Mike Shinoda Sees the Future of Creative Ownership in NFTs

Between Linkin Park, Fort Minor, his own solo projects and his graphic design work, Mike Shinoda has always been a creative force to be reckoned with. But his talents extend far beyond the arts, often reflected in his vision and curiosity within the technological realm. Joined by UPSAHL and iann dior, the two-time Grammy winner recently debuted his latest single “Happy Endings” in the form of an NFT, which have become the talk of the town in recent months.

But while many still struggle to see the appeal in this novel technology, Shinoda understands NFTs for what they are or rather, should be: a revolutionary concept of ownership that not only benefits the collector but also protects the creative behind the work in ways that traditional media distribution has failed to achieve. Shinoda shares with HYPEBEAST what draws him towards NFTs, accessible ways for the online community to participate, his road to “Happy Endings” and an open invitation to our readers to join him on his creative journey.

Earlier this year you sold your first piece “One Hundredth Stream” on Zora, and you followed that up with another debut of your single “Happy Endings” as an NFT on the platform. How did you first get introduced to the world of NFTs and what draws you to it?

I collected crypto enough to get a sense of it, just to watch it. Sometimes I’ll do that. I’ll go on Robinhood and buy one share of something just to have it and watch it, for it to be on my radar and be invested that way. That’s kinda what happened with crypto. I bought a few different coins, and I just watched them, paid attention. And then a friend of mine who goes by the name RAC — he’s like an expert in the space — he introduced me to the dudes from Zora, and I liked their style. I feel like their approach was the way that I wanted to do things. If you want to do anything in NFTs, you’ve got to start somewhere, and I felt like they were a good starting point because their perspective on it was a little less like a platform.

The difference between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 — one of the primary differences that we’re all looking for is they don’t want a platform, say Facebook, standing between the creator and the fan and monetizing that relationship. I felt like Zora was the closest thing to that Web 3.0 promise, and that’s why I minted with them. But there’s others! I’ll probably do stuff on Nifty or other platforms in the future.

You’ve now become the one of the first artists to debut a single in the form of an NFT auction. How did the idea first come up?

I wanted to do something special and different. I like to play around and debut stuff with new technology or ideas if I can. I had a Fort Minor song called “Welcome” that was one of the first 360° videos, and I did it because YouTube had just turned on 360°, so I thought “now’s the moment to go after this.” We’ve debuted Linkin Park stuff with games, special digital releases and things like that. To me, this felt like introducing the fans to the subject was important to me. I could see the trend is going towards this direction and everybody’s going to be talking about this. I am a part of it already, so I want to represent.

It was actually the first major-label NFT, at least that any of our labels have dealt with. So on my song it’s me, iann dior and UPSAHL. I wrote the song with UPSAHL and Samantha Ronson and Pete Nappi, and Sam and Pete are on Disney, so it’s like Universal, Disney and Warner Records and so on. All these labels and publishers, and I said, “I want to debut this as an NFT” and they said, “how are we going to do this?” But we made it happen.

“In [NFTs] you don’t need trust, you can just look at the chain.”

As NFT is a relatively new concept, many fans might find it hard to see why they’d spend a significant amount of money on a piece of art or music that they could then stream for free on Spotify or YouTube. What do you think is the core value of owning an NFT that separates it from accessing the material through other channels or platforms?

I think NFTs are a very special thing. You can create and sell something, and every time it resells, I can take a small percentage and everyone who’s in touch with it or sold it, all our names are associated with that item. That’s a game changer. That’s a big deal. Some people like to use this example, like “oh it’s a digital Mona Lisa.” Maybe in some cases yeah, but just imagine this if you can.

Let’s say Ninja or a pro gamer buys a skin for their character and they play in a world championship with it. They win the game with like a Michael Jordan-level action — they’re playing Valorant, they get an ace, they kill everybody, they win the game. Everyone’s freaking out, and it’s the greatest moment in esports history. They can then sell that skin and say, “this is the skin from that memorable moment.” And people, when they buy it, it’s not hearsay. They can look at the blockchain and the information written on the item and say, “it was first owned by Ninja and now it’s owned by me,” and when they sell it, that [next owner] can prove that it was owned by Ninja.

That’s a big deal. I mean, you can’t even get that when you try to buy a Michael Jordan-signed basketball. You have to trust that that person isn’t lying. In this case you don’t need trust, you can just look at the chain.

NFT gives people ownership of a piece of art without conferring the copyrights to them or allowing them to then distribute it, and blockchain prevents them from being reproduced and replicated. In a way, do you see NFT as a retaliation against the piracy that’s been plaguing the creative industry for so long?

That’s definitely one of the reasons why the creatives are so locked into it right now, the reason everyone’s paying so much attention to it, experimenting. And by the way, we’re getting it wrong sometimes. We’re making mistakes, and some of the fans will say, “I don’t like how that was done.” And the carbon footprint of NFTs is an issue, that’s true. Some companies like Zora are offsetting their impact by, for example, planting trees, buying land and conserving things. Other people who are building in this space are trying to build better technology that isn’t as hard on the environment.

All that stuff is still in flux — we’re at the beginning of this thing, and it’s tough because there’s so much hype around it, but yet it’s in infancy, so I’m excited to see where this goes. Just the idea that, for example, all the NFTs you’re seeing right now are based on Ethereum, and its protocol is still basically in its 1.0. Everyone in the inner circle keeps talking about Ethereum 2.0, and when it comes, it’ll solve or at least address a lot of the problems that people have had with the current version. That’ll just keep continuing to happen.

Lindsay Lohan recently sold an image of her face which is now roughly worth $50,000 USD, Grimes recently sold a piece for almost $400,000 USD and Chris Torres even sold a remastered version of Nyan Cat for $600,000 USD. With these incredible figures, do you think the NFT market is a bubble, and do you think it only caters to the rich?

My opinion is: yes, it’s a bubble for sure. So be careful. If you’re out there trying to make money, good luck to you. Does it cater to the rich? At this point, the big ones do, but if you can’t afford a $1,000 USD NFT or a $2,000 USD NFT — if that’s a stretch for you — I wouldn’t experiment there. I wouldn’t start with that. There are places and sites like Zora, like Foundation, I think Rarible is probably one as well, where it may be harder to get in on some than others, and it’s a little more accessible. There are also other things you can collect that are NFTs that might have value. For example, there’s a game called Gods Unchained, and it’s a blockchain card game in the style of Magic: The Gathering. Some of the cards go for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it’s the same kind of concept. You buy a blind pack and some of the cards are rare, most of the cards are not, but you can go into the marketplace and buy cards for maybe $100 or $200 USD — you know what I’m saying? You can participate in a way that doesn’t require you to go in with so much money. You can experiment and learn about the space.

“I think when people joke about it being a meme economy, like these kids who create memes are going to make all this money…you’ve got to look at it and say maybe they kind of deserve it a little bit.”

Looking into the future, where do you see NFTs heading? Do you think you’ll see more artists and creators following in your footsteps by embracing this new technology and concept of ownership?

Yeah, for sure there’s a future in it. The question will be how do we use it. Because just like putting a high value on a GIF, like Nyan Cat. For the record, this is going to sound really stupid maybe, but I actually thing Nyan Cat was undervalued. I think that one, as stupid as it is — think about it, it’s world famous. The guy who created it has never really gotten what he deserved, as famous as it is. I don’t know how much he has made on it, but that thing is as recognizable as Mickey Mouse! He should be able to really own it that way. So for me, I think when people joke about it being a meme economy, like these kids who create memes are going to make all this money — I don’t know, maybe so, but also you’ve got to look at it and say maybe they kind of deserve it a little bit. I don’t know if Pepe the Frog deserves it as much as Nyan Cat, but I don’t know, who knows.

Remember when YouTube first came out? When we all started using YouTube, people just uploaded stuff that had a copyright on them. You just shared stuff and nobody cared. Nobody really even gave you a slap on the hand about it, and then eventually it got big enough to be a legit business. They needed to protect their copyright so they went in and let everybody know they uploaded their thing, and they’re selling ads against it. That’s going to happen in NFTs 100 percent, and all of the platforms and marketplaces already know that it’s coming, but it’s a question of: let’s all build the infrastructure first, and get the community and make the people happy, let’s create a culture around it, and once we get there, if we have to shut some stuff down because it’s inappropriate or because it’s not supposed to be there, then we shut it down.

Turning to your single “Happy Endings,” how was the experience of working with the newer generation of musicians? Were there any specific lessons or techniques that you learnt from iann dior and UPSAHL?

Okay, let me put it in context. This song comes in an interesting time in my career. When quarantine started last year, I started doing Twitch streams because everyday started feeling the same. Have you ever seen Groundhog’s Day? I felt like it was Groundhog’s Day, where it just repeated over and over, so I started streaming on weekdays and that helped me do a creative thing every day. I decided to make something new from scratch five days a week, and then chill on the weekends. I ended up making over 100 instrumentals. I made all that stuff and even put out three mixtapes or compilations called Dropped Frames. But I’ve been doing it every single day, and when I’m not on those, I might be developing other things, working with other artists or writing.

I basically did a Zoom writing session with UPSAHL and my friends Samantha Ronson and Pete Nappi, and we wrote this song, and the more we played it for people, everyone was like, “dude that’s so dope, you’ve got to put this one out.” So we ended up eventually getting iann dior on it and putting it out this way.

The response has been great. This year I’ve been producing fans’ vocals. Fans will upload songs, and they use a hashtag — and this is good for HYPEBEAST readers too because I really want some different kinds of vocalists. All you’ve got to do is put up your demo with a minimal track or no track even, and I want acapella vocals, and use the hashtag #ShinodaProduceMe. Me and the fans from Twitch will go looking through all the submissions on the hashtag and when I find something I like, I’ll contact that person and I produce my favorite ones on the stream, on Twitch in front of fans. I’ll give the artist that finished mastered track back, and they can release it however they want. Some of these kids I’m producing, they have like 2,000 fans, 3,000 or 4,000 fans, and now they’ve got a track produced by me and they can go to labels with it, go to Spotify with it, whatever they want to do. I think those things all kind of work together in one sense, like how I stay sharp and I keep creative things going.

“Happy Endings” is now available on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music.
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