✖️ What to do when getting invited to that Saudi gov't organised music event? It's not difficult.
And: Reggaenomics & the web3; Inside Ableton; Tidal's user-centric payments not enough; Four Tet vs Domino; Spotify stops shuffling; 1/3 UK musicians still unpaid
This weekend I got an invitation to come to a conference and music festival funded and organized by the Saudi Arabian government. I said no. With this post, I hope to convince others who got the same invitation to say no, or to cancel.
It was an easy no for me. The Saudi Arabian government has a terrible human rights record. There is an effort to modernize the country’s image - essential if it wants to be a business hub once we switch away from fossil fuels. However, in the midst of that, human rights abuses continue. When an internationally renowned journalist in self-imposed exile visited a Saudi embassy to get marriage documents, he was murdered and dismembered. His name was Jamal Khashoggi. The name of the festival and conference I won’t mention in this piece. Here’s some background, though.
I fell in love with music by listening to punk and then diving deep into hiphop and electronic music. The latter, in the early house days, had well-established norms and values as it emerged from safe spaces for black queer communities. Over the years, the music from these scenes was so successful that many people fell in love with it without understanding its origins. It changed the culture and unfortunately has come to mean that music events often do not provide the safe space for the communities that pioneered the music. This is a global issue.
The event in Saudi Arabia is an attempt for the government to look modern and to insert itself into the cultural spaces we, as music professionals, help shape. It goes without saying that a government with such a poor human rights track record has no place in what we’re doing. I will not let them use my name to distract people from the darker things they get up to. The people whose music I admire can literally not come to the event, for fear of being put to death.
Are there circumstances in which I would go to an event like this? Yes. I don’t have issues with the Saudi Arabian people. If something were to be independently organised, I’d love to find out if there’s a way in which I can help to contribute to the development of the music scene - on their own terms.
This festival and conference is not the way to make a difference. As a matter of fact, it’s designed for it to not make a difference beyond what the Saudi government already has decided. Why else would they organize it? If the country is important to you, build direct relations. There are international labels that help release music for local Saudi bands that have to live in fear of being identified & persecuted. If you weren’t already building these relations before today, then why even consider attending the event?
Think of the conference and festival as a petition. Attending aligns you with the Saudi government’s PR campaign and announces that you took the flight tickets, the accommodation offer, and maybe some perks or payment. This is a petition I can not sign and I don’t think you should either.
If you’ve already accepted, consider citing the worsening pandemic as a reason not to travel. If the email is still sitting in your inbox, decline or delete.
🌻 Reggaenomics and the case for a public ledger (Dai Hovey)
“As we have seen in the Caribbean and with open-source software, the ability to collaborate openly and permissionlessly can create a flourishing ecosystem; what’s different now is a business model which exists to reward and incentivize creators.”
💻 Inside Ableton, the music software company everyone wants to buy (Steve Knopper)
“Worldwide, 500 million people either play an instrument or plan to learn, according to MIDiA Research; 50 million make or record music, and 25 million upload that music to streaming services.”
🧠 Podcast: 5 mental models for web3 (Chris Dixon)
“There are five essential mental models to understanding why Web3 matters, and they overlap often throughout the course of the conversation. Web3 has begun to impact all corners of digital culture – from media to finance, art and gaming, and even identity.”
🎶 AI music startup Aimi raises $20m series B funding round (Stuart Dredge)
“In August 2021, it launched a premium tier called Aimi+ which takes beats, loops and other sounds from various artists and turns them into ‘experiences’ generated on the fly.”
🫂 Building an inclusive world of crypto (Kinjal Shah)
“A study released by Gemini earlier this year found the average cryptocurrency owner is a 38-year-old male making approximately $111,000 a year. In addition, 74 percent of crypto holders are men, and 71 percent are white.”
I did a thread on Twitter about TIDAL’s move to user-centric payments, now also called fan-powered royalties in the case of SoundCloud or ‘fan-centric’ in the case of TIDAL. I think it’s the right move, but only if that means a commitment to design a service that prioritizes the artist-fan relationship over the catalogue-listener relationship (or at least puts them on more equal footing).
“Earlier this week Domino’s legal representative said they would remove my music from all digital services in order to stop the case progressing. I did not agree to them taking this action and I’m truly shocked that it has come to this.”
“As Adele mentioned, we are excited to share that we have begun rolling out a new Premium feature that has been long requested by both users and artists to make play the default button on all albums.”
I distinctly remember that’s how Spotify used to work 5-ish years ago, but ok, I’ll take it.
😴 Inside your dreamscape (Aeon)
“It is not hard to envision a world in which our phones and smart speakers – now widely present in people’s bedrooms – become instruments of overnight advertising, or data collection, with or without our knowledge.”
😕 One in three UK musicians are still earning nothing after COVID restrictions were lifted (Damian Jones)
“According to UK charity Help Musicians, almost nine in 10 musicians were earning less than £1,000 per month, and 22 per cent were considering giving up music altogether in a survey conducted in August. The charity also said 83 per cent of professional musicians have been unable to find regular work.”
Al-Namrood is an anonymous black metal band from Saudi Arabia founded in 2008. “Throughout the years, we have achieved a lot. Most importantly we managed to keep our heads attached to our bodies!”