Beats Music Co-Founder Ian Rogers on NFTs: 'This Is the Wild West'

Ian Rogers
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Ian Rogers attends Paris Luxury summit at Theatre Des Sablons on Dec. 12, 2017 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

"We have these pieces of paper we print out from Ticketmaster. What if we had a digital collectible of that?"

NFTs have gained notoriety in recent months for eye-popping sale prices of digital artwork, from the $69 million paid for an NFT collage by Beeple to multi-million-dollar paydays for musicians such as Grimes, Kings of Leon -- which gave the proceeds to charity -- and 3blau. But NFTs can be digital collectibles in the same the way vinyl, merch and concert tickets are coveted by music fans, says Ian Rogers, who has been chief experience officer at Ledger, a maker of cryptocurrency security products, since December 2020.

"I don't have that Beastie Boys T-shirt from 1992 anymore, but I'd really like truly wish I had a digital collectible," says Rogers, who got his start in music running the digital business of the Beastie Boys and their Grand Royal imprint.

Ledger is involved in NFTs "to be helpful but also to learn," says Rogers, who serves as a liaison to the music community for the company. "This is the Wild West."

A familiar name in music, Rogers was a Beats Music co-founder and CEO, then an executive at Apple Music following Apple's acquisition of Beats Electronics in 2014.

Other music executives have also migrated to the NFT world: Joe Conyers III, Downtown Music Holdings' former chief strategy officer, left for NFT platform in March. Shawn Mendes' manager  Andrew Gertler announced Thursday (April 15) that he had launched an NFT division at his company, AG Artists. Also in March, Rogers hired Parker Todd Brooks, formerly Apple Music's head of dance and electronic artists relations, to connect with musicians and improve Ledger's experience and ease in connecting to marketplaces such as OpenSea and Nifty Gateway.

Rogers is nearly six years removed from the music business but knows digital technology intimately. In the late ‘90s, he worked at Winamp, an early MP3 player made available as a free download. After AOL's acquisition of Winamp's parent company, Nullsoft, in 1999, he became an executive at AOL Music. He was later hired as the first CEO of Topspin Media, the developer of direct-to-consumer tools for artists seeking a path around iTunes, Amazon and Ticketmaster.

He subsequently got the job at Apple, where he worked for a year before leaving to become the chief digital officer for luxury brand LVMH in 2015.

"You think about it, we'd all love to have these beautiful tickets like we'd get from Bill Graham Presents in whatever year, but we don't," he says of the San Francisco-based promoter's uniquely designed concert tickets from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that are collectibles today. "We have these pieces of paper we print out from Ticketmaster. What if we had a digital collectible of that? What happens to that three years from now? Ten years from now? The answer is no one knows. But there's something interesting to do with that."

Artists are gravitating to NFTs in part because they can control the art and terms of the sale — two factors not available in streaming. "I think the storytelling aspect has been taken away from them in a lot of ways with the DSPs," Conyers told Billboard. "It's just go, go, go to playlists, and now there's more ways to tell your story."

Perhaps NFTs' most important feature is an artist's ability to receive a share of future sale proceeds. This benefit from re-sales doesn't happen with physical items. The "first sale doctrine" says a creator gets paid only from an original sale, not later sales on the used market. There is no royalty paid on the sale of a used CD, nor does a songwriter receive a royalty when a publishing catalog is flipped for a profit. Taken to an extreme, a visual artist gets nothing when a collector sells a painting at auction for tens of millions of dollars. But with NFTs, which are built to be resold, creators' cut of future sales is baked into the token. It reminds Rogers of his days at Topspin, where he witnessed first-hand the desire of fans to support artists.

"We are fundamentally moved by patronage," he says.