Musician Damon Krukowski has already made waves with one Pitchfork op-ed on streaming music royalties. He returned to the debate on Friday with a thoughtful new piece subtitled ‘How the music industry could learn from open-source culture, and why a decentralized network of musicians and fans should lead the way forward’.
His theory is that artists and fans still “keep being left out of the equation” in deals between rightsholders and technology companies, and that the solution may be artists going their own way with music streams.
“So let them flow freely – from everyone, fans included – instead of only from companies that have cut deals with the copyright holders. Services like Spotify might continue to operate as they are, with their pittance of revenue sharing, but they would have to compete in an open market of free streaming by musicians and fans,” writes Krukowski.
“What I am envisioning is something like what has developed for music posting via YouTube, but allowed to proliferate throughout the network, without corporate control over context or quality.”
That sounds quite a lot like a service that already exists: SoundCloud. Except just like Spotify, it’s a VC-funded company with a potentially-lucrative exit via acquisition or IPO ahead fuelled by the music content that’s available on it.
Which is not to criticise that company, but more to point out that thus far, the demands of building a service capable of distributing streaming music at scale have required a level of funding that invites suspicion about artists’ music ultimately enriching investors and technology executives.
But perhaps we’re thinking too narrowly – too centralised – about the potential. It’s true that artists can knit together a more-diverse patchwork of tools and services to make their music available and (hopefully) make money from it, with these services’ APIs making that possible.
Yet there are some interesting questions here about how discovery and sharing works across these services: what the equivalent of a Spotify playlist is for a decentralised network of musicians and fans, and how recommendations are generated and delivered for example.
SoundCloud, The Echo Nest, Tomahawk, Bandcamp, Topspin and others are finding some of these answers, but it’s still early days.