After forming his first band at the age of 10, Ed Balloon struggled to break through as a cross-genre musician. His is a story of how serendipity and moments of inspiration come to the persistent and the committed, and how web3 gave this Boston-born artist an opportunity to share his message that he's taking full advantage of.
An important lesson we can take from the emergence of the NFT art space is the expansive effect of technological innovation on artists, culture creators, and curators alike. Indeed, the agency and autonomy that web3 affords artists makes constant apearances in the endless array of deeply personal and occasionally esoteric displays of creativity that we get from artists charting the path forward in this new domain. One such artist is the musician, visual artist, and community builder, Ed Balloon.
In discussing some of the early life environments that deepened his love of music, Ed only briefly touches on the challenges his family faced while he was growing up in the projects in Boston, in a government-subsidised affordable housing complex. Rather, it’s the summers spent in Texas at his uncle’s house that stick out to him. But, suffice to say, Ed didn’t enjoy his time in Texas. He’s only half-joking as he recalls those hot summers.
“We were legit in the house all day. I could not. I have trauma from just being in the house all day. And then when you do have the chance to go outside you’re just running from wasps.”
Despite the unpleasant memories, or perhaps directly because of them, it’s those times that come to mind when discussing his origins as a performer. Music became a respite, as it does for so many. And as far as what he listened to at the time, Ed credits his sister as the music curator in the family. She was the one to put Ed on to the icons who were shaping popular music in the 90s. “She was listening to Tupac – and she was young to be listening to Tupac! –, Monica, Michael and Janet [Jackson]; all these artists in the 90s. And so here I am listening to them too.”
It was around the age of 10 that Ed finally had the moment: the realisation that he didn’t just love listening to music, but he wanted to make some of his own. Wasting little time, Ed went out to recruit his first ever music group. “I had these neighbors who were also Nigerian, and I was like, 'we should be a music group'. And I forced my little brother into it. So my neighbors were the two rappers, I was a singer, and there were two other singers.”
“I’ve always been the dude who was a different person.”
— Ed Balloon
The group was the fun experiment that also served as Ed’s first step on his artistic journey. He started learning how to write songs and how to put together parts for his bandmates. Though as self-assured as 10-year-old Ed was in drafting his own band, the nerves flooded through when it came to singing in front of other people. Whilst you would never guess from his commanding stage presence and natural talent as a performer, Ed says that his performance anxiety has been worse at times in his later career.
Ed reflects openly on the issues of perception that have coloured much of his career. Particularly, he worries if audiences will understand, his particular sensibilities and collage of influences. “I've always been the dude who was a different person. Like, I somehow was listening to The Beatles in the projects. That’s not saying that all Black kids can’t listen to The Beatles, but my dad had a catalogue of music that was so diverse. Motown was in there, The Beatles were in there, Barry White. I’m out here listening to Abba, which is crazy.”
With music that scoffs at the idea of genre, it is difficult to put Ed’s sound in a box. Over the course of just one Ed Balloon song, you hear pop, punk rock, R&B, dance music, and hip-hop all flowing in and out of each other, colliding at times. Failing to understand artists who don’t fit neatly into a genre is one of the many well-catalogued flaws of today’s music industry. It's something that Ed has had to jostle with throughout his career.
“It's so unfortunate because I think that has prevented my career from flourishing in a way. Especially in web2, right? Like, 'oh we can't really put you in a genre', or 'we don't really know what you're making'. They're not too sure if it's sellable until they see another artist doing it that has the clout and the platform. Then it's okay.”
Of course, this challenge for music executives to see an artist beyond the framework of genre only grows more complex for Black artists. After all, when it comes to Black art, there is always some level of bias that, subconsciously or otherwise, informs the expectations of the audience. Being conscious of this feeds into Ed’s worries around perception, as well as frustrations with an industry that has struggled to overcome any expectations stemming from his identity.
"Is it different because I'm a Black artist doing work that you, quote unquote, 'don't see other Black artists do'? Is that why you deem it not sellable?" He adds, "because if I was to see a white person doing all these things, it now becomes something that fits. And I don't think the limited lens or perspective that is put on Black artists is fair, but that's where we are."
The particular struggles faced by creators of colour notwithstanding, Ed has never let industry pressures divert him from creating in his own individual way. And as far as guiding lights go, his is as good a directive as any. “If the art is good, the art is fucking good. If the song is good, the song is fucking good. It should always be that at the end of the day.”
It was in 2019, after some time pursuing music part-time with his band in Boston, that Ed finally took the plunge and moved to LA to fully pursue a career in music. He and the band stayed laser focused from day one, seeking to avoid a fate that Ed saw in other artists struggling to make their way in the world's entertainment capital. “Coming to LA, I encountered a lot of people saying that they just get lost sometimes. Not by their own fault, it's just so easy, especially being here. So I told my band we have to make sure that we are on the floor hustling.”
The hard work paid off. By the end of 2019, Ed and his bandmates were able to bag a touring spot with an artist who was doing well at the time. Finally, Ed thought that he was at the point of breakthrough.
But that was in late 2019. You already know what came next.
As so many artists were forced to do in light of Covid, Ed began searching for new ways to get his music out there. He was particularly focused on giving his audience more than the “boring af” offerings he was seeing from other artists, and spent a lot of time ideating different ways to present himself digitally. But in the end, inspiration found him.
“I remember watching a Wes Anderson movie, Isle of Dogs. I thought it was claymation at the time but it’s not, it’s silicone puppets. And I was like, 'this is so nice'. If we could do something like that just had me in a different type of form, we could use that as a way to do our performances.”
Ed started calling around, exploring his options. As luck would have it, a friend connected him with a stop motion animator. After consulting and sending pictures of himself as a reference, Ed B "The Puppet" was born.
While the initial plan was to use Ed B as a stand-in for music performances, the next major shockwave of 2020 sent Ed and his team going in a different direction.
“This was right when George Floyd was killed, and then all the other killings." Immediately Ed went from "oh, we’re making songs with it," to, "I don't want to do anything, I don't want to sing anything, I'm upset. I want to use my voice differently. I've made songs already talking about these issues. What can I do to showcase this through animation?”
A fan of satirical comedies in the vein of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the animated television show The Boondocks, Ed chose satire as the right tone to strike with for Ed B. The first product was Potato Salad, a clever 20-second stop motion sketch using the allegory of a white friend making potato salad with raisins to comment on misguided allyship.
Potato Salad, along with three other Ed B sketches posted on his YouTube, began to form the foundation for a larger project. Ed started collaborating with colleagues on the Ed B fronted The Puppet Show. But just as he had experienced, in his music career, gaining traction proved difficult. “We were working on this pilot script, and we got it done. But it was so difficult to get it out to people and have people see it. And then even having people see it, it wouldn’t go anywhere.”
This was just the tip of the iceberg during a brutal period in 2021. As he struggled to get both his music and the TV pilot off the ground, his band had another tour canceled. Then one of his bandmates left the band. And to top it all off, Ed came down with Covid soon later. As he so succinctly puts it, he “took all of the Ls.”
Yet it was exactly the rock bottom of quarantining with Covid that presented Ed with a new passion that would drastically alter the trajectory of his career.
Ed spent a lot of time on Twitter as he isolated in his roommate’s apartment, mostly promoting his music. As it happened, he had been using Ed B as his Twitter profile picture long before he discovered the world of NFT PFPs. Which, of course, is what happened during that quarantine.
Ed had heard of NFTs before without exploring the space in any substantial way. He certainly wasn’t seeking it out on Twitter. No, Ed’s true web3 journey started with a chance sighting of photographer Brittany Pierre entering a Twitter Space about NFTs. The two were mutual followers, though not acquainted at the time. That the two now co-host a regular Twitter Space for the BIPOC NFT community only makes Brittany’s role in Ed’s introduction to web3 that much more serendipitous.
“I was exposed to a lot just in that one Space. The next Space I went into was way more the WAGMI spirit, though it's probably different now, but I saw people surround this artist. And that artist sold out in that Space, and I was like, 'oh my gosh'. And that did it for me.”
Having longed for support throughout his career, the NFT environment was beyond a welcome change for Ed. And ultimately, it’s the joy of seeing artists helping each other out and lifting each other up which has left a lasting mark him. Indeed, it’s that community support from other people in web3 that gave Ed the confidence to sell his first NFTs. That put him on a path to sell out an NFT collection of his own, The Run Ed Collection, starring Ed B "The Puppet" racing through beautifully animated landscapes, the proceeds of which will be half reserved to fund the pilot for The Ed B "The Puppet" show, and half to a fund run by Ed to collect art from under-represented creators in web3. It was the success of this collection, which has done 33 eth in volume, that also led to him being featured in the TIMEPieces x Timbaland collection.
“It’s the independence that I really love about (web3). I think sometimes people feel like, 'if I don't have the industry behind me, I can't do it'. At least right now, web3 feels like you don't need the industry to do something. You don't need the industry to put out an NFT. You don’t need the industry to tell you, 'this is not gonna work'.”
Effusive as he is with his love of the space, Ed acknowledges that he sees more of what he calls “web2 behaviors” creeping in. As money and interest have surged into all areas of NFT art, some artists have retreated to a scarcity mindset; the mutual support within the community doesn’t feel quite as mutual as it once did.
It’s this trend that inspired Ed’s latest song and music video. As he explains, You’re Not Giving Enough, ostensibly about someone imploring a lover to invest more in their relationship, is something of a call to action for his fellow artists and builders in web3. “There can be times in the space when you feel like you're exhausted and you're giving all you can, but every time you're not getting enough to be able to sustain and to keep giving. And I can be honest: of course I love this space and I'm so bullish on it, but it's not all roses.”
You’re Not Giving Enough was itself another source of anxiety for Ed. As his first NFT that wasn't focused on Ed B, he was putting himself out there in a way he hadn’t ever done before. The music video and accompanying song perfectly merge the art of performance that Ed has always held so dear with the digital mediums he is newly exploring. If it was a risk, it certainly paid off. The song received a large positive reception, with the music video selling at auction through the Digital Diaspora platform for 9 ETH to Will Savas, just before NFT.NYC.
But web3 has done far more than give Ed a pathway to craft a career on his terms. It’s also given him a new purpose in doing so: building a community and paying forward the support that has got him where he is. Ed sees himself as a builder first, and an artist only second.
“I just know what it feels like to not have help. So if I'm in a place to help people, why not? That is the beauty of it, and I just hope that we see more of that. Because I do think sometimes when you have people putting your name in lights, the sense of entitlement can come through.
"But why I was bullish on the space and why I will still be bullish on the space is because I saw artists helping other artists, which I'd never thought I would see.”
“This was right when George Floyd was killed, and then all the other killings. I want to use my voice differently.”
— Ed Balloon
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