✖️ Metaverse, schmetaverse: the guiding principles music should focus on
And: Kanye West's Stem player strategy; Web3 go-to-market strategy; Amapiano goes global; deadmau5 manager talks DAOs & IP; Pop stars & digital burnout
When Facebook renamed itself Meta, music biz community Water & Music renamed its #metaverse channel on Discord to #hyperverse. Facebook’s move signalled peak hype cycle & the company tried to claim the key phrase. Since then, the term ‘metaverse’ has become increasingly devoid of meaning. That’s not due to Meta, but rather because the term has become diluted.
If everything is called metaverse, metaverse means nothing
The term metaverse is confusing and at this point all but useless. It points to nothing. Narratives of singular companies building “the metaverse” have reduced the term to mean nothing more than “what if Second Life was created in 2022 rather than 2003?”
It’s not important to most people what ‘Metaverse’ means. PR agents looking for publicity will unironically stake claims to “first X in the metaverse” for simple, interactive animations. That’s ok. It’s confusing. There are a lot of competing forces trying to define the narrative around ‘the metaverse’ and that’s because it points towards the next major operating systems for our digital lives.
Whichever mainstream metaverses will emerge are going to be economically and culturally as important as the Apple App Store & Google Play Store of the mobile era. To a large extent, these mobile stores defined the constraints, the rules, the economics and the culture of this digital era. Now, due to factors ranging from regulatory pressures to the web3 emergence to innovations in hardware, a new opportunity has emerged for a new status quo to form. There is a lot of potential there and thus claims are being staked.
With all this noise, the question is: should you even care?
Forget the word ‘metaverse’ for now. It was a signpost for a while, but as everyone has started setting up metaverse signposts pointing in different directions, it’s not meaningful to focus on the phrase anymore. Instead, focus on concepts of portability, autonomy & immutability.
Immutability is one of the core principles of blockchains, which is why web3 & metaverse are sometimes used interchangeably - something I don’t recommend you do. Immutability refers to the fact that database entries in the decentralized ledgers (referred to as blockchains) can’t be edited after the fact. One can only append. This creates immutable histories.
It’s this aspect that creates the trust that people have when they say they ‘own’ an NFT. The record is immutable. The digital object is in their custody. The ‘metaverse’ will need to adopt new ownership models that don’t depend on a single, centralized entity. Rather than having to trust a company with a database that records who has what, problems like this should be solved by giving control of data to the users, for example via public ledgers such as Ethereum.
For artists, this means you can start to think about what digital objects can be created that you want to put into the hands of fans and metaverse explorers.
If your objects are yours, you need to be able to take them with you. People can build different worlds, environments, etc. and you control your identity and your assets in these environments. What you own in one place, you should own everywhere - just like in real life. The fact that you own a house ‘irl’ carries a different implication when overseas than when at home, but it’s still a relevant thing about you in either place.
For artists, this means you should think about what makes people even care about portability in the first place. Why would they take your work with themselves? What’s the appeal in showing it to others? Is there functionality involved? If one environment doesn’t support that functionality, will the digital object still be worth carrying around?
This follows from immutability: if it’s your data, then it’s yours to do with as you see fit. Consider the free-to-remix CC0-style projects in Web3, like Loot, that encourage people to build together. Metaverses will be environments in which users co-design spaces and everything in those spaces. These environments will then be ‘theirs’ - either a shared ‘theirs’ through mutual ownership & governance or a personal ‘theirs’ by having full custody over items, objects, spaces.
This, I think, is one of the more difficult or scary things to consider as a musician, since it so directly challenges the dogmas of 20th century recorded music that persist to today’s streaming landscape. Is a song finished once it is recorded & released? Or is it just starting, now that it lives in our shared culture?
To navigate this, artists should combine the realities of ‘the recording’ in that you can take snapshots of things & distribute them infinitely in an unchanging format, but also lean into improvisation. What does it mean for people who hold this unchanging snapshot? What can they do with it? How do they build upon it? How does it factor into the environments they’ll unlock? How does it interact with other objects in these environments? You can compose for all these things or you can share your work as a prompt and let it live and grow inside communities, just like an improvisation.
NFTs x Metaverse (2021)
I’m staying in east LA next week & am keen to set up meetings with web3-builders, artists, collectors & investors. If that’s you, drop me a line. It may take me a few days to reply while I’m sorting out my schedule.
Before that, catch me at the virtual conference Measure of Music on Saturday on a panel about independent journalism in music.
⏯ Kanye West’s Stem Player Strategy (Dan Runcie)
“The tradeoff of releasing music DTC and not through the streaming services is that it limits distribution. That’s less important for artists like Nipsey who followed the 1,000 True Fans mentality. But there’s tension in that dream for someone like Ye, who tried to go head-to-head against Drake for first-week album sales less than six months ago.”
📊 Go-to-Market in Web3: New Mindsets, Tactics, Metrics (Maggie Hsu)
“In the web3 model, the purpose is paramount, but the methods are often figured out later — including how funds will be used, the product roadmap, and the timeline.”
🤳 ‘Making music is about making assets for social media’: pop stars battle digital burnout (Rhian Jones)
“Despite the emerging alternatives available, the catch-22 remains for artists trying to have a healthier relationship to the internet while also promoting their work in an ever-more competitive field.”
🪤 Deadmau5 Manager Dean Wilson Talks DAOs, NFTs, Crypto and How to Protect Your IP in Web3 (Jeremy Gilbertson)
“I think we’ll end up with our own DAO having this token linked to it where the DAO purchases the IP of mau5trap and deadmau5’s music. And then everybody can get involved and be invested in the IP, whether it be streaming, licensing or sync. Everybody has a chance to vote as well because they’re part of the community.”
🇿🇦 Born from CDs and WhatsApp Threads, South African Amapiano Takes the Global Stage (Shiba Melissa Mazaza)
“The sudden ascent of this relatively young genre has assured South Africans that the world is interested in their lives, sounds, language and culture and enabled them to share their own narratives. "Kwaito came at a time when people needed a voice. Now today, again, the youth are obsessed with hearing music in their own voice," Gauteng rapper Focalistic told me.”
For much of today’s writing, I was listening to the Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto, which is one of the most famous Chinese orchestral works. In this case performed by Gil Shaham, Lan Shui and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.