Having caught our attention with the recent Synth Heads NFT release, in partnership with Beatport, we caught up with Pixelynx CEO, Inder Phull, to discuss how the music industry is set to change.

When Pixelynx and Beatport announced their Synth Heads NFT series last month, the response, on Attack’s Instagram, was broadly unsupportive. Given that music heavyweights Richie Hawtin, deadmau5 and Beatport are involved in creating Pixelynx, the general resistance was surprising.

We, therefore, decided to sit down with Pixelynx CEO, Inder Phull, to talk about the opportunities being presented and how the significant changes online will positively impact musicians, alongside the industry as a whole.

The Synth Heads NFT series on OpenSea

Attack: Let’s start at the top. Can you explain what Pixelynx is?

Inder Phull: Pixelynx is a new venture that blurs the lines between music, blockchain, and gaming. Our first product is a gaming platform that changes the way fans experience music and immerse themselves in their favourite artist’s vision.

There is a mobile application that’s launching built with Niantic ARDK and we have a desktop game that is built on Unreal Engine 5. We view gaming as a new canvas for artists to express themselves and the vision is to launch new interactive formats that will push music experiences into the future.

Would the following therefore be true? An artist, for example, Richie Hawtin could say, “join me here today in my personal metaverse on Pixelynx where I’m going to do a live private performance and at the same time you can buy merch, NFTs and play games together?

Yes, that is part of the experience. We combine music and games to unlock new experiences through playable modes. Crucially, we are not trying to replicate a physical experience in a virtual world. We see a huge opportunity to look at gaming as a new canvas for artistry to thrive.

Virtual concerts are an important part of Pixelynx and we’re hoping to develop the concept much further than watching an avatar perform. We think there is an opportunity to transport fans into unique virtual environments that take the music to a new dimension.

Our focus is about giving fans the tools to use a bunch of stems from some of your favourite songs as well as a toolset to start building interesting remixes of that music

How would you condense a “music metaverse” for someone who’s not sure?

There are multiple ways to describe it, as the definitions are broad. The metaverse in principle is a new ecosystem and in our view, built on a few key pillars.

One is the virtual world aspect. For us, this revolves around the idea that an artist can launch their own virtual environment and build new experiences in these spaces. Imagine an interactive music video on steroid.

The second part of the metaverse is around ownership. This concept is that fans can have a level of ownership over what they purchased inside these environments. This is super interesting and important for Pixelynx and our artists.

To enact all of this, the metaverse uses things such as game engines and blockchain to reimagine what their art form looks like.

How do you see NFTs changing the music industry?

There are so many different ways to look at it. Right now, when people think about NFTs, they tend to look at them as an overinflated JPEG.

But dig further and you’ll learn that an NFT is basically just the smart contract and that is actually the exciting part.

This is a piece of code that can do multiple things. This contract proves ownership which helps build transparency.

For example, I could own 50% of a song and the other 50% is owned by a songwriter. Using the smart contract, every single time a transaction happens, the money can go out immediately to the relevant owners. This can dramatically improve royalty systems and give artists a new way to build a long-term career.

Read this next: “I Removed My Music From Spotify”- Why Artists Are Stepping Away

To take that example further, the rapper NAS recently released a single through the NFT platform Royal. He “fractionalized” it meaning you could buy a portion of the NFT and you would earn royalties from this single as a fan.

What this means is that all of a sudden, fans have the ability to not just support artists, but also benefit from an investment in them.

This opens the potential to disrupt the traditional fundraising relationship between artists and labels. It puts the power back in the community.

People frequently ask – “will I need goggles or do I need a headset?” Is that true for Pixelynx?

Not in our version of what we’re building. We have our vision and VR (virtual reality) is not a part of that for now. Ours is more accessible using mobiles and laptops.

However, certainly, there are others where you do. That’s the beauty of all these changes in that there are so many various and different experiences.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the metaverse is the idea that different designers are manufacturing different worlds. With different worlds come different rules. In essence, the creators are “playing God” which will raise numerous governance debates...

“Playing God” is something that has been previously referenced in this ongoing discussion. People are creating worlds and concepts of worlds. It does raise huge issues that need to be addressed but it’s still early days. No one has yet figured out the best path forward.

Pixelynx

Some people are having a really hard time wrapping their heads around this. What do you say to them?

I’ll give you the best explanation we reference internally.

Think about the jump from radio to MTV. That jump was so fundamental because all of a sudden video became this new format. To many, this was such a significant change that trying to explain it would fall flat. Many wouldn’t have even understood what you were talking about because the format just didn’t exist.

As we move into this next era where game engines are becoming democratized, people can create content in 3D spaces without the need for huge budgets. Today is similar in that this next paradigm shift to the virtual world will imitate the format change and subsequent upheaval we saw from radio to video.

Another reference might be MySpace. It dramatically and quickly changed artists’ relationships with fans

It’s a good reference. MySpace made it far easier for artists to have a profile online and engage with fans. It got usurped by Instagram, Facebook etc but in its day, it really revolutionised the relationship.

Some believe that new platforms (virtual worlds like Roblox) are doing the same and they will leave behind Instagram and Facebook. In these spaces, artists will be able to communicate more meaningfully and experiment with different ways of engaging with fans.

Right now there is a lot of trial and error. Thinking out loud, there could be amazing opportunities to produce incredible virtual and immersive experiences for concept albums.

Does the Pixelynx team have a background in music? I think one of the fears for musicians is that the people who run this kind of platform are just in it for the money and don’t understand the concerns of music makers and fans.

Yes, for sure. The five founders include deadmau5 and Richie Hawtin, two visionaries who many times over reinvented the music industry. Both deeply care about technology and how it will shape the future of music.

Our other partners also have a huge musical legacy. Ben Turner owns International Music Summit (IMS). He founded AFEM (The Association For Electronic Music), which is there to protect the interests of the electronic music community. He also manages Richie Hawtin.

If artists see it as a money grab, then all of the potentials of NFTs and blockchain will disappear. It’s really important that artists use this emerging technology correctly to democratise their relationships with fans

Having spent a large portion of his life making sure artists get paid fairly, he’s possibly the best-placed person to put artists first in this new world.

Dean Wilson is also a founder and he has been managing deadmau5 for his whole career whilst running numerous successful music businesses across management and publishing. Dean gets music but also has been involved with blockchain music platforms for many years. He saw this coming a long time ago.

What’s been the main challenges to building Pixelynx and a music metaverse more generally?

As it’s a new space, things are changing very quickly. That makes it harder to figure out how we can use this technology to actually make a difference and not get carried away.

We could have very easily done an NFT drop that was hundreds of thousands of dollars and probably made very good money from it. But we chose not to go down that route. We chose instead to take more time to figure out how we can create something that’s accessible. That’s always been the challenge while the technology unfolds in real-time.

Do you have any idea what might be unforeseen consequences of creating music metaverses?

If artists see it as a money grab, then all of the potentials of NFTs and blockchain will disappear. It’s really important that artists use this emerging technology correctly to democratise their relationships with fans.

There’s also an important discussion around the impact on the environment. Certain blockchains are not very energy-efficient, for example, Ethereum. The general move to energy-efficient blockchains is the right way to go and artists and platforms should continue to ask “what blockchain are you using and how energy efficient is it?”

Then of course there are the governance issues that we touched on earlier.

How would a fan play a game in Pixelynx? What are the rules and what sort of game is it?

There are a few things. Our focus is on stems and giving fans the ability to take these stems and create really interesting versions of this music in a super easy and fun format.

When we think about games, it’s like creative games, not necessarily games like Fortnite. Our focus is about giving fans the tools to use a bunch of stems from some of your favourite songs as well as a toolset to start building interesting remixes of that music. As we say – blurring games and music with user-generated content is a principle goal.

Pixelynx

Would they have to take the stems outside of Pixelynx and work with them in Ableton or any other DAW?

They’ll do it in the game. What we’re making isn’t necessarily made for music producers. Although if you’re a producer, you’ll probably still enjoy it.

Ultimately, it’s much more for the kind of people who are just getting into the idea of or maybe even thinking about music production. We’re not trying to convert them into producers. We’re just giving these fans a way to experience and interact with music in a different way.

The way we’ve designed it is quite abstract. We’ve taken a lot of traditional concepts and reskinned them. Consider what would it look like if Ableton, Fortnite and Roblox combined and you’re close…!

Is the future going to have virtual studios?

Absolutely and we’re very aligned with that.

We love the idea of collaborative music-making and how this can be done in the metaverse.

Your recent news appeared to suggest there might be a Series Two of Synth Heads on the horizon. What can we expect from that?

We can’t go into too much detail at this stage but think about it this way. An NFT on the Synth Heads drop is like a members card into a longer-term vision with multiple member benefits such as guest lists, merch, early releases, private shows and so forth.

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Author Eric Brünjes
4th March, 2022

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