✖️ Do we need a care manifesto for the music industry?
On platformization versus niche opportunities through interdependency
A quick hello to all of you reading MUSIC x, which is the result of the newly wedded MUSIC x CORONA and MUSIC x TECH x FUTURE newsletters. Today I’ll talk about a care manifesto for music industry to see how interdependency can help create opportunities in the face of platformization.
Back in August The Care Collective released a book called The Care Manifesto in which they lay bare a crisis of care in the world. They focus on all types of care, from the childcare to care for our natural world. They challenge a carelessness that exists in people and institutions. They recognize that caring isn’t just joyful, but also consists of making decisions that can be painful. They see the future of care as interdependent and encourage people to experiment with care outside of their own bubble, their own nuclear family.
There is a strong analogy to the music industry, especially since the first lockdowns in March killed a major revenue stream: live music. Since then there has been a lot of hardship and a lot of grassroots actions for support as well as government-driven monetary subsistence. And yet, so many within the industry are still in need of care. For the remainder of this newsletter I will focus on podcasts as one element that makes it difficult for better monetary care to come from the current major streaming platforms while also laying bare the opportunities that arise from the niches of technological developments and the interdependent structures that hold them together.
It starts with tech
Technology determines, for a large part, the medium. A quick glance at the history of music in the twentieth century sees song lengths adapting to first the 3-minute maximum of the 45RPM single and then they lengthen with the Compact Disc’s rise. Besides this physical aspect, technology also determines more ephemeral aspects of the music industry. In more recent history, for example, the podcast came to prominence through the RSS feed and an ever increasing access to broadband internet for potential audiences. Monetizing a podcast was always difficult as it was difficult to integrate programmatic advertising. This, in turn, gave way to what was often the host providing the message for the sponsor of the podcast. Another benefit from that was that the ‘ad’ would also play if the podcast listener consumed behind a paywalled subscription service.
For a long time, podcasts lived in their own world with various platforms providing access to listeners. Then Spotify started moving. First with acquisitions - Gimlet, Anchor, Ringer - then with a change in approach: from a music service to an ‘audio first’ service. Spotify’s most recent move has been the acquisition of Megaphone through which they aim to
‘offer podcast publishers innovative tools that will help them earn more from their work. This includes the opportunity to opt in to have their content monetized, matching their loyal listeners with even greater demand from advertisers.’
Now, Spotify’s ‘audio first’ strategy has seen their competitors move into audio too with Amazon, for example, turning Audible into more of a podcasting app.
The way the big tech companies are moving into podcasting can be seen as a danger to the burgeoning podcast space. Liz Pelly writes in the Baffler how Spotify’s podcast strategy is an attempt to bring more ad revenues into the company while also providing a worrying note about how podcasts become streambait in this strategy. Another critique comes from Grace Gedye, writing in the Washington Monthly. She warns that through platformization, Spotify, Amazon, Google, etc. are able to create a marketplace where they can push their own content first. The only remedy is for governments to step in, usually the European Commission.
Tech may be the problem, it’s also a solution
The above concerns are real, but as Matt Ball has recently written:
“technology is now affecting the audio category faster than ever before. The diversity of its revenue models, content, and delivery has never been greater. This is inspiring and healthy. And there is a lot more to come.”
If we look at podcasts, their ease of distribution helped to grow their popularity while their popularity coupled with monetization opportunities brought the interest of larger tech firms. And yet, if we move away from the major platforms, there’s ample opportunity to get your voice heard. Just this week, Patreon announced a collaboration with Acast to allow creators to deliver podcasts straight to patrons. Here, we see niche opportunities arising in the face of platformization and monopolization. And it requires a great level of care.
A care manifesto for the music industry
A first step towards a care manifesto for the music industry, especially in the face of the pandemic, is a move towards fan monetization. By cutting out platforms and reaching out to fans directly, musicians can flip the value proposition and start to work on a sustainable income, even in the face of the pandemic. The key ingredient of the the care manifesto for the music industry is thus the fan. And there’s plenty more opportunities, such as through a new platform called Quier, which allows fans to become creators from their fandom - not too dissimilar to good old fanzines created by superfans.
The artist-fan interdependency seems obvious but there is also a lot to be won through interdependency more broadly. Mat Dryhurst, back in April 2019, wrote for The Guardian how music communities, especially on the fringes or even further outside of the mainstream, need to band together to showcase their worth. That value, he writes “is impossible to quantify on a spreadsheet.” And yet, if there’s one thing the pandemic has been good for, it is to quantify the value of music, and the arts in general. One example comes from Alberta, Canada where the ministry of Culture confirms that
“Every $1 million in output from live performance businesses in Alberta generates 17 direct and indirect jobs. When arts and culture thrive, Alberta is well positioned to be seen as a good place to live, invest and do business.”
Using those quantifiable numbers can further help interdependent music communities not just see through the pandemic, but thrive by caring promiscuously for their art, each other, and their fans.
Hot on the heels of the first positive results from the stage-three trial of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, Ticketmaster has unveiled its strategy around post-pandemic fan safety. It has three components:
The Ticketmaster ticket app
Third party health information
Vaccine distribution providers
The combination will allow fans to verify that they’ve either tested negative or have already been vaccinated before attending an event.
Following up their successful virtual summer edition, Tomorrowland has announced a Magical New Year’s Eve party. Set to take place across 27 time zones the organizers will use the world’s best technology in 3D design, video production and special effects. If we learn more about how the magic will play out we’ll share it here.
Gaming and music are hot right now. Lil Nas X will perform in Roblox.
As festivals are looking to 2021 and trying to figure out how to organise within the constraints of various measures surrounding social-distancing the UK government asks itself how they can make sure the festival ecosystem doesn’t go under.
Twitch and copyright remains an issue, but they’ll build easy-to-use tools for creators apparently while at the same time discussing licensing deals. However, Soundtrack for Twitch doesn’t require synch or mechanical licenses on the platform more broadly.
Shutterstock aquires Amper Music, or at least certain assets of Amper Music, setting the stage for more royalty-free music. Whereas the image you get from Shutterstock is a finished product, the thing with Amper Music is that the samples are customizable allowing for the creation of new sounds/music.
Virtual group K/DA - based on characters from League of Legends - are releasing their first EP. Everything about them is so real that it’s unreal.
There’s been quite a bit of talk around Audius recently and Coindesk has a great article that’s: 1) a good introduction to what Audius is; and 2) a good analysis of what Audius’ challenges are (including, of course, the need for users to make it work).
I’ve been listening to some dark techno while composing this newsletter. If you enjoy that type of thing, do check out Paula Temple. Her music can be noisy, ferocious, and mindwarping and yet she always manages to get this kind of cinematic feel as well making it easy on the ear for such heavy music.
Do support Bas and MUSIC x on Patreon, if you can.