In March of 2021, one year into the global COVID-19 pandemic, musicians were staring down the barrel of the second year of cancellations. North American tours that had already been painstakingly rescheduled to Spring 2021 were being canceled or pushed for a second and even third time. Live performance, the bread and butter of the working-class musician, had (with the exception of the occasional outdoor or online gig) disappeared altogether with no real sign of when it would return. Musicians were forced to grapple with the fact that current music industry models which had kept some above water for so long were heavily reliant on relentless “gigging”. In the new reality of the pandemic, it seemed this tried-and-true model simply did not hold up.
With venues all over the world shuttered for the foreseeable future, professional musicians who once viewed streaming services like Spotify as potential loss-leaders (the hope being that despite earning only $0.003 to $0.005 per stream, they would gain fans, in turn increasing ticket and merchandise sales) found this model, too, particularly brutal. Frustration, borne of long suffering exploitation, soon began to bubble over as many focused their ire on the industry at large: the major labels, the middlemen, the streaming platforms, the monopolies controlling North American venues and ticket sales, the disappearing guarantees, the concert venues routinely taking a large percentage of merch sales. To survive, musicians needed change.
Many also found the pandemic shone an even brighter spotlight on the oppressive and uncertain practices of social media promotion, an algorithmic black-box mining creative labor for content in exchange for the promise of “likes” and “follows”. Meanwhile, the loneliness and isolation caused by pandemic lockdowns pushed us more online than ever before. Office work had gone remote and our social lives moved largely out of bars, cafes and restaurants, and into Zoom chats, Google Meets, Slacks, Telegrams and Discord channels.
For a few musicians, this growing disillusionment with the music industry and the sudden need to find a new financial model, converged with ingenuity and curiosity as they attempted to pioneer a new path for creative collaboration and music valuation. This paper explores the creation of the organization called Songcamp; a musician-led ongoing experiment in collective coordination using the tools of “the new internet”. It focuses on the historical origins of Songcamp in order to situate it within the context of the greater web3 music landscape at the time. It also takes a deep, ethnographic look at Songcamp’s Camp Genesis, a landmark project of firsts in the web3 music world, and the people who made it.
In late 2020 and early 2021 “web3” looked like a place where one could make a lot of money and fast. Web3 (also called Web 3.0) is a term used to qualify a growing network of websites and applications that incorporate blockchain technologies. It's an idea for a new iteration of the internet made up of decentralized platforms, where users maintain ownership over the digital content they produce. Back then, the crypto space was coming out of what became colloquially known as Defi-Summer: a time of 10x-ing tokens and crazy APYs. Juxtapose this with the near obliteration of the live music industry and it's really no wonder musicians started finding their way to this new corner of the internet.
It was also a time when talk of something called NFT's (Non-Fungible Tokens) began to enter the mainstream vernacular. An NFT, or non-fungible token, is a digital asset that represents ownership of a unique item or piece of content, such as a piece of art, music, video, or even a tweet. NFTs are stored on a blockchain, a decentralized ledger that enables secure, transparent, and tamper-proof record-keeping. Unlike traditional cryptocurrencies each NFT is unique and cannot be replicated or exchanged for something else of equal value. The unique identifier and ownership information for an NFT is stored on the blockchain, providing proof of ownership and enabling the buying and selling of NFTs.
In March 2021, digital artist Beeple auctioned his piece EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS through Christie's as an NFT. The piece sold for the Ethereum equivalent of over $69 million USD bringing a flood of new attention to the space.
Around this same time, a few popular music artists also began to experiment with releasing NFTs as well. These generally consisted of short, looping visuals accompanied by music. On February 28th, 2021, multidisciplinary artist and musician Grimes released her debut NFT collection WarNymph, which netted approximately $6 million USD. In early March of 2021, Kings of Leon released their new album When You See Yourself in the form of non-fungible tokens as a series they called “NFT Yourself”. This collection was also the first time a well-known band would link an experience to an NFT, selling a select number of tokens called “Golden Tickets” that offered the purchaser front row seats for life. Many found that there was something a little unsettling about these celebrity-led projects; wealthy artists making vast sums of money using a technology that the public didn't really understand and mainstream news outlets struggled to properly explain. In some artist social circles, “NFTs” became another four-letter-word. They were seen as a cash grab for wealthy creators and digital hucksters, something with demonstrably negative environmental ramifications. For those outside looking in, the whole crypto world appeared to be based more on Ponzi-nomics than economics. For some artists, however, this technology represented a new way forward through uncertain times. A tool that allowed for seamless ownership and provenance of digital and generative works of art was a long-awaited godsend; a method to commodify goods in creative industries rife with intellectual property theft.
In January of 2021, a few intrepid musicians began minting works on open platforms like Rarible and Zora. These platforms were accompanied by burgeoning communities meeting on Discord and Twitter to excitedly discuss what this technology could mean for art. A Web3 streaming platform and Spotify competitor founded back in 2018 called Audius started to gain steam. In contrast to Spotify, Audius promised musicians a more transparent platform for them to create, grow and monetize their work. On March 9, 2021, Jeremy Stern and Mike McKain launched Catalog, the world's first NFT platform dedicated solely to 1-of-1 music NFTs. It was clear to them that the need was there. Jeremy explains:
Part of the motivation behind Catalog’s existence was that music really demanded its own space in web3. And if you're a musician looking to utilize NFT's or other tooling your music is basically being put onto the same shelves as Bored Apes, and Cool Cats and (Crypto) Punks… these websites are designed for trading those kinds of NFTs, but not so much the music listening and discovery and collecting experience… so that was the thing that we thought was lacking the most in those days. And when we first created Catalog, we really wanted to help give musicians a home for their music in the ether. – Jeremy Stern
Catalog represented a new frontier of digital music ownership and value generation that didn't implicitly include mechanical or publishing rights.
In late 2020, Denis Nazarov launched Mirror, a unique publishing tool supported by blockchain technology. Mirror was sort of like a Substack on the blockchain, allowing folks to follow the writing of a particular person or artist. Musicians started to use it as a tool to blog about their process and to engage fans. Mirror also allowed writers and creators to auction NFTs and to create crowdfunds to support their work.
In March of 2020 Matthew Chaim found himself in a challenging spot. He was already in his second year working as a professional songwriter in Los Angeles, but with the pandemic looming and his record deal winding to a close, Matthew decided to return to his hometown of Montreal, Quebec. Early on, in-person socializing in Canada was limited to things like one-on-one outdoor meetings. Feeling a little adrift and unsure of what to do next, Matthew started taking frequent walks with his good friend. Their conversations brought a return of excitement and optimism not tempered by the pandemic quarantines. Matthew’s curiosity and his friend’s enthusiasm were a perfect storm. His friend was excited about crypto.
His excitement was so palpable... This thing is so new, it's early... And so, I definitely drank the Kool Aid on that front. I was super interested, you know, as an artist, like, not so crazy about decentralized exchanges. And then one day he brought up digital art being bought and sold on the blockchain... – Matthew Chaim
Armed with a newfound understanding of what blockchain technology could mean for musicians, Matthew started to explore what web3 folks refer to as “the space”. He found he was most excited about what the use of NFTs and other tokens might mean for creators. Matthew first started minting NFTs under a pseudonym on Rarible but eventually decided to mint under his own name.
Matthew was one of the first 40 artists onboarded to the NFT music platform Catalog. Early on, he used the new platform to mint his songs “FORM” and “TEAR”. The release of the latter NFT would connect him to a new friend, supporter and longtime digital collector Brett Shear, known widely as BlockchainBrett. Finding encouragement, Matthew continued to connect with folks working in the cryptosphere and soon got in contact with Tyler Schmitt (an employee of longtime crypto-booster Gary Vaynerchuck) who was looking for writers for the publication ONE37pm. Chaim's business-school and writing backgrounds made him a perfect fit for the job.
Matthew’s first article for ONE37pm was called “WTF are NFTs”. In order to demonstrate WTF an NFT was Matthew created a smiley face, minted it on Zora and placed it within the article. That smiley face was then purchased by another future supporter, web3 founder and investor Cooper Turley. The article was popular and Matthew began to gain a following on Twitter. People were curious about what he was working on and what he might be writing and releasing next. While he found that putting out 1-of-1 NFTs was rewarding, Matthew felt like something was missing. He wanted to do more.
It's hard for Matthew to remember the exact reason behind his decision to create the Songcamp Discord. The name “Songcamp” had been with him for a long time already. In early 2017, Matthew attended a songwriting camp in Nicaragua hosted by SOCAN, a Canadian performing rights organization. Over the course of five weeks the assembled artists created 36 songs together.
I didn’t even know it was possible to write that much good music in such a short amount of time…That was all incredible music that didn't exist, you know, Monday morning. Now it’s Saturday morning and we’re having this pool party, listening to our music as a playlist. - Matthew Chaim (at the Crypto x Creator Summit, April 2, 2021)
The joy of the experience was tempered by industry bureaucracy and only a handful of the songs made at the camp were ever released. Nonetheless, the experience taught him something valuable:
From that it was proven to me that creativity can just be like, fun and fast. And I kind of thrived off that momentum. But I don't see why the release, and touching the fan and the listener, can’t be as fun and fast for both sides of the equation. - Matthew Chaim (at the Crypto x Creator Summit, April 2, 2021)
Matthew came across Seed Club, a social token incubator that was just beginning its second accelerator cohort. Jess Sloss, the founder of Seed Club was early to recognize the energy and interest in the segment of the market at the nexus of cryptocurrency and creativity. He decided to host an online weekend conference called the Crypto x Creator Summit.
Seed Club was also one of the first organizations to sell sponsorships as NFTs. The Crypto x Creator Summit had three NFTs available for sale. Each NFT would support the events of a particular day. Matthew saw the Crypto x Creator Summit as just the thing he had been looking for, a place where people could gather to talk about the many questions he had found himself so preoccupied with.
I think the real nexus point was… making a decision to take, I think it was 1 ETH from the proceeds I got from a Catalog sale, and buy the sponsorship NFT for that Seed Club event. And I remember that event being so exciting because, ‘oh, like, this is what I need, crypto and creators.’ – Matthew Chaim
After Matthew’s successful bid he and Jess Sloss hopped on a call. The winning bid would give him the opportunity to speak to attendees on the day he had sponsored, the last day of the conference. Jess was curious about what he might like to share.
[Matthew’s] like, “I don't know, I’ve got this thing that I’ve kind of been thinking about.” And he talks about songwriting camps, his history with them and the frustration around them. But he was super uncertain about it. And I was like, ‘Oh, no, that's 100% a thing you should go do’…and he ended up pitching it, and Genesis Songcamp. – Jess Sloss
Looking back at the conference, Matthew noted that the one-on-one call with Jess was probably where the idea for Songcamp was born.
At the end of the final day of the conference, Jess brought Matthew up on stage to talk about Songcamp: (Watch the video)
I think the other part of it and why I think Songcamp is an interesting way of looking at it is because the songwriting camp model of just, like, getting a band of people together, whether they know each other or not, and just doing stuff together quickly, is exciting. And that obviously happens in other modes… kind of in hackathons and sprints that you've run yourself. And I think we could use that model to create the music but then also everything around it - the visual side, the distribution side, the branding side. I think we could run a song camp... where we don't know who the artist is at the end. - Matthew Chaim (at the Crypto x Creator Summit, April 2, 2021)
When he was done speaking, Matthew invited any interested folks to join the new Songcamp Discord the following Monday, April 3 2021, for a call at 4pm ET/1pm PT.
Since that conference, the Monday, 4pm ET/1pm PT, public community “Heartbeat” calls have been a weekly occurrence on the Songcamp Discord. Catalog co-founder Jeremy Stern reflected on the energy that permeated the calls in the early days:
I mean, super exciting. Just this, like, giddy electricity… You know, being kind of still in the woes of COVID… I think everyone needed a place to channel that energy and still channel their creativity… It seemed to create this perfect melting-pot/crock-pot type situation with the Songcamp Heartbeat calls where everyone was both curious about the technology, interested in ways to collaborate with each other online, and interested in (the) new tools that they could use in general to release music. And so, it was this combination of learning and getting to know each other and keeping creative ideas around what is even possible. It was really, really imaginative. It was almost like a combination of childlike wonder and ‘let's get down to business’. – Jeremy Stern
The Heartbeat calls also served as a catalyst for Songcamp’s first cohorted camp, the main goal of which was to just ‘get together and make something.’ A few bands of three musicians would be curated, songs would be produced, cover art would be created, and the resulting records would be minted on Catalog and sold as NFTs. The goal of the project was to take the “good vibes'' and collective creation of the songwriting camp model and overlay it onto this new technology.
The Genesis project was announced on an early Heartbeat call. Musicians, visual artists and operators were encouraged to apply through a Google form.
Matthew was immediately excited about the quality of work being submitted. He curated the first cohort alone, selecting eight musicians for the three bands. That selection was rounded out with two operators and two visual artists. Matthew, too, would be in a band and serve as an operator, bringing the total number of Camp Genesis participants to 13.
The group of 13 Camp Genesis participants was organized into five groups or teams. The Operators were Matthew Chaim, Mark Redito and quiet theory. They were in charge of managing the project, marketing it and determining the mechanics of the release. They called themselves Base Layer Zero.
Clearest Deep Balloon was the name landed on by the members of the visual team, peace_node and Gian Ferrer. They would be responsible for all of the artwork used in the NFTs, for the promotional materials, and for the design of Songcamp’s web presence. This included “The Unlock” NFT (a successful fundraising effort endorsed and purchased by Seed Club), and cover art for three yet-to-be-created songs.
The final groups were the musicians. Divided into three bands of three, they named themselves Driftwood, TX (Gavin Slate, Rowan Spencer, Kevin Paris), The Lunar Veil (Thys, Hvdson, Samsonite), and Rainbow Punch (MAi, Matt Parad aka snacks, Matthew Chaim).
The artists in Songcamp’s first cohort all came to the project with different backgrounds and unique points of view. What they shared was a curiosity for this new technology and a sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo in their respective creative industries.
Artist MAi (Cody Maimone) was making music with a group of friends after college when a record label came calling:
We had this deal that was presented to us and, you know, long story short, that deal, like, ruined everything basically… It was super, super industry typical, like, it was very, very cliché how it happened. And they pretty much broke the group apart. Half the group moved to LA… and it was just, you know, kind of a shitshow. – MAi
With the group broken up, MAi was left on his own. He was confident in his abilities as a producer and songwriter but felt let down by his recent experience and wasn't sure how to proceed. The one thing that he was sure about was that he didn't want to sign a record deal.
MAi had already been dabbling in the crypto space for a while when he was first introduced to the web3 platform Audius. In October 2020, he started uploading his music to the platform. This got the attention of the folks working at Audius who reached out to show their enthusiasm. Matthew also heard his music on Audius and reached out to compliment him as well. The two started talking and eventually hopped in a group chat with a few other musicians in the hope of brainstorming what they could create together. Although nothing came of that directly, it was only a month or so later when Matthew reached out again with the idea for Songcamp:
[Matthew] was like, ‘Hey, do you wanna just make some music this Tuesday?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, let's do it.’ And, you know… the day before we were gonna make music, he's like, ‘Hey, by the way, I ended up starting this Discord and you should join it.’ And so I did join the Songcamp Discord. And I was probably the 15th person in there. - MAi
Rowan Spencer, another musician who was selected to be part of Camp Genesis, is a multidisciplinary creative in New York City. Rowan first became interested in crypto through a friend's introduction to Dapper Labs and NBA Top Shot NFTs.
From there, he started to dive more into the tech side of the blockchain and what it might mean for music:
I got into the technology, because of what I thought seemed to be a really interesting new way of compensating artists and tracking intellectual and creative property. – Rowan Spencer
Rowan first learned about Matthew the same way that Cooper Turley had, through ONE37pm. He started following Matthew on Twitter primarily because he liked the way he wrote. That's where he learned about Songcamp and Camp Genesis:
I saw that he had started this thing kind of seemingly overnight for the ‘lulz’. And so I registered my interest when he wrote about it either on Twitter or posted about it somewhere else... And then he got in touch with me by Twitter DM, and we set up a time to talk… we quickly realized that he was from Montreal where I used to live for many years and where I learned to DJ. So, of course, we had a ton of friends in common. I told him I would love to be a part of this new project that he was starting, and he said to just, you know, sign into this Discord and be ready to be on this call. [...] I think the call was at 4pm on a Monday, Eastern. And that's how I ended up in Songcamp Genesis. – Rowan Spencer
Producer Hvdson's background and disillusion with the wider music industry came about in a way that was similar to MAi’s. Before the pandemic Hvdson was working as a DJ and producer. Early on, a few labels came calling.
There was a moment where I was like, ‘Oh, okay, everything's happening.’ I had major labels reaching out to me, and just like, people hitting me up to work... and then nothing really happens. I get ghosted by the labels, and then the management company… I just kind of took that opportunity to reset. - Hvdson
On the heels of this disappointment a friend asked Hvdson if he wanted to audition for a competitive music TV show in China:
One of my clients and friends- she asked me if I wanted to go to this TV show over in China with her. They were doing this X-Factor type music show but it was for electronic music. They were trying to push EDM into the market… So yeah, I decided to kind of take a leap of faith and move on to that. - Hvdson
After his success on the television show Hvdson started doing production work for major labels in the Asian market, but he still found himself struggling. He joined the online community FWB (Friends With Benefits) where he met Matthew Chaim. That's how Hvdson first learned about Songcamp Genesis.
Matthew was one of the people that was in FWB, as well. [...] I remember him talking about - oh, he just smoked weed, had this idea, and just like put it into the ether. No pun intended. - Hvdson
Mark Redito joined camp Genesis as an Operator. Mark was a product of the punk music scene and various DIY collectives. He naturally had found himself involved in other web3 communities before Songcamp, including Rarible and FWB. Mark was interested in exploring ideas around DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations), a concept rapidly becoming popularized in the crypto space.
Before the pandemic, Mark had been working as a full-time musician, something he had done for over a decade. But in the isolation of the lockdown he was forced to consider a career shift.
It's quite interesting, because initially, I was thinking of joining [Songcamp] as a musician, but… when the pandemic happened- that forced me to really just consider, ‘What are other creative avenues I could use?’ And so, as you may know also… it's helpful that you actually have these other skills, say marketing strategy, rollout strategies- all that stuff- which were all sort of experiences that I've had previously as an artist which I thought that, during that time, ‘Oh, this could be helpful to help my fellow artists,’ you know, so that they don't have to think about that stuff. – Mark Redito
Although Mark didn't know Matthew yet, Matthew’s tweets started popping up on his Twitter feed. He was writing about Songcamp and about Camp Genesis. The idea of this collective music project thrilled Mark. He filled out the Google Form and, moments later, he and Matthew were on a call together.
One half of the Camp Genesis visual team, peace_node’s self-taught illustration journey began out of necessity. Prior to Songcamp, peace, as he’s known to friends, was working as a hobbyist musician and self described “extreme music fanatic.” By 2016, he had stumbled onto the need for appropriate file preparation when putting out records. He grabbed a $100 computer and started playing around with the free illustration software Inkscape.
I found it super inspiring and started making fliers for every gig I could. This, coupled with social media, had me accidentally launching myself into the freelance market where I’d rock up merchandise, posters, or any graphic needs for friends in the music industry. - peace_node
peace fell into the crypto space. After doing a lot of research, he decided he wanted to try minting some NFT's. Towards the end of 2020 peace_node noticed that his friend Samsonite, another future Camp Genesis participant, was talking a lot about things like data rights. The two connected and, in October, created their first audio-visual NFT's together.
Samsonite turned me on to a whole social scene happening in Twitter, riffed out all his ideas about a headless band- like this insane Daft Punk vision of an unstoppable, headless creative cult. I mean, at this point in time, it was all such a Cambrian explosion of ideas- it felt like anything was possible. We both come from scenes who have a large cultural impact and yet it's a largely extractive economic force on the communities who create all that value. Crypto felt like the missing toolset to make everything connect. Of course a token doesn't fix it all, but this cocktail of ideas was so new and totally inspiring. – peace_node
Samsonite also introduced peace to Songcamp.
Samsonite says, “Hey, peace_node, join this chat." Immediately it was a yes. Everyone in the room knew we were going to do this insane thing no matter what the outcome was, because the premise was too good and no one else was making it happen. - peace_node
On Monday, April 12, 2021, Songcamp’s Camp Genesis project kicked off. Matthew had curated the nine musicians, two visual artists and two project operatives and divided the musical talent up into three ‘bands’ of three, which he had clumped very loosely by genre. Additionally, he appointed a producer with experience to lead each team.
Many of the musicians and artists in camp were meeting with each other for the first time, and each had different levels of experience with remote collaboration. For MAi, the process of working remotely was completely new:
The process was definitely new. But I was not new to making music [under] pressure… it actually leads into our best qualities, if we all just lean into the craft rather than trying to, like, dance around each other. - MAi
Others, like Hvdson, had a lot of experience working remotely already. For him, online collaboration was familiar territory:
I mean, it was pretty much the same as [...] doing collabs, just, like, through SoundCloud. So the workflow is the same, in that sense. - Hvdson
For Rowan Spencer, this style of working was something he only ever participated in during the pandemic:
… I've done that a little bit, but only as kind of a hybrid. Like working with people who I would meet up with, and then maybe we've messed around in the file or in a Dropbox in between working together in real life… I'd never just straight up worked with people I've never met in real life before. – Rowan Spencer
Visual artists, peace and Gian started collaborating by creating mood boards together and passing files back and forth over Discord.
I remember we were insanely down to the wire in this two week sprint. Still, despite the chaos, I realized I'm a huge fan of working out of Discord and the way it makes collabs happen. - peace_node
There was a lot of collaboration between the visual team and the bands as well, with artwork drafts and colorways being sent to each band’s Discord channel for feedback. Operators also asked the bands to share some adjectives or poetry with the visual team for inspiration.
The whole thing is a total artwork and the artwork can't really be separated as an individual aspect. There was mood and language all tied up in what was made, all in service to the energy of the project that we were building together. -peace_node
During Camp Genesis Matthew, Mark and Bryan were in communication almost every day; ideating, brainstorming and supporting the bands and the visual team. They also focused much of their time on fleshing out the shape of the release.
Matthew would present a certain rough idea, and then we would go over it with Bryan, ‘What would this look like?’ And we would look at it at multiple angles… One of us would be taking a much more optimistic role, another one would [take a] much more adversarial role, like, ‘How can this go wrong?’ You know, and all of that was not structured. Like, we don't have a sort of design process that coders have, where they have a design sprint… none of that… And so, there's a lot of like, conversations, sharing and communicating to the rest of the members: ‘Hey, here's the plan. What do you guys think?’ and gaining feedback from there. – Mark Redito
In the first week of camp, one of their early discussions was to create an Unlock NFT: a sponsorship NFT inspired by Seed Club’s Crypto x Creator Summit sponsorship model. Money was needed upfront to cover minting costs which were very high at the time, often upwards of $100 USD or more. “The Unlock” was launched on April 23, 2021. Swooping in for a full-circle moment, Seed Club bought it for 1 ETH. Jess Sloss wanted to signal his support.
Yeah, I think the interesting thing is that sort of on-chain recognition/support tie-in… You know, this idea of provenance. [...] This was very much in the mode of Seed Club [wanting] to be a part of seeding new, interesting things. And so, you know, we backed a bunch of Mirror projects… and Songcamp was a no-brainer in my mind. – Jess Sloss
On Monday, April 26, 2021, the visual and music production aspect of Camp Genesis came to a close. The bands and visual artists delivered their final masters and cover artwork and handed the reins over fully to the Operations team. Once the masters and art were delivered, Matthew, Mark and Bryan were able to start focusing on the mechanics for release and promotion. The intention from the beginning had been to release the NFTs on Catalog but they wanted to do more.
…We had been talking to Matthew about releasing the records on Catalog, but he in sort of (a) traditional form was looking to do something different, to do something new. – Jeremy Stern
At the time, Mirror was preparing to release a split block feature allowing their users to embed a split directly into any Mirror post. A split block is similar to a royalty split. Songcamp artists would be allocated a percentage of the final sale of the NFT(s) they worked on but instead of waiting for a mediary to distribute funds the split would divide up the ETH from a successful auction bid automatically. It would then be easily claimable by all the different wallet addresses in that particular split block.
It was a little late in the game when the Songcamp Operations crew decided to plug into the Mirror auction and splits features. The May 3rd sale date was fast approaching:
We use both of these platforms; Catalog for releasing, Mirror for, you know, essays and writings. [The] idea there was like, we like this feature, and we like that feature, how can we sort of like tape them together so that it works the way that we want it to work? – Mark Redito
Although the Camp Genesis Operations team was a bit worried about the tight timeline, Mirror founder Denis Nazarov was excited about the prospect of Songcamp using both their auction and their splits mechanics. Denis agreed to integrate Catalog’s NFTs in time for the Genesis release.
The songcamp crew had been diving into Mirror as a tool for writing, and kind of realized the opportunity. [...] ‘Oh, they also have auctions and splits. These things [the NFTs] technically don't even need to be auctioned on Catalog, we can use Catalog for the creation- for forging this digital record- and then use Mirror for telling the story around it, behind it, and the future of it, and also use Mirror for running the auction and pointing at the split.’ So, there were three original songs that were created. All of them were auctioned off on the Mirror page. – Jeremy Stern
The Mirror developers worked hard to integrate Catalog NFTs on their platform. Matthew then minted the NFTs on Catalog and listed them via Mirror's auctions, directing people to the Mirror post for bidding. Meanwhile, all of the Operations team got to work promoting the NFT sale, scheduled for May 3rd, 2021.
On May 3, 2021, the Camp Genesis participants and other Songcamp community members gathered on the squad phone in advance of the 5pm EST on-sale, when the NFTs would go live. MAi recorded the call. You can hear the excited and nervous chatter between the artists before the auction kicks off. Matthew was in the final stages of minting and placing the NFTs for sale on Songcamp’s Mirror website.
Musicians and Operators reflected on how they were feeling as the 5pm ET on-sale time approached. For the organizers, there was still trepidation:
I was very nervous. It's uncertain…There are times when you execute a rollout of, say, an album or an EP, or even a single, and you have high hopes for it, then it [doesn’t] reach your expectations. I felt that way too. With Genesis, it's like, the music is cool, you know? But then will this sell, you know, especially at such a high asking price? – Mark Redito
Musicians Rowan Spencer and Hvdson both noted that in spite of the excitement of the day, they went into it with very few expectations:
I didn't have any expectations about what the reception would be in terms of this whole, you know, what's the word, auction… I can say that privately, I was like… ‘This might be a dud’, you know. I was totally ready for us to do this… to be like, ‘Well, the real earnings were the friends we made along the way.’ – Rowan Spencer
Using Mirror’s auction contract and splits mechanic the NFTs were spun up on Catalog. The auction would last until 5pm on May 4th, giving exactly 24 hours for the sale of the three NFT records, now titled “Static Twist”, “Hold On Hope”, and “Antid0t3”. Each song had been set to a reserve bid of 1 ETH, a number that Operators felt was representative of the work that had gone into creating each NFT and that also reflected the market at the time. At 5pm ET the auction went live to great excitement on the call and in the chat… by 5:01pm all three songs had met their reserves. In real time, you can hear shouts of excitement and disbelief from the group on MAi’s recording as he giddily exclaims things like, “This is insane!” and “I’m losing it!” in the background. He recounts the feeling:
I’m recording, you know, and it's just, everybody talking and then… it launches. And, you know, when everybody gets their initial bid, I'm already just hyped. Everybody's going crazy. - MAi
Jeremy Stern also remembers the feeling of watching the auction in real time.
To be honest, I was just like trying to realize the impact… It was the first time we had seen the proceeds of an auction get split out amongst multiple parties on a Catalog record. So, it was truly historic not just in Songcamp[...] sort of blazing a new trail with regards to collaborative creation, but it was also historic in the sense that it was the first time that any Catalog record had its proceeds split to multiple parties. – Jeremy Stern
The bids kept climbing over the next 24 hours, reaching amounts higher than anyone had anticipated. By the end, the song “Static Twist” by The Lunar Veil sold for 1.49 ETH to @itsPhelpsGG, “Hold on Hope” by Driftwood, TX sold for 1.23 ETH to @web3brett (Brett Shear). Shear also ultimately wrangled the top bid for “Antid0t3” by Rainbow Punch at a whopping 7.33 ETH. Altogether, Songcamp’s first experiment had netted the USD equivalent of approximately $34,000.
“Static Twist” by The Lunar Veil @itsPhelpsGG (1.49 ETH)
“Hold On Hope” by Driftwood, TX – @web3brett (1.23 ETH), transferred to @coopatroopah
“Antid0t3” by Rainbow Punch - @web3brett (7.33 ETH)
Collectors Brett Shear who won “Antid0t3” and “Hold on Hope” and Cooper Turley, who had also been actively bidding throughout the auction (Brett transferred “Hold on Hope” to Cooper immediately after the auction concluded) had both had been keenly aware of Matthew’s music and writing in advance of the Camp Genesis auction. Shear and Turley were not only actively watching what Matthew would do next, but offering support and advice when he needed it. Shear had his heart set on the song Matthew had worked on, “Antid0t3”, and recalled the anxiety of getting in a bidding war:
I had my eyes on the one Matthew Chaim worked on, obviously… I just remember like, I started getting in a bidding war… And I was like, ‘Holy shit. Maybe this person is gonna outbid me. I better bid on this other one, too.’ – Brett Shear
He loved the song but it was his history as a supporter of Matthew’s that made him want to collect “Antid0t3”. He had first come across Matthew’s song ”Tear” and collected it on Catalog. The two had gotten in touch and began chatting shortly after that.
Maybe it was like him thanking me for buying it. Or maybe it was when I joined [Songcamp]. I can't remember exactly what our first interaction was. But it definitely was… I bought the NFT, [then] I learned about, and joined, Songcamp. – Brett Shear
Another thing that impressed Brett was Songcamp’s push to innovate on their very first project. And the fact that two important web3 platforms (Catalog and Mirror) were willing to accommodate their experiment.
I also noticed that the Catalog and Mirror founders had both taken a really major liking to Matthew and to Songcamp as well and wanted to accommodate the experiment however he wanted to release it… I thought that was really impressive… for Matt and for Songcamp, that they were able to do that, and also for those teams for realizing kind of the genuine, strong cultural power coming from Songcamp from early days. – Brett Shear
After first collecting Matthew’s smiley face NFT from his “WTF are NTFs” article in March of 2021, Cooper Turley started looking into him a little bit further.
…I was just really excited about someone who was both an artist and a writer. I just really enjoyed his music- started listening to it. And, around that time, he got a lot more acclimated with the Seed Club family and my friend Jess Sloss… I think that's kind of where the whole Songcamp ideation came from. It was really just exploring this intersection of being a creative in web3 in the very early onset. – Cooper Turley
Cooper had been following along with Songcamp, and was present on the Discord for the auction.
I mean, I wanted to own one of them. I just thought that the idea was really incredible. You know as someone who's been really actively involved with social clubs like FWB and whatnot, I just saw the value in just owning, like historic memories from collectives like this. And, you know, specifically with Driftwood, a lot of these artists that were on that track in particular are people I have gotten in contact with. I just remember very vividly after those auctions, like they actually sent me a video that had the song underneath, and they all kind of recorded a voice clip just saying, like, ‘Thank you for your support’... And it's just a really personal, memorable experience. So yeah, it's an extremely memorable NFT for me, and I'm just happy to have been able to support the project in the early stages of its existence. – Cooper Turley
On MAi’s recording of that May 3rd call and auction kick-off Matthew spoke directly to the collectors who were listening in as the artists celebrated:
You know what’s cool… You’re hearing what you’re doing. In real time you’re hearing the effect you’re having on these creative human beings. - Matthew Chaim
Songcamp’s Camp Genesis was unique and groundbreaking for a number of reasons. At the time, music NFTs were in their infancy. There weren't many people making them and, as Turley recounts, there weren't many people collecting them.
Especially just at that time, too, there wasn't a lot of music that was being minted as NFTs. There was a lot of like, visual focused NFTs. But there wasn’t a lot of audio focus on NFTs. And what I really liked about Songcamp was it was just about the music. And to me, that was so fascinating, because everyone had gotten so used to there needing to be some like 3D looping image or something to be an “NFT”. But I was just such a passionate fan of music long before web3 that when this sector started to be defined I really just wanted to kind of put my seal of approval on it. Like, ‘Hey, like, I think this is valuable. I think this is exciting.’ – Cooper Turley
MAi also sees the Camp Genesis auction as a significant moment when people really started paying attention to this technology’s potential and what it could mean for independent artists.
In terms of Songcamp, I think that moment, at the time, was probably close to the biggest moment for music NFTs. And when I say the biggest moment, I just mean, in the short term, I don't mean like, overall, period… It definitely was a moment people's heads turned, like, ‘What is this? What is going on here?’ So, I think it definitely did something to the space as a whole for artists, in terms of thinking about the possibilities… I think in the future it'll be incredibly legendary. - MAi
Camp Genesis was a successful use case for the technology's ability to allow independent creatives a more seamless form of collective coordination and collaboration. For the artists, the experience of the release was also new, and was unlike any previous music releases they had experienced.
[I] made more in terms of the USD value in that moment [of the Songcamp Genesis auction] than I made, at least off my Bandcamp, ever… I wasn't about to, like, quit my day job over it, but that in and of itself was just remarkable… What we received in terms of financial value actually felt like it was somewhere close to the excitement and late nights of work and all that. It felt more worthy of the “hype”, for lack of a better word, around the moment and the music. – Rowan Spencer
Songcamp’s Genesis project helped many of the artist-participants have the confidence to dive further into web3 communities and DAOs, and a willingness to experiment with releasing their own NFT's. It opened artists up to new communities and new friendships.
I would say that’s the biggest way that it impacted me and affected how much I believed in these kinds of community projects. Yeah, like allowing me to push myself to get involved in more like them, because I think it was a bit of a fluke, in terms of the way that I typically operate that I even got involved in the first place. A fluke and the power of Matthew Chaim. – Rowan Spencer
For many of the 13 artists the strong sense of community support present in Camp Genesis had been missing from their practice. For Seed Club founder Jess Sloss, the project he had supported from the beginning was a resounding success:
We talk a lot about just getting to the first “closed loop” so people can get a full experience of what a thing might be, and to make sure that we're keeping those at a scale that is reasonable. And so, I think Songcamp was a great example of that. It was a big swing relative to whatever else has happened out there. But also, it was very doable and manageable and there was a beginning, and a middle, and an end. And the end resulted in value flowing back to people who had participated. – Jess Sloss
Historically, Camp Genesis was perhaps the first web3 example of a headless band, a term inspired by Other Internet's article on ‘headless brands’. It was an early iteration of a simple idea: to creatively empower a collective of community-first artists using new, decentralized tooling. Songcamp would go forward to explore these concepts in subsequent projects but on a much larger scale.
I think the beauty of [Camp Genesis] was the fact that there were no expectations. That really brought together a cool vibe for people to get to experiment. At the same time I also look at it and I’m like ‘Man…Boy, oh boy, did we go and do some crazy shit since then.” – Matthew Chaim