Cover Singer-songwriter and producer Charlie Lim and rising R&B star Keyana (Photo: Vivien Tan)

The singer-songwriter and producer ropes in rising R&B star Keyana for Trade My Heart, the first release from his artist collective DAO

Considered one of the greatest works of Japanese art, The Great Wave (circa 1830-32) by painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai was said to have inspired Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889). The woodblock print featuring a cresting wave and the majestic Mount Fuji, symbolic of a changing Japanese society, continues to be an inspiration to creatives today.

For one, homegrown singer-songwriter and producer Charlie Lim, whose latest project takes inspiration from the print icon. “It’s funny how I’ve had the Hokusai as my wallpaper for many years,” says Lim. “We thought that it would be quite symbolic for Web3, crypto and blockchain, as it’s a force that’s like a rising tide lifting boats.”

The musician announced early this year that he was bringing together a team of pioneers and veterans from the music, visual arts, media and tech industries to launch The Great Wave, an artist collective DAO (short for decentralised autonomous organisations, DAOs enable collective ownership and democratises risk-sharing at scale).

The Great Wave put out its first single release today with Trade My Heart, a feature collaboration between Lim and rising R&B star Keyana, who is part Ghanaian and part Singaporean Chinese. Lim shares, “The idea is to have a number of singles, featuring both local and international creatives, which will eventually form a mixtape, as a proof of concept.”

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You can add DAO to the list of tech buzzwords that have entered our vernacular in the past year, along with the wave of interest in NFTs (non-fungible tokens), DeFi (decentralised finance) and crypto, as well as Web3 and the metaverse.

“I’ve always been interested in new frameworks for coordination within the music industry,” says Lim. “DAOs are experiments for platform cooperativism, so The Great Wave is like a decentralised label or collective where artists are commissioned for their work and incentivised to collaborate. Patrons and investors who want to support artists, and fans who want to support the artists they love, can also have collective ownership of the work.”

The music industry has seen a number of disruptions in recent years when it comes to how we create, access and listen to music. Lim should know for he has been in the business for more than 15 years, both as an independent artist and signed with a major record label.

“Middlemen and curators are essential in any market or ecosystem,” he says. “But it gets out of hand when they are taking too much of the pie without providing any real value, or aren’t incentivised to help grow artists’ careers sustainably. I’m not saying blockchain is going to solve all our problems, but if it allows for more windows of disruption to take back some agency while helping artists, then I think it’s still worth a try.”

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Partnering with established DeFi project ACryptoS, The Great Wave seeks to be a platform that funds artists’ projects, incentivise collaboration, and build a more flexible, sustainable and transparent model for the music industry. How it works: artists are paid for their work and can choose to reinvest a proportion of their commission fee back into the DAO’s governance tokens (TGW on the Binance Smart Chain), giving them equity in the collective without having to invest out of pocket. This will go into the treasury to fund other work.

The Great Wave has released its first season of Governance NFTs, or gNFTs, which basically serves as a membership card and container for the TGW tokens. The visual art that come with these gNFTs are created by multidisciplinary artist Andy Yang. When it comes to NFTs, Lim says the focus should be on utility, rather than digital scarcity.

Blockchain or not, community and collaboration are important to Lim, who received the Young Artist Award, Singapore’s highest recognition for young arts practitioners, from the National Arts Council in 2021. Some of his most memorable experiences in music have been “working with other artists or producers and coming up with ideas, or happy accidents, which are a lot bigger than either of us could have come up with”.

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In February, he released the single, Into Dreams, in collaboration with Ng Pei-Sian, the principal cellist of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra; and in April, Live at The Conservatory, an EP recorded at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. Lim and his band The Mothership, together with guest artists, will perform at the Esplanade Concert Hall in September, as part of the PopLore programme, in celebration of the Esplanade’s 20th anniversary.

So can we look forward to a concert in the metaverse in the near future? “I think people are more interested in a physical concert,” Lim quips. “I’m cautiously optimistic about Web3 in general. I do think it’s a powerful force that should be used carefully. We’re still far away from a lot of the promises that are being made about how this decentralised metaverse is going to be. While I’m sure it will create more opportunities and unlock more ways to form communities and build networks, our priority for now is to look at how we can use these tools to change our current situation.”

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