I fully respect the view of those who want nothing to do with the space, but the idea of assets on the blockchain isn’t going away. There is a small window to try to establish some norms or values that might have real value moving forward. Doing nothing now lets the predators define it.
Rudnick wasn’t talking specifically about music but I’ve seen similar levels of self-assurance within many conversations around NFTs. Much of the attention around NFTs right now is splitting into various conversations: gawking at the absurd prices that Beeple artworks fetch
; deep concerns over the environmental impact of this technology; or more utopian ways of reorganizing how to support artists (see: Sara Ludy tweets
on profit sharing). This produces a flattened conversion where even concepts/projects (like social tokens) create speculative NFT mania. Certainly, one can, if willing to devote the time, discern the different quality of the projects but I think it speaks to a slightly deeper issue with this moment.
Evegny Morozov in his 2011 book, The Net Delusion, fought against the accepted wisdom that the internet undoubtedly was going to change the world for the better. He makes a number of different points in the book but a central one is a strong skepticism towards viewing the world with a tech-first lens. He wrote: “Nevertheless, whenever nontechnological problems are viewed through the lens of technology, it’s technological experts who get the last word. They design solutions that are often more complex than the problems they were trying to solve, while their effectiveness is often impossible to evaluate, as multiple solutions are being tried at once and their individual contributions are hard to verify.” This speaks to the fevered chatter around NFTs and their ramifications for the record industry. Accepting NFTs as the future creates a new ingroup to claim part of an industry that’s already highly financialized without accessing how many folks even want proof of purchases from their favorite artists.
Over the last couple of decades, an assumption emerged that music should be understood primarily within the digital context as if music can only be understood in its commercialized form. (See: the Billie Eilish bedroom pop narrative
). Music can begin in one’s bedroom but it can also start in a classroom, the park, or a library (the Brooklyn Public Library even allows free
instrument lending). The last year of basically no music touring has kind of led to these conversations around the “future of music” that appear to look at life during a pandemic as the “new normal” when we’re slowly emerging from what will in many ways have been temporary. Techno-first solutions to the plight of musicians in many ways feel very insular and further crush all engagement of music into digitally mediated interactions.
There is also the fact that NFTs, Bitcoin, and GameStop meme stocks all exist within this continuum of a coronavirus-induced bubble
of cash-heavy white-collar workers within the tech and venture capital spaces pumping money into different schemes and declaring them the future without significant public buy-in. That’s why Rudnick’s tweet rattled in my head—who
is setting up the terms of these new technologies and how can one even afford to buy into these new spaces? It’s people not only with time and tech literacy but also with money that they’re willing to put into speculative goods. That may speak to some communities but it doesn’t represent all of those who experience music every day, and I bristle at any claim to speak with such authority.
Prior to coronavirus, where I live in New York City, there would be a summer NYC Music Month
where they’d offer various programming for artists and communities, and even provide free studio space for people. The city holds an Office of Nightlife
to help provide an outlet for restaurants and entertainment venues to communicate directly with the city. Even if I hold many, many,
critiques of both city efforts, these are ways of attempting to disconnect music from the private market. There was an Irish proposal
last year that looked into giving a universal basic income for artists and Germany reportedly provided 5,000 Euros
to freelance artists due to the coronavirus shutting down the arts. I’ve mentioned it before but I still really enjoy a paper by Alex Williams (‘The Job Guarantee and Cultural Equity: Gatekeeping and Popularization
’) which envisioned a way of supporting the arts not just through cash payments but through actually funding the various parts of the arts communities so that these can become solid jobs that contribute to a stronger arts economy.
In Real Life
, Liz Pelly argued for, in her words
, “socialized streaming”:
We should think of socialized streaming as one piece of a greater, international patchwork of shifts, toward building infrastructure for digital cultural commons — accessible and participatory tools and resources that would support artists and strengthen communities, inclusive of cooperative alternatives. It moves us in the direction of decommodifying music, setting precedents for decommodifying culture.
The subheader of Pelly’s piece said “A case for universal music access.” An idea that feels increasingly distant in how folks are beginning to imagine a post-coronavirus entertainment world. This isn’t to rehash late 90s tech pablum about how “information wants to be free” or some other nonsense. Rather, it is that communities can produce and sustain allowing the artists to be abundant, rather than scarce. Artists and collectives figuring out the best way of tending to their own space and contextualizing how they want their art to exist isn’t my goal to tamper. But in a moment where many of these conversations are occurring amongst those with money to spend eyeing ways to ultimately make it grow, I’m more interested in what can be done to further the universal experience of music.