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Def Jam Signs Virtual Band The Whales in Latest Major-Label Web3 Partnership

Backed by a "who's who" of producers and songwriters, the NFT band signed to the label via a deal with Web3 tech studio WAGMI Beach.

Universal Music Group’s Def Jam Recordings is the latest major label imprint to venture into Web3 through the launch of a virtual band, The Whales. Comprised of cartoon NFT whale characters, the group’s debut full-length album has an all-star cast of producers and songwriters attached.

The deal is a partnership with The Catalina Whale Mixer, a collection of 5,555 NFT avatars on the Solana blockchain. Created by tech studio WAGMI Beach in December 2021, the concept of The Whales was born when co-founders Ben Willis and Joshua Andriano met with Def Jam’s DJ Mormile and Ryan Rodriguez. “We pitched the idea of a community-grown avatar group to DJ and [they] just got it,” says Willis. “To be working with Def Jam on releasing this one-of-a-kind new music project is a dream come true.”

Def Jam has not yet confirmed the musicians behind the project but says it will involve a “who’s who” of musical talent. The Whales’ first project will be released as a full-length album, while the group will tap into the broader Catalina Whales Mixer community to deepen the relationship between music and Web3 culture.


The virtual artist NFT playbook is becoming a trend among bigger record labels. The same concept was executed by 10:22PM — another Universal Music Group imprint — which licensed characters from the Bored Ape Yacht Club to create the animated band KINGSHIP. Warner Records’ Web3 subsidiary Probably a Label is also developing a virtual artist in collaboration with its 5,555 NFT holders through a voting system.

The team at WAGMI Beach — whose founders are music industry veterans themselves, previously at management company Indie Pop — believes this model will improve the way artists and labels engage directly with fans by letting them be part of the process. “At the core of all the NFT and Web3 attention is a fundamental technology change that will alter how music and art is consumed by generations to come,” said co-founder Alec Lykken. “This is our initial dive into what we believe to be an incredible new wave for artists and fans alike.”

In addition to Lykken, WAGMI Beach was co-founded by Michael George, Carlo Fox, Benjamin Willis, Joshua Andriano, full stack engineer Casey Charlesworth and technology strategist Misha Mitsnefes.