✘ Crypto music flows with quality, now we need very disco
And: The death of the key change; Music clearance remains complex; AI puts limitless creativity at your fingertips; Amazon Alexa a colossal failure; Musicians for new Euro climate law
There’s so much quality music in the Web3, but a lot of the narrative still centres around some of the artists who were there first or who were among the first to break the bank. Moreover, because of the inherent financialization that crypto brings with it, whenever someone promotes an artist or a drop it’s highly likely they will benefit from that. This could be directly - through increase value of an existing NFT - or more indirectly - because they’re part of a budding DAO of an artist as a collector. As such, it’s important to wear those potential biases on your sleeve. And yet, as I’ve written before, we need gatekeepers to show listeners the way. There’s now so much amazing music coming through in the crypto music ecosystem that it’s simply not possible for any one person to know everything.
Good A&R’s rely on their friends and connections as much as they do on their own discoveries to find that next gem of an artist or band. Casual listeners turn to their favourite playlist on Spotify, Apple Music, etc. Through those playlists, they don’t generate a connection with the music. If anything, they love their ‘breakfast bbq’ playlist more than they do any one of the artists on that playlist. There’s no human connection there. That human connection exists for the A&R person. Moreover, they invest their own time and resources into developing the repertoire of the artists they discover and work with. I feel that in crypto music, we’re at a point where the collapse between that casual listener and the super invested A&R is happening every day.
And yet, where are the limits to this collapse? An important element here is the question of how much effort can we put into various projects? We, as listeners, consumers, fans, can’t be expected to go in and spend our money and time on dozens of artist projects. Moreover, there’s the lean-back behaviour of most casual listeners who don’t even want to do spend any money directly. And yet, if the creator economy has taught us anything, it’s that we can create revenue models through a direct-to-consumer path. One of the promises of crypto music is that the direct-to-consumer path more easily becomes a two-way street. Exactly because the consumer becomes invested in the project, they will also want to help grow it. It’s not just a Patreon-style subscription, it’s almost a promise become invested at a human level. Of course, this doesn’t count for all collectors, but in many cases this is a strong part of the incentive to, for example, buy an NFT. But as out attention eats away at the information we can consume, there’s a limit to what we can handle. This is where the need for good quality gatekeepers comes in. We need people who can wade through the myriad of options and present us with a curated selection of the best of what’s out.
And that’s where the culture shines through. Crypto music started as a culture of sharing and helping each other out. It was led by people who cared more about bringing others into the ecosystem than anything else. The culture was one of empowerment. Now that this same ecosystem matures, we see emergent behaviours that are less focused on the culture and more on the implicit financialization that crypto brings with it. It’s possible to say that the original culture will keep the quality of the music alive. However, it’s also a music industry truism that music will always flow and people will always make music no matter the remuneration. It’s quite easy to take advantage of that. Conversely, it takes a lot of effort to make sure that the people being brought into the crypto music ecosystem get set up in such a way that they can indeed take advantage of the human and financial connections to help them sustain their art.
This goes beyond just finding supporters and goes into the need for quality gatekeepers - and more. A year ago I rephrased a famous quote from Jim Griffin regarding the upcoming streaming economy to reflect the crypto music economy:
“We’re still clinging to the vine of music as a service. But we’re swinging to the vine of music as a community. We need to get ready to let go and grab the next vine, which is an audience-driven community generating a small pool of money split up as they, together with the artist, see fit, rather than pumping music into an already information-overloaded digital distribution system.”
Today, I think it’s necessary to extend the definition of audience into a larger multiplicity. To really support the music, to really help give it a place it requires a broad range of skills. And just like the major fandoms - Swifties, ARMY, etc. - organize around different skills so can smaller communities around an artist. Or, even better, we can create a community that purposefully works beyond the artist and for the music. I realize this will sound like what a label is, but if it is, it’s like the minimum viable community version of it. It’s a group of people with a variety of skills, including (but not limited to) A&R, marketing, investment, digital design, photography, video, copywriting, strategy and more. All coming together to help grow and curate the music. And all working beyond their financial interest in the project. This is where the culture of music as a community is so important. It’s what we need to keep the quality of the music alive and to create an ecosystem where creativity thrives. It’s why we need to listen to Daft Punk and make Discovery ‘Very Disco’ - a method where a variety of people dance together to bring great music into the disco spotlight. We’re not all dancing at the same time though. The group of dancers exchanging moves on the dancefloor isn’t always the same. Sometimes you need to get a drink and others shake it out together. It’s that eb and flow that can create a sustainable community where people move in and out of squads to get one of those skills to come to fruition.
🗝️ The Death of the Key Change (Chris Dalla Riva)
“As hip-hop grew in popularity, the use of computers in recording also exploded too. Whereas the guitar and piano lend themselves to certain keys, the computer is key-agnostic. If I record a song in the key of C major into digital recording software, like Logic or ProTools, and then decide I don’t like that key, I don’t have to play it again in that new key. I can just use my software to shift it into that different key. I’m no longer constrained by my instrument.”
✘ I love these kind of analyses and Chris does a great job of putting something that seems a small change into a broader context of shifts happening in the music industry.
🔍 Clear Thinking: Why Music Clearance Remains So Complex and How That Can Be Fixed (Eamonn Forde)
“Increasingly complex sync processes are being handled by a mosaic of tools that were never designed for a workflow of this nature. This is made all the more challenging by the fact that different parties in the process might all use different tools. On top of everything else – rights clearances, metadata challenges, platform multiplication – the software that was intended to make things easier is actually making things harder.”
✘ If everything becomes a sync in the metaverse, because it inherently brings together audio and visual, then we need better systems to clear those rights.
🖐️ Picture Limitless Creativity at Your Fingertips (Kevin Kelly)
“I have spent the past six months using AIs to create thousands of striking images, often losing a night’s sleep in the unending quest to find just one more beauty hidden in the code. And after interviewing the creators, power users, and other early adopters of these generators, I can make a very clear prediction: Generative AI will alter how we design just about everything. Oh, and not a single human artist will lose their job because of this new technology.”
✘ Really interesting thought piece about where AI art - to keep it generic - will sit in the spectrum of machine to man and the spectrum of utility to beauty.
🎤 Amazon Alexa is a “colossal failure,” on pace to lose $10 billion this year (Ron Amadeo)
“We have to wonder: Is time running out for Big Tech voice assistants? Everyone seems to be struggling with them. Google expressed basically identical problems with the Google Assistant business model last month. There's an inability to monetize the simple voice commands most consumers actually want to make, and all of Google's attempts to monetize assistants with display ads and company partnerships haven't worked. With the product sucking up server time and being a big money loser, Google responded just like Amazon by cutting resources to the division.”
✘ I never got voice assistants myself beyond letting kids ask them to tell a joke or get them to beatbox. While the claim in the headline is unfounded, I can imagine the smart speaker and voice assistant combo as a loss leader to bring people into a broader company ecosystem isn’t very sustainable. Let’s see whether this will reverberate to other loss leaders like music.
🌍 Music artists and ClientEarth call for new Euro climate law (Stuart Dredge)
“A group of prominent music artists are among the signers of an open letter calling for the European Union to adopt a new law cracking down on deforestation, as part of its efforts to tackle the climate emergency.”
✘ Let’s see if it makes a difference!
This one is for the technoheads among you. Perc just released a winter mix and it’s so, so good.
Great read! I wonder how willing is the community to go from previously being a fairly passive recipient of the artists creativity to then filling those other roles that were mentioned and were previously filled by paid professionals. Any ideas as to how to drive that kind of behavior? Contests maybe?