Creative Culture 3.0: Music
Since the inception of the WEB3 craze, it seemed like music and the very twisted industry attached might be one of the greatest benefactors from blockchain technology.
If anything, WEB3 has driven impressive advances in community building, CRM and the processes of controlling and distributing digital property. Theoretically, Kendrick could have mobilized his audience to come together and purchase and/or interact with his most recent album as an NFT. He may have even made more money if he had done so- but as we know, he didn’t.
What might this have looked like?
As I alluded to in my first examples, people have started toying with the concept of token gated streaming platforms but… experimental pioneers don’t typically drive mass conversions or shift popular culture overnight. It is typically the 5th, 7th or 45th iteration of a disruptive concept that might have the potential of packing a punch. And once it does, you can bet the house that one of the big dogs will start bidding or investing all they’ve got to beat out the new competitor.
Here’s some food for thought: there are 433 million active users on Spotify. Meanwhile, there’s an estimated 144 million people with active wallet addresses. So, even if EVERYONE with a wallet address was a Spotify user and collectively decided to switch over to a new platform, there would still be 145 million more people on Spotify.
For that reason, and the consideration of other established platforms, we are so far from a WEB3 streaming platform actually changing the game. So long as the common consumer is averse to, confused by, or lacks access to WEB3 knowledge and resources and/or the top WEB2 companies have the knowhow and funding to adapt to others’ advancements… it will stay this way.
Think about the transition from vinyl to cassette, the popularization of the radio, cassette to cd, and cd to streaming- each required a new device, cultural reprogramming and a new set of tools to listen to music. In reality, a tangible change of medium would make WEB3 technology easier to understand. If a Tesla looked like a ‘18 Toyota Camry, it wouldn’t have the same futuristic allure that popularized the vehicle early on. As is law in any course in culture, the medium is the massage. Device and aesthetic are everything- directly or indirectly defining, guiding, and reinforcing what is, or can be, created.
But hell, streaming is already insane in premise. We can access seemingly any song at any time… so how do you improve upon access or the experience? It’s hard to consider anything shy of futuristic in the context of the listener’s experience… But, how about the artist?
When Jay Z took a chance on Tidal, he leaned into the quality of audio, exclusive releases, A&R driven curation of talent, and better deals for aspiring acts. The success of the platform almost entirely relied on artists exclusively releasing their music on Tidal. And when Jay Z dropped his masterpiece, 4:44, exclusively on the platform, it flopped. And with lengthy, profit driven, multi-album major label deals preventing his network from even considering an exclusive drop, the platform flopped and all but faded.
More recently, when Kanye released his STEM player, as ridiculous as it was and as awful as he’s been, we saw cultural progress. “To earn the $2.2 million we made on the first day on the stem player the album would have had to stream 500 million times,” West reported. The device satisfied the progress of device and aesthetic, medium = massage, but it was specific to a single artist who killed its utility in a matter of months as he tarnished his own name.
Now, I’d like to drive awareness to one of my favorite projects in WEB3, Ledger and their physical hardware wallets. Unlike the purely digital accounts that often feel convolutedly encrypted, Ledger made the concept of owning crypto currency and having a crypto wallet feel tangible. Even Apple Pay has a picture of your credit card to remind you that it is real. Without this tie to reality, our money (and NFTs) feel as if they live in some mysterious ether that could vanish away. Hacks, lost accounts, and scams perpetuate this sentiment. Alas, your online banking and the mass-adoption of paying with your phone points to the fact that we have begun to accept the intangible asset as real, or of value. And back to Ledger, having something/anything physical helps.
So what if we took the quality and deal structures from Tidal and the futuristic and interactive technology of the STEM player but also integrated a palatable Ledger-style blockchain technology to control and offer a new means of distribution and royalties? Hell, it might just have an impact.
Let's do some quick math: if your song is streamed one million times on Spotify, you can expect to earn between $1,000 and $8,000. Let's call it $6,000. If you release an album with 12 songs, you would need 83,333~ people to listen to the album front to back once to make your 6K. Or sure, 41,666 people twice. But what if you don’t have mass-appeal? Or your album is 4 tracks? Or there are a bunch of collaborators on the album you’re splitting profits with?
Let’s boil it down to the facts:
1. 52,600 artists generated over $10k on Spotify last year.
2. Over 10% of these artists (5,300) who generated more than $10,000 on Spotify in 2021 released their first song ever in the last two years.
3. In 2021, 350 of these newly-releasing artists generated $100,000 from Spotify.
That means that there were 350 newly releasing artists who amassed more than 12.7 million streams in 2021 - and more have broken since. This pocket of talent, the proposed Tidal Stem Ledger advancement, and someone willing to shell out the cash to sign the next generation and make it happen is the path to success.
While we certainly don’t own the music we listen to on Spotify, a very real sense of ownership comes into play for the creators and anyone else who chimed in along the way. The artist, the label, the platform, the managers, the publishing company… they all hope to take a cut of the digital asset that you’re listening to for a subscription fee. These splits and the technology that tracks them are beyond antiquated. A promise of higher pay, fair pay, and a cutting out of the middle man is where WEB3 technology, smart contracts, and a creator-lead revolution could shift the music industry paradigm all together.
Messy contracts and slimy deals have always been commonplace in entertainment- it is difficult to track what you’re owed, when, and by who. Fortunately, a smart contract is flawless in consideration of distributing royalties. The technology is built for it and the concept has been proven tenfold - “over 1.8b in royalties have been paid out to Ethereum based NFT creators.”
So who will see this shift through? Is it the artist? The audience? We all know that the major labels won’t integrate WEB3 technology with anything but the most selfish of intentions. If you ask me, it won’t come from a focused effort in applying the technology to music unless Taylor, Frank Ocean, Fisher, and whoever owns the Beatle’s royalties were to sit down to dinner. It will come with time, and hopefully, a consistent improvement in what’s being done in the space that drives a sense of hopefulness in those who remain wary and those who want a better reality for the artists we adore.