✘ On the power dynamics of decentralization in music
And: Spotify not good for DIY artists; New baseline for crypto music; Producer Bloodpop launches a gaming studio; Avoiding Kits; Track progress over goals; Robert Smith vs Ticketmaster
What do you think about when you think about decentralization? If you’re into Web3, you’ll talk about blockchains. If you’re into politics, you’ll talk about shifting power from national to local levels. In both cases, it’s about moving power away from centralized authorities and bringing it to a broader array of positions in a network. Web3 evangelists will tell you that decentralization is good, always. Similar evangelists can be found in politics. Yet, we’ve seen that this isn’t always the case - in both examples. The public administration scholar Michiel de Vries already argued 23 years ago that there is no hard and fast rule to set for or against decentralization of power. His conclusion is, basically, that politicians should try harder to adapt to specific situations and problems and act to find the best solutions for those. There is no hard and fast rule one way or the other. And yet, he also shows that decentralization only works its magic when it’s pushed through to solve a specific problem - such as giving more of a voice to underrepresented communities. In other words, if centralized power structures lead social and economic inequalities, decentralization can be an excellent solution.
Data ownership can be lonely
Data in music is one of those hard problems, a scholar like de Vries might even call it a wicked problem. There’s no so many decades of bad data and so many attempts to make sense of it that there is an almost insurmountable problem. The tendency for centralized authorities is to own data and use it to their advantage. In music this means that major labels have sort of worked out a way to harness and process all the data about songs and listener behaviour at their disposal. It’s not the same for independent labels and artists. On the back of a general failure of trust in the global banking system and the subsequent rise of Bitcoin and other blockchain, musicians started experimenting. This was, at least partly, done to try to rebalance the scales of power away from the major labels. In that sense, those early experimenter were like the cypherpunks of the 1990s. They advocated for a more anonymous system through cryptography. This would allow for, according to their 1993 manifesto, people to take control of what is available about them in the public realm. Fundamentally, it was a matter of privacy, but by extension also of power.
In the end, though, the resilience of centralized power structures has often remained strong even in the face of decentralized activism. A few hundred artists experimenting with NFTs doesn’t break an entire industry based on streaming through centralized platforms. What it does do, however, is provide an alternative route. And importantly, that route allows the creative person involved to take full ownership of their data. This matters, even though not everyone may know how to deal with that. Even if you care about data ownership, you still need to build and find the structures to help you support your creative endeavours through them. This is why community is so often touted as a solution, because it means not having to do it alone. And yet, community is another one of those concepts that then finds itself caught up in the general push of centralized powers to make it worth something. Data ownership is valuable, but doesn’t necessarily need to create value in economic terms.
The drawback of centralization in a decentralized system
The archetypal example is the RIAA using the decentralized networks of music piracy to go after specific people caught downloading and uploading specific files. The same decentralized network that took away control from the centralized powers of the music industry allowed them to go after individuals. This is exactly why the cypherpunks argued for the need for cryptography to create privacy. It is easier to make the actions illegal than to make the network illegal, and definitely easier to fight the individual than the network. New centralized platforms stepped in and pushed out piracy by offering a simple all-you-can-eat model at a low price barrier to entry. And we’re seeing the same thing happening again. The promise of music NFTs was predicated on self-sovereignty of data and the subsequent power to control everything that flows from that: money and relationships. Now, however, we see recent activity that can only be described as a pull back to centralized power within an ecosystem built on decentralized networks. It will lead to extraction even if it is super well designed for ease of use. At the same it may also lead to much broader adoption exactly through those design choices and there might be a place for that, too.
This centralization of power in Web3 music only serves to reinforce the same power dynamics that we try to move away from. Instead of making a more inclusive, more participatory, and more transparent music industry, we go back to moving at the whims of a few major figures and platforms with power. In this case, we can follow de Vries and analyse that we are in a situation that specifically calls for the tools that decentralization offers and thus push for them. This means that if you’re eager to continue exploring Web3 tools around your music, then it’s time to double down on using the full suite of decentralized tools available to you. Make sure you own your own smart contracts, make sure that you and your collaborators have your splits built in to what you create, make sure that you take control of what you produce and how that is distributed, and make sure that your metadata is protected.
“So, to walk you through those numbers one more time:
Approximately 14,700 DIY artists generated more than $10k in royalties on Spotify in 2022;
That’s a decline of 440 vs. the 15,140 DIY acts that Spotify tells us surpassed the same $10k earnings threshold in 2021;
Yet the total number of artists who generated over $10k on Spotify grew YoY by +4,400 in 2022 vs. 2021 (57k vs. 52.6k);
This can only mean one thing: Non-DIY artists, aka artists signed to major and independent record companies, pinched market share – in this context – from DIY acts on Spotify in 2022.”
✘ Spotify, and streaming more generally, is definitely good for some artists, but for the rest, it’s not beefing up the middle-class as many hoped it would.
🧭 The New Baseline, Public Goods, and Venture funding (Dan Fowler)
“Artists who have engaged in “web3 music” so far have learned the basics of how this thing works. As have fans and collectors who have picked up NFTs and/or engaged in DAOs and communities. As things develop forwards, they will be the next generation’s “old” generation, leading them forwards.”
✘ A really good analysis of how we should be looking at crypto music as an ecosystem and where that growth can come from moving forward.
😤 The Cure’s Robert Smith convinces Ticketmaster to refund ‘unduly high’ fees after fan anger (Sian Cain)
“The band had purposefully kept tickets affordable, with some as low as $20 (£16). But fans shared screenshots of Ticketmaster shopping baskets with varying fees across different venues: one image showed combined fees that exceeded the cost of a $20 ticket – each subject to a service fee of $11.65 and a facility charge of $10, plus an overall order processing fee of $5.50.”
✘ Just need to also share the email Ticketmaster sent out to those getting refunds. All thanks to Robert Smith. Via Mikaela Jane
“Genpop Interactive’s ambitious goal is to “drive forward the next-gen of music, fashion, and gaming culture”. This made a lot of sense with current trends of superstar singers and bands collaborating with video game companies in catering for the Gen Z audience.”
✘ I still firmly believe that gaming will spur the next big growth in music. As such, seeing initiatives like this will hopefully drive the interaction of the two closer and closer.
🪡 Avoiding Kits (Andrew Lovett-Baron)
“When you’re first learning about something, there’s a fairly dangerous period between your desire to get enmeshed in the thing and acquiring enough knowledge to understand how different tools act together. During this period, you might be tempted to get cheaper equipment or, worse yet, find a getting started kit.”
✘ This rings true on so many levels. We should always give ourselves the opportunity to actually learn about the things we’re curious about instead of finding ourselves in a straightjacket that most likely limits creativity instead of enhancing it.
🥅 Track progress over goals (Rosie Sherry)
“Whereas with progress you can find stories wherever you go. You can go back weeks, months, years and remember where you were at that point in time and compare it to where you are now. You can see the hard and good times. You can see your personal and business growth.”
✘ I love this advice and would like to extend it. Especially if you’re working with communities, it’s so much more valuable to see how certain things progress as opposed to whether you’ve achieved some manufactured goal.
I love this track, and this interpretation by Rilles is stunning. It really takes it somewhere else, finding a place for it in their own narrative as an artist. There’s still the familiarity of the original, but there’s also something new and it invites us - the listeners - to also find a new place for this song. I’m putting it with those songs that require a good glass of whiskey and a moment for myself.