September 27, 2023

Emily Swank on Starting the Dirtybird Flight Club

User Stories
min read

Emily takes us into her journey behind Dirtybird Flight Club, the importance of marketing for new NFT projects and the opportunities for creators in this space.

More than 15 years of experience in art and music

What started as an underground record label in 2005 has expanded beyond music into merchandising, artist management, events, tour production, licensing, and now, NFTs.

Since 2012 the record label Dirtybird has worked with world-famous artists such as Jeremy Fish, Dulk, Raoul Deleo, Dan May, Chema Mendez, and Birdcap. In 2013, Dirtybird won Underground Label of the Year at the International Dance Music Awards.

In this interview, we dive into Emily Swank's work as the Co-Founder of Dirtybird Flight Club (DFC) and Director of NFTs at Dirtybird Records. DFC is a generative NFT project with art by world-renown muralist Birdcap. Important to mention that the project sold out in 3 minutes! You read that right. We'll share the details further in this article.

Emily is a genuine lover of the NFT community and a creator herself—with artwork on Opensea, Foundation, and Niftykit. With over 15 years of experience as a filmmaker and stop-motion animator, she has developed a unique perspective of artists' new challenges and opportunities in the NFT space and web3.

Photo: @fannypackfilms

One day the perfect storm clicked

In the early spring of 2021, when Emily was minting her own artwork and exploring the NFT space, she immediately knew that was the perfect place for Dirtybird to innovate.

Barclay Crenshaw and Emily started working on NFT plans for the brand, many of which still have not seen the light of day. Barclay (aka Claude VonStroke) is the CEO and chief music producer at Dirtybird and, since 2008, an avid collector of lowbrow surrealism.

Both were taking meetings, thinking, and exploring different ways to enter the space. They worked on a 1/1 that took around six months, but then they couldn't get it on any of the gatekeeper sites at the time, like Nifty Gateway or SuperRare. It seemed like nothing was working. But in classic Dirtybird fashion, they just couldn't give up until they came up with a better idea: the generative project based on the original bird logo hand-drawn by Barclay. He used to draw that bird to make his brother and sister laugh.

Putting the pieces together

Behind the DFC project, there are many creatives and unexpected connections of passionate people working together towards the same goal.

A fan and degen from the Wicked Craniums project came on board to help Emily and Barclay navigate building a PFP project. Then, he connected them with OG Bored Ape and highly respected NFT consultant Josh Ong. After that, Joe and Jenny entered the picture from a Brooklyn Mirage show. They scooped in the team through some backstage passes from a Twitter contest Emily held. Joe and Jenny turned out to have experience in NFTs working with the Space Punks team.

Last but not least, the wildest connection was hiding in plain sight. "Our Dirtybird creative event producer Blakeshine found out we were working on NFTs and said: Oh my boyfriend Jason, from Bueno is a Dev, and the rest is history."

Generating 9090 tokens with Bueno

"We knew Birdcap would be perfect [...] He's prolific, and he's fast, which was also a key ingredient in getting the project off the ground," Emily remembered how they started bringing each token to life. They had such a short time to get everything done, but Birdcap was already part of the Dirtybird family. He was their 2020 artist in residence at the label and made the artwork for their music releases.

Birdcap often referred to the project as his "chicken bucket" style artwork where he throws the bird parts in a bucket, and out comes a bird. "Our team spent hours just looking at all the neat bird combos with different traits in the Bueno Generator and making our custom variations for "Beak Leaks" to our community."

In the beginning, the Dirtybird team didn't have a clear idea of how to line up the parts. However, after seeing how the Bueno Generator worked, they had the opportunity to go through the combos and decide the rarity of traits instantly. This process was much easier to resolve with the tool right in front of them.

We are a very visual team, so being able to see what we were working with at all times was invaluable.

Fun fact: The team decided the number of 9090 tokens based on the 909, an iconic drum machine used in house and techno music.

GIF of different designs of DFC birds

Time to lunch before Campout

The deadline for the Dirtybird team was to get everything out the door before they left for Campout—their 6000 people festival in Northern California. Their team activated all cylinders to make the project work. "Barclay and I are very deadline driven, [...] I moved into his office for six weeks to manage the project face to face with him around the clock," and as she said, in typical Dirtybird style, they just went for it.

Community matters and so does marketing

Dirtybird has a dedicated fanbase that's incredibly creative and playful. Their community has been around for a long time—17 years now. Precisely that positive and involved community is part of what helps a project like the Dirtybird Flight Club succeed.

"We are a very small team, but our work ethic is extraordinary and that's what it takes," Emily explained; their team is all about quality over quantity.

There has to be someone like myself, running the ship, taking action from ideas, and keeping the ship moving forward. That's one of the more tricky positions.

Emily strongly believes that there has to be someone on the team working in marketing. In her opinion, it is a big learning curve and one of the most challenging parts. "Many web2 marketing strategies do not work, and are counterproductive [...] it takes a lot of creative solution-based thinking and constant experimentation. Especially when you take an all organic approach like our team."

Challenges and opportunities

Emily sees the royalties systems in perpetuity for artists as a key. As a digital artist, the NFT space has opened up her imagination and allowed her to dream beyond client work. Collaboration over competition, community building, and "all ships rise with the tides" ethos is what truly motivates her in this space.

"Marketing: Cutting through the noise and finding authenticity over hype." that's the biggest challenge for creators in this industry.

The magic formula

Being able to think long-term is essential. "It's easy to get burnt out in this space because it's volatile, moves fast, and trends come and go." Emily strongly believes that if you have a solid foundation in your project, even if the floor dips to zero, the work you've put into it will eventually get noticed.

She concluded, "I have to either love the art or the story behind the art, and if you combine the two, that's the magic formula." As she said, quality over quantity will win in the long term.

Call to action to launch a collection with Bueno
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