A thousand fans of Austin-connected country singer and songwriter Parker McCollum are now members of one of the world’s first fan club NFTs.
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are collectibles on the blockchain commonly in the form of digital art or animations. But lately, the music industry has been gaining traction in the space to earn artists additional revenue and provide fans some perks.
For example, members of McCollum’s fan club scored VIP access to events, access to private jam sessions, opportunities for meet and greets and more by purchasing an NFT that became available on MusicFX, a platform and marketplace for music NFTs.
In a video announcing the fan club, McCollum called it “the coolest thing, hands down, that I’ve ever done for my fans.” Memberships, which granted people a signature edition Gold Chain Cowboy Black Card, sold out within three days after becoming available on Dec. 15.
“I wanted really just to create a way to stay connected with my fans that have been with me from the beginning; all my day ones,” McCollum said.
But convincing music fans to buy an NFT can be tricky. Many are unfamiliar with MusicFX, one of the offerings from CurrencyWorks, a blockchain platform provider. Cameron Chell, co-founder of MusicFX, thinks this could change.
“The real big advantage here is that the artists themselves have a new potential income stream and the fans have a richer, more direct experience with the artist,” Chell told Austonia. Those experiences could be an album with a limited release or an artist producing an intimate acoustic session in their living room. Given that, Chell thinks NFTs grow the industry rather than disrupt it.
He thinks digital art made the biggest splash in the early days of the NFT economy because music and movies had a deeply established infrastructure that in the past decade or so has taken shape in the form of streaming.
For artists, it’s straightforward to understand that they’ll need about 250 streams on Spotify to earn a dollar. NFTs might not seem as simple, and especially when it comes to figuring out how intellectual property rights are managed.
The NFTs serve as an additional outlet for musicians' earnings and for building their brand. "(The NFT) is new incremental revenue to them that only promotes the streaming music that they have,” Chell said. “It’s a win-win for everybody, including the fan, because now the fan has one of 100 of these things or whatever the number is, there’s a market they can go to and actually trade it.”
With time, that rare piece of content could gain even more value than it already has, like when fans of the late Austin singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston bid on a piece of his artwork.
In March, some of the first major NFT music sales happened, like Kings of Leon’s album “When You See Yourself”, which Chell thinks is destined to become a classic. And DJ 3lau brought the largest-ever NFT sale of $11.7 million by selling 33 NFTs to mark the three-year anniversary of his album “Ultraviolet.”
My friend @3LAU just made history by tokenizing the first full-length album in a record-setting $11.7M NFT auction. So glad to have this Ultraviolet Bronze NFT. Represents years of hard work and belief on his part. I\u2019m fortunate to have followed his journey to this momentpic.twitter.com/vZ9uCpCtgw— medved (@medved) 1614711026
Recently, local startup Royal used 3lau’s song “Worst Case” as an NFT, after which the company received more than 2,000 artist inquiries.
But this experience isn’t stuck solely online. Chell thinks NFTs also benefit in-person experiences for venues, artists and fans in the live music capital of the world.
“This NFT phenomenon that’s happening is giving so much more broad access to the fan base that’s beyond just hearing music. What that does ultimately is it drives the value of the physical locations even higher and those NFTs can be used in the physical location for prizing or rewards or better seating,” Chell said. “It makes the whole thing rich.”
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Austin homebuyers have been through the wringer in the past year—tales of offers well over asking price, sales in under an hour, and months-long supply chain shortages have become commonplace in the city's cutthroat housing market. So it's perhaps no surprise that many homebuyers are looking for greener pastures as they stake out large empty lots along the city's outskirts.
After casually searching for a home for years, Austin influencer and blogger Jane Ko experienced the pandemic housing surge firsthand when she found an empty lot near the airport in the summer of 2020. Stretched thin by high demand and limited supply, Austin's median home prices had already reached a then-record of $435,000 in August of that year, while new inventory grew by just 0.1% in that month.
Due to seemingly ever-increasing demand, Austin's homebuilding market has been busy—if not strained. New listings were up 6% in November 2021, while median home prices had cooled ever-so-slightly to $470,000. The area was ranked the fifth-busiest metro in the country for single-family homebuilding permits in August 2021, according to a National Association of Homebuilders report.
Austin influencer Jane Ko build a semi-custom home on an empty lot near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
"I think for those of us that have been here, we've seen prices rise in the last five years and I kind of figured if I don't buy now, then I probably won't be able to," Ko said. "I kind of stumbled upon it and I think for a lot of people that's been really the only way to find real estate since the market is so hot."
Austin's inventory has remained somewhat low, especially in the center of town, leading some to believe that homebuyers are being "priced out" by the city's limited options. Area suburbs are reflecting that—the Kyle-Buda-San Marcos region saw 2,900 new home starts from September 2020-21, more than any other Austin submarket.
But with new developments working to keep pace with demand, 2021 Austin Board of Realtors President Susan Horton told Austonia the trend just reflects customer desires.
"I don't think that folks are being pushed by any means," Horton said. "Folks that want to buy out in the rural areas are buying for personal reasons and they're buying because they want the land and privacy. Folks really, truly want to be out. If you want a big lot, it's there."
Like many homebuyers during the pandemic, Ko was happy to scrap Austin's downtown for more space. Because she works from home, she said she and many of her friends are looking for bigger homes and bigger lots in hot areas like Dripping Springs.
Ko had the option of moving into already-built homes within the neighborhood but opted for a custom-built home instead—something that Horton said is another draw for prospective homebuyers.
Austin influencer Jane Ko remodeled her kitchen after building her semi-custom home. (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
Ko's kitchen remodel took months due to supply chain delays/ (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
"The desire to be away from the person next door is really most of the time the deciding factor," Horton said. "And then there are those that want to have a house simply because they want to design it themselves, and so those are the aspects that make buying that raw land and building a house really important."
But building a custom home has its drawbacks. Horton said construction loans, land surveying, zoning restrictions and road access are all hoops that can be jumped through with an experienced realtor.
But even through the tedious and stalled homebuilding process, Ko said it's been worth it to create a home made just for her.
"This is a place that I'm hopefully going to stay in for a very long time," Ko said. "And I think because I do a lot of entertaining at home and shoot photos at home, it's really important that my space looks the way I want it to."
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In earlier phases of the pandemic, people took it as the perfect moment to uproot their lives to the newest boomtown. Many, particularly Californians, found a fit with Austin, enjoying the Texas weather and lower cost of living. But for some, it may only be a pitstop.
Melaku Mihret, who works remotely in Austin for a Meta office in the Bay Area, thinks some of the Californians who have moved to Texas in the pandemic may just move here temporarily, save money and then head back. Others have also speculated a possible reverse migration, but it may be too early to tell.
According to the Kinder Institute at Rice University, Texan migration to California has remained steady for years. And when it comes to Californians leaving, the institute says it's less about a pull into Texas and more of a push out of California driven by home prices.
But they're not all staying in Austin. U-Haul data shows departures from Austin were up 18% even as one-way arrivals were up 22% in 2021.
Melaku Mihret, a remote worker a Meta office in the Bay Area, is now living in Austin. (Andrea Guzman)
For Mihret, the biggest driver behind his move was the squeeze of costs in Northern California. If the cost of living wasn’t an issue, Mihret said he’d live in the Bay Area. So if Austin continues to become less and less affordable, would Californians go back?
For Mihret, not many places come close to what California offers. He points to the nature, such as the mountains and lakes, in California and the massive tech hub it is. Austin is “not even nearly close to California,” Mihret said, after acknowledging Austin's growth as an emerging tech hub.
Meanwhile others like Ian Davies, who grew up in Austin and left in 2011 when he was in high school, much prefer living in Austin.
His family had moved to Philadelphia, years passed and he eventually landed a job in financial operations at NBC Universal in Los Angeles, California. When the option of remote work during the pandemic came around, he longed to return home.
“I couldn’t wait to move back to Austin,” Davies said. “Not that I didn’t enjoy my time in LA. But LA is just a whole other beast than Austin.”
Ian Davies does remote work for NBC Universal in Downtown Austin in early January. (Andrea Guzman)
But a downside he says is it's become more expensive in the past year and half since he returned. The Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown metro area had the 12th highest change in a recent study on cost of living increases across the country. And among the nation’s top 10 tech hubs, Austin saw the largest year-over-year increase in average rent this past September, with an average of $1,647.
It's a cost of a growing city. Davies sees a positive in all the growth, as he enjoys living in a city with a diverse population, like when he was in LA.
“There’s a group of Austinites who are very against people moving here, and I’m definitely not part of that crowd. I want to share this city with other people. I think it’s awesome.”
He says he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“I hope that Austin can keep its soul and keep its weirdness. Like blues and rock and live music,” Davies said. “I haven’t seen much of that change. I hope people that move here can adapt the spirit of the past and carry that.”
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