“I had no manager and no label” – how singer Violetta Zironi built a career on the blockchain

Clovis McEvoy
August 26, 2022

After a burgeoning music career that stalled during Covid, Violetta Zironi wanted to do more than TikTok lip syncs. Speaking to Clovis McEvoy, she explains how web3 has enabled her to “find my people” and truly create the music that she wants to create.

Violetta Zironi exudes the kind of vivacious confidence you might expect from a natural performer: she is a singer, songwriter, actress, and film composer — and now one of web3’s breakout success stories.

Over the past eight months, Violetta has been at the forefront of a new kind of career; one built on independence, the grassroots, and innovative utility. In the process, her music NFTs have become one of the space’s hottest products, skyrocketing to compete with some of the biggest names in the business.

And she is just getting started: “You can bet that I'll still be here, writing songs, in 40 years — this is a step along the roadmap of a lifelong career.”

When Violetta says lifelong, she means it. Her roots in performance go all the way back to early childhood in Italy, to a home filled with music. “We would jam,” she laughs, “even when I was like three or four years old, we would just have fun and play.” Quickly recognising her vocal talents, Violetta’s parents encouraged her to continue building her skills and, by the age of fifteen, she was regularly performing around her hometown of Regio Emilia. “Town fairs, small festivals, and bars,” she recalls, “in the summers, I would have maybe a gig a week.”

Her first step into the music industry proper came with an audition on the Italian version of X-Factor at the age 18. Though she originally went in with low expectations to “maybe make it past the audition”, Violetta ultimately reached the finals, taking third place, before parlaying that success into a record deal with Sony Music. What followed was a traditional career path consisting of albums, singles, merchandise, and a whole lot of touring — but all that changed in 2020. As the global pandemic slowed live music to a standstill, Violetta found a pillar of her creative life suddenly denied to her.

“In the summers, I would have maybe a gig a week.” Like all musicians, Violetta's way of life was rendered impossible by Covid-19, but it prompted her to look further afield, bringing her to web3.

“It was a brutal two years,” she says. “I loved touring, it was the thing that I loved doing the most — but during the pandemic it felt like the only thing we could do was TikTok videos. I was miming my songs, looking pouty at the camera, thinking ‘Is this it? Are you serious? After all these years playing music, is this all I am to everybody? I just couldn't accept that.”

Like many musicians, Violetta’s career was hit especially hard by Covid-19, as the frailty of the streaming economy became impossible to ignore. With touring gone and royalty payments not even close to covering her bills, she became increasingly frustrated with the limitations of web2 music. By mid-2021 things were nearing breaking point: “I was so tired of it,” she recalls. “I was approaching labels, and nobody would acknowledge me. I didn’t know where to find my people; I felt like my music would never be good for the radio and there was no way I’d get through to anyone on Spotify. I really felt cut out from traditional media.”

After the highs and lows of over a decade in the music business, for the first time Violetta began to seriously consider calling it a day. “I gave myself one more year,” she recalls. “I said to myself, ‘if this doesn't work out in a year, then I'm quitting.’” Looking back now, it’s incredible how close she came to changing career paths; yet with six months of that self-issued ultimatum gone, Violetta discovered web3 and a new chapter in her career began.

“The first thing that attracted me was the idea of music being revalued,” she says of her initial encounter with music NFTs. “The idea of music being considered as a fine art that could be invested in, and not as a commodity to be played in the background.”

“I felt my music would never be good for the radio and there was no way I’d get to anyone on Spotify.”

Alongside that fresh economic model, what also got her attention was web3’s lack of boundaries, barriers, and intermediaries. “It was insane. I could literally just go to people and play them my songs and tell my story. For the first time, I thought ‘maybe I can find my audience, my people, a group with a passion for art.’ So, I was gonna try it, I was going to give it 100%.”

“I really felt cut out from traditional media.”

— Violetta Zironi

Enamoured by the possibilities, she began planning her first music NFT — a process that brought its own challenges. After years of working in the web2 industry, Violetta says her song writing process had become so overburdened with the restrictive marketing concerns of record labels that, at first, she wasn’t sure how to approach her newfound creative freedom.

“I was always told ‘you need a song like this for radio, a song like that for live shows, a certain kind of song for TikTok, a certain kind of song for Spotify’. I’d be in the studio, trying to write with all those things in my head. So now here I was thinking — okay, what’s the NFT song? What’s the rule for this?”

For advice, she reached out to Nifty Sax, one of the pioneering NFT music makers and founder of web3 accelerator Nifty Music. “He told me, ‘There’s no rule whatsoever, just do whatever makes you feel comfortable, genuine, and authentic.’ It was the first time I felt able to put out the songs as I wanted. I had no manager, no label, no one telling me how I should do it. It was amazing.”

The result was Handmade Songs, three gorgeously stripped-back acoustic ballads and a 1/1 video of Violetta performing in her living room. “I decided that I would just let people in and make it really intimate and very personal,” she says. Released at the beginning of February with the support of Nifty Sax, the collection was an unreserved success, quickly selling out, and catapulting Violetta to the second spot on the Top of The Blocks NFT music chart.

Validated by that initial success and buoyed by her growing web3 community, she quickly began working on a follow-up collection. Moonshot — a five-song collection that saw her collaborate with her father Giuseppe Zironi, a 30-year veteran animator at Disney, on a series of unique artworks inspired by Violetta’s music.

Asked if she had ever wanted to collaborate with her father on previous album art, Violetta says that, once again, it is the kind of thing that was not even an option in her web2 career.

Violetta's Moonshot collection consisted of 2,500 unique, hand-drawn artworks by her father Giuseppe Zironi, a veteran Disney illustrator.

“I never even thought about it before because I knew there'd be someone telling me that it wasn't cool or hip enough,” she says. “But, here in web3, it’s all about characters and cartoons; almost like trading cards. So, it was perfect.”

Released in April, Moonshot has gone on to consistently top the music NFT charts, and was the fourth most traded music collection on OpenSea for the past month, beating out industry giants like Snoop Dogg.

Part of this phenomenal success is down to the quality of the material: Moonshot shows a songwriter in her element, from jazz inflected ballads to slickly produced RnB tracks, Violetta moves from genre to genre as one might slip in and out of a favourite jacket. However, just as important as the music is the enthusiastic and supportive community she has built, and the extended forms of utility derived from holding her NFTs: lifetime free tickets to her shows, free physical merchandise, like vinyls and signed posters, and in-person visits to see Violetta recording in the studio are just some of the innovative perks available to fans.

“I feel like a lot of web2 artists feel detached from their community,” she says. “Those old platforms don't really allow you to engage in a meaningful way. I try to involve my holders as much as possible, I keep them updated with strategic decisions, my new songs and the way I want to arrange them. The community is your biggest blessing because without them, you wouldn't be anyone.”

For the first time, I thought ‘maybe I can find my audience, my people, a group with a passion for art.’

Nowadays, the tempo of Violetta’s life seems only to accelerate. Amongst various speaking engagements and a ‘twitter spaces’ tour, she recently performed in New York at NFT.NYC and has another performance lined up for NFT London in November. She is also busy working on her new album and NFT collection. Asked if it ever gets overwhelming to keep all of these plates spinning, the answer is a surprisingly definitive ‘no’.

“As musicians, we are entrepreneurs,” she says. “You can’t sleep on it; you can’t let things go; you have to be on top of it.” Part of what keeps her fuelled up and ready to go is the energy and enthusiasm that comes from the space itself: “I’m just so excited to see what's going to happen as more and more people come to web3 — more artists, more collectors and holders. It feels good that we're around at the start, that we can lay the foundations and be here when things pop off.”

“Only 900 decided to buy my NFTs — but that was enough, because I found them.”

— Violetta Zironi

Violetta may live on the frontier of web3’s new career model, she may harness new tools and different techniques, yet, in a funny way, all this innovation builds upon the most simple and sturdy of foundations: the power of voice and instrument to bring people together and let them share in a moment of live music. It is the same creative energy that got Violetta started all those years ago in Regio Emilia.

“I remember playing on Twitter Spaces in front of my holders in America,” she says. “I realised that they knew every word to my songs. They started singing and they basically took over the concert — I couldn't sing anymore because they were all singing.”

The true potential of technology lies in moments like those. The emotional power of music to forge real connections, even across vast distances, is the core of how artists like Violetta are moving the industry forward in web3. “The world is so big, but now we have the tools to reach anybody,” says Violetta. "I can play in American, South American, Australian or Japanese Twitter spaces. It's incredible. I really believe it doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you find your people. I reached out to thousands and thousands over the last six months, and maybe only 900 decided to buy my NFTs — but that was enough, because I found them.”

“I try to involve my holders as much as possible, I keep them updated with strategic decisions, my new songs and the way I want to arrange them.”

— Violetta Zironi

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Clovis McEvoy
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Clovis is a New Zealand born writer, journalist, and educator working at the meeting point between music and technological innovation. He is also an active composer and sound artist, and his virtual reality and live-electronic works have been shown in over fifteen countries around the world.

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