by Chris Dobson, Executive Principal, Eight Inc.
In January 1968, The Beatles founded ‘Apple Corps’. A business — in line with the hippy ideals of the time — they believed could help creatives that were being un-noticed or un-recognised by big record labels, or big businesses, realise their full potential.
“We want to set up a system where people who just want to make a film about anything, don’t have to get down on their knees in somebody’s office, probably yours…” John Lennon
Set up around five divisions; records, films, electronics, publishing, and retailing, Apple Corp was designed to help artists, designers and creators break from the shackles and exploitative contracts of the time. To become creatively and financially liberated through their own talent.
Apple Corp was a mixed bag, finding some artists that went on to critical acclaim (James Taylor, Bad Finger), some haphazard studio technology innovations (as anyone who has seen Peter Jackson’s glorious ‘Let It Be’ can testify to) to creative success through supporting Dutch art collective ‘The Fool’ in the creation of the iconic Sgt Pepper uniforms, and the sprawling mural on the Apple Boutique in London.
Amongst the general craziness of the venture, one thing that was never doubted was its earnest desire to ‘do right’ by its artists, (mostly to the financial detriment of the band themselves).
Ultimately where Apple Corp failed was not in ambition, but with structure and governance.
Fast forward to January 2022 and the lot of emerging artists and creators are not much better. While Spotify might provide a potential audience of billions, it pays artists in the region of 0.007c per play; keeping emerging acts in poverty and making artists reliant on touring and merchandise to make ends meet.
A situation that -needless to say- hasn’t exactly been made better since the onset of the pandemic (and let's just park the ‘co2 footprint of touring’ argument for now…)
Having been trying to immerse myself in the world of Web 3.0 and tokenomics over the past year, one thing that is immediately clear is how this technology can immediately realise The Beatle's vision.
In today’s world, a fan is reduced to a node; a music lover caught in the algorithmic hell-spiral of only hearing music that sounds like the music they already like. It’s like having access to every song ever recorded, but with the programming range of 1950’s FM radio.
Is it any wonder we are becoming more narrow-minded when exposure, discovery, and growth have been replaced by industrialised confirmation bias?
Throughout history, music has always been at the heart of the human experience. And while our cultural reference points may have shifted to technology (where decades were once defined or punctuated by albums and fashion, technology has largely taken on that role) it is still an integral part of what makes us, us.
Exposure to music leads to journeys into art, poetry, history, fashion — things that are expressive, creative, and in the age of machines, humans.
While advocating technology as a way of unlocking artistic value might sound self-contradictory, it is anything but.
The printing press and sheet music first unlocked compositions, allowing music to be shared outside the theatre for the first time. Records and FM radio brought music into the home, and today platforms like Spotify provide access to almost every piece of music ever recorded.
In short, through history, music and technology have always walked hand-in-glove. And so it should continue.
And so, here we are back in January 2022, and on the crest of a new wave; web 3.0 and a potential token-driven industry revolution.
Power to the people
Away from the headlines about multi-million-dollar Beeple art, and ill-fated attempts to buy the US constitution, there sits at the heart of the web 3.0 genuine innovation, with revolutionary potential.
If we assume a ‘Token’ is simply a form of asset ownership, available to anyone. And that, in today’s experience economy, music, visual art, content, fashion and events are ‘assets’ that people will pay to own or interact with, then we have the economic fundamentals…
Budweiser has recently showed us the consumer appetite for tokenized content with their recent ‘heritage’ drop https://www.ledgerinsights.com/budweiser-nft-sells-out-in-an-hour-75-up-for-resale/
Building on that, if we assume DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) or DAC (decentralized autonomous company) is the ability to bring people together around a shared belief system, away from the control of centralized funding, then we have the operational and governance structures to ‘go-to-market’
At this point, we might start to get a picture of what the DNA of the next industry disruptor might look like.
The power of the blockchain token is asset ownership (while I might buy a record or piece of merchandise that makes the band royalties, if I sell that to you the band makes nothing — blockchain fixes that) and its ability to support multiple forms of unique media; from music to visual art, unique access and unique content to fashion tips, masterclasses and chord books.
The token serves as both a centre of gravity (centralizing content) while also moving the economic value back from publisher/label to artist or DAO/DAC (de-centralising).
This new structure could see established bands monetizing their content through token issues (a natural evolution of the revolutionary ‘Bowie Bonds’ issued in the ’90s) with a much richer experience that will benefit artist and fan alike — combining music, art, exclusive content, and even out-takes and ‘high end’ gig experiences.
For current acts, it could see the ability to express themselves through both audio and visual content, access, and unique social features. Much like EDM artists 3LAU has done with his mixed-media platform, royal.io
For emerging acts this could see a new kind of record label issuing tokens, giving them the opportunity to find their own way of creating value through their art, which will encourage the ‘everyman’ to invest in new talent based on passion, but which could result in profit for band and fan alike.
Imagine, for a moment, you had bought a Metallica token in 1982 that gave you lifelong exclusive content and access. Imagine then that you made 10% on all subsequent sales of the token — you could still be receiving passive income from an act you helped launch 40 years prior.
Maybe we start thinking of these acts as having a market cap, like a business, rather than a record company contract? Art as an asset class — growing or falling in line with the artist's growth and output.
Companies like modadao.io are already exploring this space and attracting support from acts including DeadMau5. It will be interesting to keep an eye on how they progress.
In this world, Spotify won’t cease to exist, but maybe releases come after token owners, or certain tracks are only released for a limited period. Another channel, rather than the dominant source of revenue.
In the 2 weeks since writing the first draft of this, Coachella have launched their own NFT platform https://nft.coachella.com with a range of music and art collectibles, along with a centrepiece ‘infinity key’ (current start bidding price? $80,000)
One thing is for certain, and that is record labels are not going to be at the forefront of this change. After all, when has anyone willingly signed on to destroy their own business model.
What we need to realise in this revolution is an executive sponsor. A band that has traditionally innovated in content and distribution, disrupted in the way they approach the record industry and its corporate leanings. A band that has weight, legacy, catalogue, art, content, and — at its heart — the belief that music and culture are interconnected and exist on a higher plane.
There are many contenders, but someone today has the opportunity to stand up for the rights of artists and creators today, in the way The Beatles did in the 1960s, but with the weight of technology, structure, and governance on their side.
It’s a time to rebel. To challenge. To f*** with the status quo. To find a new relationship between artist, fan experience, and commerce. One that is more equitable and that rewards the creation of unique art, rather than the ability to feed the algorithmic machine.
In an economy driven by experience, we have a unique opportunity to re-think our relationship with content — making it rewarding for all.
This might start with a ‘mega-band’ like Metallica (a pioneer in the field — see S&M Live, Lars Ulrich’s war with Napster, and one of the most effective marketing machines in the world) start a DAC or DAO label with a token at its heart that activates the tribal Metal business; taking their counter-culture, NWOBHM roots and bringing it into the digital age?
It could see Neil Young re-imagine his innovative Pono service?
Or maybe Radiohead, who’s distained for the record industry is well documented, and who (let’s not forget) are pioneers in this field after giving away ‘In Rainbows’ in 2008?
Maybe the innovation will come from EDM, where the audio and visual experience co-exist more than any other genre?
Whichever way things go (or don’t) it won’t be because the tools and structures are not in place.
Start-up companies like Metis.io are already providing the tools for web 2 businesses to transition into web 3 — breaking down a huge usability barrier. Every day the reasons to not explore this future become less, and innovators like Coachella and modadao.io will push forward.
The next year should be very exciting indeed. If you are a musical act, what are you waiting for?