✖️ Why the 2020s are the decade of community
And: Disney goes lo-fi; Hollywood movies go missing; communities go tokenized; DJ mixes go blockchain; Songcamp goes all like "it's our first birthday, hooray"
One of our common flaws in thinking is we assume a certain linearity and continuity, which means the convergence of exponential trends and the resulting outcomes can often take us and our businesses by surprise. Trends in the 2010s had such a powerful impact on contemporary culture that it’s hard to consider anything other than linearity, but the trends that created these changes also carry the seeds to their own disruption.
Some of the most important converging trends for music & culture in the 2010s were:
The smartphone & mobile data, which helped streaming take over.
Online payments & mobile payments becoming normal. These were not mainstream things before the last decade, especially outside North America.
Modern social networks like Facebook & Twitter.
Mobile-first social apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, Musically / TikTok, WeChat, etc.
Recommendation algorithms to prioritize content & maximize people’s attention, engagement and time spent on a site, platform, or app.
These trends have had more impact on the music landscape than the actions of any single music company, assuming they’re deterministic. They’ve impacted our social life, our commercial worlds, the way we navigate media like music & film. These trends have made the world that exists of digital media move from a secondary reality to something that near-seamlessly integrates with physical reality. A convergence of IRL and URL.
The social web became one of hyperpersonalization, endless feeds of information shared by friends, marketeers and agents of misinformation, anything you want at your fingertips. Time magazine, already back in 2006, proclaimed the person of the year to be You, to celebrate the contributions millions of people were making through user-generated content on young websites like YouTube, MySpace and Wikipedia.
“You control the Information Age”, Time magazine proclaimed on its cover, but how many people feel that way now? Endless feeds of information have caused a sense of being overwhelmed. The effects of social media on mental health are well-documented.
One way to mitigate information overload is to dive deep into a specific community and create meaning - moving away from the superficial information dosing committed while scrolling through endless feeds.
The ironic thing about social media is that nearly all platforms are set up to create a very lonely experienced. They have based themselves on the singular You principle celebrated by Time in 2006. Your feed with your likes, your friends, your music, you you you you. To some degree that’s great, but it also creates a world where we have less shared experience between the people we know. Close friends you’ll have known your whole life likely have a very different feeds from you, even if you share a lot of aspects in life. We know that what people see when they open the same apps is different. That’s unique. The internet didn’t really function that way pre-modern web 2.0. Social spaces in the real world certainly don’t function that way.
This individualisation creates a sense of loneliness and isolation that the pandemic confronted us with. The pandemic was the trigger needed to set off this countertrend for shared, communal experiences: Clubhouse, livestreams, Discord, apps to watch YouTube & Netflix together, Twitter Spaces and much more.
Wariness of platforms
For various, sometimes conflicting, reasons people have become wary of the large platforms. Do they have our best interests at heart? Or do they ruthlessly prioritize profit for shareholders? Are we free to express ourselves in these places (as long as we cover up our nipples)? There is a shared, distinct feeling of having no control over our most important mediums to connect with each other. None of the most important social platforms for music are trusted - as a matter of fact, one survey found all of them are distrusted.
The world faces a lot of challenges - its primary challenge being climate change. As we brace ourselves for decades of significant hardships, we’ll have to find meaning and support from communities.
We have done little to mitigate climate change, which will not just affect temperatures & weather, but trigger conflict around the world. Consider this, from a piece titled “2011 Food Price Spikes Helped Trigger Arab Spring, Researchers Say”:
“Extreme drought triggered wildfires and destroyed one-third of the country’s wheat harvest. Russia refused to export the rest of its harvest. Markets panicked and food prices shot up.”
(h/t Michail aka Opium Hum for sharing)
Infrastructure & access to water are now primary targets in wars: early in the Ukraine war, Russia destroyed a dam in order to get fresh water to Crimea, which Putin had occupied since 2014.
That is only the most recent example. There have been countless other examples. For example, some researchers believe the conflict in Syria was catalysed by climate change.
In the face of hardship, communities have to learn to organise themselves to demand political change and action and to create resilience in the face of adversity.
People don’t trust the platforms with their data. This has led governments like the EU to create vast data protection frameworks which include the right to ‘data portability’ which means people should be able to claim their data & transfer it to another operator. The trend is pointing towards users owning their own data which sets platforms up to have to cater to users for permission to look at their data, no longer being able to play the extractive data mining role they have been. We’re still far removed from that though. Zero-knowledge proof cryptography is the tech trend to keep an eye on here, because it can enable a lot of these user-autonomous ideals that have lied at the core of cyberculture since the early days.
For further reading, check out Maarten’s speculative piece about a music service based on zero-knowledge proof.
Lastly, I think the type of economics introduced by the creator economy and web3-dynamics can make a big impact. It’s now so easy to give a community real stake in its collective output, which means that people who have never been able to participate in open source dynamics can now do so.
Open source has meant creating software together with communities and making the software free to use by all. If there are disagreements, communities fork and create alternate versions of the software. I’m not well-read enough about the subject to understand why open source contribution has been so normal for so many developers, but the concept hasn’t taken off much beyond tech despite significant efforts (e.g. Creative Commons). What may play into it is that tech and the skills associated are easier to monetize, which makes money less scarce and allows one to free up time. If startup salaries are anything to go by a programmer may make double, triple or more than a graphic design artist.
Now, it’s easier to apply open source dynamics to non-technical projects, make the work available publicly and still capture a financial upside, so that all the contributors can be compensated and incentivized to keep contributing or scale up their commitments.
For artists, it allows them to stop thinking about games of scale that leverage the social media dynamics of the 2010s and instead double down on the community dynamics of the 2020s.
For further reading, explore the Twitter thread linked below or read Thinking small: a meditation on scale vs success for artists.
🎞 Hollywood's Transition Away from Physical Media Means Thousands of Movies Go Missing (Jason Hellerman)
“Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation said that basically half of all American films made before 1950 are lost, & none of the major distributors are looking for them. Even worse, they said that more than 90% of films made before 1929 are lost forever.”
🪙 Tokenized Communities (Jihad Esmail)
“At birth, tokenized communities are “a token and a dream.” They are an opportunity for and a mechanism by which people can coordinate around a shared meme. They are meme first, protocol/product second.”
🎛 Maelstrom Brings DJ Mixes to the Blockchain (Shawn Reynaldo)
“Maelstrom describes the project as the first “on-chain” electro/techno DJ mix, and has set it up so that all revenue from the mix—which will theoretically come via sales of an affiliated, limited-edition NFT series—will automatically (using blockchain technology) be split between himself and all of the artists whose music appears in the tracklist.”
My prediction: since this mix is done in partnership with the FWB DAO, this will sell out within minutes, as is so often the case with releases on Sound. The first DJ mix to drop on Sound, courtesy of Soulection, three weeks ago sold out all of its 333 copies.
🎂 Songcamp’s 1st Birthday 🎉 (Matthew Chaim)
“Even outside our full camp cohorts, we’ve given birth to multiple minicamps (both URL and IRL), co-created a music NFT Discord bot called BPM, organically incubated experiments in our Camp Labs division such as the Camp Counselors program and Floppy, and surfaced plenty of other organic experiments + friendships galore.”
🐭 Disney's classic songs are now lo-fi beats to relax/study to (Amanda Yeo)
“All 10 lo-fi Disney songs are divided into their own YouTube clips and collected into a playlist, meaning your relaxation will probably be interrupted by a loud ad for Grammarly more than once.”
UPCOMING SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS
Wed, March 23, 3PM ET: Water & Music Academy - Introduction to Web3 music communities
Fri, Apr 1, 12:30PM CET: BIMM Student Conference - Music Consumption
Ok, look, we live in an age of abundance & information overload with 60k tracks being uploaded to Spotify every day. So what if I only just discovered The Cleaners from Venus? Been listening to the album Number Thirteen on repeat. Excellent mix of new wave, pop and other British trends in rock around the late 80s and early 90s.