The Problems Musicians Face and How To Solve Them, Pt. 6b

Part6bWritten by Tommy Darker, originally published in The Musicpreneur.

Travelling the world and chatting with fellow aspiring artists reveals astounding insights about the future of music. Here’s the deal: we think we all face different problems, but the reality reveals the opposite. I will share one of these insights, explaining what it means for the way we work as musicians and how to move in the future.

This is part 6b. Each part is linked at the end of the post.

The new music world: innovative Messages demand innovative Mediums.

4. Connection, disconnection, collaboration, reuse

The biggest problem in the digital world is not creating the dots; creation was never a problem in the digital world. No, the big challenge is connecting the dots in a way that makes sense, and having the wisdom to know when and why to disconnect them for new combinations to be made.

By ‘dots’, throughout the essay, I mean pieces of information, human connections, creations, products, everything that makes sense in a self-contained way.

In an ocean of abundance of ‘self-contained dots’, the question is: why should we be connected with them and how?

Practically, in the past it was difficult — maybe impossible? — to be connected and collaborate with other creators independently. Mediators had to be in place, and it was exclusive luxury for a few. Hence, the creations produced were usually a product of a singular mind or a small team of people (usually the band or collective). This group of people, in the best of circumstances, would be locally connected, with all the physical constraints this involved. My point is, the creative outcome could be as nuanced as the singular mind that produced it and the limited tools involved in creating it.

Today, things are a little bit different. Distance is practically non-existent and we connect with people because of interest, rather than physical constraints. This changes how our brain is wired. A musician can now think about how to connect with all the creators around the world and create something richer in terms of perspective, as a result of a group of connected minds. Collaboration and the co-creation of genius minds are steadily replacing the cloistered creation of one genius mind.

Of course, knowledge brings responsibilities regarding its use. Because we can connect and co-create, it doesn’t mean we necessarily should. However, everything starts with the notion that “I can connect with people from all over the world and create in amazing ways that didn’t exist before,” rather than denying that this option is possible and persisting in the old paradigm.

Obviously, with connection also comes disconnection. A world full of stable clusters of information and fixed mindsets would be very uninteresting. Disruption is a word that comes in mind when talking about disconnecting the dots, in order for a new, fresher solution to come in play and take over for a while. Until the next disruption.

The last notion that I’d like to highlight is the one of ‘reuse’. The ‘sharing economy’ is blooming and we are, as a human race, directing our activities towards reusing, not throwing away. This is a wiring that affects all aspects of life, such as art and creations. A hypey word that has come out of this culture is ‘crowdsourcing’, as mentioned above.

“Everything is a Remix”, said Kirby Ferguson [19], and he finds me in line. There’s no parthenogenesis, no thing that comes from nothing. It’s high time we accept this argument and shout it out loud for the world to hear, instead of silently accepting it but publicly omitting its validity.

Feel free and remix. But, again, because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. Still, let’s not deny that you can.

Why are we mentioning all these things in this space?

Because we need to understand that the main characteristic of the Internet is its interactivity.

Back to Andrew Dubber again, the Internet is conversations about social objects [20]. As the Cluetrain Manifesto stated years ago [21], things on the Internet have a human voice. That means, the Internet is just the medium through which we communicate our human thoughts, predominantly using the language we wired our brains to communicate and think in for thousands of years.

I love this quote and use it as a compass: “Write like you talk and they’ll read like they listen”.

In the Electric Era, our main medium was broadcasting, one-directional and restrictive to the experience. Now interactivity allows collaborations, creative solutions and experiences to spring in life.

In a few words: we don’t need to create things to fit a pre-established medium, like we used to (think of CDs, recording, publishing, marketing etc.). Collaborating, remixing, reusing, connecting and disconnecting is the dominant mindset of the new (music) world.

5. Community gardens

A thought not to be forgotten in this overwhelming amount of information is that “Art is a long-term game.”

The mission of art is to create questions. Thought-provoking creations endure the test of time. Remembering this is paramount in an era of disposable art, ideas and personalities.

Tying this with the aforementioned idea of collaboration and openness, I’ll stand by Steve Keller, who mentioned the term ‘Community Gardens” in our interview for the full version of my last book [10]. It’s articulated so well that I need not explain any further:

“A metaphor I’ve found helpful is that of planting a garden. This, again, is a process — a cycle. Seeds are planted, the garden is nurtured, there’s ultimately a harvest, and on it goes. In business, as in life, some moments I’m planting seeds, others I’m tending, and still others I’m benefiting from the harvest. I’ve rarely had a “jack in the beanstalk” moment where I’ve planted a seed and overnight it grew into this massive thing.

The interesting thing I’ve noticed is that, while I’m planting seeds, I may not always be the guy at the end getting the harvest. Sometimes I’m watering someone else’s garden. By the same token, I sometimes benefit from harvesting a garden that someone before me had planted and tended. I understand the benefits of “ownership” and the fact that we need to have regulations in place to protect content we’ve created or innovations we’ve developed. Yet I also think we need to foster more “community gardens” where we incubate ideas, where we spin processes, but open up the progress make to others who can take it further. Operating communally requires a great deal of trust and a sense of fair play.”

Thinking of the music world as a one-shot game will significantly reduce your chances of harvesting the Community Gardens that await.

6. Platforms with fans, tribe

Every era is excessively transformative for the people that happen to inhabit it. Due to our tendency to look in the current era with the previous era in mind, we have the “Rearview Mirror Effect”, as described by Marshall McLuhan.

The “horseless carriage” was the new invention, later to be called a car. We listen to Web Radio and watch Internet TV. It’s no that we’re really watching TV or something. We just tend to describe it like this, in order to grasp the idea more easily. It would be preferable, however, to name the new artefacts with a new name drawing a line of separation with the old ones.

With the same way of thinking, we call modern musicians ‘Indie’, as if they’re supposed to be attached in a label by definition. My suggestion for the musicians who operate as entrepreneurs in order to make a living is to be defined as ‘Musicpreneurs’.

Likewise, the mainstream perception about musicians has changed: from the untouchable stars of old to the community leaders of today.

Let’s dive into the community thing a bit.

Why should we take communities seriously?

It all comes down to attention.

As stated above (Part 5), music is the connector and musicians, the administrators of this connection. They connect humans with emotions and stories, with their art being the focal point. How precious is that?

What’s more, success used to be counted in terms of sales. The more the record sales, the more successful the artist. Well, they still count it like this, in a way. But, in an era where access is more important than ownership and information clutter pollutes every industry, attention becomes the main driver of the economy.

Got attention? Great — now you probably you have a good chance to get the money.

As an extension of this reality, short-term attention (viral hits etc.) seem like short-term money, which doesn’t equal a real and scalable business. How can this attention be recycled, instead of being scattered in a myriad of directions? This is where communities come in, contributing to the long-term game of maintaining attention.

Coming back to the musician as a connector, I see music artists turning into great platforms, where interactions around music-related social objects are held. As Seth Godin puts it in his book, Tribes [22], the musician will be the leader and fuel for this interaction, until they gain enough momentum to become a self-managed community.

How viable is this, then?

Platforms give tools for members to communicate with each other and express themselves — creating content around the social objects discussed (the art of the musician).

That’s not where it all ends, however. Platforms and movements don’t survive unless they can become self-sustaining.

Musicians will sooner or later be called to discover a business model to monetize these connections and interactions. The good news is, each solid tribe will start developing needs and a common mindset. This is where the commercial aspect lies.

“Got an example, Tommy?” Yes, sir.

Say, in collaboration with a headphone brand, a gothic band creates self-branded headphones for their community. Gothic people don’t fancy wearing commercial crap with happy colours; they have the need to be unique and show their belonging to the gothic culture.

This is merely the idea that commercial experiences and products that can be designed to create a more personalized, customized, intimate, meaningful and rich experience for the audience.

The key-words that sum up the music-fueled platforms: musician as a leader, social objects around music, tools for user-generated content, community-driver mindset, seamless connections and interactions between members, and business models built upon these interactions.

7. Music ecosystem

Eventually, the last thing that will change, as a consequence of all the previous mental and practical transformations, will be the ecosystem surrounding and embracing music and commerce. By that, I mean everything that is not an immediate need when it comes to music creation and conducting commerce with music — but that can still be helpful — as in things that make activities faster, easier and more efficient.

Examples include: time management methodologies and software, better tools to create websites, investors to give cash for musicians to supports their art, the proper mindset from the audience to support music practically, the spirit of community in artists’ tribes, workshops that teach musicians about business and other practical stuff, mobile apps that keep you in connection with your business, collaborative projects and grants etc.

In simple words: the ecosystem reduces the friction and makes the connection of dots easier. Currently, we’re in an era with a lot of created dots, but with few connections between them.

The whole ecosystem will change, gradually. This is for sure. And it’s not the first time that this will happen; look at the tech startup world for many live, unfolding examples of this in action.

Today, the tech world ecosystem has evolved in a way to cater to the new needs that pop up regularly. In the past, it was impossible to think that it would be that easy to approach an investor and pitch them your project. Now it’s very easy to find one; they even teach you how to talk to them and make their job easier. That’s because there is a need for cash to move fast.

Well, I’m not saying that it’s equally easy to close a deal and get funded, manage your time and build a product that the world needs, but — hey! — this is still a game that requires skills, abilities and hard work to win. Before, it wasn’t hard to be able to do all that, it was impossible. On the other hand, nobody can tell you not to go for it today. You can. The barrier to entry is close to nothing. If you don’t yet know how to, you can learn. Which means, more competition and more noise to overcome. Well, these are the modern challenges of the digital world that everyone needs to face sooner or later.

The same shift will occur in the music world. The investors and all the other devices that will shape the new ecosystem (to replace the label hegemony) will come to cater new, real needs. The ecosystem’s behaviour towards musicians will change, once the mindset of musicians changes, and that will be reflected in their actions, en masse. Noise will remain, but that’s inevitable.

The immediate outcome of this transformation? There will be nobody to tell you that you can’t make a living as a Musicpreneur.

Hello, we live in the most exciting time in the music industry!


Further investigation and resources are necessary to explore the present and future of music, so I reckoned it would be useful to provide some links below. They are either already mentioned in the essay or provide additional context to the issues discussed.

[19] Kirby Ferguson — Everything Is A Remix
[20] Why some social network services work and others don’t — Or: the case for object-centered sociality
[21] The Cluetrain Manifesto
[22] Seth Godin — Tribes

The Problems Musicians Face and How To Solve Them:
Part 1 ~ Part 2 ~ Part 3 ~ Part 4 ~ Part 5 ~ Part 6a ~ Part 6b ~ Part 7

[Photo credit: Studio68.]

Tommy Darker is the writing alter ego of an imaginative independent musician and thinker about the future of the music industry. His vision is to simplify scalable concepts and make them work for independent musicians.

He is a writer about the movement of the #Musicpreneur and founder of Darker Music Talks, a global series of discussions between experts and musicians. He and his work have been featured in Berklee, TEDx, Berlin Music Week, Midem, SAE Institute, Hypebot and Topspin Media. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

This research and essay is proudly patronized by its readers.

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