How Music NFTs Have Given Ben Kessler the Confidence to Create Freely
"It has given me more confidence to take risks creatively in places where I wouldn't be able to experiment before. I can now test the waters and see what works."
Editor’s Note: NFT digital collectibles are a new way for fans to support the artists they love. In this series, I talk to artists who have ventured into this new space to learn about their experiences.
There’s a timeless quality about Ben Kessler’s music that I adore. His songwriting always manages to hit a nerve no matter what mood I’m in. The combination of his soothing vocals, vivid storytelling, and meticulous production are the perfect ingredients for a sound that can be universally understood and is uniquely his.
The Philadelphia-based Kessler first popped up on the scene with his 2019 debut single, the lovey-dovey “Good Enough,” which gave listeners a taste of his knack for crafting finely-tuned pop melodies. More great music followed, including the sublime “Even When You’re Home” and the gorgeous mid-tempo ballad “Known Like This” with its glorious, pop-perfect chorus that put Kessler right smack on my radar.
Songs like “Just Wanna Be Your Friend” and “Concrete” in 2020 helped to further detail Kessler’s brand of pop— a mix of introspective balladry and mid-tempo pop-savvy fare gently stirred by his soothing melodic vocals. The dualism in his music also applies to his lyricism that’s raw and instant yet subtle and poetic, as demonstrated by lines like, “Tell me that you really wanna know me. I’m falling fast and it’s on me. But I’m one fall away from the concrete. Hold me.” (from “Concrete”).
After moving to Nashville to work on his music career, the self-proclaimed “aspiring supastar” returned to his parental home in Philadelphia during the pandemic. Being back home led to the recording of his Cruise Control EP that dropped in the spring of 2021.
Kessler writes about the experience, “It is a funny thing this EP was made in the same room I learned how to make music & fell in love with it. I am not religious and I am not overly spiritual but the universe works and it’s comforting to lean into fate sometimes. I think all these songs [on the EP] say this in some way.”
Quite certainly inspired by feelings of isolation and being back home in his parent’s basement, Cruise Control unveiled Kessler's moodier side with his signature candor threading through. Tracks like “Everything to Everyone” help tell Kessler’s story more than he knows, “Some days I’m the loudest in the room. Most days I don’t feel like talking too loud.” It’s that dualism clearly on display. On the confessional, “Lying,” Kessler admits that even though “I write a lot about love but I never even had one.”
Fans and lovers of great music will be happy to know that Kessler is preparing to release new music soon. TikTok has changed how traditional release cycles work, which allows him to rethink the best way to release new music and the cadence of introducing singles.
Kessler has been ahead of the curve, being fully independent, exploring new avenues to find an audience and fund his projects. He turned to Web3 to experiment with digital music collectibles for people to purchase with proceeds directly going to the artist. Kessler has released music NFTs via Catalog, sound.xyz, Glass, and Decent in the last year. It’s been a very successful journey for Kessler who shares some of his thoughts and learnings from his NFT experience.
Arjan: What compelled you to get into the music NFT space? How did it get started for you?
Ben: My brother is in tech and now a crypto-journalist, so he was already in this world. Also, a lot of my friends were getting into the space, and conversations about NFTs surrounded me right at the beginning of 2021. I finally took a real good look at it myself when Catalog started in 2021. I saw music artists finding success in this new space that seemed somewhat disconnected from music. I’ve always wanted to find a way to be involved in music but also have my hand in tech and figure out new avenues to build my career. I finally got the confidence to jump in late fall of 2021. I was a little scared, but when I did my first mint, I was like, ‘I’m in!’ My first few drops were on Catalog, and I have done a few in other places. I think I’ve done ten drops so far.
How do you think music NFTs will support creators? How has it made a difference in your career?
I think there are two aspects to it. First, it has helped tighten the relationships I have with my fans. The word ‘fan’ has a bit of a different meaning in Web3 because we’re talking about people collecting your music. Music NFTs close the gap between myself and those people and make the relationship more intimate. Music NFTs are about finding new ways to provide more value to fans and collectors. It can be giving my insights into my process or provide access to more content that I may not be sharing in other places. Second, there is obviously the aspect of funding. I’ve been able to put the proceeds of my NFT drops directly back into creating more music, visuals, and marketing so I can make my releases bigger. The payoff for a drop is immediate, and it’s funneled directly into the music. To make it even more concrete, my last NFT release was in January, and I was able to fund most of the music I’m planning to put out this year. So, music NFTs give me the flexibility to have funding without having to license my music to a distributor. Music NFTs have been a great resource.
What has been the feedback from long-standing fans who are not in the Web3 space yet?
I have friends who have received pushback from fans, but I haven’t. I think it depends on the genre and the narrative around NFTs in those communities - whether you’re a pop fan or hyper pop fan or electronic fan. I’ve received a lot of support in my lane. It can be confusing for people who have supported my music but haven’t dived into the music NFT space yet. I’m starting to see the two worlds starting to intersect though. I’ve seen a lot of collectors in Web3 who have become genuine fans in a Web2 sense, streaming my music for example, and I’ve seen Web2 fans who weren’t in the space jump in and create a wallet for the first time. I do zooms with my most engaged fans every couple of weeks, and people are helping each other [getting onboarded into the space].
I heard you try to know everyone who has collected your music so you can add them to a Telegram group and stay in touch.
Yes, that’s important to me. I think there is this unspoken sort of thing where the people that collect your music want to become close to the artist they’re supporting. I’ve tried to be proactive and thank people who have supported me. I think I've probably been able to find about half or a little more than half of everyone, but so many people are anonymous, and it's hard to track everyone down.
Do you spend a lot of time socializing in the Web3 space?
I spent a lot of time putting back into Web3, like being in Twitter Spaces. In terms of fully realizing my creative vision and creating the widest net possible when I do a release has definitely opened up the floodgates. It has given me more confidence to take risks creatively in places where I wouldn't be able to experiment before. I can now test the waters and see what works. That applies to music, money for visuals, marketing, or whatever it is. It definitely allowed me to be more creative.
What are other artists and Web3 advocates you look up to?
I’m a big fan of what Marian Hill has been doing in the space. Daniel Allen, who was one of the first calls in the music NFT space and has helped me a lot. Blockchain Brett [Brett Shears] was a huge advocate for me getting me into the space and helping me get my bearings. I look up to Vérité, she’s always experimenting. Reo Cragun, he’s incredible and always innovating. There are tons of people I look up to.
What do you recommend to artists that want to get into the music NFT space?
I'm a very actionable person, and I fully believe that anyone's first NFT shouldn't or doesn't need to be an entire affair. I have a couple of links that I share with friends. One talks about how to set up a wallet, and the second link is how to mint an NFT on Zora. That’s an open protocol, and they do a nice job and support music NFT. So I say, just do it. Go for it. You can't have every single platform be open to everyone from the get-go, so you have to have curated platforms, but there's not enough space on these curated platforms to have every single artist who wants mint, so you have to start somewhere and I think Zora is a great place to start. Also, get on Discord and meet as many people as you can. Word of mouth goes a long way.
💻 Follow Ben Kessler on socials and find his music online.