MUSIC NFT

Boardroom Q&A: Illmind, Grammy-winning Producer

Illmind spoke to Boardroom about his sold-out NFT project, Squad of Knights, bringing music to the forefront of Web3, and more.

Ramon Ibanga Jr., best known as Illmind, is a skilled music producer and songwriter. With almost two decades in the music industry under his belt, Illmind has worked with notable talents such as Drake, Future,  Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj.

“At this point in my life, I kind of do multiple things, but at the core and root of who I am and what I do, I’m a music producer,” Illmind told Boardroom in a video interview. “I’m the guy that goes in the studio and tries my best to make the best song possible for the artist. Essentially, that’s my job.”

Illmind said he’s been super excited about the technology bustling in the Web3 industry and eager to discover ways he can contribute and participate in the space. Since Illmind sees Web3 as an opportunity to fulfill services and experiences, he found a way to do that with music. Earlier this year, he released his samples as royalty-free NFTs.

He also sees parallels in Web3 and music production. In April, Illmind launched a Web3 project called Squad of Knights, an NFT-membership-powered music production community. The project’s NFTs are still being resold on OpenSea.

“As a music producer, my job has always been to find the right people to bring them together to solve a problem. In music production, the problem is, Let’s make an awesome song, right?” Illmind explained. “So I’ve taken those passions and skills and put ’em into this NFT [project] that I launched.”

Boardroom spoke to Illmind about his flagship NFT project and how he plans on helping bring music to the forefront of Web3.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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MICHELAI GRAHAM: How do you see music fitting into the growing Web3 industry?

Illmind: I think we’re extremely early. All of us who are participating in Web3 music, whether it’s building a platform or releasing projects or releasing NFT music, I think we’re experimenting right now. I think there are a lot of amazing ideas and amazing builders, and we’re trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what the people want.

Ultimately, I look at it as new ways to allow artists, songwriters, producers, and just people who make music to generate income, build your fan base, build your following, build your tribe, and interact in ways that you previously weren’t able to interact. To be able to sell tickets and do a metaverse show is definitely next level, but the metaverse functionality is still a little premature.

You also have to really think about the fans. Fans are experiencing music in a real, very frictionless way. They have this little device that has access to basically every song ever made for a small monthly fee. So, how do you give fans a different experience or an easier experience? When you look at Web3 music, which still has some level of friction, I think that’s the uphill battle that we’re facing right now. How do we create mass adoption for music consumers without confusing them or turning them off? That’s the biggest challenge we face.

MG: What is Squad of Knights?

Illmind: Back in probably 2010, which was about six years into my career, I was still a relatively underground music producer. I was doing a lot of underground stuff, working with underground rappers. I had built this small following in the underground [world]. I gained this passion for bringing like-minded people together because I just remember in my early days having so much trouble meeting people. I wanna meet other people that are just like me. I really gained this itch for community-building pretty early.

In early 2021, I really started to gain interest in NFT, Web3, and blockchain. Like, what is this? This is crazy. Since then, I’ve just been doing research and participating and even released a few small NFTs here and there that saw some success. Fast forward to now, this project we’ve been working on since, I would say, October of last year is an NFT generative project called Squad of Knights.

It’s essentially my version of what I’ve been doing for the past 18 years and have been wanting to do. It’s a way for me to bring creative people together. We’re gamifying the experience of rappers, singers, songwriters, beatmakers, visual designers, and audio engineers. We’re bringing all of these creative people together, and we’re rewarding them for collaborating with each other. Each NFT allows holders access to the Squad of Knights world. In this world is a community of creative musicians, visual designers, artists, singers, and rappers from all walks of life that are ready, willing, and able to collaborate with one another.

The artwork is all generative chess knight pieces. I’m a big chess guy. I’m not that good, but I love the game.

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MG: How do holders interact in the community?

Illmind: For example, one of our first tasks in being part of this community is to find people to collaborate with. The way we do that is that everyone gets to assign themselves a role in this community. We have six roles. You buy the NFT, then the first thing you do in our Discord is choose your role.

The first role is the knights of rhythm. So knights of rhythm are people that like to program drums, right? Like percussive rhythm, drum programmers, beat makers. Our second role is our knights of melody. Knights of melody are people that play instruments. People that make sample loops and melodies, play piano, and just anyone that’s creating melody. Our third role is our knights of voice, which is obviously, you know, rappers, singers, and songwriters. Our fourth role is the knights of audio. These are audio engineers — people that mix audio, track audio. They’re the people that make sure the music sounds good sonically. Our fifth role is the knights of vision. These are graphic designers, 3D artists, photographers, canvas painters, and anyone that does visual, creative art. Our sixth and final role is the ambassador knight. The ambassador knights are NFT lovers, collectors, aspiring music lawyers and attorneys, aspiring music managers, and forward-thinking entrepreneurs.

We wanna invite innovative, hungry, and curious people to come into Squad of Knights as well. When you put all of these six types of people in one community, it’s almost like a puzzle. You start to put the puzzle pieces together by interacting on the different Discord channels.

MG: What about IP for holders?

Illmind: Our members own 100% of their IP. We’ll never take any of it from what they create, unlike traditional Web2 practices. The sky’s the limit, honestly.

MG: How was Squad of Knights developed?

Illmind: Moonwalk, [an NFT utility and Web3 platform for brands and creators], is our developer that made all of this possible. They have this intuitive member’s wallet where Squad of Knights members can see their knights on their wallets and earn and spend tokens.

We have a reward token called the $KNGHT Tokens that was built by Moonwalk, too. This token is sort of the incentive to complete challenges, which ultimately are collaborative challenges to bring them together. They can spend $KNGHT Tokens on stuff like in-real-life studio time, which I don’t think anyone has done yet. I actually partnered up with a handful of music studios in Los Angeles to accept $KNGHT Tokens as payment.

MG: What does success look like for Squad of Knights?

Illmind: It’s going to be very interesting and fun to see how Squad of Knights impacts holders’ creativity and their connectivity. The concept is very simple. A lot of people don’t know that some of the greatest music that we’ve had the honor of experiencing over the years was born from community and other people working together. There would be no Missy without Timbaland, right? There would be no Drake without 40. There would be no Future without Mike Will. The list goes on, and we’re trying to harbor and nurture that environment. Over time, we’re gonna see some really interesting things and some amazing IP that’s gonna be created.

I think success for Squat of Knights looks like our community creating lifelong relationships.

Updates on Squad of Knights

Since Squad of Knight launched in April, the sold-out project has hit some major milestones. Here are some of the successes Illmind shared:

  • Squad of Knights members used $KNGHT Tokens to book IRL sessions at three recording studios in L.A. to create songs for Squad of Knights’ album being executively produced by Illmind.
  • The Web3 project hosted two in-person meetups, one in Detroit and another in New York, during NFT.NYC
  • Squad of Knights members can now meet in the project’s new metaverse build by VoxBox on Spatial.
  • There have been nearly 1,500,000 $KNGHT Reward Tokens distributed to Squad of Knights’ community.
  • Squad of Knights deployed a new virtual instrument plug-in called “HAVEN,” which was free for all holders.
  • The Web3 project built a community message board feature on its website for all holders to create groups and squads and share music.
  • Influencers like Gary Vaynerchuk and Altcoin Daily have joined the project as holders.
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