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Web3Wire NFT Artist Spotlight: Nifty Sax, pt. 1

In a two-part series, we sit down with the first NFT artist to mint instrumental human generative music.

Nifty Sax Pioneers Music NFTs

We have a two-part interview with Milo Lombardi, also known as Nifty Sax. Lombardi is the first, if not one of the first, human generative music practitioners to issue music NFTs officially. As a saxophonist from Italy, Lombardi was hit hard by the pandemic. The lack of live music opened up a new world of musical freedom capable through blockchain technology. 

Through his recordings, Lombardi creates a spacious, relaxing sound to alleviate all the day’s drags. Like his influences through bossa nova and smooth sax sounds, the work of Nifty Sax is pioneering both in its structure and release format. Lombardi has issued two NFT mints so far: Genesis and Spheres. Each collection is available on OpenSea

Web3Wire and BSC News had the pleasure to sit with Nifty Sax and pick his brain about jazz, blockchain, and the future of music with NFTs. 

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Q: What is your background? What’s your musical origin?

A: I've been a musician all my life. I've never done any other job. My parents were opera fans and kind of amateur musicians. They met in a choir. So, of course, they encouraged me to play music as a kid. I played piano as a little kid, and then my dad had an old saxophone in the house. I tried that when I was 11, and I liked it. I kind of fell in love with the sound. 

I entered the Conservatory of Music near my hometown in Pesaro. There I studied classical saxophone for about eight years. Back then, the system was a little bit different, like the Conservatory is basically a university. But if you promised that you would finish high school before you would finish Conservatory, then they would let you in as a kid, which was weird. So I did high school in parallel with the university. So at 19, I was already graduated. I had a Master's degree in saxophone at 19, which was awesome. 

I then went to Australia, and I played there for a little while. Then I moved to Berlin and was there for almost ten years. There, mostly, I was playing some original music with my jazz quartet. I also did a lot––really hundreds of shows––with some entertainment bands, where I sing and play the saxophone. We did some Italian songs in jazz, or like swing and bossa nova, just entertainment stuff for functions. Sometimes we played some big events like at the Ministry of Culture in Germany, for Angela Merkel––this kind of stuff.

My NiftySax "Spheres" were the first to have a rarity like that. It was the first to be a music NFT collection created by a human, instrumental music with a real instrument with rarity applied to it. 

Then, of course, the pandemic hit me hard because my business was completely live music. That's what I was doing. That's how I was making my money. So when I couldn't do that anymore, I had to reinvent myself. 

Initially, I did other stuff. I learned a few other skills that I didn't have. I learned how to repair guitars and other stuff like that. But then I started to learn about the blockchain. I realized I could do this because nobody else was doing it. These NFTs were mostly focused on visual arts. The only music NFT that was out there was EulerBeats. And that was generative music, and that was, I think, in February of last year [2021]. When I came out in March with my stuff, I was lonely. Nobody else was doing this. I felt a little bit crazy. 

But then, of course, things started to pick up. And it turned out that I was the first to do this. My NiftySax "Spheres" were the first to be a rarity like that. It was the first to have a music NFT collection created by a human, instrumental music with a real instrument with rarity applied to it. It was a blind mint with a custom contract and pre-sale, all the good dynamics of a PFP project but with a music NFT. 

Of course, that made it sell out pretty quickly. It was sold out in about like 10-12 hours, something like that. Now I keep doing that. I'm creating other collections and collaborations. It's been quite a journey. So yeah, that's kind of the short story.

Q: Before we jump into some more blockchain-specific questions, I'm curious about your life in Berlin. I lived in Berlin for a bit. I'm curious what drew you to Berlin because I found that it wasn't a huge jazz city. There's the electro vibe that kind of dominates the city.

A: Ah well, you didn't look hard enough. You must have gone to B Flats or A-Trane. Jazz is pretty big in Berlin. I mean, it's underground, and it’s not as popular as techno, but it's definitely quite a big scene. There are killer players that come from New York and everywhere to play Berlin because the scene is so good. I had fun.  They're jam sessions every night if you want. There's a jam session every night somewhere. And the quality of the musicians keeps you on your toes. You have to really be good. You have to keep being good, keep getting better because other people come every day, fresh musicians that are incredible. That's why I liked it. It's kind of it's competitive, but it keeps you fresh.

Q: That's great. I had no idea. It makes me want to go back—another jazz-related question to set up. I read your influences and encountered some of my favorite artist names. I love that bossa nova sound: Paul Desmond, Stan Getz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto. I love that soft sound. So tell me about that. How much does that influence you? How much is that something that you draw off?

A: Well, Bossa Nova sound is definitely my biggest influence. So, Stan Getz––on my sound––definitely has a huge impact. Together with Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and more modern people like Joshua Redman and Bob Reynolds. They're this soft, breathy sound that is pretty common in bossa nova. It's a completely different thing than the typical pop saxophone, which is really kind of shrill. It's like really on the opposite side. It's very dark, and with a lot of air. It’s very relaxing for me. It feels like a whisper. I love that kind of sound. 

Basically, when I came to jazz, what turned something on in my brain was discovering Kind of Blue, the album by Miles Davis, when I was about probably, I don't know, just in my early teens. That changed everything because it was so chill. Flamenco Sketches––that I will carry with me forever. I still listen to it probably on a weekly basis.  That kind of sound, really for me, I guess, is what my whole persona is really about. Chilling and relaxing. That kind of music, that kind of sound, really vibes well with me. 

The albums that made a difference for me were Kind of Blue and then most of the albums with Stan Getz, and together with Jobim and that whole era of bossa nova sound.

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Q: What turns you on emotionally spiritually about music in general? Describe what that is it about in your life.

A: For me, it's probably the capability music allows me to access some emotions that sometimes might be locked. With music, I feel like I'm able to get there, even if I might have some walls up my personal life. Actually, with music, I can access the whole me. It's really kind of my intent. 

Also, when I make my music I would like for people to be able to access their deepest emotions. That's important, and that's what I want to feel when I listen to my own music. I want to be able to access some emotions that usually I might be maybe even afraid of something like that. That's kind of the whole thing for me.

Q: For these Nifty Sax pieces, how did you decide to make each track? You said it's a very relaxing sound. I'm just curious how you divided it all up into the series? Each is very free-flowing, and it almost seems like you chopped up larger pieces into smaller ones. How did these pieces come together? 

A: These are all stream of consciousness pieces. They each have an arc. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end––all of them. And that is very important to me because, being stream-of-consciousness pieces, I don't want to cut that stream in the middle of it. It has to reach its natural conclusion. So some of them are short. Some of them are just one minute, whereas another one could be like seven minutes. They are all actually individual pieces that I recorded specifically with that intent from my Genesis collection. That was dissonant because there was this pure expression that was very avant-garde and sometimes kind of difficult to listen to. So I wanted to create something a little bit more easy to access. 

And since I was already making these pieces, I started these as gifts, one-of-one for my collectors of the Genesis. Just tiny little gifts. I just wanted to give them something that transpired like pure love [laughs]. I was very grateful for them to collect my Genesis. 

And so those were the "Spheres" prototype, which is in a different collection called Nifty Sax Jazz Club, which is the collection that I use to send gifts to my collectors. And so those were the prototypes, and I realized that was a thing that was like, really cool. And I thought, 'Okay, let me make an actual thing out of this, I'm gonna make a whole collection.' And then I'm going to try to apply some rarities, and I thought, 'how can I apply rarity to music?  I'm not going to sit there and say, Okay, this is better than the other,  so it's going to be rare. So I decided to do it with a number of editions. In the end, I did pick my favorites for the more rare ones, but they are rare because they are now less available. So I made them less available by choice. 

So there are 55 pieces. And there are 10 in an edition of 10. So that's 100 pieces, nine in an edition of nine, that's 81, and so on all the way down to one-of-one. And so, then I created these visuals that also have different colors. So yeah, that made the rarity structure and created this 385 mints.

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So basically, I just trusted him because he could have ripped me off. I didn't know anything about how to create custom contracts. Now I understand more of how it works. Back then, I just trusted him with it.

Q: So you say were one of the first people to venture into this, right? Was there anybody helping you along the way? Were there any blockchain people you reached out to? 

A: So initially, no. There was nobody helping me because I couldn't meet anybody else that was making music NFTs. I couldn't. I looked, but I couldn't find anyone anywhere. There were some smaller artists that were making some little one-of-one stuff, but nobody really had a collection, or then they didn't think about creating actual rarity, like PFP projects. 

That was my goal because that's the cool part about the blockchain: you can create the scarcity, and you can have, like, a game with your pieces. And people can make money with your pieces. Also, people made a lot of money with these Spheres. They made over $60,000 just from reselling my pieces. And I like that - that's cool. 

And so, originally, there was nobody. But what I did, was I reached out to a guy that was creating something called "Top of the Blocks." And that's an NFT music chart. This guy was getting data from OpenSea’s NFT sales. And I found that out because I ended up on the chart. As soon as you had a sale there was large enough to be on the chart, you were tagged by that page. When I found out about that, I thought that was really cool. 

I just reached out and said,'"I got this collection coming up. I need the custom contract. Would you be able to help me out?' And he did. 

So basically, I just trusted him because he could have ripped me off. I didn't know anything about how to create custom contracts. Now I understand more of how it works. Back then, I just trusted him with it. We had a few meetings, and I felt like he was a cool guy. We worked well together to the point that now we have a startup together where we are creating our own sort of agency and music NFT marketplace.

Q: You mentioned how fun you find it that you see your work on the blockchain. Tell me about what you have found in this space that you previously didn't have in your live music career?

A: Well, first of all, I found that I could sell music for one. Very rarely would I sell CDs anymore. Like, initially, with my first album from 2014, I sold a few actual physical copies, even at concerts, but then the sales started to dwindle. Nobody cares about CDs or buying music anymore. And so first of all, I like the fact that I can actually sell my music where I can make some actual money from home.  That was necessary because live music wasn't there anymore. 

I also like the aspect that I can also innovate in the way that I release things. And I don't have to go through a middleman. If I bring 55 tracks to a label, they're going to say, 'No way, man, that's too many, trim it down. Let's do 20, maybe.' So the fact that I want to have 55, I can do 55. So I like that I don't have to go through anybody, and I just do what I want to do. 

Creative freedom and financial freedom: that's why I think people can achieve on the blockchain as artists. It's a new dream. Before, being a musician was kind of almost mocked, like it's not a dream anymore. You can't make make money as a musician, and that's like a meme almost at this point. It's a stereotype. 

Now, if you are creative, not only with your music but also with your release structure, you can make some money, which is cool. 

Of course, I love all of the good things that blockchain brings. When I can certify ownership, then I can give these people certain things like gifts. I can provide them with access to maybe me. I can give them access to special content, and then I can airdrop them certain things. So I love that. Before that was impossible––that's impossible in Web2. You don't know who has your MP3 even though they say they do. Like they say, you can attach an email to a purchase, but you're not going to know who bought it and who didn't or got it from their friend. So I like that. 

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That's what the internet was supposed to be, I guess. You create something, release it, and put it out there so everybody can listen to it. But now there's this extra layer of ownership, which allows for so many cool dynamics. I love that, that direct connection. It feels like freedom.

Q: That type of one-to-one experience is something in music that I think a lot of people overlook. That's the reason bootleg CDs and albums were so famous. People wanted to hear that one time that the Grateful Dead played some song or whatever. It's almost like you're eliminating that even more, where you can have a direct relationship with your listener. Speak to me about that. How fun is that for you as an artist? And are you meeting people around the world?

A:Yes, man, that's the cool thing about it. While it was selling out, I was talking to the people that were buying it, and we were getting excited together. I love that it's a personal connection where you talk to the people that buy music from you. You can even create a relationship where you can build something together. Like maybe they want to hear something specific from you, and then you can decide together as a community. Your whole community can say, 'Well, we want to hear this from you. Why don't we do it?'

You begin to build this little team of people who like what you do, and grow together. Then the beauty is that since the supply is limited, the value can increase as well. If you keep growing, your community grows with you—which is unbelievable. It feels almost like you're less alone in your endeavors. I definitely feel less alone because I have more contact with other artists and my collectors. 

I just create something and send it out immediately, which is the promise of the internet. Somehow that got all twisted along the way, and it didn't work anymore. That's what the internet was supposed to be, I guess. You create something, release it, and put it out there so everybody can listen to it. But now there's this extra layer of ownership, which allows for so many cool dynamics. I love that, that direct connection. It feels like freedom.

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Q: That's beautiful. And I think there's an exciting kind of metaphor in there about you as a saxophonist, an individual artist, working in a collective? That idea of you in a community and building a community between you as an individual musician and your collectors? There's that idea of 1000 true fans where they say it's better to have a small dedicated following where you don't need a million fans.

A: You don't want a million fans because you're not going to relate to all these people. They're not going to appreciate what you do. I don't think you want a million fans because it's kind of a sick, twisted relationship at that point. I feel like it's not healthy. If you see these pop stars, they are rarely happy. They walk down the street and get assaulted by these people who treat them like weird objects. 

And here, it's different. It's a one-to-one relationship. You're here with real people, with the people that collect from you. You become friends. I love that.  That part is amazing, especially as an introvert. I feel like I would dislike the massive popularity. 

This is, for me, at least, it's much more appropriate. You have a very nice, close connection with the people. It's not psycho fans. It's just actual people that appreciate what you do. And they want to grow together. 

Q: I think that's huge. It is a big theme across a lot of different blockchain projects: the appreciation people have for realizing the fans are the human element of it. How important is that human element while being a blockchain artist? 

A: That part needs to happen again. I need to have that contact directly with the people I'm playing for. But it's similar also in the metaverse. 

I did a couple of concerts in the metaverse, which was pretty cool. You can still have direct contact in a way because the people are there, they can move around, you can talk to them in real-time. So it's a nice thing. But somehow also I never really participated so much in a digital community. Like I had social media before, but I never really used it. 

Now I feel like I made so many friends all around the world. I'm learning to discern accents right away because I hear them so often. I have friends all over the place, which is cool. I think this is just because we are all pioneers in something, so we feel like we're sharing this wild experience this wild west together. And so that bonds us together. 

At least for now, that's how it's working. I feel like everybody gets kind of close because we are all doing this crazy thing where when you talk about it with your friends, they don't even know what the hell you're talking about. But then, when you talk about it with the people that are doing it, you have this special connection, and that's pretty cool.

Stay tuned for part 2 of our conversation with Nifty Sax.

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