Where have all the NFT bros gone? That was the common refrain at this year’s South-by-Southwest, the super-sized music-tech-culture conference wrapping up in Austin, Texas.
In 2022, some 40 panels and presentations were focused on the formerly fashionable now-fugacious non-fungible tokens.
One panel last year featured FTX crypto-exchange founder Sam Bankman-Fried and e-sports entrepreneur Andy Dinh, described in the program as “two colossal entrepreneurs … not only changing the landscape in their own fields, but the economic landscape as we know it.”
Three months before this year’s SXSW, Bankman-Fried was indicted and arrested on charges of securities fraud, money laundering, and campaign finance law violations. He was subsequently released on a $250 million bond, on condition that he reside at his parents’ home in California.
The SBF scandal plus the recent collapse of crypto-friendly Signature Bank equaled a massive net loss of interest in NFTs at this year’s confab. A search of the schedule showed half as many NFT-related panels.
“The tech world just moves on very quickly to the next big thing,” said Molly White, a tech sceptic and Wikipedia editor who was a keynote speaker. “I think the mythmaking and hype cycles that society goes through are not good.”
In place of NFTs, this year’s tech buzz was all around artificial intelligence, including a panel led by the author entitled “Can Robots Create Life-Changing Songs?” and one called “Welcome To The Machine: Art In The Age of A.I.” including musician Dan Navarro, author of Pat Benatar’s hit “We Belong.” These panels took a more conservative approach to the AI-meets-Art craze than the cavalier parade of last year’s NFT party. AI-created ditties seem too cliched and cringy for prime time, but AI can assist with difficult and menial musical tasks like film score orchestrations and music track mastering.
On the day of those two panels, the US Copyright Office issued its anticipated directive on AI music copyrights, stating that music completely created by AI modelers like Google’sGOOG text-to-music generator MusicLM can not be copyrighted. Only human-authored aspects of a work that are independent of the AI-generated material can. That restriction may feel like a splash of ice water on hot AI companies trying to attract investment based on monetization models that rely on copyright protection.
So what will be the hot tech topic next year?
The lanyards on this year’s festival laminates may give a clue. LabelCoin, self-described as the “Robinhood of music” is one of a rising number of “music market” firms that offer artists an alternative to the major label system with the promise of music “stock exchanges” where fans can buy and sell shares of songs.
Other companies surfing that rising wave include Songvest, JKBX, and royal.io, whose founder Justin Blau, aka 3LAU, is an EDM star who spoke at SXSW this year. Blau made waves in 2021 by selling $11.7 million in NFTs of his album Ultraviolet, which you could also get on most streaming services.
In the mid-19th Century, Austin was filled with cowboys and Comanches on horseback. Nowadays, its tech and music geeks on Birds and other trendy scooters chasing down the next Big Thing.