HitPiece’s short-lived beta version draws the ire of local artists.
Photo: A faint computer chip background can be seen behind five screencaps, four of which are displaying Madison-based musicians’ works as an NFT on the beta version of a new website, HitPiece. The fifth screencap shows HitPiece’s current homepage, which only features their logo and the message “We Started The Conversation And We’re Listening.” in white text on a black background. Computer chip background via blickpixel on Pixabay.
With additional reporting by Scott Gordon.
Word started circulating on social media Tuesday as musicians of all sorts discovered their own work on HitPiece, a website that professed to auction off NFTs of albums and songs. A cursory glance at the site revealed numerous problems, from its inability to connect with cryptocurrency wallets so that users could make bids and, more troublingly, the fact that HitPiece didn’t have permission to host, sell, or distribute any of the music on its “service.”
Twitter and Reddit users were quick to point out that it seemed as if whoever had organized HitPiece’s selections had just been scraping data from Spotify and transferring it over, effectively duplicating a sizable portion of the streaming giant’s digital library. There were more than enough links between the displayed (albeit inaccessible) content to lend credibility to those claims. Distributors, artists, and labels descended upon HitPiece’s Twitter account to express frustration and threaten lawsuits, due to the numerous legal violations HitPiece was visibly positioning itself to commit.
In the midst of a growing uproar that occurred over the course of Tuesday evening, HitPiece’s site was briefly taken down. Shortly after it was pulled, HitPiece offered a baffling apology tweet that seemingly absolved its creative team of any wrongdoing, despite what appeared to be a desecration of copyright and ownership laws.
— HitPiece – Music NFTs (@joinhitpiece) February 2, 2022
As the saga began to unfold, a lot of musicians, journalists, and observers tried to pinpoint the reason behind HitPiece’s existence. Some claimed the site’s creators intentionally set off a scandal for unknown reasons, pointing to the site’s very title as a potential clue. Others floated theories of brazen ignorance compounded by unearned confidence. At this stage, nobody knows much, beyond the identity of a few of the people involved in HitPiece’s creation, and what everyone saw in the catastrophic beta version rollout.
While the beta version of the site was up, rifling through its library turned up a number of Madison and Madison-area artists. Rob Dz, Dylan Bryne, Lovely Socialite, Disq, EMTN, Auscultation, Damsel Trash, Tony Barba, Gentle Brontosaurus, Godly The Ruler, Coordinated Suicides, Proud Parents, Dusk, Cicada The Burrower, Little Red Wolf, Chants, Tenement, and Interlay all appeared. (One of my own bands, which has been inactive since 2016, was also included in HitPiece’s displaying library). It’s likely there were several more, but that’s hard to confirm because HitPiece has since taken down its unauthorized listings.
Like musicians everywhere, the Madison-area artists Tone Madison reached for comment were not pleased about their involuntary involvement in HitPiece. Huan-Hua Chye of Gentle Brontosaurus called the band’s listing on “an unwelcome surprise” but joked, “I’m gratified to see A Roblox Christmas is finally getting the attention it deserves.”
“It’s a total scam,” says Cam Davis of Cicada The Burrower, who also runs an independent label called Blue Bedroom Records. “If you want to own my music digitally, just pay the $2 asking price or download it illegally. I really don’t like the idea of someone paying $100 for a song. It’s laughably vile. Hope those massive tools get what’s coming to them.”
Tone Madison contributor Mike Noto also found one of his bands, Coordinated Suicides, among the many that were showing up in HitPiece’s beta library. Noto was one of several to note that there was more than an overlapping library linking Spotify and HitPiece. “The guys behind it are in the music industry: they had to expect this would happen. But what happens after this is what interests me. They seem to want to be the Spotify of NFT’s, but there’s already so much grift in Spotify’s model as is that I can’t imagine this will be anything other than more grift.”
Eric Oehler, of Null Device and Klack, thinks HitPiece’s creators took advantage of the “unregulated wild west” NFT landscape in a bid to get musicians to sign on. Forgiveness is easier than permission and all that,” Oehler says. “And they were hoping to use the publicity—good and bad—to leverage legitimate deals with artists and record labels and such.”
Oehler sums up HitPiece’s pitch to artists as something like a protection racket: “‘Nice content ya got there. Be a real shame if someone minted an NFT of it.'”
Rob Dz appeared on HitPiece by way of a feature verse on fellow Madisonian Anthony Lamarr’s song “Obedience,” and didn’t know about it until he was asked for comment.
“Well, that is not cool,” Dz says. “Like no email even asking. Or even a percentage explanation of how musicians would get paid from it.”
Dz adds: “I have an interest in NFTs but I also wonder, is it just a phase? Definitely bogus that this HitPiece outfit is scamming kats before they even get a chance to tap into that revenue stream.”
Isaac de Broux-Slone of Disq called the rollout of HitPiece “mind-boggling.”
“This isn’t anything anyone hasn’t said already but I just don’t understand how they possibly thought that was OK, or that there wouldn’t be backlash,” de Broux-Slone says.
Curiously, only some of the titles on HitPiece had what appeared to be starting bids, all set at the amount of $100. That none of HitPiece beyond navigation and display was functional did little to abate the hostility of both a general music audience and the artists whose works were listed without permission. This includes, of course, musicians who want nothing to do with NFTs.
Can you please send us the licensing agreement that guarantees we get paid? I don't remember signing off on one for your company.
— wheatus (@wheatus) February 2, 2022
Had this controversy not exploded on Twitter, I wouldn’t have known our entire catalog is on here. 160 releases worth. None of my bands were contacted directly and neither was I. Y’all are dumb as fuck. give me $$$ for having to deal with this crap today. Venmo @TripleBRecords
— Triple B Records (@TripleBRecords) February 2, 2022
— speedy ortiz ÷ sad13 ÷ sadie dupuis ÷ haunted guy (@sad13) February 2, 2022
On Wednesday morning, HitPiece’s site went live again, with a static homepage and a brief message: “We Started The Conversation And We’re Listening.” Since nothing was technically sold, just shown, pursuing legal action against HitPiece at this stage would be a murky and likely fruitless prospect, but seeing the reaction the concept generated might have an impact on a Madison-based service that’s also seeking to traverse the “music as NFT” route: LÜM.
LÜM announced in a statement on December 6, 2021, that it would be moving towards “relaunching in the coming months with a plan to catalyze the mass adoption of blockchain and NFT technology for a generation of artists and their fans.” The statement included an admission that LÜM had “fallen short” of a few unspecified goals, which points to the likelihood that the original model wasn’t producing results at a sustainable rate. Nine days later, LÜM sent out another message, detailing how the site would work, emphasizing an “Access Pass” system. How those differ from fan clubs, where subscribers can sign up to receive physical and digital goods from a band they like while also maintaining a level of responsibility for those items’ security and usage, is currently unclear. (LÜM’s founders have made allusions to the possibility of listeners being able to act as A&R for audio post-purchase, though the historically pervasive exploitation within the industry would suggest an inevitability of dispiritingly bleak outcomes for listener and artist alike, especially in cases with an absence of legal counsel.)
If LÜM had any hesitations about its re-brand, the overwhelmingly antagonistic reaction HitPiece drew from the music community writ large would be more than enough reason to accelerate those concerns. Still, LÜM seems committed to charting a path that’s even more insular than their first model ultimately proved to be, citing the success massive artists like Doja Cat have experienced with NFT sales, despite multiple sensible warnings about the model’s overwhelming lack of demonstrable value when separated from its cultural vacuum.
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