✖️ Should we decentralize creativity?
And: Music and wellbeing vs musicians' wellbeing; BTS x Free Fire music video; NFT mint sweet spot; IFPI signals Discord, Reddit as music piracy threats
A question I’ve had on repeat in my own head in the past weeks is whether we can decentralize creativity. In other words, should we let artists make their art and build support systems around that? Or, should we bring in tokenization that allows input from within those support systems to affect the end result of the art? For me, this goes to the heart of what creativity is, or, at least, how we define it. To explore this issue, I’ll look at various characteristics of creativity and determine if and how decentralization could be a useful way to expand on creative works and processes.
What is creativity?
“Creativity comes by breaking the rules, by saying that you're in love with the anarchist."
There’s a lot of different ways to define creativity. One of the more common definitions posits that creativity itself is almost like art. In this definition creativity mostly happens somewhere in our subconscious - our mind wanders and we’re suddenly hit with a magical ‘Eureka!’ moment. While this is a very romanticized concept, the hard work actually starts after the eureka-moment and in translating an idea into real-world use. And while the eureka-moment has strong whiffs of the sense that art exists in this singular moment of creativity, understanding that it then needs to be translated is one way to move away from this connection to single-person-greatness.
What’s helpful in understanding this translation from eureka-moment to tangible, or observable or experiential, art is that it’s something that can be grooved. Creating routines around it helps to start paying attention to one’s own creativity. This then creates a greater sense of trust in the fact that such creativity exists which in turn allows one to bring it to the fore. Such routines are especially useful in creative problem-solving where we learn - among other things - that “creative people make more mistakes than less-creative ones.” Which adds to this notion that creativity requires a sense of letting go of preconceptions - such as those ideas that tell you in advance to not do something because it won’t work, or is wrong, etc.
We’re now getting close to Benny Golson’s definition that tells us that creativity requires breaking existing sets of rules. But in order to break those rules you probably need a variety of different ideas that can all be held in the light and experimented with. That happens to be one of the key components defined in Anna Jordanous her model of creativity. She analysed a range of existing studies on creativity and defined fourteen key abilities, properties, and behaviours that help define creativity.
One of these fourteen components is that subconscious processing that I just discussed in relation to the euraka-moment, but it’s one of the few ones that are personal. Most of these elements actually invite working with others.
Being creative together
Moving towards this broader, and more interactive, sense of creativity immediately moves the concept away from something that purely exists in relation to the arts. What’s striking is that when it comes to music research this idea that creativity sits outside of relational activities and within more single-person experiences is particularly strong.:
“most research on musical creativity takes place in disciplines that are quite separated from general theories of creativity.”
So what happens when we do look at those general theories of creativity, such as those put forward by Jordanous? I think one of the most important takeaways is that creativity is often something done together. Looking at the top component defined by Jordanous - active involvement and persistence - part of it she elaborated as: “reacting to and having a deliberate effect on the creative process.” If only one person is involved in that creative process they will always feel like they affect it. It’s when people come together that there can be multiple reactions to a creative process.
As multiple people work on a single creative project, they deal with moments of uncertainty together but also witness new relations come into existence together. Accepting this kind of concept of creativity - which is open to multiple directional approaches that can easily come from multiple sources - still focuses on the core creative process. In other words, this still focuses on the actual creation of art, of an object, of music, etc. Any dissociation can still happen after this moment of creation and when it is let loose into the world.
Creators gonna create
One of the more recent counterarguments to the creator economy is that it pushes creators into pure solo action. Unless they reach the scale that they can start to hire a team, all the work comes down to the creator herself. This goes from the creative to the production work. Similar to musicians, who have lived their passions for decades before the rise of the creator economy, creators can be easily interchanged for another who will still create content when the first one burns out or requests higher pay - or any payment at all. And while connection is a key trope in the creator economy there’s actually often very little connection between the consumer and the creator.
It’s this exact disconnection that the artist and philosopher Wassim Alsindi also sees in the wider NFT culture. In a recent interview he said:
“Today’s digital artist disappears into the void, creates work, it is transmitted onto a virtual platform, and then on to a secondary market.”
But he then goes on to provide an example of how this can be different:
“I would point people towards several of Sarah Friend’s recent artworks, in particular ‘Off,’ which is an NFT series of black oblongs in the dimensions of different device screens. That, in itself, is all well and good, but what’s really interesting about this project is that each of the 255 NFTs also contains a fragment of a special “collective key.” Two thirds of the owners of the entire supply of ‘Off’ NFTs have to coordinate to unlock another, secret piece of art. The edition embeds within the collector community a coordination game that’s positive sum.”
Here, we see that the creativity of the community is called into action after the creation of the art - and thus after the original process of creativity. Moreover, the style of creativity required by these NFT holders is much more closely related to the problem-solving form that readily invites collaboration. If the creator economy ideal of every person being able to tap into their creativity and passion and making a living out of that can be extended to a more playful collaborative creativity then it becomes more attainable in creator-audience relationships. Moreover, if this playful creativity arises around a support system surrounding an artist then it immediately solves a value question - there may have been a direct financial contribution involved, but at least there is a sense of achievement and advancement among the participating audience.
Web3 = community = decentralized creativity?
Of course, there’s no clear cut answer to whether we should decentralize creativity. What I can say, is that there’s a lot of value to be gotten from tackling creative opportunities in a group. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the creation of a piece of art should be a decentralized activity, but it can mean that more value exists from art that invites creativity in a larger group of people. Formalizing that can take many different forms. The recent State of Music DAOs report from Water & Music defined multiple forms that such DAOs take: from investment to industry-facing to co-ownership of an artist’s IP. Out of all the DAOs interviewed and covered in that report, however, most had no intention of putting creative decisions to a vote. Of course, there’s good reason for this:
“An artist’s identity, digital presence, legacy and community are at stake. A thoughtful, communally agreed-upon proof-of-work model for DAO membership helps to ensure that decisions are stewarded only by those who understand (and have meaningfully participated in increasing) the value of a given artist’s work.”
But at the same time, going through this process and finding ways to decentralize creativity can open up all kinds of new ways of thinking about, for example, originality, social interaction and intentionality.
It may, then, feel like decentralizing creativity goes against the grain of an ideal of creativity that sits closely to the idea of the artist as a unicorn among a herd of horses. And yet, there’s also a case that there’s strength in harnessing the creativity of a herd and working on methods to help explore and express that. We should definitely be thoughtful in our approaches, but I hope to see more people follow the path of people like Holly Herndon or Jonathan Mann and see what kind of value can be built by pooling the creativity of a group of people around what would traditionally be considered an artist’s own intellectual property.
“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”
❤️ Music and wellbeing vs. musicians’ wellbeing: examining the paradox of music-making positively impacting wellbeing, but musicians suffering from poor mental health (George Musgrave)
“This well-meaning advocacy is subsequently (and problematically) fuelling normative sociological prescriptions that participating in music making and using music for broader purposes around identity formation and career construction, is beneficial for wellbeing. However, this ignores the contexts in which people centre musical practice in their lives and the emotional harms of musicianship for many. In other words, focusing on music and wellbeing instead of musicians’ well-being insufficiently acknowledges the risks of musicianship for some, where the evidence points to high incidences of anxiety, depression and even suicide.”
💸 Musicians turn to NFTs in hunt for fresh profits (Anna Nicolau)
“But after getting knocked over by the internet via the advent of file-sharing company Napster two decades ago, the big music companies are looking to get ahead of technological change this time around, making them willing participants in the market.”
🎮 BTS is collabing with Free Fire on a new video (Erron Kelly)
“Korean pop band BTS is teaming up with Free Fire (the mobile battle royale game) for a music video collaboration. The digital duet is also releasing in-game costumes and emotes for Free Fire, designed by the BTS boys.”
I’m wondering if this will see more interactive music videos pop up in the near future.
⛓️ musicOS manifesto - the next music industry (Dan Fowler & Jack Spallone)
“Incentives are largely stacked towards spinning up something new rather than working with other teams, but Web3 is built on composable interoperability and optionality. We are developing pieces of a grand ever-changing tapestry that hints towards a future where there will not be one platform to rule them all. For that to work, we need to keep true to the roots of decentralization. As activity increases we need to make sure that the graphs underpinning interactions remain open for users that want the utility that brings.”
🏺 What happens when vinyl records meet NFTs? (Chris Stokel-Walker)
“Vinylkey records integrate the two mediums more thoroughly. The LPs include a near-field communication (NFC) tag in the center of the disc that, when scanned with a smartphone, takes users to a website that shows the NFT for the album. “We anticipate that the benefits that the NFT component of it offers are as a super-collectible edition to an already existing vinyl run,” says Ragland, who is now the CEO of Vinylkey.”
🍭 The NFT Mint ‘Sweet Spot’: Data on Early Decisions (Daren Matsuoka)
Low mint prices correlated to higher return multiples for early backers
Many of today’s most vibrant secondary markets had very little in primary sales revenue
There has been a “sweet spot” of 5-to-10 mints per address for top performing collections”
🧰 Tools :: Ristband (Marlen Huellbrock)
“There will be two ways for artists to perform in Ristband. The first option is to create a “digital twin” of their real-life concert, where a video livestream is hosted inside a virtual venue, opening the concert up to the Ristband audience. In this virtual space, avatars can walk around the venue and have a social experience: chatting to other fans, buying merch, or going to an afterparty. Ristband see these experiences as central to what they want to create on the platform.”
🏁 Music Industry Flags Discord and Reddit as Primary Piracy Threats (Ernesto van der Sar)
“According to IFPI, a group of social media platforms and messenger services have become increasingly problematic. Platforms such as Discord, Reddit and Telegram are often used to share and sell pre-release content, which is a top concern.”
Full IFPI report: IFPI Submission to the EU Counterfeit and Piracy Watchlist Consultation 2022
Like so many of us, Hania Rani has never been to Kyiv. But like so many of us, she now feels close to it. And, again like so many of us, she felt that she had to take some action. In her case, this has led her to compose and release this wonderful - there is grief and there is hope here - piece of music which she called Kyiv. Of course, all proceeds from the song will go to helping Ukrainian people in their time of need.