We sat down with Xcelencia, an innovative musician and songwriter, to discuss his latest album "El Niño Estrella,” and how he marries blockchain and creativity in his work.
Xcelencia blends Puerto Rican and Cuban influences into his music. His artistic journey, starting as a middle-school songwriter, evolved over the years, culminating in a unique voice in the music industry.
He emphasizes the importance of storytelling in music, striving to create content that goes beyond the surface. His latest album, "El Niño Estrella," explores world-building, multimedia, and innovation, all tied together by blockchain technology.
Xcelencia's foray into blockchain began in 2016, inspired by Spotify's acquisition of Media Chain. He recognizes the transparency and decentralization potential of Web3, using it to crowdfund his album and engage his community.
He believes blockchain loyalty systems can onboard new users into Web3 and revolutionize artist-community relationships. Xcelencia sees blockchain-based platforms like Bonfire as empowering for artists and advocates for a balance between business and creativity.
His advice to aspiring artists is to focus on a few ideas, continuously learn, and find harmony between technology and creativity.
Pioneering Artistry and Blockchain Innovation
In the music industry, certain artists emerge as trailblazers, pushing the boundaries and challenging conventional norms. Xcelencia is one such artist. Xcelencia (whose true name is hidden) is not a conventional creative — he is a musician, songwriter, and founder of a music label and publishing company. The artist was born in Puerto Rico, with Cuban heritage, and raised in Orlando, Florida, and this diverse cultural background influences his work. A life-long artist, his triumph was a gradual, deliberate evolution that began during his formative years.
“I’ve been making music for as long as I can remember. I started off as a songwriter in middle school, writing in my notebooks during class. Then, I moved on to producing. After all of that, I dropped out of school to pursue music.”
Xcelencia went on to study audio engineering. There, he combined all of his experience with this new knowledge, and began to make and release his music.
“I’ve been actively releasing music for 10 years.”
Today, Xcelencia stands as a unique voice in the music industry, melding Puerto Rican and Cuban influences into a sonic tapestry. However, his distinctiveness extends beyond his music; it lies in his core philosophy — the idea that "stories transcend mediums."
“Someone once said that we are entering this era where everything is a race, and we are witnessing a lot of content without context. I realised that we need to be putting more effort and emphasis into our projects, not just releasing a song and letting it sit. So, I started wondering how to put out content which feels deeper and bigger than that. I need to tell my story with my music, not just put the music out there and hope that things grow.”
Therefore, in a world where content often lacks context, Xcelencia champions the art of storytelling. He understands that music, visuals, and narratives should not exist in isolation but work together to create something more profound. This philosophy serves as the linchpin of his creative process and has guided him through the inception of "El Niño Estrella."
In conversation with Xcelencia, we unravelled the magic of "El Niño Estrella" and explored how Xcelencia is not only pioneering musical excellence but also forging new frontiers by using blockchain and NFTs.
El Niño Estrella From Conception To Evolution
"El Niño Estrella" is Xcelencia’s latest album. Speaking on the birth of the album, Xcelencia revealed how the catalyst for "El Niño Estrella" was the Covid outbreak.
“I was sitting on it for some time but I had no idea. As I make music, I tend to come up with the ideas, the concepts, and how I want the visuals to feel, and all of this happened in 2020. I lost my gig very, very early on, because I worked in live entertainment. So, before the lockdown was even officially announced, and I had already lost my job and was moving into a new space. I started building out my studio because I was going to perform at South by Southwest that year. Then I got the news that they had shut down.”
Despite the stream of setbacks, Xcelencia forged on. He decided to go all in on his studio, and started creating more and more music, resulting in the release of the EP ‘And Hello’. This was the beginning of "El Niño Estrella" — or as Xcelencia describes it, “the first phrase.”
“From there, everything started coming together. I started making this new album, with all this new music, and I just followed my intuition. I always say that the tagline of the project is ‘Follow Your Imagination’. So that’s where it all began — and it just kept going.”
An Album With a Difference
We have already outlined that Xcelencia is no regular artist, and so, it is to be expected that his album is no regular album. "El Niño Estrella". This is a concept album, one that explores world-building, multimedia, and innovation. Tying this all together is blockchain technology.
Xcelencia first began exploring blockchain tech in 2016, when he noticed Spotify acquiring Media Chain. This sparked his interest, and he began to pay close attention to what was happening in Web3. Xcelencia saw ICOs come alive and witnessed the birth of new tech, and these new ideas and achievements inspired him.
“I began to think, ‘How could I apply this to a label? How could I apply this to an artist?”
At the time, Xcelencia decided that this was not the opportunity for him right now, but something that he wanted to consider in the future. More than anything, he was excited by the transparency of blockchain, the decentralization of Web3, and the opportunities that this all offers for artists. However, the cost of developing blockchain solutions was far greater than it is today.
“I had ideas of what I wanted to build in the space, but I didn’t know where to start. The developers that I did know were traditional devs and programmers, and so they didn’t know solidity, or they were not interested in Web3 or crypto. So I reached out to a developer who could create what I wanted, but I was quoted around $20,000 to build my Web3 social platform. Then, when I wanted to build a crowdfunding project using Web3, I was quoted $100,000.”
Thankfully, this has now changed, with platforms like Bonfire offering up no-code token-gated sites for creators. Speaking of this, Xcelencia describes Bonfire as a “Squarespace for Web3.” It is a space where artists can create in the way that they want, with a system that is interoperable with other systems. Bonfire does not need to build its own deployer or protocol, as it partners with other systems to integrate to bring the best experiences all into one place — so that creators can have the best experience possible. Web3 is, after all, about collaboration over competition.
So, as Web3 developed and became a more viable option for creators, artistry went through an evolution. Music is no longer only an auditory or visual experience, but now a whole community adventure. From the moment "El Niño Estrella" began, it was a joint experience. Xcelencia used blockchain to crowdfund the album through an Infinxte Mirror campaign in 2021. In just three months, the artist had raised $50,000 to fund the project. In true trustless on-chain style, Xcelencia kept a monthly log of how the funds were used on Mirror. The crowdfund paved the way for marketing efforts, short-form lifestyle content, and IRL activations such as listening parties and showcases.
“I was building trust, showing what the funds were going towards. I wanted people to know that I was being productive with the funds raised, so I gave monthly updates to my collectors to say ‘Hey, this is what’s happening’, or ‘these are the challenges that I’m having right now’. I had to challenge myself to build in public, on-chain, and involve people in the project and the process before it was actually released.”
Building Loyalty Through Blockchain
It is clear to see that community is a crucial aspect of "El Niño Estrella." Xcelencia explores how this has been a challenging aspect of creating the concept album, as as an artist, you feel the need to keep your community informed, but do not want to overwhelm them with information. So, rather than presenting a barrage of content to his audience, Xcelencia involves them in the process.
“With the music releasing, the community will grow deeper, as now they can play a bigger part in the work. I can ask for help choosing concept art, or offer rewards like tickets for when I’m on tour. It’s important to me to reward my community, but to let it happen naturally rather than forcing it.”
In addition to the behind-the-scenes access to the album creation, and the monthly updates, Xcelencia has also rewarded his community with ‘Moments’. Xcelencia describes these ‘moments’ as “Top Shots for music.”
“They are NFTs — digital timestamps that you can hold in your wallet, display, and keep as a collectible. So, when I reach a certain milestone, I airdrop an NFT that represents this moment.”
This idea of collectible moments is just one of the many original ideas that Xcelencia has. Even his Spotify artist profile is not static. It uses off-chain Spotify streaming data as a trigger to change the image. If Xcelencia gets more than 100,000 streams on Spotify within a calendar month, the image changes. For collectors of "El Niño Estrella," they too have a dynamic, evolving collectible. It is a collectible that changes in connection with Xcelencia’s artistic journey.
“We are using an illustrator, so at the end, everyone will have an art piece. It will all look so unique. We decided not to use AI, as we wanted humans to be involved, and we wanted everyone to have an individual art piece of their own.”
As we spoke, Xcelencia revealed how blockchain loyalty systems are much bigger than on-chain rewards. Blockchain reward systems do not only benefit the artist and their community, but also help to onboard others, too. The majority of the population will not find a crypto exchange their gateway to Web3, but instead, they start exploring blockchain because of these loyalty systems. They become curious about what others are earning or receiving, and so they begin to explore the space for themselves.
“We’ve had many different ideas for the rewards system. We thought about badges, early iterations of NFTs, and so on. There were different tiers and ways to reward someone, a leaderboard to signal how much you were holding. Many ideas, but at its heart, a reward system. It’s a tried and true strategy that airlines, grocery stores, and tons of other businesses have been using for decades.”
Before blockchain, a loyalty system like this would have cost Xcelencia millions of dollars to create. Now, with public infrastructure — like Ethereum or Bitcoin — we can create loyalty systems with ease, and creatives can reward their backers and nurture their community.
Xcelencia - The Future
The future looks bright for Xcelencia. He has just dropped the first single from "El Niño Estrella", featuring artist Tarot, titled CANCUN. Throughout our conversation, Xcelencia’s passion for blockchain technology shone through, and above all, he sees the decentralized nature of blockchain-based platforms, like Bonfire, as a groundbreaking way to empower artists.
To finish up, we asked Xcelencia to share his experience by offering up advice for aspiring artists. This is what he had to say —
“Cast a wide net, then reel everything back in and reduce what you have. You could start out with a ton of ideas, but you need to practice the reduction of those ideas. Pinpoint three ideas that you want to focus on, whether it’s creative or business, and focus on these so that you can execute the project. Learn, and continue to learn, and you will grow from there. Most importantly, you need to find a balance between business and creativity. You have to marry the two. You are going to thank yourself in the long run.”