The blockchain NFT technology allows anyone to create, sell and trade a digital file of just about anything.
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For the last 12 years, Victor Mosquera has worked in film, publications, music festivals and video games. But these days, most of the Colombia-born, Vancouver-based artist’s income comes from non-fungible tokens.

The blockchain technology allows anyone to create, sell and trade a digital file of just about anything. These NFTs can be used and applied in any industry. For artists, NFTs open up a whole new world of opportunity.

Steve Mitobe, CEO of local company WestCoastNFT, defines it as “a one-of-a-kind digital asset, like music and art, that has been recorded on a blockchain (namely, the Ethereum blockchain) to prove ownership. An NFT cannot be replicated or duplicated and is bought and sold online using blockchain technology to verify proof of ownership.”

The first NFT was minted in 2014, but the idea didn’t start to catch on until a couple of years later. Following a lull in activity, NFTs began to come into vogue, at least in the tech sphere, in 2020. Mosquera began hearing about them from some artist friends in the fall of that year: “At the time, nobody knew what they were.”

He minted his first one in October “and never looked back.”

“Artists are curious by nature. We’re looking for new things to make and new media to work in. That seemed like a novelty at the time, then became a thing that not only changed our lives but is revolutionizing not just the art world, but many industries,” Mosquera said.

One of the most popular NFT series is Bored Ape Yacht Club, a collection of unique cartoon apes that launched in April 2021. Both two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and Eminem have purchased a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT for hundreds of thousands of dollars (of cryptocurrency). In early 2022, sales of Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs crossed the milestone of US$1 billion. Even Sotheby’s and Christie’s have started auctioning NFTs.

Where Bored Ape and another popular NFT series, Doodles — co-founded by some Vancouver artists — have been minted in batches of 10,000, Mosquera focuses on what he calls “the fine-art side” of NFTs, creating single editions or small runs: “Compared to most people in the industry, I keep my mints limited.”

Some music acts are also recognizing the potential of NFTs. Monstercat, an electronic music label with offices in Singapore, Los Angeles and Vancouver, began minting NFTs for some of its artists nearly two years ago.

“You can do anything with them — contracts, visual art, movies, audio clips,” label co-founder and CEO Mike Darlington said. “Once you wrap your head around that component, where you understand the art side, you can take that same narrative to think about music — whether that’s people collecting audio files, or stems, or DJ mixes, or videos. It’s ownership of a media file built around this immutable technology.”

Monstercat’s biggest NFT project to date, RELICS Season 1, featured 50 different collectible audio/visual representations of music on the label, minted in batches of 30. The series includes music by Vancouver artists Sabai and Conro. The majority of art was provided by the artists, based on the artwork from their original music release. Some of the artists opted for new artwork to be created, but it was heavily based on their original release artwork. The series sold out in under five minutes.

“We had over 3,600 applicants to purchase about 1,500 NFTs,” Darlington said.

The label is preparing Season 2 for later this year.

After buying from the source, collectors can buy, sell and trade on secondary market platforms like OpenSea, which is kind of like a TicketHub for the files. At the time of Postmedia News’s interview with Darlington, there were less than 100 RELICS available.

“They have generally gone from two times the primary price to 10 times depending on the song and its rarity.”

The rarity is “dynamic,” Darlington said. “It changes over time, based on how well the song is performing in the real world, on Spotify and other platforms. It’s like if a song hit gold or platinum, that could change the value of the NFT in our RELICS ecosystem.”

Dance music is especially suited to the technology, he says: “It’s global, it’s tied to technology and innovation in sound design, it appeals to the NFT audience.

“But that’s not saying there couldn’t be a rock season or a hip-hop season of RELICS.”

Mosquera began minting his NFTs through U.S.-based digital art market SuperRare but now uses software developed by Manifold, a local company that helps build tools for artists to launch NFTs and partners with a small select group of established NFT artists. WestCoastNFT primarily partners with upstarts to help them launch NFT collections.

“Our company allows artists to bring their art and for us to do the rest,” said Adil Hooda, a product manager and developer with WestCoastNFT.

Because of its confluence of artists and techies, and with international players like Manifold, WestCoastNFT, Dapper Labs, and Big Head Club, Vancouver is considered by many to be Canada’s NFT hub.

“We believe that Vancouver can become the new NFT capital, potentially of the world,” Darlington said. “It’s that high a calibre of projects being built out of this city. They’re globally recognized. I think we’ve done some amazing things here already.”

“It’s impressive how quickly it’s building,” Hooda said.

Earlier this year he attended a local NFT event that attracted 200 people.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a 1,000-person event coming up,” Hooda said. “We’re trying to help the space ourselves, to grow it on a community level. There’s enough for everybody.”

Mosquera advises fellow artists, in whatever discipline, to look into the new medium.

“If you’re an artist and you have something to say and you have a voice, you shouldn’t be scared of NFTs. It’s proven over a year-and-a-half that it’s revolutionizing the world. It’s not only a cultural thing — it’s going to affect the medical field, law, anything that you can imagine.

“In the case of an artist, if you’re embracing NFTs, you’re embracing the future.”

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