and The Liminal Space
I’m painfully aware that it has been a little while since I wrote a post on here, but it is with good reason!
Around January this year, Jack Spallone, an old friend from the early days of Blockchain and Music, and I started chatting about an area of shared interest. Specifically, we felt that there was an opportunity to start up something new that sits above the activity that is growing in Web3 Music. Something to help make sense of it all and to contribute towards a cohesive and accessible ecosystem. Fundamentally, something to help drive demand.
We’ve written a fuller explanation of the intent behind musicOS and the plan forwards on our first Mirror post here. But I thought that there’s also value in positioning the thinking with respect to the things I’ve written about in this blog and the wider “liminal space” of Crypto and Music.
I plan to keep writing through this blog as musicOS progresses. It’s a useful vehicle in which to force my thinking, as it’s not until you write something down that you realise that you actually don’t understand it at all yet. Plus, Jack can’t change my spelling to American English here.
Post Royalties and the Disruption Theory of NFTs
An essay that I wrote, originally for Water & Music last year, titled The case for a post-royalties music industry made the argument that the next generation of creators will look towards new mechanisms to monetise their art. In it, I compared the volume of new entrants vs. growth in the value of the streaming industry, which, combined with power-law distribution, paints a very difficult picture for tomorrow’s artists.
Since publishing this piece Spotify has released new figures that suggest a slightly different picture to the repeated knowledge that there are 8 million creators releasing 60k tracks a day through it. Specifically that there are 200k “professionally aspiring” artists on Spotify. This definition of course instantly creates issues, and the devil with customer segmentation is always in the detail, but, triggering-category-naming aside, it further highlights the extreme head-tail relationship of streaming economics. By Spotify’s own definition, only 2.5% of artists on its platform are “professionally aspiring”, at least in the success they are getting through the platform.
A common narrative being pushed on Twitter over the past few months is that NFTs fix this. And while I think that elements of that argument have merits in some cases, I have also written about the areas where I feel like NFTs really do offer potential for disruptive rather than sustaining innovation. Ironically I opened that article up by posing the question of what happens if Spotify announced that it’s doing NFTs, since publication it has done exactly that.
Looking forwards, the future of Crypto (or Web3, depending on your chosen lexicon), and Music is going to be a nuanced and complex set of composable services that artists and fans can opt into. The game will be played by each creator choosing which options will best suit their own unique situation. To understand what is happening and to be in a position to make informed decisions, we need a user experience to help.
One of musicOS’s aims is to provide a comprehensive view of Web3 Music activity, similar to the role that Etherscan plays within the wider Ethereum network. This information, useful by itself, will also enable analysis and support from parties that want to build entities to support the development of artists within the space; take, for example, the continued superb work from Water & Music.
Formation of The Crypto Music Industry
For those of us that have been around this space for a few years now, it’s becoming increasingly clear to see an overall momentum being built across waves and phases of innovation, which I described in The Crypto Music Industry.
To briefly summarise, in the early days of Ethereum, crypto-curious innovators spent a long time thinking about how to use blockchain to rebuild the music industries’ infrastructure. Since the winter of 2018, the focus has shifted more towards simple monetisation for artists in discrete instances, abstracting away a lot of the harder stuff. Scaling into the next phase is going to require deeper integration at the user experience level and a capacity for more complexity and nuance.
musicOS’s role is to work on solutions in this area, connecting up the ecosystem at an application level and building out open data and services to support its growth.
One of the biggest criticisms put to Web3 Music currently goes something like “yeah some artists are making some money, but where’s the utility”. The counter then says “the music is the utility”.
In my mind, both these positions are understandable with the current state of things but miss the mark when thinking longer-term. This much-touted utility will be the function of a useful and engaging ecosystem, and right now we’re still experimenting with aspects that may make up elements within that. Success for musicOS will be to accelerate this feedback cycle of discovery to find product-market fit for the industry.
Open Data and Services; Community Ownership
Had I written a piece in the past month, it would have been to place the insight contained in Joel Monegro’s seminal Thin Applications against the current and future Web3 Music industry. A follow up to “Fat Protocols”, which we all got very excited about back in 2016, it describes the stack that crypto-enabled industries will be built on as “interface” (wallet + applications) and “work and data” (cryptoservices).
This is the inspiration for the positioning of musicOS as a “thin application”. In other words, we have no interest in musicOS owning the data and processes that it is built with, and in fact, it’s extremely important that those components remain open and permissionless. See Jacob Horne’s “Hyperstructures” essay for further context.
In the music context, the “work and data” are everything from minting contracts to identity to ownership information and metadata. As DeFi is focused on “money lego”, the Crypto/Web3 Music industry will be built on interchangeable modules of infrastructure.
The application described above and in our “manifesto” released last week spans the Web3 Music ecosystem leading to our belief that, as it is built for the community, it should be owned by the community.
There’s been a lot of backlash in recent years over “Web2” platforms being acquired or going public without financial benefit for the users that help build the business, and while I think it’s unfair to begrudge platforms crystallising their business according to the decisions they made previously, we are faced with an opportunity now to set things right from the beginning.
In reality, the application itself is only one element of an emerging Web3 Music network and supporting mutual success will maximise potential. We’ve been working with Seed Club over the past couple of months to understand the options and decisions that will be critical to navigating as this journey evolves. For now, the best bet is to get involved over at the HIFI Labs discord where we will be building out in the open.