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On Building Community with Mark de Clive-Lowe

On Building Community with Mark de Clive-Lowe

A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to speak with Mark de Clive-Lowe, a jazz musician and electronic music producer who has been leveraging social tokens like $BUYBACK and $MASHI to build his digital communities.

Mark has a career that spans 20 years in the music industry, and to anyone that has taken a moment to dive into his online presence, it becomes clear that his life revolves around music; he has even referred to music as his “lifelong love.” A quick google search will show that it is impossible to find a photo of him where he is not standing next to, in front of, or seated at, a piano. Even in our virtual conversation, Mark called in from his studio, where behind his head, the long lines of microphone stands, and an unmistakable piano adorned his room.

If you are interested in learning more about Mark, the prolific artist, check out his website here. For the sake of brevity, this case study will focus on the more recent moments of his career, through which he has found web3 to be a fruitful place to continue growing a community around his music. More specifically, we will discuss some of the tactics that have helped Mark find success, from his entrance onto the web3 scene with his inaugural NFT collection - Motherland, to his $BUYBACK crowdfund, to the Mashibeats community, a nascent DAO that seeks to provide mentorship and resources to budding musicians. Mark shows that there is ample opportunity for musicians to carve their own paths in web3, and that for those seeking the type of creative liberation that has been absent from the music industry for so long, and those willing to spend the time building community, this is an incredible place to be.

Motherland: NFTs as a Creative Medium

Mark announced his arrival in web3 with an innovative artistic endeavor, an NFT collection by the name of Motherland. As Mark described it on Mirror, “Motherland is a 43-minute film, a meditative audio-visual exploration of my Japanese ancestry and culture…Presented as both a super-NFT film and audio NFTs.”

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A frame from Mark’s Motherland NFT film. Watch here.

While we have previously written on some of the practical uses of social tokens, specifically ERC20s, the Motherland NFT collection touches on something else entirely. The decision to drop the NFT came, in part, out of a lack of a more adequate home. Mark felt that there was no other medium that could have possibly done it justice, and if you have a moment to read his Mirror post, or give it a watch/listen, it becomes clear why.

One of the first scenes in the Motherland NFT film is a black and white video of Mark, from a ceiling fan angle, as he bounces his head to the rhythm, his hands tapping the keys of a piano. We see this before being transported across various Japanese landscapes, “the train ride to kaga…outdoor pathways to temples, rivers, and lakes.” Motherland is a vast project that spans various mediums - NFTs, hand-pressed, translucent vinyl, commemorative pressings, digital film files, WAV files, each piece with an accompanying twitter thread. It was important for Mark to present such a “deeply personal” project in “a way that preserves this meaning.” He found the most suitable presentation to be on the blockchain, in the form of NFTs where digital scarcity, perpetuity, and ownership offered greater fulfillment.

Mark embraced the nature of his first project as an experiment. As we discussed in a piece on Mason and Allie’s $ALLIE coin, this type of experimentation and thoughtful iteration is crucial to success in the web3 space, and no artist is without need for a helping hand.

In his Motherland announcement, Mark mentions that it was the help of a friend, Sirsu, who encouraged him to enter the web3 space. And as we witnessed during our conversation, he has deep admiration for those creators in the space who have come before him, like Daniel Allan. Since Motherland, Mark has worked on various projects and supported various protocols in the web3 space, many of which we will discuss in this case study. In each instance, Mark has embraced web3 as a new medium for creative expression, through which “stumble in the dark learning” and keen observation allow artists to carve their own way.

$BUYBACK and The Necessity of Ownership

In early 2020, Mark shifted gears and kicked off a crowdfund announcing the launch of the $BUYBACK token. The purpose of this crowdfund was to buy back the rights to seven of Mark’s albums from the record labels that owned them.

For artists, determining how to regain the rights to their music is nothing new. In fact, it is a challenge that still permeates much of the industry. Even if you aren’t a musician, you have likely heard about some of the obstacles that musicians face when it comes to ownership - perhaps you spent some time reading about Taylor Swift’s recent and public endeavor to re-record all of her albums as part of a plan to regain the rights to her masters.

To Mark, web3 represents an opportunity to rebuild the industry in a way that allows the artists that keep it afloat to thrive, and this begins with equitable ownership, meaning that artists can profit off of their work while still remaining in control of their work. Thi is how the crowdfund originated: an endeavor to regain ownership.

In our conversation, we got the chance to ask him whether having this Ethereum-based $BUYBACK token was essential to the success of the crowdfund.

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The $BUYBACK crowdfund surpassed its funding goal of 12 ETH.

Mark stated, “I like the idea that it [the crowdfund] would create a token [$BUYBACK] and that the token could have a functionality. Yeah. I think really it came down to the token. But also the ethos of Buyback, the idea behind it really speaks to what web3 is supposed to be.”

Mark also cited the widespread success of web3 crowdfunds over traditional kickstarter campaigns as a motivating factor to use Ethereum, an ode to the strength of digital communities, especially the one that Mark has been able to foster through platforms like Bonfire, Mirror, Twitter, and Catalog.

Mark’s success shows that there is an innate incentive for musicians to be building in this space. For one, NFTs in and of themselves may serve as a new creative medium for artists to explore, while also offering previously elusive benefits, such as indisputable ownership. And of course, given the remarkable value alignment, it comes as no surprise that the web3 community has rallied so strongly behind the crowdfunds, social tokens, and initiatives of many musicians.

Mashibeats and a Lesson in Community building

One of the cool things about Mark’s crowdfund was that it was used to create a treasury and foundational community for what would become Mashibeats, Mark’s independent record label turned DAO where “web3-aspiring musicians… connect and learn.” Those initial $BUYBACK holders formed the governance committee of Mashibeats and the crowdfund’s success spawned the DAO’s treasury.

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Mashbeats is an independent record label turned creator community DAO.

Mark announced season 1, which included a group of 10 creators, back in March. As of August, all ten creators have been onboarded to Catalog, a platform that allows musicians to drop music as digital records, and now one of the most prominent tools for web3 musicians. Some of these creators, like @sofractures, are currently being onboarded to Bonfire.

The Mashibeats community lives primarily in Discord, and if you have the chance to hop into the server, you will be greeted by an array of colors, badges, memes, and stickers. A personal favorite, and fan-favorite as well, is a sticker cutout of Mark himself, his head tilted to the side as he smiles into the screen at a goofy angle. For reference:

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The assortment of colors and badges represent different roles within the community, and from this follows varying levels of commitment from participants. For example, those with the special MASHI VIP label boast a green-colored username and a Mashibeats logo badge alongside it. Not only does this distinction signal a level of status within the Mashibeats community, but members with specific roles are given access to exclusive content (to learn more about gated Discord roles, check out Bonfire’s guide on token-gates).

While it is clear that there is quite a lot of content, alpha, and general chit chat going on in the various channels of the Mashibeats Discord, the conversation feels more like a group chat of close friends, a group of incredibly talented and passionate close friends, that is. You might come across descriptions of gourmet meals (pictures included, and they don’t disappoint), long conversations about how to maximize inclusivity of Mashibeats across a broad range of creative fields, and casual exchanges about holiday vacation routines.

Taking a birds-eye view of the Mashibeats community, it becomes clear that Mark is a noteworthy community builder, and it is worth taking some time to understand exactly how Mark does this.

Tactic #1: Remix Contests

Similarly to many other creators in the space, Mark has found contests to be a great way to engage his community, and he has run a series of remix contests for Mashibeats members.

You can read about the first ever Mashibeats Remix Contest on Mirror. In short, anyone who used their $MASHI tokens to purchase a Studio Pass 001 NFT were able to participate in the contest. Submissions would be voted on by community members, and winning entries were eligible for a variety of prizes, including but not limited to: getting minted on Catalog, getting pressed on vinyl, and a $MASHI airdrop.

If you have a minute, we recommend venturing over to Catalog to listen to the winning entries here. If you were to listen to the first remix, a record by @YSLaroye, you might find yourself bouncing your head along to the electronic beat. It is striking how incredibly different each of these remix entries are, and after listening to just one or two, it will become abundantly clear just how special the talent that Mark has cultivated through Mashibeats truly is.

The first ever Mashibeats remix contest had such incredible entries that Mark not only announced 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners, but he announced a bonus runner-up as well. And if you still aren’t convinced of the quality of these contests, take a look at this tweet from one of the winners.

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To understand how Mark was able to do this, we asked him whether he believed that the $MASHI tokens and associated NFTs have allowed him to create a community that he would not have been able to create otherwise.

The short answer that Mark gave was: “no.” But the long answer is fascinating, and sheds a light on one of the very basic arguments for web3, tracing back to Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans and Chris Dixon’s NFTs and a Thousand True Fans.

Mark took this opportunity to contextualize the hurdles of getting users to purchase social tokens, whether on Rally or through Ethereum, in a new light. He said, “If I’d run a remix contest anyway, it would’ve been supported.” But he was quick to add that “doing it in this context meant people who really wanted to do it, did it.” Mark likes that social tokens create friction, and this is because he sees that friction, in turn, creates better and stronger commitment from participants. Of course, as we see more creators consider launching tokens across a variety of chains, from Rally to Solana, it follows that friction is only desirable to a certain extent. Many have written on the subpar web3 onboarding experiences. Mark even stated that one of the reasons he has started using platforms like Bonfire is for the elevated, intuitive UI/UX. But it is undeniable that quality supersedes quantity when it comes to participant engagement, and Mark has discovered the social token’s incredible powers of motivation and incentivization.

Tactic #2: Meeting Your Community Where They Are

As we have discussed previously, one of the most important elements of community building is meeting your community where they are. This is something that Mark is somewhat of an expert in.

Think of Mark’s community as a web. At the heart lies a Discord server, where community members can converse at all hours of the day, across a variety of different time zones. Traveling outward from here you  will find content that spans a wide range of mediums, from Mirror to Bonfire to Twitter to Catalog to Patreon. Mark’s community is defined by incredible optionality. Anyone who wants to get involved has a variety of different avenues to do so.

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The Mashibeats community lives primarily in Discord.

At the most foundational level, take a look at the tokens he uses to govern Mashibeats. While the governance of Mashibeats utilizes the Ethereum $BUYBACK tokens, $MASHI tokens, which exist on Rally’s gas-free, private side-chain, are used in many community activities as well. Mark recognizes that users face similar issues to the problems that many creators have experienced when trying to onboard their communities to Ethereum. As a result, Mark launched $MASHI as “it feels like a safer onboard for a newbie” and offers a “shallower onboard” for community members making their first transactions on the blockchain. The two coins serve different purposes within the community, and attract members in differing stages of their web3 journeys.

Similarly, Mark uses both Bonfire and Patreon for access to content, such as livestreams and mentor sessions. Bonfire enables Mark to token-gate exclusive content, and for those community members who have followed Mark since the early days of his prolific career, back when Ethereum didn’t even exist (the Ethereum whitepaper was only published in 2014, less than 10 years ago and well into Mark’s 20+ year music career), and are hesitant to pick up a social token, Mark has a plethora of exclusive content available via Patreon. In other words, the arms of Mark and the Mashibeats community are stretched across the various dimensions of the second and third web.

But, you may have noticed that Mark has described the Mashibeats community as “a place for web3-aspiring musicians to connect and learn.” Notice the emphasis here on web3. While the Mashibeats Discord is open to the public, the first season’s cohort exists entirely of these aspiring web3 creators.

This is a point worth elaborating on, and reminiscent of a recent conversation we had with Charlie Crown. In past case studies, we have observed creators putting in a large amount of effort into transitioning communities into web3. This is still an important component of community building, especially when you have digital communities that are more likely to be technologically curious, but Charlie argues that one of the reasons that creators like Daniel Allan have been able to find success in web3 is through building from scratch. There is a welcoming and passionate group of people who have been exploring web3 concepts for quite some time, who have practiced these new ideologies in daily thought, and are excited to take part in new initiatives to support those building under the same values.

Creators, like Mark, who recognize that web3 is not only an opportunity to expand a currently existing pool of members, but to hop into an entirely new pool altogether, have done a great job in expanding and engaging their communities.

During our conversation, Mark said, “I guess musically, I kind of cross into a lot of different pools, but my specific intersection… it’s not that common. And so building a community around that, bringing all these other weirdos together, makes a lot of sense.” On a philosophical level, perhaps an inclination towards the ethos of web3 is a critical component of Mark’s community - a desire to challenge traditional ways of thinking, excitement towards the unconventional from music taste to technology. But regardless, Mark’s endeavors have shown that there is a clear incentive for musicians to build in this space, and that cultivating a community is crucial to success. About web3, Mark says, “it can really help you find your tribe, and galvanize ideas that might be more niche.”

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