Helping Artists Embrace, Make Sense Of The Chaos

image from creativecommons.org (Read part one and two of this interview.) In his book Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky argues that the single greatest predictor of how much value can be derived from this surfeit of free time is how much we "allow and encourage one another to experiment, because the only group that can try everything is everybody." In other words, the way to explore and cultivate complex ecosystems like the new digital ecology of music culture is that you have as many groups as possible try as many things as possible, with the general hope that everyone who does fail—will do so in an informative manner.

To Shirky, this is the best method of managing a revolution, a tactic he deems embracing "As Much Chaos As We Can Stand." From his perspective, in order to get the most out of this process, the record industry needs to stop clinging to old models and let "any would-be revolutionary try anything they like with the new technology, without regard for the existing cultural or social norms or potential damage to current social institutions." The argument goes that these radicals wouldn't be able to create more change than any members of society and the record industry can imagine anyways, so we just should embrace the chaos.

Moving forward, how will Indaba Music empower the users of your collaborative platform to create "As Much Chaos As We Can Stand"? 

Josh Robertson: The widespread rise of online file sharing and affordable recording technologies have challenged the old model which depended upon a limited number of musicians in the market place, as well as a stronghold on distribution outlets. With lower production costs, direct access to fans, and new distribution mechanisms, the evolving digital music culture affords a certain level of freedom for musicians to craft their own unique career on their terms. With this new freedom comes a certain amount of chaos – if everyone can now produce, promote, and distribute a high-quality album, the online landscape becomes an immense organic landscape that requires systems and outlets for the art to be discovered. Record labels are continuously making great strides towards figuring out a working model, “embracing chaos” is a scary concept when you are publicly traded and have to answer to shareholders every quarter.

One particularly illuminating example of the “chaotic” power of the Indaba platform is our contest platform – which could more appropriately be called an “opportunity” platform. Our contests, which range from large scale remix competitions with major artists to original songwriting contests, provide any artist with an opportunity to have their music heard, have their music released, and receive back-end compensation on new releases. These opportunities serve as one way to make sense of the chaos – by providing fans and artists the ability to highlight the highest quality music from thousands of unique works. As the digital ecosystem evolves, systems such as our contest platform provide a crucial tool for the discovery of new talent amidst the chaos.

Many of us at Indaba are musicians, and one of things that has bothered us for some time is the fractured state of services available to musicians across the web. For years, musicians have had to maintain an unreasonable number of accounts from a variety of different companies in order to manage all the different aspects of their musical life across the value chain – from education to collaboration, mastering, distribution, licensing, marketing, etc. With the launch of our new platform, we now offer musicians with an increasing number of applications and resources to seamlessly manage their musical lives from a single website, and we feel that by providing musicians with this (increasingly) “end to end” solution, we will be further enabling them to create “as much chaos as we stand.”

Bylin: From the perspective of urban theorist and author Richard Florida in The Great Reset, "Great resets are the pivot points in economic history." They "are the great transformative moments when new technologies and technological system arise, when the economy is recast and society remade, and when the places we live and work change to suit new needs." However, the Reset that Florida describes is within a different context than the record industry.

Are you optimistic about the Great Reset that the record industry is experiencing and why is what Florida suggests necessary not just for the Reset of our economy, but for that of Reset we are witnessing too?

Matt Siegel: Unfortunately I have not read Florida's work. However, I will say this: it's natural for industry to undergo disruptive, often painful, innovation. Digital cameras completely changed the economics of the camera business. Personal computers not only changed but in many ways destroyed what was the mainframe computer business (Clay Christensen's work is obviously a great reference here). Sometimes companies are able to adapt, and sometimes they aren't. If you believe in the free market then you have to conclude that ultimately things will work themselves out for the consumer.

Digital cameras are great, as are PCs. Digital Equipment Corporation, Data General, and many others have gone the way of the dodo, but I don't think anyone would argue that this has been bad for the consumer. I think a relevant story, and one of my favorites from intro economics, is Bastiat's parable "Petition of the Candle Makers." The candle makers want to block out the sun because it's bad for the business. You can't block out the sun any more than you can stop adoption of digital formats, P2P, social networking and a long list of other technologies. This has been tough for some companies as it was for the candle makers, great for others, and overwhelmingly positive for the consumer. I'm optimistic that things will work out for artists too – if for no other reason then it's in the consumer's interest to keep artists motivated and creating the music we all love.

Bylin: In Cognitive Surplus, Shirky writes, "What matters most now is our imaginations. The opportunity before us, individually and collectively is enormous; what we do with it will be determined largely by how well we are able to imagine and reward creativity, participation, and sharing." To me, this quote speaks volumes and gives insight into the future of the record industry in the digital age.

Is the opportunity before us—to rethink and recast the cultural industries in a new light and lay down a more sustainable infrastructure—enormous and what do you imagine that it will take to forge a brighter path into the digital age for the record and music industries, as well as, others?

Nate Lew: The internet has empowered everyone to instantly share, distribute and publish content worldwide. I agree with Shirky that the opportunity is enormous, and I think a perfect example of what is possible is Wikipedia. To this day, it’s hard to believe that something like Wikipedia, a project that is 100% supported by people without any extrinsic motivating factors, could ever exist. But, it does, and it has changed the world. According to Jimmy Wales, it’s one of the 5 biggest sites on the internet and it’s used by over 380MM people a month. Wikipedia operates in a very binary space where things are either correct or incorrect, and, thus, it’s been able to reach enormous scale as a global resource.

Music, however, isn’t at all so simple. Music is highly subjective, and I have no expectations of there being a single community-created resource for people discover their music. That said, I do think that the opportunity for music is enormous. The underlying principle that guides wikipedia, the notion that people will collaborate and share with one another just for the sake of contributing to something, will have an enormous impact on the way people discover music. In the future, I imagine that music discovery will increasingly be driven through social mediums.

Services like Facebook and Twitter connect people with common interests and tastes and enable them to share information with one another. As more and more people discover music from trusted sources in their social circle, rather than from “experts” from the old media paradigm, marketing and one-to-many broadcasting will become less effective, but at the same time, the “hit ratio”, the likelihood that the music being recommended will actually be of interest, will be considerably higher.

I’m not going to predict where we’re headed, but, suffice it to say that social recommendations will play an increasingly important role, and the sooner the music industry embraces that, the sooner the future will be upon us.

 Josh Robertson – Head of Content, Programming
Matt Siegel – Co-founder, Co-CEO
Nate Lew
– Head of Marketing, Business Development

Share on: