✘ The true power shift underneath the TikTok vs Universal stand off
And: Emerging tech guide for independent artists; Google trained its AI on copyrighted music; Music industry and endemic misogyny; On Crypto; Web3 isn't just about money
Universal Music Group threatened to take down their music from TikTok if the latter won’t pay more for UMG songs used in TikToks. TikTok replied by saying that they think it’s unfair that UMG only thinks about filling their own bags instead of thinking about the artists they represent. The power struggle seems obvious - two major corporates fighting over money. However, there’s a deeper shift happening here. Let’s quickly recap how TikTok has continued and strengthened social media’s influence on the music industry and then look at the shift in power I feel we should really look at.
TikTok versus music
Douyin is a Chinese app created by Bytedance focused on short-form video content that took off in China in 2017. They bought Musical.ly in 2018 and launched TikTok into the rest of the world. Musical.ly was famous for its lipsync videos and not long after it TikTok dances became just as popular. Both of these drivers for the app required music.
Just like any other major social medium, licenses came after growth. Moreover, the use of music on TikTok has become one of the biggest drivers of popularity around new, and old, songs. Both need each other. One the one hand, we cannot imagine TikToks without music. On the other, most 2023 hits started their rise in popularity on TikTok. Universal, label side and publishing side, benefit from this.
One of the main benefits is the funnel that listeners take. Hearing something on TikTok makes people listen to that very tune on Spotify, YouTube, or elsewhere. This is exactly why Bytedance wants to start its own TikTok Music service. Platforms need people to remain on platform. Even Spotify is dreaming of their own app store in the wake of the new Digital Markets Act in Europe. These are big corporates fighting each other at their own games.
That true power shift
There’s one major component that doesn’t get a mention in this entire discussion - the artist. With the rise of social media, artists have found more and more ways to communicate directly with fans. Similarly, fan groups found ways to expand beyond that zine in their local town and into Facebook groups with tens of thousands of likeminded people. What this has done, though, is to put more responsibility with the artist. And I say responsibility, because it’s not yet true power.
When artists or bands go on tour, they use promoters. They take the risks by setting up the tour dates and paying the band and recouping on sales. However, more and more it’s on the artist or band to make sure tickets are sold - they have the access to their fans. It’s often no longer the venues who make for sold out gigs, it’s the artists who perform that do that. This is just one example where responsibilities shift. It’s also happening with labels, and with publishers.
And that’s the true power shift happening underneath these major discussions about label and publishing deals between the biggest music company and the biggest social medium on the planet. The power is shifting towards the artist, they are the ones who all of us app-scrolling people respond to. And because of that, let this negotiation become a bloodbath, so that those with the most responsibility can rise from its rubble and take their power.
🦮 Starter Pack: The emerging tech guide for independent artists (Brodie Conley, Cherie Hu)
“Given these challenges, there is a clear case for artists and their teams to consider engaging with emerging technologies — encompassing digital innovations like AI, VR, and blockchain that could transform the ways music is created, distributed, monetized, and experienced.”
✘ The world needs this starter pack. There’s so much music and there’s so many new, emerging technologies. How can anyone stay abreast of it all? Digging into this guide should be everyone’s starting point. Stop, think about your why and add the tech that can help you instead of jumping on bandwagons.
Google trained its AI on copyrighted music, sources say — now it’s trying to make deals (Elias Leight)
“In this climate, bringing the major labels on board as Google and YouTube did last year with Dream Track — after training the model, but before releasing it — may well be a step forward from the music industry’s perspective. At least it’s better than nothing: Google infamously started scanning massive numbers of books in 2004 without asking permission from copyright holders to create what is now known as Google Books. The Authors Guild sued, accusing Google of violating copyright, but the suit was eventually dismissed — almost a decade later in 2013.”
✘ Here’s the thing about a generative AI model, it needs lots and lots and lots of training data.
👩🏾👧🏾👦🏾 Music industry still a ‘boys’ club’ while female artists face misogyny, harassment and abuse, finds U.K. inquiry (K.J. Yossman)
“However, a shift in the behaviour of men—and it is almost always men – at the heart of the music industry is the transformative change needed for talented women to quite literally have their voices heard and be both recognised and rewarded on equal terms.”
Caroline Nokes MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee
✘ There’s a lot of practical advice in the report, but this stands out. If you’re a man, go to a mirror and look at yourself and ask what change you can bring to the everyday lives of the women around you. Then, do it.
⛓️ On Crypto (Arnaud Schenk)
“But after a decade, I think we should confront ourselves to the idea that trustlessness implies ineffectiveness, and we should perhaps try to go the other way and build tools and technologies which help establish trust, instead. Crypto should move away from building tools for activism, and towards building tools for conspiracy.”
✘ A great read alongside my own piece from last week. A lot of what Arnaud argues for is to find tools that can help small groups activate on what they want to build.
🛠️ If you think Web3 is all about money, you’re wrong (Ornella Vallana)
“Education as we know it is boring: theory, exams and grades. Web3 hits different. Here you learn by creating, experimenting and collaborating — every single day. You’re not just a student; you’re a BUIDLer, a creator. A doer from the very first moment.”
✘ Another companion read to my piece from last week. Here, Ornella provides a personal account of how we can move towards a crypto culture that builds strong foundations for a future that will be more strongly geared towards the ethos of decentralization.
I adore everything Squarepusher does. The rhythms, the bass, the modalities, it’s all perfectly suited to my ears. He’s releasing a new record on 1 March, and a single, Wendorlan, is now out. It might incinerate your brain, it’s so good.