Interview with Xbar Labs: Awesome Audio NFTs

Daniel James
Daniel James
Interview with Xbar Labs: Awesome Audio NFTs

We interviewed Xbarlabs, a talented team that we had the pleasure of first meeting during a Twitter Space hosted by yours truly, @ICPfan8. ICWave is a first-of-its-kind collection of 3200 nostalgia-rich, vibe-heavy, audio-visual NFTs. What makes ICWave stand out is that they have unique, generated music as a part of every NFT!

1. Please tell us about you, your name, position in the project, your credentials, etc., so that we can introduce you.

Hi! My name is Stephen (known in the community as Joe, xbarjoe, X, etc) and I’m the founder and Project Lead of Xbar Labs. Within Xbar Labs, I handle any of the technical aspects of our endeavors, be it programming, web design, image composition, making promotional materials etc. I also handle the majority of the music creation for our collections, as well as any 3D design. My professional background is in data science & machine learning, but I’ve been doing music production / audio engineering on the side for the better part of the past 10 years.

2. How would you describe your artistic style?

Haha, that’s hard to give a definitive answer to, because it’s kind of all over the place. When it comes to visual art, I love doing really abstract pieces. I personally tend to enjoy working with 3D art compared to 2D, and you’ll see that in some of our future collections. Overall though, I really love dark & glitchy aesthetics, so aesthetics like cyberpunk & retrowave appeal to me quite a bit.

Musically, my heart has always beat for electronic music. For a number of years I worked a lot with harder electronic genres, like EDM and things like that, although recently I’ve been really into things like synthwave & more dance-y stuff. I always love making a good rap beat every now and then, as well.

3. What drew you to NFT creation rather than traditional canvas-based art?

As I mentioned earlier, I have a professional background in computer science, so I was initially drawn to the idea of making NFTs because of the algorithmic generation aspect. I’ve always liked the idea of code-generated art, and making NFTs is a way to explore that interest, while making something interesting in the process. I was also very heavily involved in the Internet Computer NFT space prior to working on this collection, so it was a market I had a bit of experience in, at least from an investor’s point of view. Making a full scale NFT collection was also a new experience for everyone involved, so we were enticed by the challenge and change in creative pacing.

4. Are there any artists who have inspired you? What do you like about their work?

Haha, I could probably fill an entire page just answering this question. I’ll try to make it brief, though.

As far as visual art goes, one of my favorite artists of all time is Hiroshi Nagai. I could seriously spend hours just sitting and looking at his works. I also love some good thematic 3D art, so I’m a huge fan of artists like Justin LeDuc and Hexeract. Musically, I really love dark synthwave-type music, so artists like Priest, Starcadian, and Scandroid have always been huge inspirations. The more atmospheric sides of pop music are also really appealing to me, so I’ve always been drawn to artists like The Weeknd (more on this later).  

In terms of what inspired the art of our collection, it's hard to attribute the inspiration to any artist in particular because we’re pulling inspiration from the generalized aesthetics of vaporwave / retrowave / etc. rather than any specific artist.

As far as the music of ICWave goes, we were definitely drawing huge inspiration from people like Blank Banshee, Anders Enger Jensen, Oneohtrix Point Never, & Vektroid (and all of her other aliases).

5. What made you create NFTs?

As I alluded to, NFTs are pretty much at the intersection of everything I enjoy doing. Art, programming, cryptocurrency, etc. As a result, it seemed like a very natural artistic step for me to take. Machine learning and data science rely heavily on probability and statistics, so given my background in those subjects, I always found the rarity aspect of NFTs appealing as well. Lastly, the aspect of community building was incredibly intriguing for me as well. I really like the idea of building a community around your art / vision as well, and NFTs are a great route to that end.

6. Can you tell us about your project?

ICWave is a first-of-its-kind collection of nostalgia-rich, vibe-heavy, audio-visual NFTs. The name comes from the fact that the aesthetics of the collection draw heavily from things like vaporwave, retrowave, etc. What makes ICWave stand-out is that we have unique, generated music as a part of every NFT, and the separate audio components are categorized through various traits, so the final NFT has its audio components as part of the metadata, and can be filtered (on something like DGastonia) in the same way visual traits would be on any other NFT. With an abstract story and a multi-year roadmap full of “firsts” on the Internet Computer, we think ICWave is one of the most unique collections to ever hit the IC.

7. Music with each NFT, How does that work?

We generate music for NFTs in the same way that pictures are generally created for NFTs. The “stacked asset” method is the go-to approach for creating generative NFT art. At a very high level, an artist will typically create some sort of “base layer” and any of its variants. After that, they have various asset classes (things like clothing, background color, facial features, etc), and numerous traits within each asset class. Then, an algorithm goes through and selects random combinations of all of the traits and mashes them on top of one another, which gives you the final NFT. We apply that same technique to audio, but our “asset classes” for the musical component are things like BPM, musical key, drum pattern, synth pattern, etc. When an ICWave is generated, the generator picks a BPM and musical key for that NFT, then it goes through the audio assets we’ve created for ICWave, and picks 2 drum patterns that match the ICWave’s BPM traits, one for the main drums and one for the high-hats / percussion. After that, the generator selects a synth pattern and bass pattern that matches the ICWave’s BPM / Key traits. These four audio layers are then stacked on top of eachother and turned into one final audio file, which gets paired with the corresponding ICWave (For more information on how we’re accomplishing this, check out our medium article on this topic:

8. How many NFTs will be minted? Can you talk us through the process of how you create the art?

There will be 3200 ICWave NFTs in total.

As for how we create the art, there's a bit more to it than your average NFT collection. For the visual component, we obviously start with the base statue layer. From that, all of the facial accessories, head accessories, torso accessories, etc are all drawn over top. Separately, the background accessories and backgrounds are created without any sort of guide. For the music, I’ll go through and start a new music project file. I’ll then pick a BPM and key to work in, and from there write the 4 core ICWave audio stems (Drums, Percussion, Bass, Synth Lead) for that given project. After that, I’ll mute one of them, and write a new pattern to fill its place. So, for example, I’ll mute the bassline I just wrote for a given project file and write a new one. After that I’ll write a new synth lead, etc. After I’ve repeated that process however many times, I’ll export all of the stems and put them into their respective categorical folders (i.e. .\ICWave\assets\audio\{BPM}\{key}\{stem_type}), and start over from the beginning.

9. Will people be able to breed, stake, rent your NFT, or will it ever be in a game or be a DAO?

We haven’t explored any breeding mechanisms, not for ICWave anyway. The audio mechanism would make breeding really difficult to pull off with how we constructed the series. We may explore breeding mechanisms with a future project, because I think there are a lot of cool ways one could implement “breedable” audio. As far as renting & staking is concerned, a lot of that will come down to the functionality of the marketplace we list on; but if the marketplace we list on supports it, I don’t see why that can’t be an option. I would want to be tactful if we decided to implement anything like that though, I want to make sure we don’t run the risk of being labeled an unregistered security.

When it comes to the notion of a DAO, we’re planning on a post launch initiative that we’re calling a “DAObum” (a DAO-album). This will be an initiative exclusive to ICWave holders where we have an album that is owned, controlled, and even created by the community. We want as many people as possible to be involved in the process, so we’ll create a portal where people can submit things like clips of them playing instruments, singing a melody, etc. Not everyone is a musician though, so we’ll also encourage people to submit more obscure things like interesting sounds they’ve heard and recorded from their everyday life, lyrics, song titles, etc. Once completed, the DAObum will be minted as an NFT, permanently cementing itself as the first community-created / owned / controlled music album on a blockchain, ever (at least as far as I’m aware of).

10. What benefits do you think the Internet Computer has over other L1 blockchains when it comes to creating NFTs?

Well naturally, NFTs are going to absorb the generalized benefits that the Internet Computer has over other L1 blockchains, so things like transaction time, gas-less interactions, infinitesimal fees, etc. However, with ICP you of course also have the option of storing NFTs on-chain, which is a pretty spectacular feature. I actually ran some of the numbers, and found it would cost over a billion dollars to store ICWave on Ethereum. So…not exactly feasible. Last, but certainly not least, with the upcoming integrations in the ICP roadmap, the option for people to buy / sell NFTs in either ICP, BTC, or ETH will be an absolute game-changer in my opinion.

11. What other art have you seen that excites you in the Internet Computer NFT ecosystem?

Motokos are always a classic. There’s something so satisfying about the simplicity of the collection that I’ve always loved. Poked Bots have also always been one of my favorite ICP collections, and I’m definitely going to have to pick up a couple more before their Gen 2 collection drops. Above all of those, Duo’s Cyber Skull collection is probably my favorite NFT collection ever. I’m a sucker for quality pixel art, and when you throw in cyberpunk vibes on top of it? I’m sold. Another personal favorite of mine is definitely KawaiiVHS. Obviously there’s no shortage of good art on the Internet Computer, so I’m sure there’s some I’ve missed, but those are the ones that have stood out to me.

12. What excites you most about your launch and which date is your launch?

The launch will be on August 17th, over on MemeCake! What’s most exciting about this to me is that we finally get to see everything we’ve worked so hard on come to life. As I’ll get into a bit later, we’ve been working on ICWave & other Xbar Labs related things pretty much non-stop, every day, for the past 7 or so months (I really can’t overstate how much time & effort we’ve put into ICWave). So seeing all of that hard work finally come to life is incredibly exciting. Launching is also super exciting because we get to now start focusing on all of the other aspects of our roadmap that we’re itching to get rolling with.

13. What advice would you give to anyone trying to enter into the world of NFTs?

My number one piece of advice for someone looking to start making NFTs is try to find something, anything, that someone else hasn’t done yet. One of the strengths of the ICP NFT space right now is that it’s so young, and as a result there are a lot of niches that are yet to be filled. From that, there are a lot of opportunities for creators to get first-mover advantages. Even if your idea for a collection has been implemented in a similar way elsewhere, putting your own unique spin on it will be what sets you apart from your contemporaries.

Along with that I would say that it’s incredibly beneficial to talk to as many people as possible within the community. Information is your number one asset when trying to start any sort of venture. So, talking to other founders about what challenges they faced, asking prominent community figures what they look for in NFT collections to buy into, and things like that can provide you with invaluable information.

On top of that, I would also encourage someone interested in entering the NFT world as a creator to be adaptable. There are so many moving parts to the NFT space, and in many cases you’re relying on others for certain things to run smoothly. As such, it's important to stay adaptable and anticipate things going differently than originally planned, lest you go crazy.

14. Do you have further plans to work with ICP Squad in the future after this initial sale?

We’d absolutely love to! I love the concept of a “create your own” NFT series, and I think ICPSquad knocked it out of the park in that respect (I’m absolutely never selling my ICPSquad, having an avatar made in my likeness as an NFT is too cool to let go of). So, I’d love to work with ICPSquad in any capacity. I’ve been bouncing around the idea in my head of a NFT “experiment” where you let people pick their own assets, and offer a bounty to whoever creates the “rarest” NFT. In that scenario I think it would be super cool to see which assets people naturally gravitated towards, and if we did it with a super low mint price, I think there would be a lot of really interesting game theory at play for picking assets, and I absolutely nerd out over stuff like that. So potentially that could be a way we work together in the future, if they're interested, of course (consider this me pitching the idea to ICPSquad 😉).

15. Can you envision a future where the most valuable NFT space is on the Internet Computer?

Haha, well I certainly wouldn’t be here if the answer to that question was no! Going a step further, I envision a future where the Internet Computer swallows the entire cryptocurrency market. The Internet Computer is such a radical departure from the trajectory new blockchains seemed to be taking (which seemed to be a lot of: “Take Ethereum, but add sharding / zk-rollups / whatever.” Yes this is a major oversimplification of the capabilities of other chains, but you get my point), so I find it very hard to envision a future where the Internet Computer is not the next big paradigm of blockchain technology. I’m a diehard ICP maximalist, and I don’t think there’s ever been an investment I have more conviction in than ICP. With that complete market dominance, I absolutely think the most valuable NFT space will be on the Internet Computer.

16. Why do you think NFTs have become so valuable in such a short space of time?

That’s a really good question, and I think it has a multifaceted answer. I think a big reason NFTs exploded in popularity was because all of a sudden, there was this brand new way for artists to profit from their talents. I think there are a lot of artists out there who are incredibly talented, but never really end up feeling motivated to pursue anything related to their abilities in a professional capacity due to the limited financial viability of being an artist. NFTs are creating a market where that isn’t the case.

I also think NFTs tap in to an innate human desire to be “a part of the club”. So I think as artists start to create collections in their style, people are finding aesthetics that resonate with them, and being a holder of a given collection allows people to feel like they're in the inner-circle of a given collection / brand. Holder benefits and hype also drastically amplify this feeling.

Hype is the major point of those two in my opinion though. Take BAYC, for example. When people see someone like Snoop Dogg change his profile photo on Twitter to his personal Bored Ape, people can look at BAYC, buy one, and can now say that they’re a part of this “club” that Snoop Dogg happens to be a part of. How many people can say that they are in the same club as a celebrity as big as Snoop Dogg? It’s the same deal with NFT holder events / parties. People see these events happening, see the recap videos, etc and think “Wow, I could have gone to that If I held this NFT” and now they’re looking to pick one up. As a result, it all ends up feeding back into this idea of exclusivity and being a “part of the club”. This perpetual hype turns NFTs into what are basically self-propelled FOMO generators. Everyone wants to be a part of the club, and who can blame them?

17. Tell us about your team?

Xbar Labs is largely a 1-man-show at the moment; that person being me, Stephen / xbarjoe. Within Xbar Labs, I handle everything from social media management, web development, & community management, to music production, image composition, & 3D design (Basically, everything that isn't something hand-drawn is handled by me). As I mentioned previously, My professional background is in data science & machine learning. However, I've been doing music production as a hobby for the last 10 or so years. Outside of that, I do a fair bit of 3D design, which will be reflected in future Xbar Labs collections. I have a couple friends outside of cyberspace that helped me pull ICWave together in areas where my skills are lacking (i.e. drawing), and a handful of moderators/ambassadors that have helped with community outreach, but the bulk of day to day dealings regarding Xbar Labs are my own.

18. What advantages do you believe you have over other competitors?

I think we have exceptionally strong branding and aesthetic cohesion. We’ve put an extreme amount of thought / effort, and have been very deliberate in how we handle the branding of Xbar Labs and ICWave. We chose to focus our branding on the aesthetic of our collection, rather than what the collection is visually. For example, we could have easily called the collection “ICStatues”, because yes, visually they are statues. However, I think this would have pigeonholed us in terms of how we can market the collection. To us, ICWave is about so much more than just the statues themselves, which is why we deliberately never mention anywhere that visually, the NFTs are statues. Vaporwave, synthwave, retrowave, etc. are all aesthetics, so ICWave fits right in there semantically. This is the same thought process as to why we only have social media accounts for Xbar Labs, rather than dedicated ICWave accounts. ICWave is, and always will be our baby, and will always be part of the equation when it comes to future endeavors. However, ICWave represents just the beginning of both what we want to do and what we’re capable of doing. As a result we focus the majority of our branding on Xbar Labs, as to not pigeonhole ourselves in the future.

In everything we do, we try to be as calculated and deliberate as possible.

19. Tell us about the challenges you have faced while building your project?

I think we’re in the unique position where our greatest strength is also our greatest weakness, and that would be our team size. Like I mentioned earlier, having such a small team makes it incredibly easy to keep track of what needs to be done, where we’re going, etc. However, given that there’s only two of us, that puts a lot of pressure on the both of us in order to do everything that needs to be done in order to create a successful collection. So all of the work of creating the visual assets, creating the musical assets, managing our website, running social media accounts, writing medium articles, doing marketing outreach, making promotional material, etc is all currently handled by two people, which is quite a lot, haha. As a result I, personally, have probably put in at least 9 - 10 hours a day for the past 6 months working on ICWave related work. We also hold ourselves to a very high standard of quality, so meeting that standard with a team of two can lead to a slightly longer-than-preferred time to accomplish various tasks. But, that’s just the way it is sometimes.

20. What are your short and long-term achievements and targets?

I’m really glad you asked this question because there are a lot of things I want to say that I think work much better as an answer to a question like this compared to a traditional roadmap.

In terms of short term goals, having a successful launch is obviously on that list. I’m 100% a workaholic, so after launch I want to immediately get to work chipping away at other things on our roadmap. I’ve seen too many launches where there's an extended period of dead space after the launch hype wears off, and you, as a holder, get basically radio silence for something like 2 months before getting new development updates. That’s not the sort of thing I want for any of our projects. I want there to always be a clear view of exactly what is being worked on, which is why I’m hanging out, talking in our various community outlets 24/7 (when I’m not focused on work, that is). I want it to feel like we’re just as much a part of the community as everyone else is.

In the long term, I want to bring Xbar Labs /  ICWave into the physical world. Given that Xbar Labs & ICWave are very reliant on music as a dominant aspect of what sets us apart, I think that would lend itself very naturally to doing some sort of physical event. Obviously that’s not the sort of thing we can easily just put on our roadmap, as there are countless outside factors, many of which would be outside of our control, that would dictate the feasibility of something like that. However, it's still something I 100% want to work towards, because I think a retrowave / vaporwave themed version of something like the Azuki garden party for ICWave holders would be a really fun experience. In a more general view of long term goals, I think we have the potential to position Xbar Labs as the go to place for audio-visual NFTs on the Internet Computer. As such I want to build up a platform where we can work with other visual artists to bring generative music to their collections, as well as help other musicians transform their work into their own generative series. Having our hand in the production of that many projects would mean there would always be new opportunities for us to provide continuous benefits to ICWave holders.

21. Give us some details about your roadmap?

Absolutely! Our general roadmap is as follows:

  • Q4 2021 - Q1 2022: Genesis
  • Website Launch
  • Establish Discord Server / Community
  • Initial Artwork Creation
  • Q1 2022: Preparations
  • Pre-Release contests
  • Artwork development + Sneak peeks
  • Community development
  • Q3 2022: Launch
  • Mint (Marketplace TBD)
  • Post launch support (Integrations, NRI release, etc.)
  • Post-launch contests
  • Q3 2022 - Q4.2022: Expansion
  • Gated content portal
  • Community DAObum
  • Physical ICWave collectibles
  • Merch Drop (Based on ICWave assets)
  • Story Production
  • Story ARG
  • Part 2 collection production
  • Q4.2022 - Onwards: Future Plans
  • Part 2 collection (Airdrop to ICWave holders)
  • More story elements
  • Generalized AV NFT Platform for Artists
  • More, as scope increases.

Naturally, a lot of the dates on these deliverables are going to be flexible, and there will likely be additional deliverables that we end up putting out that aren’t on the roadmap yet.

Around the time we get to the “future plans”, that’s also where we’re looking to get cracking on some of the things I mentioned in the previous question about long-term goals.

22. You say that ICWave has an “abstract story.” What does that mean and what can you tell us about the story of ICWave?

Nothing irritates me more than when a collection claims to have a “story”, and all that the story ever amounts to is a little blurb in a Discord server, or a paragraph or two on a website. So, when thinking about the story for ICWave, we wanted to pull inspiration from the types of storytelling that we enjoy from non-NFT formats. Personally, I really enjoy the “show, don’t tell” method of storytelling, as I find it to be much more rewarding to engage with. As an example of this, look at The Weeknd’s album After Hours (one of my favorites, if not my #1 favorite album of all time). There absolutely was an overarching narrative to the album, but you wouldn’t necessarily get the full story just by listening to it. However, once you’ve watched the music videos, watched the promotional material, etc, you slowly piece together the story the album was telling, and it all begins to make more sense. That’s what I mean by an “abstract story”. You might not piece together the story just by looking at the collection, However, once all of the promotional material has been put out, and some of the assets from the collection (both audio and visual) are viewed within that context, it’ll start to make more sense. There will also be a fairly sizable ARG / treasure hunt that will serve as a “transition” from ICWave to the second collection we do in the future, and that will be very story-focused. I’ll also add though, like I mentioned earlier, everything we do is deliberate, so we’ve already begun dropping breadcrumbs through previewed assets (we’ve also included subtle tidbits in tweets that people will eventually recognize as breadcrumbs in the future).  

23. Do you have any plans to expand into the Metaverse?

It’s hard to give a definitive answer to that, because in my opinion we, as a society, are still a very long ways away from anything resembling the “metaverse”. On top of that, there doesn’t really seem to be a clear consensus on what the metaverse actually is. One idea is that it’s going to be some amalgamation of VR + blockchain technology, in which case we still have to bring mass adoption of VR technology before we start worrying about the metaverse. I think what the “metaverse” will ultimately be is drastically different from what a lot of people are expecting. So ultimately I think we’re still decently far away from the metaverse being more than a marketing term for now. There are a lot of “metaverse-like” experiences that I’m interested in, though. For example, I think it would be really cool to set up a sort of interactive vaporwave-themed gallery for ICWave. And given that The IC Gallery recently showed off their Unity integration demo, this may have to be something we look into. No promises though, I haven’t worked with Unity in maybe 4 years, haha.

24. Will your NFT be tokenized in the future?

If you mean something to the effect of doing a token airdrop to NFT holders, it’s not something we’re looking at in the immediate future, per se. But, like I alluded to in the question about metaverse expansions, I’m never going to say anything is off the table. As we continue developing our brand and expanding what we bring to the community, there could potentially be opportunities for offering tokens in the future. That being said, part of our long-term strategy / goal will require us to establish Xbar Labs as a legitimate entity in the United States. So, I’d want to make sure we’d be clear of any legal concerns before doing anything like offering an official token.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions 😊

ICWave is launching Wednesday, August 17th, at 8 am EST on MemeCake marketplace.

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