‘Game Changers’ Analyze NFTs, The Metaverse and Live’s Next Digital Frontier In Pollstar Live! Panel

Juliana Bernstein
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Moderator Drake Sutton-Shearer and panelists Sarah Buxton, Benji Madden and Casey McGrath discuss live’s next digital frontier at Pollstar Live!

Do you feel intimidated by technology buzzwords like “NFTs,” “cryptocurrency,” “blockchain,” “metaverse” and “Web3”? You shouldn’t, according to the speakers on “Game Changer: How NFTs, The Metaverse, and Gaming are Reshaping Live Entertainment,” the panel that properly kicked off Pollstar Live! on Tuesday.

“If you’re already in it, you’re really early and if you haven’t gotten into it yet, it’s still really early,” said Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden, who cofounded livestreaming platform Veeps with his brother Joel in 2017. (Live Nation acquired Veeps in January 2021.)

The panel, which featured Madden in conversation with Night After Night chief creative officer Casey McGrath, Gala Games chief operating officer Sarah Buxton and moderator Drake Sutton-Shearer, CEO and founding partner of NFT consulting and marketing firm PIXL8, addressed several digital trends and how they might impact the future of live entertainment.

The bulk of the conversation revolved around various aspects of Web3, the new iteration of the World Wide Web that with its focus on blockchain, decentralization and token-based economics is a rebuke of the social media-fueled Web 2.0 that has dominated for the last 20 some years.

“The new Web3 world is still emerging,” Sutton-Shearer said. “Web 2 allowed you to focus on the quantity of fans, scaling. Web3 allows us to focus on the quality of fans and the quality of that experience.”

It might seem like a cutting-edge future – and given the technology at play, it certainly is – but it’s not without historical precedent, according to the panel.

“There is sort of this vibe of, like, Seattle in the ’90s, or different scenes like Bay Area punk in the 90s, all these different little scenes, these different communities in Web3,” Madden said. “It’s really, really cool because you don’t always get to feel that. It kind of comes at these special moments in time. You feel the energy and you see these communities building … they’re just going and having fun and playing, and in that process they’re inventing how we’re going to interact. They’re inventing how we’re gonna use these [Web3 platforms].”

In her role at Gala Games, a blockchain gaming startup that is pouring billions of dollars into music, film and theme park NFTs, Buxton is at the forefront of innovators strategizing how Web3 will facilitate a new era of entertainment and fan interaction – even as the term “NFT” fades from use.

“Eventually people won’t talk about NFTs,” Buxton said. “They’ll talk about experiences. They’ll talk about new ways to engage. They’ll talk about being able to create experiences even if you can’t be there.”

Throughout the pandemic, leaders in the livestreaming sector reassured others in the live industry that digital experiences wouldn’t cannibalize physical ones once touring returned, but rather augment them, expanding their reach to audiences without physical access, and the “Game Changer” panelists affirmed that philosophy.

And, once again, it’s a futuristic model with historical precedent. McGrath, who worked with Kings of Leon, NFT marketplace OpenSea and the platform YellowHeart on the alt-rock band’s digital art collection drop in March 2021, drew a connection to the historic 1985 Live Aid concert and its global broadcast.

“I stayed home, sat down, and tuned in with my whole family and felt closer in a live music experience that I’ve maybe ever felt,” said McGrath, who was seven at the time.

NFTs and the metaverse have profound implications for philanthropy and charitable giving, he continued. According to McGrath, a more traditional fundraising campaign by Kings of Leon in early 2021 raised about $60,000 for Crew Nation, while the band’s “NFT Yourself” digital campaign raised $600,000 for the same organization.

NFTs, he explained, don’t “stop at the end of the event,” which could extend something like the traditional telethon model. And the technology could also revolutionize the secondary collectible market, creating new revenue streams for artists and creators.

“We’ve got an opportunity to build something new and better than what we have,” Buxton said. “What we have a habit of doing as human beings is we revert to what’s easy, what’s known or safe. And I think Web3 is an opportunity to take all of the best bits of live performances and experiences and do something really creative. And to me, that’s not *just* lifting it up. … It’s about thinking, ‘What else could we do?'”

In the estimation of the panelists, Web3 can do more than enhance the live experience – it can create another type of live experience entirely, while simultaneously bolstering existing live models and creating better, more accessible avenues of interaction between creators and audiences.

“At Veeps, we believe that the need for live experience and live … is really important, and we want that to thrive,” Madden said. “We want to add to that, so we want to create more demand for that. And we want to help. … We want to help build a bridge into Web3 for people to celebrate live music, to get to experience live music more often and to create more appetite, to go with their friends, with their communities and have live experiences. … You watch it, you experience it, and you go ‘I want to go.'”