✘ Punk technology and crypto music
And: NFTs for music royalties; SoundShirts let deaf people feel music; What is the future of the DAW; Web3 and AI to revolutionize creativity; A eulogy for Checkpoints
This article is a leap away from structure and also a leap of faith. It hopes to show that norms of what constitutes quality and virtuousness don’t always hold. Moreover, there’s always another way to conceive of an action and its reaction. Music, as a business, is all about the end product - the ‘thing’ that can be copyrighted, the master, the performance. There’s a whole other way to think about what music can be, and it could take a cue from crypto to open that avenue of thinking. This is an attempt to conceive of music, and crypto music specifically, within the notion of Punk Technology.
The amazing Anna Lathrop has set up the Archive of Punk Technologies. In her own words: “Punk Technologies are responses, reactions, hacks, and workarounds of current mainstream technologies.” Anna starts from her own design background and specifically speaks about designs that aim to subvert the mainstream. Her examples range from DIY-built shields that helps protect protesters against Long Range Acoustic Devices [LRAD] to zine creation and publishing.
“are technologies in a broad sense of the term; any knowledge, technique, or tool developed or designed to augment, assist, or adapt cultural or individual norms and practices and/or make use of surrounding resources can be considered a technology. A book is a technology the same as a robot.”
She goes on to refer to Punk music as an example of how these technologies work their way against the mainstream - defined as the capitalist and colonial global system we live in. And this goes way beyond Punk music. More recently, the roots of Dubstep are pure Punk in this sense. In his stellar Sonic Warfare, Steve Goodman goes deeper on this notion by understanding the frequencies and vibrations of the sonic and its place in society. Take the previously mentioned LRAD and compare that to the frequencies musicians put their audiences in at a noise gig. There’s a fine line between subversion and submitting. What Anna and Steve would agree on is the power of the tactical and aesthetic within these Punk Technologies.
Music industry mainstream
Can we build music economies outside of the mainstream, the copyright-dominated centre? On the one side we have the major labels and big tech. They either hoard copyright or hoard attention into a walled garden. A vacuum exists around the mainstream because of this. On the other side, we have the world of indie. Smaller labels working in their niche, artists going DIY. The problem is that this indie world cannot break free from the walled garden and major-label dominance. They get stuck in the vacuum. Of course, there’s success stories, but what would the aesthetics and design of Punk Technologies bring to the table?
Let’s look at crypto, which also started out as a punk technology. It was designed against the mainstream banking system and stems from Cypherpunk ideologies. Artists of all kinds have found ways to create new economies around themselves. This is often driven by ‘whales’, those with a big sack of crypto who have the power to drive sales and curves. But it’s also driven by creativity and by artists who engage with the new technologies provided to them.
Music’s mainstream has tried to infiltrate the new economies and co-opt them. Within that mainstream, crypto and blockchain tech is seen as ways to talk less about music and more about intellectual property. What is monetized? Not the music, but the underlying IP. Can we abstract the music further away from the IP? Yes. Punk Technologies help subvert this, they allow artists and others to bring music back to the centre. At the same time, there is also a new answer to what is monetized.
Crypto music can be a Punk Technology
When crypto and music join forces, we come into potential new economies and potential new ecologies. The latter are being shaped by the recent trends in social media that allow casual users of social apps to become creators in their own right. This begs the question what the world would look like with one billion music creators. Not all of them can sustain an economy around them. It’s simply impossible to be a fan of more than a few artists or bands - let alone have the financial capability to support them all. But when we look beyond that, we can see how the new ecologies - the new support systems and connections - can help escape the vacuum around major labels and big tech. It’s the network that holds the value and its the technology that creates audiences and its those audiences who determine how they engage.
This is not some grand ideology, this is a tactic. It’s important to keep that in perspective and to realise that any fascination or revulsion around crypto music remains a scuffle for control - either of the existing mainstream co-opting the new economies, or of new power players to dominate the evolving infrastructures. Using crypto music as a Punk Technology will always try to subvert both sets of control.
🖾 NFTs are the future framework for music royalties (Bruno Guez)
“The management of digital rights is inherently complex and fraught with questions about territorial jurisdiction, especially given the global and often anonymous nature of NFT transactions. However, this complexity should not deter stakeholders from the promising opportunities that the technology presents.”
✘ As a counter to my own piece above, here’s the always brilliant Bruno Guez arguing that what I dubbed the mainstream, copyright-dominated, music industry can indeed also benefit from blockchain tech and specifically from utilizing the power of NFTs. He’s not wrong, and I applaud him for taking on this fight with the centre.
👕 Lyric Opera's new SoundShirts let deaf patrons feel the music (Carrie Shepherd)
“Microphones are placed over the orchestra and on the stage, recording sounds in real time that are sent to a computer where software translates it to digital data. It's then transported to trigger 16 motors scattered around the shirt, creating a vibration in the front of your shoulders, forearms and upper and lower back.”
✘ This is so cool, and I hope this kind of tech will keep evolving to create ever more inclusive spaces for the enjoyment of live music.
🎛️ What is the future of the DAW? (Declan McGlynn)
“For most artists, though, this kind of one-button solution to music isn’t what they’re looking for. Artists want to be creative and they want to have control over the creative process. For TikToks, or podcast music soundtracks, this throw-away generative music might work, but for artists and producers with their own unique identity, it’s hard to see the one-button style solution working. What’s more likely, is that generative AI replaces steps within the music-making process, rather than replacing creativity entirely.”
✘ This is a long piece by Declan and the above quote encapsulates what drives the argument. Music-making is changing as the reasons people have for making music. As such their demands for the tools they engage with also change. How DAWs ride that wave of change, driven by AI, but also by changing social fabrics, is what’s put forward in this article.
“So when we think about the new music business, we definitely focus on new technologies that enable people to participate in the music industry. You know, whether it’s creating music, marketing music, building communities around it, monetizing it in totally new ways. We’re interested in that entire stack.”
Cherie Hu, founder Water & Music
✘ In a similar vein to my article above, Cherie hints at how the tactics that can be applied through new technologies can help affect paradigm shifts. Linked above is the article, which is derived from a podcast episode you can listen to here.
⭕ A eulogy for Checkpoints (Ruby Thelot)
“Checkpoints are an emergent digital behavior which began in the comment section of a YouTube video. The main action is the posting of personal stories which begin with the word “Checkpoint”, a nod to video game checkpoints which save one’s progress in the story and ensure that should death occur, respawn happens at the last checkpoint. The posts are divulgatory, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, they expose the openness, candor and vulnerability strangers can exercise with one another. Interestingly, this custom did not occur in a space specifically designed for that purpose, rather it occurred organically through the reappropriation of an existing piece of internet infrastructure.”
✘ If technologies create audiences, then it’s impossible to make those audience do what you want. There’s a great parallel to urban planners and the way people using public spaces will find their own paths. Checkpoints are such a great example of this kind of behaviour.
As Amapiano continues to find its way into virality, I love it when it meshes with the harder styles. NKC does this brilliantly - get ready to bounce.