Friends with... Significantly Fewer Benefits Than Before
a.k.a. A fresh look at Web3's premier music community.
Crypto is not doing great at the moment. Back in 2021, it was riding high, and while much of the hype was fueled by the NFT craze and would-be speculators looking to get rich quick, it can’t be understated how much the arts / culture world bought in to the technology’s potential. It happened fast, and within a matter of months, legions of artists, writers and other creative types, many of whom had zero previous experience with the crypto space, were casually tossing around insider-y terms like Web3, tokens, minting, gas fees, and DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) and openly discussing the revolutionary potential of the blockchain.
For many music people—in particular those who’d spent any time lamenting the broken economic models underpinning much of the industry—these discussions were genuinely exciting, and while I generally think of myself as a healthy skeptic, I too dipped into the topic here in the newsletter. While the most notable entries were perhaps my interview with Jacques Greene about his decision to auction off an NFT that granted the publishing rights to a new single and my talk with French producer Maelstrom about his creation of a blockchain-powered DJ mix, I also made a point to clearly state my reservations, penning an entire essay about why crypto wasn’t yet ready for widespread adoption.
That last one was written right after Matt Damon and Larry David literally appeared in Super Bowl commercials hawking cryptocurrency, and in the 14 months that have passed since then… well, things haven’t gone very well for crypto. A series of high-profile scandals has tanked consumer confidence—the phrase “crypto is a scam” has likely never been more popular—and tech investors have very quickly pivoted to the next thing that’s supposedly going to change the world: artificial intelligence.
In the meantime though, crypto hasn’t disappeared entirely. Although the values of Bitcoin and Ether (the world’s two most popular cryptocurrencies) cratered late last year, both have steadily ticked back up in recent months. And in the cultural realm, there are still crypto believers, many of whom would likely argue that the recent crash was a good thing, purging the space of the bros and speculators who were supposedly taking things in the wrong direction anyways.
One such cadre of believers is Friends with Benefits (a.k.a. FWB), a DAO that the NY Times once described as a “V.I.P. lounge for crypto’s creative class.” (The organization currently bills itself as “a new kind of social network made up of creatives and builders who believe in the promise of a better internet.”) In November 2021, I myself called them “music’s most exclusive crypto community” when I interviewed both founder Trevor McFedries and Operations Lead Patti Hauseman.
At the time, FWB was flying high. Applications to join were through the roof—despite the fact that membership required the holding of 75 of the organization’s FWB tokens, a total which at one point was worth more than $10,000—and venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz had organized a $10 million purchase of those same tokens. In the months that followed, the community launched its own editorial arm and last August, staged its first festival, FWB FEST, a multi-day event in Idyllwild, California that featured talks, panel discussions, gourmet food, wellness experiences and performances by the likes of James Blake, Oneohtrix Point Never, Avalon Emerson, Jacques Greene, JPEGMafia, Julianna Barwick, Telefon Tel Aviv, Sudan Archives and more.
Even with tickets that cost 0.5 ETH (worth around $900 at the time of the event), the festival wound up receiving glowing reviews from the press. Taylor Lorenz (easily one of the tech world’s most influential writers) touted it as “crypto Woodstock” in her review for the Washington Post. Fashion mag ELLE published a headline describing the festival as “A Weekend in the Woods with Crypto’s Cool Kids,” and Nina Posner’s write-up for The Face crowed that “FWB Fest proved that the blockchain doesn’t have to be boring.” (Posner also acknowledged that her trip to FWB Fest was comped. It’s probably safe to assume that was the case for most, if not all, the journalists who attended, as it’s a standard practice for music festivals seeking press coverage.)
A few weeks ago, it was announced that FWB FEST would return in 2023. Given the general state of crypto right now—in all honesty, things were already going bad when the first edition took place—it felt like a surprise, and made me wonder about how things were going over at Friends with Benefits. Although there was once a time where I seemingly couldn’t go online without running into mentions of the organization, the hype has noticeably cooled in recent months, to a point where the DAO has virtually disappeared from the daily discourse. Given all the prominent names involved—and all the money that had been invested—they still had to be doing stuff, right?
For journalists (or simply anyone who’s curious), one of the great things about DAOs is that so much of their business happens in broad daylight, which makes digging into their inner workings remarkably easy. In the case of FWB, community proposals are posted and voted on in public, and can be viewed via the organization’s Snapshot page. Knowing that, I spent the past few days taking a closer look, scanning through proposals (many of which include detailed budget information) and trying to get a handle on the current state of FWB’s finances, strategy and internal culture.
Simply put, things don’t look great.