Sam Hysell on Helping Musicians Thrive With NFTs and web3

Plus, Black Coffee, Gucci Mane, and the value to brands of emerging and local talent

Sam Hysell is a media and culture entrepreneur on a mission to help empower artists and channel the influence of tastemakers towards driving meaningful social change.

Sam is most recently the co-founder and COO of nft now, a web3 digital media publication that focuses on NFT news, curation and analysis. Here, he helps empower the creators of culture and foster the mainstream adoption of NFTs. He is also a co-founder and partner at NOX Media, a digital marketing agency that helps talent and brands grow and convert fanbases online through content production and distribution.

Sam is a co-host of the acclaimed Music Business Podcast, one of the leading music industry sources showcasing trends and tactics from some of the best behind the scenes movers and shakers in the music industry. Earlier in his career, he was the Brand Strategist at VaynerTalent, an arm of VaynerMedia.

We caught up with Sam for our Liner Notes series to learn more about his musical tastes and journey through the years, as well as recent work he's proud of and admired.

Sam, tell us...

Your earliest musical memory.

Being a die-hard NSYNC fan and wanting to change my name to Justin as a child.

Your first concert.

Growing up in Chicago, I have really fond memories of Lollapalooza back in the day. I've always been a hip-hop and dance music fan, and to see how what was a side stage back in the day (Perry's) for dance music has now become a main stage is remarkable. Testament to the growth and adoption of a new musical lane.

Your favorite bands/musicians.

Black Coffee: I'm a bit biased, having worked with him for a five-year period through NOX, but he's a special musician and human being in more ways than one. For starters he defied the odds in growing up in a rural village in South Africa to becoming an internationally recognized DJ and producer. He's also been able to cross over into mainstream, without crossing over sonically, and continues to use his platform to put on emerging afro house talent.

Gucci Mane: He's been an OG in the game for a minute. His output has been impossible for most to match, and beyond his own music he has a track record for spotting and breaking massive talent throughout his entire career. Seeing how he evolved as a human is also remarkable. About five or so years ago, I used to do a hip-hop hustle breakdown series where I'd distill success principles from different musicians and add commentary on top of potent interview moments—some of the takeaways from the episode I did with Gucci are principles that live with me to this day.

Gucci Mane's 6 Keys to Success - Mr. Davis Hustle Breakdown
How you get your music these days.

Through working in the music industry, and as a DJ, I'm always digging for new stuff. I love how Spotify creates genre-specific playlist with algorithmic recommendations. I also love listening to DJ mixes both live and online, and finding songs they play. I also routinely listen to Soulection Radio as they've continued to curate incredible music for the past decade and aren't slowing down anytime soon.  

Your favorite place to see a concert.

Brooklyn Mirage and Gospel. Brooklyn Mirage truly is a mirage in Brooklyn. The second you walk in, you're astonished by the scale and setup of the venue. On the flip side, as much as I love being at a massive venue, sometimes it's better to see world-class talent in a small forum. Gospel is that for house music DJs in NYC.

Your favorite music-focused TV show and/or podcast.

Honestly felt there's been a gap for music-focused podcasts, which led me to start the Music Business Podcast in 2018. Outside of many of the incredible conversations I've had there, I've also always been a fan of Complex's series, The Blueprint, where they peel back the curtains on the business side of movers and shakers in music and business. I used to love watching The Breakfast Club, but as time has gone on I find it much more enjoyable to learn about moves and approaches behind the scenes on the industry side, versus more fan-facing shows.

A recent project you're proud of.

Co-founding nft now has been an incredible journey. nft now is a web3 digital media publication focused on nft news and commentary. Our mission is to empower the creators of culture and foster mainstream adoption around NFTs. NFTs and web3 bring tons of power back to creators across multiple domains, and historically institutions have made it hard for creators to thrive. Take music, for example. Unless you're a truly thriving artist, it can be hard to make ends meet with your art. NFTs and web3 can change that.

Someone else's project that you admired recently.

I love Water & Music by Cherie Hu. They put out incredible content and are also doing a phenomenal job at unleashing web3 technologies to unlock new forms of collaboration and community prosperity.

How musicians should approach working with brands.

Artists should focus on building partnerships with the brands they love. Success in brand partnerships stems from authenticity. Artists should also really think about how they can develop their brand beyond just their music. Brands often want to work with artists to access their fanbase, but artists have the power to develop their own mini-universe of offerings to super serve their fans.

How brands should approach working with musicians.

I think brands get way too caught up going after massive talent instead of emerging and local talent. I think from a brand marketing perspective it's a much more cost effective way to drive targeted growth and awareness.

What music can do that nothing else can.

Music can quite literally bring happiness to fans, and creative flourishing to artists. From a fan's perspective, what you listen to can truly change your mind state and make your journey through life, one with the windows down and the wind blowing. For artists, very few things are more fulfilling than being able to have a successful and impactful career with creative expression at the foundation.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the music world.

I would be helping creators and brands grow and engage communities that create a positive impact in the world through innovation and creative expression.

Liner Notes is our weekly interview series, publishing every Monday, where we chat with folks in the music industry about their creative inspirations, their favorite bands and musicians, and generally what music means to them. For more about Liner Notes, and our Clio Music program, please get in touch.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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