M. Shadows on Avenged Sevenfold's heavy metal approach to token-gated ticketing

Ola Kalejaye
May 15, 2023
“It takes people like us who are willing to go in there and take the arrows in the back” — M. Shadows

Renowned heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold have been using NFTs to give their fans exclusive perks since 2021. Now they’re on a new blockchain adventure with Ticketmaster to add to the fan experience. We met with lead singer M. Shadows to see how the band are leveraging the power of NFTs, the challenges of working with an industry giant, and why NFTs won’t benefit artists as much as fans.

M. Shadows knows a thing or two about building and sustaining a fanbase. As the lead singer of legendary heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold, Shadows has spent the last two decades creating a global fanbase that has powered the band to multiple awards and millions of album sales.

These days, the heavy metal frontman has his eyes on web3 and its potential to take the artist-fan relationship to a more dynamic place. Avenged Sevenfold launched the latest phase of their web3 journey last month with Ticketmaster, pioneering new forms of engagement and value creation for future artists to follow.

But Shadows first discovered the world of blockchain technology and cryptocurrency in 2016 through Bitcoin. What fascinated him most was the idea of bypassing the banking system to seamlessly transfer money — at the time, he didn’t realise how significant the technology could be for cultural leaders like himself.

M. Shadows, frontman of Avenged Sevenfold. Image credit: Ollie Millington/Getty Images.

His interest in blockchain continued to grow, and after learning about the CryptoPunks NFT collection in 2019, he began exploring web3’s cultural side. It didn’t take long for Shadows to see the potential of the technology for his own work. “It dawned on me that you could tie a bunch of real-world value to things on the blockchain,” he recalls.

After educating his bandmates on the potential of NFTs, Shadows and the rest of Avenged Sevenfold put out their first experiment: a collection of 101 Into The Ether NFTs, for free, on May 21st, 2021. Intended as a smooth way to welcome some of their most committed fans to what would ultimately become the Avenged Sevenfold NFT ecosystem, items in the collection now sell for over £2,500 ($3,200), though owners have tended to hold onto their tokens rather than sell. 

Of course, the biggest trend in NFTs in the 2021 bull run was 10k profile picture collections. The band followed suit, creating The Deathbats Club, a carefully curated NFT-powered membership club offering insider access to the world of Avenged Sevenfold. 

“It dawned on me that you could tie a bunch of real-world value to things on the blockchain.”

— M. Shadows

Providing tangible value to fans was Shadows’ number one priority when it came to designing The Deathbats Club. Notably, the NFTs boast a range of substantial IRL perks that appealed to Avenged megafans, like exclusive band merch, meet-and-greet access, and the ability to skip the line at shows. 42 tokens in the collection even come with the offer of free lifetime tickets to Avenged Sevenfold shows.

Despite following the same 10k format as other 10,000-strong NFT collections, The Deathbats Club differs from almost every other. Most 10k NFT collections are driven in no small part by trading and hype; there’s always someone trying to sell, and most holders own just one item in the collection. In The Deathbats Club, by contrast, almost every holder owns two items, and none of the 10,000 NFTs are listed for sale. It’s a far more committed community than is typical in web3, and a sign of how successful Avenged Sevenfold have been at onboarding their core group of fans to web3.

However, despite the band’s earnest approach to NFTs, their journey has not been without challenges. For one, there was significant blowback from a minority of vocal fans, mostly those who harboured held prejudices around NFTs.

Deathbat #3084 from The Deathbats Club 10k PFP collection.

“We had a 20-year relationship with our fans that we felt was very strong, and then when we presented this, many of them called us grifters all of a sudden,” Shadows recalls. “That was a little hurtful.”

Regardless, Shadows believes that the band has successfully countered those accusations. That said, he empathises with those fan attitudes, considering his own disdain for how today’s NFT space has evolved.

“The NFT space really bums me out,” he says. “There were so many really smart people in that original CryptoPunks chat who saw the vision of what this was. And then everyone started coming in because they thought they could make a little bit of money.”

That’s not to say that Shadows is deterred. Despite the prevalence of problematic trends and bad actors in this first chapter of blockchain’s story, Shadows feels that it is important for those who believe in its potential to keep experimenting and pushing forward.

“It takes people like us who are willing to go in there and take the arrows in the back,” he says, referring to the criticism that many early adopters have faced. “Just go, ‘Okay, it’s a bunch of grifters, it sucks, it’s a scam; I get it — but here’s where it’s cool. This is why you should want to be involved.”

When it comes to delivering significant value for his fans, Shadows believes that it’s necessary to partner with the major music industry players — these are the kind of partnerships that have taken The Deathbats Club perks to a new frontier in NFTs.

The partnership between Avenged Sevenfold and Ticketmaster began in an unassuming fashion, with an impromptu meeting between Shadows and Michael Rapinoe, CEO of Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation Entertainment. Live Nation had already made several investments in blockchain companies by that point, but was still looking for further opportunities to explore web3. Shadows knew just the people for it.

Avenged Sevenfold have been forging strong relationships with their fans for over 20 years. Image Credit: Liz Ramanand, Loudwire.

Shadows and Rapinoe immediately connected over their shared enthusiasm for the NFT ecosystem, and Shadows recalls how Rapinoe was “dialled in”, eager to learn what he and Avenged were working on with The Deathbats Club.

Using Ticketmaster’s crypto wallet integration, Deathbats Club members were given exclusive access to purchase discounted tickets for the band’s upcoming shows in New York City and Los Angeles. A monumental presale, the NFT-only release saw about 1,000 tickets sold, with some elated fans on Twitter showing how they were able to save hundreds of dollars on tickets.

Aside from The Deathbats Club presale, Avenged Sevenfold also rolled out a separate blockchain rewards programme called TicketPass. These Polygon NFTs were initially free-to-claim, and could also grant holders access to a token-gated ticket sale. Much like their initial Into The Ether NFTs, TicketPass provided the band with a way to expand their web3 ecosystem perks to even more fans.

“When we presented this, many of them called us grifters.”

M. Shadows

In the aftermath of that meeting, Shadows met David Marcus, responsible for global music at Ticketmaster. The two began hatching a plan to transform how the band sells their tickets.

Significantly, the band has plans to let fans “tier up” their TicketPass NFTs through actions like attending shows, buying NFC-tagged merch, and listening to the band’s music on Spotify. As with all of Sevenfold’s web3 efforts, Shadows views TicketPass as an experiment in progress, but its ambitious plans point to an exciting future for blockchain-based membership clubs.

As for the band’s experience “working with the enemy”, as Shadows puts it (Ticketmaster has drawn ire in recent months over sky-high concert ticket prices), the frontman sees this partnership as a potential model for other artists to tweak in order to deliver unique experiences for their fans — not to mention giving the most dedicated ones a way to get better prices on their tickets.

“It takes people like us who are willing to go in there and take the arrows in the back.”

M. Shadows

“We were able to dictate everything we wanted,” Shadows explains, noting that NFTs have empowered the band to have a more equal relationship with their partners. “We are taking responsibility for ticket prices, and at the same time they’re allowing us to build tools that other artists can use however they want.”

The Ticketmaster and TicketPass projects accompany an elaborate rollout for Avenged Sevenfold’s upcoming studio album, Life Is But A Dream, which also includes a narrative-led and AI-powered online scavenger hunt. What isn’t a part of the rollout plan, however, is selling the album itself, or the songs on it, as some kind of NFT.

Considering the band’s engagement with the NFT space, one might have expected some new Avenged Sevenfold music to drop on the blockchain. In reality, selling music as NFTs is an area in which Shadows sees very little potential. Audiences, he says, are accustomed to accessing music for low or no cost. They are unlikely to buy music NFTs simply out of a desire to support artists. “If that were the case,” he adds, poignantly, “we’d still be buying CDs.”

“Every artist isn’t entitled to be rich.”

M. Shadows

This highlights the subtle difference between Shadow’s approach to NFTs compared to many of his peers: while Shadows speaks passionately about how NFTs can make the overall experience better for fans, he isn’t convinced of how they can serve musicians. 

“Every artist isn’t entitled to be rich,” he says, bluntly. “If no one listens to you, you’re not really allowed to run onto Twitter and say ‘I don’t get paid enough royalties’.”

Regardless, Shadows is now a web3 pioneer, and he foresees increased pressure on the music industry in which he originally made his name from independent artists pushing towards greater equity for musicians.

“The younger generation will see it done better and they’ll try new things,” he predicts. “That will, in turn, make the labels have to adapt or die.”

Using Ticketmaster’s crypto wallet integration, Deathbats Club members saved hundreds of dollars on live show tickets. Image credit: The Rock Revival.
Using Ticketmaster’s crypto wallet integration, Deathbats Club members saved hundreds of dollars on live show tickets. Image credit: The Rock Revival.
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Ola Kalejaye
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Ola is a US–based writer and digital nomad. He loves thinking, learning, and writing about all things web3, particularly its impact on major creative industries like film and art.