Specifically, crypto advocates like Anjos want to create a better financial system for the music industry, which would increase transparency and make more accurate payments in real-time. The technology, as he and his fellow crypto fans see it, could even be used to stop ticket scalpers and hold the copyrights to songs and catalogs (the latter would be challenging to execute given music’s complex web of rights holders). "There's tons of value that's being left on the table or that's going to the wrong people" in the music industry, he says. "This technology essentially enables [us to] replace a lot of the plumbing."
In 2017, Anjos discovered Ethereum, the blockchain on which the majority of NFTs are sold, and home to Ether, the second-most popular cryptocurrency after Bitcoin. "I was like, 'This is going to change the world,'" Anjos says. He laughs and gives a little self-conscious eye-roll; he knows most ideas involving the blockchain are still years away from wider music industry adoption. But in the meantime, he’s been steadily experimenting. As soon as he became aware of Ethereum he partnered with the blockchain-based music startup Ujo Music to release his introspective second album EGO on the currency (as well as on streaming services), allowing fans to purchase a digital download for the equivalent of about $10. The album sold about 130 copies on Ethereum -- a solid showing for the first album to be sold as a collectible on the blockchain, predating the NFT standard.
Then, in May 2020, Anjos released his next album BOY and sold 100 cassettes as the token $TAPE on the Ethereum-based NFT marketplace Zora. Each token, which had a starting price of $28, represented one physical copy of the cassette, and the owner could redeem it for the physical item at any point -- driving further scarcity for the token. "Instead of just putting it on a website and selling it, I decided to create a market for it," Anjos explains. "I was just happy to be the experiment and try it, because I’ve got nothing to lose. If it fails, who cares? It’s a cassette, you know?"
In the end, the price of a single $TAPE token soared to nearly $13,000, which Anjos believes marks the most expensive cassette tape ever sold. ("We haven’t found anything more expensive," he says; the closest he’s seen was a $5,000 Prince cassette on eBay.) Seventy of the cassette NFTs are in circulation today, trading at around $4,000 at the time of this story’s publication.
"That's very much in line with my mission, which is to challenge this notion that music is worth 0.000-whatever cents," Anjos says, referencing streaming royalty rates. "Recorded music is far more valuable than what we're selling it for. This is proof of that."
Soon after the sale, as digital art marketplaces started to gain traction, Anjos huddled with his manager, YM&U Group’s Zael Ellenhorn. "He’s like, 'Yo, we’re going to start dropping NFTs,'" Ellenhorn remembers. "The guy's been making music for 10-plus years now. He's been in the crypto world for 10 years now. And this was kind of the first time that those two things really clicked and started working in tandem instead of separately."