberating and thrilling.”