✖️ What should we be building and for whom? On communities, audiences & customers
And: Antler's Creator Economy Guide 2022; A guide to online community governance; Turning creators into stocks; Lessons from the metaverse; Gaming will not save the music industry
Who’s your audience? It’s one of those questions that every artist, label, festival, etc. should ask themselves. Once you have an answer, the question immediately extends into the plural: who are your audiences? Because there’s never just one. Now, as we’re moving into a new iteration of the internet, that question remains as pertinent as ever - especially in its plural form. There are, quite simply, not that many Web3-native creators and consumers. We all still move in Web2-circles and platforms. So when you want to experiment with new tools like NFTs or DAOs in relation to music the question who you are doing that for resonates strongly. The what is also deserving of strong consideration. Let’s say you have segmented your audiences and you figured out that there’s a portion who are Web3-curious and you feel would support experiments with tokens or blockchain-based governance structures. It’s at that point that what you’ll experiment on can define the success. Of course, why is also an important question. Determining whether you simply want to gain a quick flip into some of the excess value sloshing around in wallets of early crypto-adopters or whether you want to change the dynamic of an artist-fan relationship influences the who you’ll build for and what your experiment will be.
I’ll look at three different forms of audiences and what you could be building to approach them. Along the way, I’ll hone in on some of the differences and comparisons between Web2 and Web3 tools.
In their basic form, a customer is someone who pays for something someone else created. This can be a performance or a recording, but also things like merchandise or even access. There’s a relationship between the customer - the buyer - and the creator - the seller - but this isn’t necessarily a very direct connection. Purchases are often done through third-party platforms and there can be a whole host of other intermediaries. One of the tropes around NFTs is that the buyer of an NFT can be defined as a superfan, or even a cult fan. In other words, it’s someone who is willing to spend money to express fandom, status, and to gain access to a creator. That’s why in the early hype days of NFTs in 2021 this utility of proximity felt significant.
But customers exist everywhere and buying something in Web3 versus buying something in Web2 is only different because the former adds a digital layer of ownership. This is significant, but it doesn’t change the fact that the buyer is a customer of the creator. Any customer relations will always have a monetization strategy as their premise. There’s nothing wrong with that, and the entire creator economy is based around the notion that more direct relations between customer and creator is a better monetization strategy than one that involves more intermediaries. If you’re a fan, then getting acknowledgement from your favourite artist is worth something. This can happen through a shoutout after a donation on Twitch or YouTube, but it can also happen through a pre-established connection set up as a benefit of buying a utility, governance, or transactional token. What Web3 does in this instance is a kind of formalization of the relationship as established through a purchase.
The internet has always been about audience-building ever since the first websites launched. In the early days the beauty of the internet was that everyone with some technical knowledge could build a platform and start shouting. In the platform economy, these websites became profiles on centralized websites where attention and personal data were then monetized. Most of us became digitally addicted and lost all sense of privacy.
Musicians have always sought out audiences, first to perform to and then to sell their recorded music to. Audiences are, then, necessary. However, they might not always be what you think they are when you set to create something. Moreover, the creator may just create something because they feel a need to do so, without any preconceptions about potential audiences. But if you’re professionally involved with music, you do require an audience to share that music with. Any audience is made up of multiple customers. Traditional segmentation aims to filter out the groups of individuals who aim to pay the most for your creations. This filtering starts at the top of a funnel and over the past years that top-of-the-funnel has broadened into the total reach of platforms like Facebook or YouTube. That means your potential audience is in the billions. That, of course, is not how it works when you make obscure jazz or are a singer-songwriter who’s just starting out. That’s why I recently argued that we need to talk about and strategize flipping that funnel. Building your audiences one-by-one also immediately helps to open up what kind of monetization strategies they would like. Web3 tools like tokens help to specify these early relationships and give value to early supporters and fans.
However you build your audiences, one of the distinguishing features remains that most communication will be one-way - from the creator to their audiences. A community is something vastly different and requires - at least in my definition - multi-directional communication. By that, I mean that community requires more than the creator speaking to their audience. Instead, it involves the creator listening to their audiences or individuals within that audience. But what really makes community is when the people within audiences start to communicate amongst each other and thus become a network.
Within Web2 it often seemed that communities were wholesome. Think about BookTok or people helping each other out through Facebook groups. These are self-sustaining communities that exist because effort is made towards each other and because of certain shared interests. In music communities these shared interests can be the music itself, a specific musician or band, or to do with music creation tools, etc. While plenty of tools exist to bring people together online, how to organize these communities is undergoing vast changes in the Web3. Tokenization itself already brings with it fundamental questions on how to organize a community. Anything that’s transactional immediately brings in the customer and might not be as open as a community could, or should, be as it requires a monetary exchange that not everyone has access to. Not all tokens are transactional, though. Social tokens, for example, have the characteristic that they don’t need to have liquidity. Instead, community members can, for example, earn social tokens through activity and supporting other community members or helping out on a creator’s project. In other words, tokenized incentives can help solidify communities and serve as a tool to acknowledge and encourage the multi-directional interaction that communities thrive on.
Looking at Jeremiah Owyang’s five phases of digital eras we see the development from audience to community quite clearly. Moreover, we also see how people move away from the positions of sender to sitting in the middle of autonomous networks. While Owyang focused mostly on AI, machine learning and the development of neural technologies in terms of the modern wellbeing era, this autonomous nature currently also emerges through the blockchain. And while people move away from being pure senders and into the centre of networks that include autonomous tech it’s important to consider what you’re building, who you’re building it for and how it involves, motivates, and influences human interaction centred on communities.
The above piece is partially inspired by a panel I’m speaking at today for Amnesty and Fight for the Future’s Web3 Salon initiative. The theme is Web3 for Human Rights Activists: what should we build? and the topics range from building tools with indigenous partners with Emily Jacobi of Digital Democracy to the effect of social tokens on social movements with Charley Johnson and the impending challenges of the decentralized web with Clara Tsao. I’ll add my perspective on the role that the Web3 plays in the way artists and fans establish and sustain communities.
Sign up here, it starts at noon ET, today 31 March.
“Today, the creator economy is no longer just about providing value to the platforms, it’s about new forms of direct creator-community relationships. There is an opportunity for creators not only to offer more to their fans (including financial upside) but for both creators and their communities to finally be able to participate in the collective value that they help platforms create.”
🗳️ A Guide For Designing Online Community Governance (Austin Robey)
“The most important goal in creating a decision making matrix is to articulate clarity in decision making processes. Without clarity, governance will almost certainly default to hierarchical and non-democratic governance.”
🦄 Tokenizing Creators - How 'social tokens' turn creators into stocks (Charley Johnson)
“If social tokens take off, what will the future hold? I don’t know, but I’ve got questions. If you’re no longer a fan of an online personality, but an investor, how does that change your expectations and priorities? How will those expectations trickle down into your behavior — will you hold for the long-term or speculate and trade? Will fans turn outward and market the content of their investment? Will fan communities become more demanding of their investment? For creators, will the value of one's reputation totally eclipse the value of what they produce? Will creators produce the equivalent of a quarterly earnings report to show their value? Buckle-up, it’s going to get weird.”
✍️ Lessons From 19 Years in the Metaverse (Charley Warzel)
“I think this is what Mark Zuckerberg and other would-be Metaverse builders right now are missing. It’s not the platform that matters as much as the community that is built around it. Rarely do communities have extreme loyalty to these platforms. If they don’t feel they’re being engaged with on a fair level, they take their friends and they get the hell out.”
Wagner James Au, author The Making of Second Life
🎯 Gaming will not save the music industry (Jason Chapman)
“Access to “play-along” games and digital concerts has been limited to artists that already have large-scale followings and thus have the resources for dedicated marketing, development, and branding teams that are focused on creating an artist’s brand within gaming worlds. This is not affordable or scalable for artists outside of the top 0.1%. Only the top artists that can afford to build these types of experiences will have access to the upside, limiting the diversity of artists that can be discovered.”
Here in the Netherlands we had lovely spring weather and now we’re suddenly facing low temperatures, rain and a prediction of snow later today. To offset the mood I saw most people in this morning, I’m playing this Ash Lauryn groovy soul x house set. Ash is a staple for the current wave of Detroit House music and this set fuses that with some classic tracks.