We spoke to Ryan Abary, Community Manager at Sturdy Exchange, about how artists are curating NFT experiences for their fans.

Ryan Abary is the Community Manager at Sturdy Exchange, a music platform working directly with musicians and creators to curate exclusive NFT experiences for music fans and collectors. As a Community Manager, Ryan oversees community-led offline and online events, as well as the moderation of Sturdy Exchange’s Discord channel.

Within this new exciting world of NFTs, most are still being sold only as digital collectables, they have few benefits offline aside from financial investment and clout. But Sturdy Exchange is taking the usage of NFTs a step further, leveraging them in new ways. Talk to us about this model, and why you’ve decided to take the value of NFTs to the next level.

In music, what we’re hearing is that fans don’t just want an NFT. As much as they enjoy the album-cover artwork or the song, they want access to the artist. They want to really be heard by them. They want to be known as a collector of this particular piece.

Going from casual listener and fan to NFT collector opens up a world of access to music fans. At Sturdy Exchange, we’re enabling all of this.

“In music, fans don’t just want an NFT … They want access to the artist.”

What are some of the types of ‘access’ you offer music fans through NFTs?

The NFTs we offer, allow artists and musicians the opportunity to provide exclusive merchandise to their biggest fans—the things they couldn’t find anywhere else. We’ve also used them as a means for launching and supporting undiscovered artists. As an NFT collector, a fan can also split song earnings with artists, and get access to private Discord channels to connect with their favourite artists.

One of the exclusive live events thrown by Sturdy Exchange for holders of
a Hoodlums NFT.

The concept of NFTs—and the benefits they can offer—are still new to most people. Are the people who are buying them from Sturdy Exchange tech fans, or are they music fans?

It’s about a 60/40 split, sixty percent being tech and crypto fans, and forty percent being purely music fans.

In general, there’s a bit of a roadblock with fan onboarding, because of the stigmas that exist around NFTs and crypto. Some people are still somewhat wary of the space.

So it’s mostly tech and NFT fans with a shared interest in music that are dominating the space right now, as they are already comfortable.

Fan hesitation surrounding NFTs seems to
be a big barrier, not just in music, but in other industries, like sport and fashion. What is it about the NFT space that makes people so wary?

I think what it boils down to is that people are not familiar with the new tech yet, and a lot of the fans aren’t reading up on NFTs. Digital ownership is a new concept to them—it just sounds like a scam. It’s like in the late Eighties or early Nineties, when people were unsure of the internet.

It’s just very early on, we are only a year or year and a half into this whole industry. And I guess from our side, we’re not communicating it right. We are still trying to figure that out.

What are some of the ways you’re experimenting with how to explain the benefits of NFTs to music fans?

If we’re talking to people completely new to NFTs, and we describe them as ‘digital collectibles’, it adds some clarity for them.

But when we add a layer and start to talk about NFTs from the point of view of access, that’s when fans start understanding more. This is especially true for the super fans, because they recognize the value of NFTs as a means of getting close to their favourite artists.

“When we talk about NFTs from the point of view of access, that’s when fans start understanding more ... From their lens, it’s like

“When we talk about NFTs from the point of view of access, that’s when fans start understanding more ... From their lens, it’s like

From their lens, it’s like a VIP pass. It’s their way of saying, “Hey, I collected your NFT. I collected your digital art. Look at me. I’m a super-fan of yours!”

Positioning NFTs as a VIP pass definitely sounds like an appealing selling point for fans. Can you give us some examples of VIP music experiences you’ve created?

We did an album drop with PartyNextDoor; fans were able to go to listening parties, get exclusive merch, and meet the artists.

We also did a launch for Hoodlums, an NFT artist. All Hoodlums NFT-holders received white glove VIP treatment: penthouse suite, party at the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, free drinks—all just for holding the Hoodlums NFT.

So fans see music NFTs through a VIP, all-access pass-lens. What lens do the artists see NFTs through?

Artists and musicians tend to understand it through a merch lens, as a way to engage their community on another level to what they’d find at a merch booth. Let’s say there’s a limited number of T-shirts at a merch booth. Well, we are selling NFTs in limited numbers. This helps fans show the status of their fandom for that artist.

Another way artists look at it is from a streaming angle. Artists are tackling it from a publishing stand- point; they’re trying to break the system of streaming platforms and how artists get paid.

What are some of the ways Sturdy Exchange has helped artists to take on the traditional streaming model using NFTs?

One of my favourite drops was when we featured three female artists who hadn’t really gotten the attention they deserved in the music industry.
We paired them up with one of the most popular NFT artists out there, Serwah Attafua. Then we partnered with Bacardi as a brand, to promote it.

The artists and producers got all the proceeds from the NFT sales, while the shares and streaming royalties from platforms like Spotify and Apple were given to the fans that bought the NFTs. It’s really like kickstarting a mixtape or a song, and letting fans really come in and support it from the get-go.

What advice would you give to artists or brands that are interested in using NFTs to supercharge their fan experience?

The advice I give now is to really do your research before jumping in. Be sure to communicate clearly what NFTs are, and why you’re stepping into the space.

“At Sturdy Exchange, our approach is to throw things against the wall and see what sticks.”

The space moves a little too fast to keep up with sometimes. You really have to keep your ear to the ground, because people are always playing around with how NFTs can create and unlock communities.

At Sturdy Exchange, our approach is to throw things against the wall and see what sticks.

You can learn more about Sturdy Exchange here, and connect with Ryan on all things music and community building here.