By Eli Mitchell-Larson
Casey Pearl is an independent artist from London and the world’s first female crypto-artist. Her songwriting and musical arrangement is varied, including aspects of blues, folk, reggae, jazz, and electro beats, with powerful melodic vocal expression as the unifying constant. She recently launched her own ERC20 cryptocurrency, the PEARL Token, through Tokit. This new paradigm enables her to directly manage her own intellectual property rights, revenues, and royalties.
Eli Mitchell-Larson: Tell us about your background as a musician, before you got into crypto.
Casey Pearl: I come from a very musical background, but I was always quite shy! I loved singing in choirs at school and singing at home, but didn’t want to be in the limelight or perform in front of people. As an adult, I started playing the drumkit in the school I worked at after everyone else had gone home. Eventually friends heard my music and encouraged me to try performing at a local blues jam and at various open mics. I started writing songs, a friend gifted me his bass, and the songs just kept coming!
Soon after, I was set up to play my first gig, opening for Vivian Jones, a big name in reggae, at a local club. I’d never been backed by a full reggae band before, but as soon as I was up there and began playing, hearing my songs being played by a real band for the first time, I found I wasn’t nervous at all and loved it. I just thought, “this feels like home”.
EML: You came to music later than some, after working in public education for several years. What was that like, and how has your work in education informed your journey as an artist and vice versa?
CP: I started a bit late, but just on time for me. My first big gig was in 2014, and it was only a couple years before that that I had begun writing songs.
Previously, I worked with children living in state-run housing projects, running music, dance, and art enrichment programs with them. Afterwards I became a primary school maths teacher but became frustrated with the test-driven system, and switched to working primarily with students with special needs in small groups and on a one-on-one basis.
Art, music, and creative expression are so precious, and unfortunately are too often pushed aside and not prioritized in public education. I think it’s a real shame because while people are young they should be enjoying their lives and exploring their creativity. I bring my music into the school via an after-school club where students can play with instruments and write their own songs. I always tell the children, “everyone can make music” to dispel them of the myth that you need to understand formal music theory to be a songwriter. When they hear themselves make up a few bars of a song, they’re so excited. Their faces are just like mine when I make up a tune—surprised and excited to have created something that didn’t exist before! When they perform for their classmates they feel like superstars.
That’s what children live for – just enjoying life; they don’t know about the rest of it yet! I love that in my music and performance I can channel my own child-self, where I’m truly doing something for its own pleasure.
EML: How do you balance that very personal, self-actualizing creativity-for-its-own-sake with preparing your music for performance for an audience?
CP: I have loads of songs I’ve never performed. I love singing them, but I’m aware they’re not all ready for public consumption, perhaps because they’re really long or repetitive. I’ve learned that I don’t need to have so much reticence to share these pieces—last week I closed my set with one of these stranger songs as an experiment, and it turned out people loved it!
EML: Your music plays with genre, incorporating elements of blues, reggae, and folk to name a few. For example, your track “Rhythm of Our Loving” breaks unexpectedly into a swung section before reverting back to its slow, sensual, funky pulse. You deliberately eschew genre, describing your music as “Casey Pearl” music. How do you describe Casey Pearl music to others?
CP: When you book gigs, people want to know what genre you perform, and it’s a bit hard for me to explain my stuff! Some songs are operatic and dramatic, others are folky calypso, and still others are folky in a Celtic sense. That makes some people think “Oh good grief, what kind of patchwork am I about to see?” but it resonates with audiences, so I just keep drawing on what comes naturally to me. I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for pushing the musicians I work with out of their comfort zones, like getting reggae percussionists to do cymbal hits, and other genre-bending moments. I’m never coming at music as any kind of expert; the bits of different genres and influences that I love have gone into me and they come out in my writing and performance.
EML: Can you explain what blockchain-enabled tokenization is, and how it works for you in practice?
CP: I partnered with Tokit to launch a PEARL token that provides the holder with ongoing rewards, including revenues generated on a one-stop-shop online channel for my content, hosted on a forthcoming platform called EtherVision. Tokenization is a bit like selling shares of yourself, and Ethereum smart contracts automatically govern how the revenue is distributed among the token holders. It’s also a way to stay more connected to your fans on an ongoing basis, because they’re bought into your success for the long haul.
First, I set a fixed amount of digital PEARL tokens that would ever be created, and set a value in Ether to purchase them along with a fundraising goal. Of course, the price of Ether fluctuates so I’ve had some nervous moments, but that’s the nature of the thing. The value changed so much during the campaign I just had to relax and say “whatever they’re worth at the end of the campaign, I’ll adjust my plans accordingly.”
We launched a publicity campaign, then had an open window where people bought tokens. You can’t purchase PEARL tokens now because the event is over, but I can choose to sell more later on if desired. I also plan to give away more tokens as a gift and reward to early supporters.
EML: How do you use the cryptocurrency you’ve raised, in this case ether, to support your work in a world in which these forms of payment are not yet mainstream? How does this all work in practice?
CP: At the moment we still have to convert ether into British pounds in order to pay musicians, album producers, and others. One guitarist I work with I’m going to pay partly using ether. All revenue raised directly on the EtherVision channel, for example pay-per-views of live concert material, gets split pro-rata according to the people who own PEARL tokens (including me who still has most of them). If I sell vinyl or other physical merchandise at gig, I can choose to log that sale on my EtherVision channel, convert the cash into ether, and then it gets distributed automatically as rewards to token holders. If Loreal uses my song for a hair advert I could choose to use a royalty streaming service to send these ongoing rewards directly to token holders. It all happens instantaneously, so token holders only have to login and view their PEARL and Ether reward balances. If everything’s going well and the value increases, I can sell more tokens to make another album. Planning also to give initial token holders more tokens as a thank you, ask them to give them away for publicity.
EML: What first captivated you about blockchain tech and artist tokenization?
CP: I was interested in and aware of cryptocurrencies prior, but it was only when I was looking into ways for ways to stay independent but still get my music out to a wider audience that I came across tokenization.
I love what technology, more generally, has opened up for artists – I was able to cheaply produce my own video to promote my initial token offering using my phone and DIY software – but I don’t like other aspects of technology like the pressure of social media, where you feel like a million people are waiting inside a computer for you to post new content. I was also frustrated with how many platforms and companies all promise new ways for artists to share music and stream their songs, and there’s too many and it’s too noisy.
Blockchain stood out because of the emphasis on artist control. A friend had introduced me to the concept of cryptocurrency, and later exposed me to the work happening at SingularDTV. I started going deeper on the technology, watched fellow musician Grammatik’s token launch, and learned about older efforts like David Bowie bonds. It’s just such an awesome idea, particularly from the perspective of the preciousness of IP and what artists create. They should have the overriding say. There’s loads of talented people involved in the music industry, and a diversity of necessary skills, but everything should center around the content coming from the artist.
EML: What was it like to tokenize your IP, and what kinds of relationships wirth your fanbase have you formed post-tokenization?
CP: The tokenization idea is such a powerful one, allowing creative people of any kind to both raise funds but also enter into a long-term relationship with fans. It’s not just about getting funds, but also a means of having a place to share you work that’s run entirely by you, the artist, with revenue shared between the artist and token-holding fans. I like the idea of guiding everyone to one place (my Ethervision channel, launching soon). You can book tickets to my gigs, watch music videos and live concerts, purchase music and merchandise, all there. And you know that that place is controlled by me, and if you do interact with it you’re supporting me.
A lot of people who found me and bought tokens weren’t necessarily out there looking for new music but were interested in the technology and decentralizing all things including creative industries. I received so many nice messages from people in crypto space, hoping that the platform works and that I can prove the concept.
Most artists have lots of self-doubt, and I’m quite a perfectionist myself. The process of launching a token has helped me to relax and given me freedom, not just because it’s enabled me to do things in my own way, but also because of the outpouring of support for my creativity from all these people around the world I didn’t know prior. This has been a huge push forward.
EML: What other features of this technology intrigue you?
CP: There’s also a “consumption burn” model in which each time one of my songs is played some tokens are “burned” (destroyed). This creates scarcity and increases their tradeable value. Grammatik, a musician who raised ~$2.5 million through his token sale, already has tokens with a tradeable value even in advance of having any ether rewards! But I prefer ether rewards rather than burning tokens. Still, they’ve got my “burn algorithm” ready… should I wish to use it!
EML: As the first female crypto-artist, you’ve joined a small but active community of fellow musicians and artists who have tokenized their IP, or used blockchain technology in other creative ways to enhance their independence and ability to connect more directly with their supporters and fans. What kind of exchange have you had with these fellow crypto-artists, and what have you learned?
CP: In the beginning I had some back-and-forth with Grammatik and he was very supportive. I’ve also been watching and learning about people who have pioneered similar things like Tatiana Moroz’s TATIANACOIN, or Imogen Heap’s crowdsourced songs. I’m really looking forward to meeting Tatiana and others in the space at CryptoCreative.
EML: You’re speaking on a panel on tokenization for musicians and artists at Creative Tech Week’s CryptoCreative event on Thursday May 10th, and also performing at that event. What do you have in store for this performance?
CP: I’ll be performing a cappella without my full band, so I’ll be experimenting with some unusual pieces that haven’t been performed before – world premieres in fact!
Eli is a social entrepreneur, impact investor, and aspiring goatherd. He spent much of the last two years in Nepal building SunFarmer, a solar company that provides thousands of customers with affordable, clean energy, and now serves on SunFarmer Nepal’s board. After falling in love with elliptic-curve cryptography and the technologies underpinning cryptocurrencies, Eli is launching a project called CryptoAtlas to collect and share the most compelling stories of people who are already benefiting from the use of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies. You can sign up to learn more about CryptoAtlas here.