✘ A meditation on time, with music
And: The Legend of Zelda is everywhere; Growth in Indian entertainment industry; What does AI know about longevity in music; Fandom business booming; Revenue distribution from music streaming
Time, you understand, moves us from beginning to end, from birth to death. Many things may happen along the way, but time keeps ticking away. A song starts and ends, but do we all experience that song in the same time? The answer is no. I’ve been re-reading Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time, and it struck me how music is a great way to understand how time doesn’t work the way we instinctively feel it controls our lives. This understanding was exacerbated when we had our Wild Awake listening party last Tuesday.
Time is relational
Before I get to Rovelli, let’s go back to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz who wrote a book about metaphysics called Monadology, which he published in 1714. This was before electrons and atoms were discovered. Leibniz argued that space and time are relational. For Leibniz, both space and time don’t exist in reality, they only exist in phenomena - in actions. In his own words that’s something like this: “space is the order of coexisting possibles, time is the order of inconsistent possibles.” I’ll leave the discussion about space for another time, but what if we think about time like this we understand that it only exists between two different points. Those ‘points’ are what Leibniz called ‘monads.’ It’s important to note that these monads, the points in time (and space) require programming and that for Leibniz God was the ultimate programmer. Now, we know that these ‘monads’ are things like atoms and that the possibles are, indeed, inconsistent and relational.
a little tangent, but if we understand Leibniz then there’s no two indiscernible entities in nature, that could be extended to there being no two pieces of music that are exactly the same. Perhaps this can be used in the next plagiarism case.
There’s no such thing as ‘now’
That’s probably the briefest introduction to Leibnizian time, but keep in mind that it’s relational and only exists between two points which in their own right are not necessarily consistent and thus open to interpretation. After Leibniz, and as Rovelli brilliantly explains in his book, there’s a lot of development in our scientific understanding of time. By the time we get to the 20th Century we have Einstein understanding things like how time doesn’t go by at the same pace everywhere. A few decades later we find Schrödinger understanding that ‘things’ can be different ‘things’ at the same time (poor cat). What Rovelli tells us in his book is how this, and subsequent experiments and technological developments, inform us that time isn’t ordered in a straight line from past, present, to future. Instead, it’s only partially ordered and this ‘ordering’ is always localized. In other words, our present, our ‘now,’ only exists local to us and is not the same time as further away.
Time when listening to music
Think for a moment what happens when you listen to music. Personally, I love listening to music on the train. The world moving past outside while music goes through my ears, my body, my thoughts. It’s a vastly different experience when I listen to music in a club, feet moving, bass driving, other moving bodies around me. And yet, I could listen to the same track in those two moments. The same 5 minutes and 21 seconds could pass, but my experience of them would be vastly different. On the train, it could feel longer than in the club. This is different than what Rovelli writes about, of course, but the concept that time feels different is the same. Rovelli would talk about how trains were instrumental in how time got standardized. Suddenly, the time in one place had to match the time in another place. Then, at some point, we ended up with our global time zones even though it won’t ever be the same 2pm in Barcelona as it is in Berlin. The idea that time is this more irrational thing than we instinctively feel it to be becomes easier to understand if we think about how we experience music in different situations.
This goes one step further when we listen to music together, yet separated. This week we launch Wild Awake, an experiment in onchain scene building. We had a listening party for the artists and some of the other people who already expressed their care and interest. Of course, this listening party was online, in a video call. There are challenges when it comes to time. First and foremost, there’s the aforementioned time zones. It was 10pm for me in the Netherlands and 1pm for people on the US west coast. Another friend in India was fast asleep. But more than that, you felt time in glitches and lags. We joked how future music makers will build internet glitches into their music to reflect these kinds of sounds that we shared. Again, not specifically what Rovelli writes about, but it helps us understand how the world exists as events rather than things. These events only exist in the relationships between different monads, and while we can bridge space and share time, it won’t ever be the same experience. And that’s exactly what makes such shared moments special.
🎮 The Legend of Zelda is everywhere in modern music (Mat Ombler)
“Summers points to the music creation in Ocarina of Time (which allows you to improvise songs with the titular instrument) and Majora’s Mask (which does the same with a handful of different instruments) as examples, explaining how not being confined to the specific notes within the game’s melodies provides players with the opportunity to experiment.”
✘ With the new Zelda coming out this week, I wanted to highlight this excellent piece by Mat on both the specific music in the series of games and the overall strength of using music from games in other songs.
📈 Indian Media & Entertainment Industry Surpasses Pre-Pandemic Levels to Reach $26 Billion, Report Reveals (Naman Ramachandran)
“The report collates data from television, digital media, film, animation and VFX, out of home media, live events, music, radio, online gaming and print. Overall, the M&E sector is projected to grow 12% to reach $28.6 billion in 2023, the report says.”
✘ There’s an interesting development happening with growth in the Indian music sector currently. This is related to changes in the way copyright is organized since a few years. It’s important to see this growth in the broader context of the broader entertainment industry.
❓ What does AI know about longevity in the music biz? Feat. Sir Elton John & Chat GPT (Song Sommelier)
“[T]here is this new thing that has hijacked the music industry like nothing ever has before (except ‘the internet’): AI. So, one way to kick things off I thought, would be to ask ChatGPT how some music artists have lasted for decades in the music industry? I have to say, the answers were pretty damn good and worth pondering on reflection.”
✘ This is a fun experiment on how to make a tool like ChatGPT work for you. Usually, when you put a question into the system, it provides fairly good answers. Still, the important part is to interpret and explicate them.
💥 The fandom business is booming. Can Weverse capture its growth? (Elizabeth De Luna)
“A streamlined fandom platform of that size has never existed before. On services like Twitter, YouTube, or Tumblr, fan-artist communication is a byproduct of what are essentially blogging utilities. On Weverse, building experiences that connect artists with their fans — and monetizing those interactions — is the point. The platform takes its inspiration from the Korean music industry, which lives and dies by fan engagement. And no one understands that better than HYBE.”
✘ If you care about fandom, you’ll want to read this. It’s an insight into what happens when fandom at scale becomes the centre of a business model.
☕ Revenue Distribution From Music Streaming - A Quantitative Analysis of Swedish Artists on Spotify (Daniel Johansson)
“Since the release of Spotify in 2008, the discussion over artist remuneration from the platform has been fierce. In this study, all Swedish artists that have generated more than 1 million streams on Spotify since its release in 2008, have been analyzed. Detailed data has been gathered for every track available from each artist, and aggregated total figures have been calculated. In total, 267.8 billion streams were included. The genre composition of the aggregated total has been investigated, showing how each genre has performed since the beginning. Furthermore, a simulation has been made as to how much revenues artists have generated during their lifetime on Spotify, in three royalty scenarios. The results shows which Swedish artists and genres have benefitted from the Spotify streaming model, and which kinds of artists have not been able to convert their artistry to the streaming domain.”
✘ This is great research and presents a really good case how a label deal isn’t ideal in the streaming economics, which focus on that ideal of the long tail, but all benefits that might exist will move to the label.
Thinking about the article above brought me to Nicolás Jaar’s Space is only noise if you can see. It’s a track that rumbles along while it feels like you can never quite catch it. It is tantalizing, but evasive as it brings you underneath the temporal skin of Jaar.
really enjoyed the meditation on time - (can't wait to see a defense attorney arguing Leibnizian time to a confused jury ;-p) - it had me thinking of the experience of time when playing with other musicians. It's been my experience that professional musicians are trained to agree on time when playing as a collective - whereas when playing with amateur musicians it can be very difficult - leading to the music not gelling and sounding off. And while it could be attributed to insufficient muscle memory and inconsistent personal assessment of timing - there's also the unique agreement that a group makes when it comes to where the "one" is. I remember coming into a jam band where they had played together for years and their collective assessment of the "one" was so far behind where I heard it - it took many weeks of very uncomfortable practice to fit in :-)
We've also been playing with distributed listening parties at musicto - there's something just cool about having people from different continents and cultures all listening to and commenting on a track. Aside from the technical aspects we found that we had to establish some behavioral norms to ensure good discussion - the tendency to "judge" would make some attendees uncomfortable and restricted their contributions lest they themselves got judged too. It's still a work in progress and we will be bringing listening parties back this year as our community grows again - this time applying the lessons that we learned last time.
Thank you for writing one of my favorite newsletters :-)