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Music in the metaverse? How Snoop Dogg and Death Row could open up a new market

05 Mar, 2022

Music NFTs could be poised to disrupt both the recording and crypto industries. This movement is spearheaded by hip-hop legend Calvin Broadus Jr., better known as Snoop Dogg, who may turn the iconic Death Row Records into a non-fungible token (NFT) label, according to comments by the rapper on the social media platform Clubhouse on 15 February.

"Death Row will be an NFT label. We will be putting out artists through the metaverse and a whole 'nother chain of music," said Snoop Dogg in a call via the Clubhouse social media platform in February. "I want to be the first major [record label] in the metaverse".

Snoop Dogg is well-placed to make his ambition a reality. The star rapper recently acquired ownership of the label, just ahead of his Super Bowl halftime performance, where he performed along with fellow hip-hop stars and collaborators Dr Dre and Eminem.

Snoop Dogg gets high-tech

The image of the gangster rapper doesn't fit with stereotypes in the tech scene, but Snoop Dogg has been active in new technologies for a long time. The rapper has streamed video games and made cameo appearances in many. But Snoop's not just playing around. The hip-hop star was also an early investor in RobinHood and Reddit back in 2014 and pioneered making Bitcoin (BTC) a viable payment option for purchasing his albums. In 2013, he also publicly backed Dogecoin (DOGE), naturally.

So it's no surprise, then, that this tech-savvy rhyme smith is making inroads into the NFT space. Snoop Dogg's NFT journey started as a collector. He claims that his personal NFT wallet holds multiple Meebits, CryptoPunks and Fidenza NFTs, with one notable CryptoPunk (no #3831) currently worth $2.57 million on its own.

The rapper has also released several NFT collections using his own image of music. On 9 February, he partnered with Gala Games to launch the Stash Box, an NFT series connected to the songs on his latest album, Bacc on Death Row. The NFTs have already grossed more than $50 million in sales. Earlier this week, he dropped a collection of thousands of Doggie voxel avatars, inspired by his appearance and personal style, in The Sandbox metaverse platform. The avatars are divided into various formats and rarities to entice collectors looking to stand out in the metaverse. Snoop himself has purchased real estate in the Sandbox, where plots of lands can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But it's Snoop Dogg's latest NFT venture — a set of songs on the NFT marketplace OpenSea — that could represent a more significant change for the music industry.

A game-changer for remixes

The NFT collection is a series of 'Mixtapes' with names like Dogg on it: Death Row Mixtape Vol. 1' and  Death Row EDM Vol. 1. The songs are appropriately blockchain-themed, directly referencing Bored Apes, Dogecoin, OpenSea and crypto culture. The audio files are even linked to images from the Bored Ape Yacht Club and Mutant Ape Yacht Club, but the most interesting thing about them is how the tracks are split up.

Versions of new songs are split into files that have only the instrumental track, only the vocal track (a capella), or some combination thereof, whether with parts of vocals or the complete song. Each track version comes with a limited amount of tokens. For example, the vocal track for 'High' has a cheeky 420 tokens.

The description for these NFTs reads: "Own it. Remix it. Master it." Basically, Snoop Dogg is inviting buyers to make and distribute their own remixes for his tracks. The rapper confirmed as much on his Twitter account, saying, "You buy it. You own the rights to it all. Buy the Snoop Dogg beat? Make your own track. 👊🏿👊🏿💫🔥🔥🔥."

Remixes and samples have been a staple of hip-hop music since its inception, but it has also raised thorny issues of rights and plagiarism, resulting in many high-profile lawsuits in the music industry, and not just with hip-hop. Even star artists like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Nicki Minaj have found themselves in legal trouble over samples.

A new way forward for digital ownership?

In addition to the issue with unauthorised but artistically important remixes and samples, the recording industry has struggled with online piracy since the beginnings of the digital world back in the 1990s. NFTs offer an opportunity to preserve artists' rights in the digital landscape, so could they also represent a new accord between the producers of a piece of music, the fans and the remixers?

Can purchasers of these NFTs legally monetise their remixes? If Snoop Dogg fully owns his masters, then he would be in a position to give away 100% of the rights to those tracks online. But ownership of an NFT does not legally grant those rights by itself. Some kind of external contract by Death Row records that confirms that these specific NFTs function this way would be required to legally protect anyone trying to make money from their Snoop Dogg remixes.

At the moment, Snoop Dogg's OpenSea customers get a promise, rather than a legal guarantee, with their tokens. But Snoop has said he wants Death Row to become a "metaverse label", releasing NFTs alongside its music. If he is serious about this, then more explicit terms should be released to clarify things for artists and remixers.

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