In fact, even being able to quit the day job and concentrate on music full time is out of reach for most aspiring professional musicians. But could Web3 be about to change that? The immersive, distributed platforms that many are touting as the next level of the internet could bring about new ways for artists and fans to connect in the metaverse. And the new breed of applications and platforms that it enables could allow songwriters and performers to tap into new funding models. So even if it won’t necessarily be a ticket to a world of mansions and private jets, it could allow thousands of people with a passion and talent for music to turn it into a source of income.
What is Web3?
Although different people may have different ideas about the details, what is generally agreed is that it represents the third major iteration of the web. The first web being the static, read-only HTML web pages that kickstarted it all, and the second web being the interactive, user-generated web of social media. Web3, it is generally believed, will be more immersive and experiential, involving 3D graphical user interfaces rather than flat pages of text. Importantly, thanks to technology like blockchain, cryptography, and distributed computing, it will also be decentralized. This means that rather than us all logging onto services and applications that are for the most part owned by huge corporations like Google, Facebook or Microsoft, we will, for the first time, fully own and be in control of our own data and how it is used. But how is this relevant to the world of music?
The Limits of Unlimited Music
Many of us now count a monthly payment to Spotify or another similar service among our regular outgoings – effectively giving us access to whatever music we want, whenever we want it. But does this vast choice prevent us from developing deeper, more personal connections to music and artists than we may have done in the past? Certainly, this is the case, according to Rob Duffin, co-founder of Mixtape Social.
This community-based music listening app is based on the principle that music is often about more than the beats, notes, chords, and samples a track is composed of. By allowing users to tag their favorite tunes with memories and stories about what makes them so important, the aim is to restore the sense of ownership or personal connection with songs, which often feels lacking in the age of streaming.
When he joined me recently for a webinar on the subject of Web3 and the music industry, he told me, "At Mixtape, it's all about that connection; we think about the important relationships in our lives and … there’s a song somewhere that’s important to that relationship Mixtape allows that connection and that story to be told.”
Mixtape is a web3 application because it taps into the concept of the creator economy and leverages the functionality of blockchain – via a crypto token called Mixtape Token – to allow fans to compensate artists they follow. The tokens can also be used to unlock exclusive content and will have even more functionality in the future as the roadmap evolves, Duffin tells me.
The idea is that the open, persistent and collaborative nature of the metaverse – which we can think of as the “front end” of web3 – could very well be ideal for creating the social sharing and listening conditions needed to return that element of connection between listeners and artists.
The promise of web3, Duffin says, is that it can bring about "a totally different landscape where artists own their content, and they are compensated fairly, and fans have that direct interaction with artists they love … we're seeing the beginnings of that today, but blockchain is really going to blow the floodgates open."
Cutting Out The Middle Men
The first application for blockchain was in cryptocurrency, where it was originally envisaged - by Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto - as a way of cutting out the inefficient system of middlemen needed to operate financial services.
Music is another industry where middlemen have traditionally been a necessity to fill the gaps needed to get music from artists to audience. In the old days, these were the record companies, and today it's streaming services. Both of them take a hefty cut, leading to less money for those who actually make the music.
Duffin tells me, "That's not to say there's no place for any middlemen… there's lots of labels that provide tremendous value to help artists through the recording process and through live shows and these things that artists maybe aren't equipped to do, their expertise is elsewhere.”
But musicians and developers invested in web3 – including Duffin, as well as Jon Cheney, CEO, and co-founder of the Ocavu network – believe that blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs will make the middlemen who serve no purpose other than to facilitate transactions largely redundant.
Cheney tells me, "Web3 will do it better; it's going to be more efficient, it's going to put royalties in the right place, it's going to cut out the very expensive, predatory middlemen.”
The smart contracts enabled by blockchains like Ethereum and Polygon mean that platforms and applications can be configured to automatically pay royalties to artists at whatever rate is agreed in their contracts. Transactions can automatically be carried out via cryptocurrencies whenever a fan hits the play button, allowing musicians to have a meaningful say in the way their work is consumed and enjoyed.
Of course, with all new technology comes challenges, and web3 – particularly the blockchain and cryptographic elements – comes with one in particular that can't be ignored. This is because the huge amount of computing power needed to run certain blockchain algorithms is known to be horrendously power-hungry, potentially leading to massive energy use and resulting emissions. This is certainly a problem that will have to be addressed by any platform that’s hoping to take web3-based music solutions into the mainstream to compete with existing streaming services. One potential solution lies in the development of “proof-of-stake” blockchain algorithms. These are much more efficient and less power-hungry, but many of the most popular blockchain networks – such as Ethereum – do not yet support it.
The other important challenge concerns the regulatory framework around web3 technologies. The ecosystem is very much seen as being in a “wild west” state at the moment, with a lack of laws and oversight. This inevitably means that scams and nefarious activities are rife. It’s relatively easy for the unwary to get burned when they dip their toes into these waters, and what consumers may see as an acceptable level of risk while engaging in activities like financial speculation with cryptocurrencies might seem completely unacceptable when we just want to listen to some tunes with friends.
Cheney says, "Regulation is required for mass adoption; you have to protect the end-user … I think we’re quite a way from being protected from the rug pulls and Ponzi schemes that are out there, but it’s being worked on.”
It’s clear that there’s a lot of excitement about the possibilities that might be unlocked by the application of blockchain, web3, and metaverse technologies to the music industry. Music has always been about social activities and coming together, and the new platforms that are emerging based on immersive and experiential technologies offer the chance to share and enjoy music together in new ways. Combined with blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and smart contracts, this could also mean a fairer deal for artists and more ways for fans to ensure their money ends up in the pockets of those they want to support.
You can click here to see my conversation with Jon Cheney, CEO, and co-founder of OCAVU, and Rob Duffin, co-founder, and senior VP at Mixtape Social, where we explore more ways in which web3 might impact the future of music.