At SXSW it was Goodbye NFTs and Hello AI Music

like what some expressed at the 4th Annual NFT.NYC Conference in New York City in 2022, as pictured here. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)Getty Images

Where have all the NFT brothers gone? That was the usual refrain at this year’s South-by-Southwest, the oversized music-tech-culture conference concluding in Austin, Texas.

In 2022, around 40 panels and presentations focused on the formerly fashionable, now volatile, non-fungible tokens.

A panel last year starred FTX crypto exchange founder Sam Bankman-Fried and esports entrepreneur Andy Dinh, who appeared on the show as “two colossal entrepreneurs…who are not only changing the landscape in their own fields, but also the economic landscape as we know it .”

Three months before this year’s SXSW, Bankman-Fried was arrested and charged with securities fraud, money laundering and campaign finance violations. He was subsequently released on $250 million bail on the condition that he reside at his parents’ home in California.

The SBF scandal and the recent collapse of crypto-friendly Signature Bank resulted in a massive net loss of interest in NFTs at this year’s confab. A search of the schedule revealed half as many NFT-related panels.

“The tech world is just moving very quickly to the next big thing,” said Molly White, a tech skeptic and Wikipedia editor who was a keynote speaker. “I think the myth-making and hype cycles that society goes through are not good.”

Instead of NFTs, this year’s Tech Buzz revolved around artificial intelligence, including a panel led by the author entitled “Can Robots Make Life-Changing Songs?”. and one entitled “Welcome To The Machine: Art In The Age of AI” featuring musician Dan Navarro, author of Pat Benatar’s hit “We Belong”. These bodies were more conservative about the AI-meets-Art craze than the cavalier parade at last year’s NFT party.

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AI-created ditties seem too cliche and spasmodic for prime time, but AI can help with difficult and menial musical tasks like orchestrating film scores and mastering music tracks. Because of AI’s greater practical utility compared to the more abstract appeal of NFTs, AI music applications tend to be long-lived, White said.

On the day of these two panels, the US Copyright Office issued its expected AI music copyright policy, declaring that music created entirely by AI modelers like Google’s GOOG text-to-music generator MusicLM will not be copyrighted can. Only human-authored aspects of a work that are independent of the AI-generated material can do this. This limitation can feel like a splash of ice water for hot AI companies trying to attract investment based on monetization models that rely on copyright protection.

So what’s going to be the hottest tech topic next year?

The lanyards on this year’s festival laminates may give a clue. Self-described as the “Robinhood of Music,” LabelCoin is among a growing number of “music market” firms offering artists an alternative to the major label system with the promise of music “exchanges” in which fans can buy and sell shares can of songs.

Other companies riding this rising wave include Songvest, JKBX and, whose founder is Justin Blau, aka 3LAU, an EDM star who spoke at SXSW this year. Blau made waves in 2021 by selling NFTs of his $11.7 million album Ultraviolet, which you could also get on most streaming services.

In the mid-1800s, Austin was teeming with cowboys and Comanches on horseback. These days, his tech and music geeks are chasing the next big thing on Birds and other trendy scooters.

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I’m a Los Angeles-based music and media attorney who writes and speaks about the music business and legal trends. From record and publishing deals to copyright disputes, catalog valuations and music licensing, at Raines Feldman LLP I handle all kinds of matters for my clients. Music, old and new, near and far, and the companies and technologies that have popped up around it, is my thing. For fun, I play guitar in a group called Twilight Tones that specializes in 60’s and 70’s TV themes.

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