✖ Web3, the internet of value, and concerning barriers to participation
And: my Tim Westergren interview "Artists are renting their audience and are not being directly compensated for the value of their work."
The blockchain gas fees that result in high minting fees for NFTs are an excellent example of how decentralized systems, designed to be democratic, can lead to the exclusion of those who can’t afford their way in.
20 years in, and the web 2.0 has turned into an internet of extractive mega-platforms with governments needing to step in to protect civil rights like privacy. Now, the Web3 gives us a chance to get it right, so let’s make sure it’s inclusive.
Notes from my fireside chat with Tim Westergren at Karajan Music Tech
Last week I interviewed Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, about his latest startup: livestreaming service Sessions. It’s at the start of this clip from the Karajan Music Tech Conference stream, starting around the 2 minute mark.
Towards the end of the interview, I steer the conversation towards the difference between running a livestreaming business and a business like on-demand streaming, which has big upfront costs. Below is my transcription of what Tim Westergren thoughts that followed that question, as he dove into the economic issues dominating the modern music business (umms and ahhs removed, but please double-check the source before quoting). Emphases mine.
"Direct music licensing is like having a pair of hands on your throat, because not only are the economics challenging - you've got a very small number of customers, the major labels, who have complete control over your destiny and can change it whenever they like. And that's a very difficult environment to build a business in. You don't have control over your future. And in some ways you exist by the grace of a small oligopoly. There's nothing sort of like evil about that, it's just the nature of a very concentrated business, you know, where three labels own 85% of the content people care about.
It's very different in this context. There is a licensing fee, but it's just a publishing fee paid for the performance of a song and the actual performance itself. But this, if you'll forgive me, this to me connects to what I think is a much larger issue, that I think musicians have to soberly address. Which is: musicians are being devalued, I think, sort of systematically by the music industry.
The problem is that the music content is consumed through a very small number of companies. And the audience for that music is controlled by a very small number of companies. Primarily Facebook, Instagram. And musicians increasingly are being compensated for the ability of their music to drive the value of a different product. Primarily advertising, but also subscription. So Facebook, Instagram, Spotify, Apple, YouTube - put those together and you've got the bulk of what's happening in music. None of those companies are actually in the music business. They are either in advertising business, the hardware business, and the subscription business. And subscription business is not the music business; it's getting people to pay for something every month, whatever that is. And music is content that's designed to get people to buy, pay for, watch those other things. So artists are renting their audience and are not being directly compensated for the value of their work.
And that's why livestreaming to me is so important, because it's the antidote to that. It's an environment where it's a human being, you are directly performing [the connection glitched at this point, so I couldn’t make this part out]. You're a 3 dimensional living, breathing person, not an anonymous track in a playlist. Or, you know, something tucked between advertising pods, and you're 3 dimensional. You're paid directly, so your fan puts a dollar in your tip jar: it goes into your pocket, with a small fee taken out, but it's essentially in your pocket. Versus waiting for, a hope for a royalty at some point, based on a share of something, divided by something, divided by something.
I saw an article recently and a musician who said: "my music is all over Spotify, I'm not making any money. Why am I doing this?" For some reason the simplicity in that really hit me. Artists are ubiquitous, but they're making less and less money, except for the very top echelon, who are thriving. And so, the industry needs to reckon with this and figure out: where do you want to be in 10 years? And they don't want to be that, the sort of metaphor is, that small island of CDs in the back of a Walmart. Where the only reason they're there is that people have to walk through the toasters, and the refrigerators, and the electronics to get to the CD isle. And that's where I worry it's headed."
Thanks Karajan Music Tech for giving us the stage and letting me curate so much of this year’s program. Make sure to check the whole conversation at the start of this stream - you can also find the rest of the program on the YouTube account.
⚡ NFTs have put the energy use of blockchain technology high on the agenda again. These outcries have helped prioritize sustainability, with major NFT marketplace Nifty Gateway announcing they’re going ‘carbon negative’. A new post by Nick Grossman of Union Square Ventures offers an interesting angle to the discussion: Bitcoin can be a battery, which shifts the location and the time-of-use of energy. Since the mining process seeks the lowest cost energy, he speculates cryptocurrency can help drive the transition to renewables. (but please, dear readers in positions of responsibility: mind your industry’s emissions until that future has manifested, we’re nearing dangerous thresholds)
🔎 Some UI changes incoming on Spotify’s desktop app. Search has been removed from the top bar and moved into the side menu, notable because it runs counter to design conventions (consider your browser’s search, Slack, Discord, macOS, or the desktop versions of Twitter and Instagram). Other changes include the removal of the artists column in playlists, the removal of Discovered On on profiles & replacing it with a fully Spotify-curated grouping, the removal of ‘Copy Spotify URI’ (press ALT when right-clicking on a song to get it back), artist discographies no longer show tracklists - instead you have to open each album to see the track list.
✍ Ever wanted to engrave your own vinyl record? I’m in love with the Easy Record Maker (h/t to my friends at Playtronica (client)). It lets you make a record using any audio source, e.g. your phone. If Google Translate didn’t fail me, it’s priced around $80 in Japan.
🤳 Gay social network Hornet may be the first platform to roll out AI-generated music at scale. Through a partnership with the company AI Music, they’ll let people add ‘custom-composed’ soundtracks to their video stories.
🦅 “Why not let good old Uncle Sam run internet music delivery as a public trust?” An outlandish idea (and in the category of “a retweet is not an endorsement”), but one I haven’t heard in a while: governments should nationalize music streaming services. In the days before on-demand streaming took off there were similar ideas, including a tax on internet connections which would be used to compensate rights holders for piracy.
📈 Why did Live Nation’s stock price hit an all-time high without live music?
🚚 As concerts prepare to return from pandemic lockdown, roadies have moved on.
🏟 Barcelona holds music concert with 5,000 people to test hygiene measures. For more depth, check out the NYT coverage of the same event.
🙃 Rapid testing at sold-out music concert in Spain unnecessary in New Zealand, vaccination requirements the way to go.
✏ Audio cassettes: despite being ‘a bit rubbish’, sales have doubled during the pandemic – here’s why.
These important links don’t fit our usual categories, so here’s a one-time special.
🎪 Music festivals return to UK but lineups still lack women (Laura Snapes).
📔 New MIDiA Report. BE THE CHANGE: Women Making Music 2021.
🛑 We need to address anti-Asian racism in the music industry (Whitney Wei).
🥝 Why eating disorders are rife in pop music (Rhian Jones).
🌱 The Center for Music Ecosystems’ Guide to Music and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Thanks for including MUSIC x GREEN.
“An exorcism of grief on the dancefloor” is how the Guardian describes the debut album of For Those I Love. It’s a little reminiscent of The Streets, but darker and dreamier. I see myself occasionally returning to this album for years to come. Link.