✖ Web3 music needs gatekeeping. Here's why.
And: Marine Snow - a viable niche streaming service?; Millenial & Gen Z ennui; Four Tet settles with Domino; The great NFT swindle; Majors' IP defense key startup barrier
One of the most common complaints I hear from musicians in web3 is that ‘gatekept’ platforms such as Sound.xyz and Catalog are antithetical to web3 principles. To me, this rings untrue, since these platforms merely play an important service and curational role in a permissionless landscape. Let’s break it down.
The importance of curation
Basically anyone can mint a music NFT, just like anyone can upload a song to YouTube or SoundCloud or have one distributed to Spotify. Are most people just going to listen to all music NFTs on the blockchain hoping to find a good one? Of course not. Though it might still be feasible since I suspect there’s still less than 24 hours worth of music NFTs released per day, listening to everything soon won’t be possible.
It’s easier than ever to make & distribute music. Excellent music education is available for free on YouTube and through online learning platforms. As a result, a platform like Spotify sees 60,000 tracks added per day. You can’t just randomly shuffle that & expect it to turn into a satisfactory user experience for most people.
As the web3 matures towards the underpinnings of the internet through its open databases and software protocols, it will be important to experiment with new curatorial frameworks. These can be communities, blogs run by DAOs or dApps like the platforms mentioned in the opening paragraph.
The problem solved by curation is an attention problem, not a technology problem. Every iteration of technology and the media environment it creates will have to tackle that problem. Human curation is great, because 1) what other people like is an easy to understand frame of reference, and 2) it doesn’t cost as much in terms of development resources as something like algorithms would cost. Over time, plus with more music available to build great datasets, algorithms will absolutely become a thing for music NFTs.
Where permissionlessness comes in
You don’t have to use these platforms to mint to a blockchain like Ethereum. You can deploy your own smart contract or use any other tool. You can participate in communities and on Twitter to make sure you get ears for your music and that it has meaning in the context of these emerging subcultures (which will eventually assimilate back into mainstream culture as happened with trends like hyperpop and Soundcloud rap).
Furthermore, once NFTs are minted to a blockchain through any platform, you can do whatever you want with them. Want to add utility to other people’s NFTs in the form of unlockable content or Discord channels? You can literally open a new tab right now and get it done in 5 minutes. You can identify every wallet who holds Snoop Dogg NFTs and offer them free samples of your new cannabis startup’s megaweed or whatever. You can token-gate a claim page, so people have to verify they own one of those NFTs, and then they can claim. To promote it, you could airdrop them NFTs. This is just the skeleton of a tactical framework, but it can be applied to just about anything - also music.
Public, open blockchains allow any person to build any ‘dApp’ that works however they want;
These blockchains allow anyone to mint music on-chain - you don’t need a platform’s permission for it;
Curation is necessary to surface relevant music;
You can treat anything minted on-chain by dApps as building blocks (‘Legos’) for anything you want to create. (note: of course intellectual property law still applies)
If you’re struggling to get picked up by platforms, I recommend banding together with other artists and creating curation channels, so you can drive attention to each other’s projects and build a scene. Same as ever.
Web3 Workshop Recap
Ran a workshop at Sónar+D with the excellent peacenode and Kaitlyn Davies.
This thread recaps the process:
🗺 New music streaming app Marine Snow pays artists the equivalent of 500,000 US Spotify streams upfront (Zoey Shopmaker)
Not a fan of measuring things in Spotify streams. For example, I did the math and found out the yearly energy price for running an escalator equates to 2,510,000 Spotify streams. So what?
What I do find exciting is that this is a streaming service that offers a significant differentiation from other streaming services in the UX. Niche streaming is hard. Competing with Spotify is even harder. The success strategy is to build models that addresses a use case that Spotify doesn’t address… and that is so good at that use case that people will pay money for it, besides their Spotify subscription. In that sense, I think Marine Snow has the right idea:
Rather than simply displaying the available songs, Marine Snow invites users to crack open easter-egg style capsules containing single tracks, or "quick-combine" gem shards to form new capsules. The more time you spend reading song blurbs and listening to music, the more shards you accumulate. There's also a search function but as the app warns, you have to know what you're searching for. Under the Roundtable section, users can engage with one another, earning rewards along the way.
💻 Welcome to the Internet: Millennial & Gen Z Ennui (Rex Woodbury)
“Millennials were told to follow their dreams and told that they could do anything, be anyone; they came of age with a sunny optimism. That optimism is now hardening into a cold nihilism, but Gen Zs were from the start more pragmatic, more pessimistic, more listless. (There’s a reason Gen Zs denote laughter with 💀 or ⚰️ .)”
💰 Four Tet settles historic royalty rate dispute with Domino Records (Laura Snapes)
“Domino has recognised his original claim and agreed to pay a 50% royalty rate on streaming and downloads, and that these transactions should be treated as a licensing agreement rather than equivalent to a CD or vinyl sale.”
👮♀️ The Great Rock N(FT) Roll Swindle (Eamonn Forde)
“Coming from the underground and exploding into the mainstream consciousness before collapsing into confusion, recrimination and accusations of being ripped off. Replace EMI and A&M with assorted Silicon Valley evangelists who are then superseded by unregulated and hedonistic crypto bros looking to make fast money through whatever means they can and the narrative arc is unnervingly similar.”
🚪 The majors’ defence of intellectual property rights is a key barrier to music/tech startups (Allan Watson & Andrew Leyshon)
“Initial enthusiasm from label staff gives way to the cynicism of publishing and legal departments. Engaging with these departments to discuss licensing can be both complex and expensive. Second, even where licensing agreements are reached, the costs of licences for music rights owned by the incumbents incur a significant cost for startups – in the order of tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds – and therefore is only feasible for those startups with significant initial capital investment.”
One for the hiphop heads.