✖️ On flattening hierarchies and other power dynamics
And: Samsung x Roblox; Royal.io as a music product?; Alfie Templeman's Minecraft virtual festival; Free music lessons for children in Luxembourg; Apple Music Live
Video never killed the radio star and likewise the blockchain hasn’t yet fulfilled its promise to decentralize the power dynamics in the music industry. And yet, that promise is there and there’s plenty of artists who are benefitting from using various Web3 rails to generate revenues and build their communities. If we look at recently published research by Water & Music we see that independent artists are generating the majority of revenue from NFT sales in 2021, especially looking at the second half of that year.
So, while this looks positive, I worry a bit about how this can become sustained growth for independent artists as the music industry adapts further to the opportunities provided by the Web3. With such adaptation we’ll see the current power dynamics reform but with a new set of rails. How do we prevent that? How do we keep things open and decentralized while also considering that experimentation and emergence are key values of the Web3?
If you share some of my concerns it’s good to know that you’re not unique. If we look at gated music NFT platforms - like Catalog or Sound.xyz - my personal first response is that: Web3 music shouldn’t be gated, it should be open. But in order to build the right tools, it might be better to be gated and take things one step at a time to build out. Moreover, there’s a lot of marketing power in being gated as it emphasizes a sense of scarcity - both towards other artists and to fans/buyers/collectors.
Such contradictions aren’t unique to the Web3 and is something you can find in many other sectors, from gaming to video streaming. The question is how do we moderate access to certain tools, entertainment, and opportunities. The interesting thing about the Web3 is that, in a basic sense, the contradiction is moot. If you like what Catalog does, but aren’t yet accepted to their platform you could simply build on their smart contract. Similarly, if you think what’s happening over at Sound.xyz is cool, just build on what they’ve done already. The whole premise of the Web3 is that it’s interoperable, which should - in theory - be what determines the much more open power structures.
That said, the Web3 reflects human nature just like the rest of the Internet does and thus, power dynamics are at play. How do you recreate something that was partially built on the back of strong support of powerful [read whale or VC] support?
Independence rules the flock
Going back to that stat that independent artists generated most revenue in NFTs in 2021, let’s look at some of them. First up is LATASHÁ, an artist who created success for herself in the Web3 and brought many others with her. Her music is awesome, she’s independent, and champions the fact that music itself is what makes NFTs valuable. She continues to release music through Catalog and music videos through Glass. She keeps experimenting and keeps working on growing the total community of music enthusiasts in the Web3.
Next up is VÉRITÉ, an independent artist who took success from the streaming economy and amplified that into the Web3. Again, her music is great, and her ethos shines through everything she does. Similar to LATASHÁ, she also advocates and works hard to bring others into the Web3. Moreover, VÉRITÉ and her manager Vanessa Magos show how power can shift towards independent artists as they take control of how to distribute their music and create new business models for themselves.
Beyond the gatekeepers
Back to my gut feeling of the Web3 needing to be open and that gatekept platforms go against that. The two artists I’ve just described are great examples of early movers in the Web3 who also have access to the gatekept platforms. They both represent what can be seen as a flattening of the hierarchies in the music industry. Both artists are also radically transparent and easy to engage with. But still, I’m left with a sense that we are working towards a new 1%. A group who benefits from being on the inside of certain gatekept communities - including the platforms and the artists. Does this truly represent a way to defeat hierarchies in the music industry? Or, does it simply move them into a new area of the digital world?
The solution to this question is quite similar to the paths taken by LATASHÁ and VÉRITÉ: Do It Yourself. Take WYMN - more fantastic music - who does not have the luxury of being on all the gatekept platforms, but who is another champion for other artists in the Web3. Working together with Cam Murdoch, WYMN put out a release - I Can’t Fix It [full disclosure: I own an edition] - that mirrored the way Sound.xyz does their drops, but then through a custom smart contract using Manifold.
Ask WYMN the question: ‘why do it yourself?’ and the answer is:
“People do it themselves because they have to. DIY artists are always going to move towards their freedom.”
This is a similar sentiment you hear from other artists operating in the Web3, such as VÉRITÉ, who puts it eloquently in this podcast, or Black Dave who says the three most important things for artists in the Web3 are:
get an ENS
Release a social token
Own your own smart contracts
What WYMN shows, it that when you move beyond the buzz of gatekept platforms and the buzz of major sales, you get to a place that focuses on building, community, and support. This is about freedom more than anything, and by seizing on the opportunities available in the Web3, artists can move towards that freedom more independently than ever - even if they may need a nudge every now and then and even if there are immediately new hierarchies that require flattening.
🌌 Samsung x Roblox Launch Unique Metaverse Music Experience With Charli XCX (Pauline de Leon)
“Titled Superstar Galaxy, the game allows music and gaming fans to build and customize performance stages, and take part in challenges to earn Star Power (points) to earn a spot on the leaderboard before the star’s first metaverse concert. The top players will get to chance to perform with Charli XCX at the digital Samsung Arena within Roblox on June 17. Additionally, users are provided a virtual Galaxy Z Flip3 smartphone in the game, which gives access to competitions and enables users to explore the land.”
🏋️ Describing Major Music NFT Platforms as Music Products — Part 2: Royal.io (Chuck Fishman)
“Speaking of that first payout, let’s do some fuzzy math to see where the payout would be today because at the time of writing this post (initial draft, late April 2022) the song has been streamed over 20 million times on Spotify alone since it’s early February 2022 release. On Youtube, the music video and audio have generated a smaller 3.5 million views (which can also be counted as listens / streams) as of April 20th, 2022 … Will the velocity of streaming of Diplo’s “Don’t Forget My Love” continue, where there are 5 million new Spotify streams of the song each month to get the streaming number to 140 million streams? If the velocity of streaming continues at the same speed, then it would take 7 months for the Diamond Music NFTs to pay out the same amount of revenue equal to their initial price.”
🧑🎤 Amazon Music, AWAL and Alfie Templeman on staging the rising star's Minecraft virtual festival (Andre Paine)
“Once the conversation was opened and the possibility of seeing themselves appear as in-game characters within Minecraft, there was nothing but interest from the artists and management to be involved. Alfie’s a real artist’s artist, making many admirers along the way in his career – his vision for who could perform at his festival was an eclectic bunch of artists who he also respected himself.”
Ross Watson, head of label relations at Amazon Music UK
🆓 Luxembourg becomes the first European country to offer free lessons in music to children
This shouldn’t have to be news, and it shouldn’t just be the case that free music lessons are provided to children in one tiny European country.
🍏 Apple Music’s new concert series will livestream select performances, starting with Harry Styles (Aisha Malik)
This is an interesting move, mainly because so little is known about what the series will do or entail, and which artists will be involved. It’s a boon for those people operating in the livestreaming space though, as it shows that the major players still believe in the format of livestreaming post-lockdowns.
“It’s unknown how often Apple plans to feature artists in the new concert series. The company also hasn’t revealed which other artists will be showcased in the future.”
It’s time for some funk today, and this compilation is one of my favourites. Jazzman Records compilations are always well-curated affairs, but Sister Funk 2 is full of gems.