When we launched back in May it was during a significant cultural moment in crypto. Protocols and services emerged and new ideas where thrown into the world in a positive frenzy over this pivotal moment for culture on the internet. It was also in the midst of a pandemic that still ravages leading to new restrictions and lockdowns to the detriment of culture workers everywhere. The pandemic has affirmed the need for new ideas and diversity of modes in the ways we curate, distribute and fund music.
Neither Derive, Web3 or crypto in general is a quick fix or some predestined future, but it does provide new and exciting possibilities for artists and audiences alike. We are convinced that only through active participation and engagement can we unearth those possibilities and mould them into useful positive sum tools and frameworks.
Our four genesis chains are slowly but surely building and we are taking great care to make sure Derive will be a project able to live on for many years. We are progressively decentralising the system until one day we'll be able to fully hand everything over to the community. The initial chains have acted as a lab for figuring out what works and what doesn't and we have had to revise the framework, tweak the models and outright discard ideas that, while fun, might not have been essential to the main goal: co-curation of music via a community controlled and decentralised framework.
During the first quarter of 2022 we begin the work of upgrading smart contracts and website in order to implement and formalise the models we have been experimenting with. We have received a grant from the Danish performance rights organisation KODA, which will help us set aside the time needed for fulfilling our ambitions for Derive.
Much of the work around building Derive has been figuring out which models work and and which don’t when we’re talking about music and web3. Since our launch in July we have been tweaking and discussing this issue at length while the web music space has hurled by the window at an ever increasing pace. Auctions for 1/1 music NFTs have hit new record highs and as people are fractionalising these unique digital assets into token backed parts, we are arriving, through a detour, at a format that the industry is all but too well-versed in: Music as collectibles.
Music has no object since it is basically not a physical thing, but merely recognisable sequences of moving air. Its physical embodiment has been whatever medium could hold it, wether it be tapes, vinyls or CDs. With a CD in hand you could go to your friends house and listen to that CD together, you could place your vinyls strategically next to the record player so your guests could see what you were currently listening to. With the move to digital, music collections don’t mean the same anymore. Services like Spotify and Apple Music try to mimic collections, but the disconnect is just too big.
NFTs alleviate some of the disconnect since they are actual moving objects in a digital space, but in most cases permanence is not adequately ensured, since the actual media files are not living inside the NFT. Most often they are stored in varying degrees of decentralised storage, and almost all cases there is only a single URL pointing to the media. That means there is very little insurance that the music you bought is actually going to be available and you very well might end up with an “unplayable” NFT down the line.
Instead of working against these disconnects I will now try to make the case for a model we’re pursuing within Derive and also in my other web3 label project Polly. A model where we lean into the disconnect completely. It requires the following:
The turn of the millenium “information wants to be free”-movement yielded some great innovations in terms of how to think about copyright and file-sharing. People like Lawrence Lessig who pioneered alternative licenses like Creative Commons unlocked new ways for creators and artists to distribute their music freely and legally on the terms they saw fit and even pass those privileges to their audiences. A generation of DIY musicians and audiences could suddenly engage in ways that seemed impossible after nearly a decade of the music industry trying to sue their way out of loosing control of distribution. These new licensing models were necessary and vital to support an emerging remix culture where blogging and bootleg remixes were playing a larger and larger role.
While the discussion around licensing was very productive and produced usable solutions, the issue of remuneration was not adequately addressed. In fact any talk about new economic models were mostly shrugged off with a "deal with it" or met with purely fictitious proposals that were not remotely tethered to reality. It created a split in an else unidirectional push from a new generation of audience and music creators towards a functioning ecosystem for digital-first culture products.
Along came the platforms and their “solutions”. Most were new market speculators eyeing an opportunity for building and controlling new infrastructure for a desperate music business. Few were there to actually help independent actors find and connect with their audience in a world that had decided music should be freely accessible for all.
The solutions were as expected not solutions at all, but merely extractive schemes devised by vampiric outsiders who cared very little for the music scene and very much for their profit margin. And so the whole space of web2 - the protocols, the blogs, the DIY musicians, the remix culture etc. - was co-opted and converted. Music into "content" and community and audience into "users".
I've often used the term autonomy when I've tried to describe what it is about Web3 that excites me so. Autonomy to me is the ability to act, to evolve and react to the things around you. In music it means being able to change modes, have new ideas and test them, work on new styles and explore novel approaches to your praxis. For me, everything about being a recording artist is equally important; the ways in which I conceptualise thoughts into music is just as important as how I present them to the world in writing and visual style. The way I present my work means something.
When I don't have the full palette at my disposal, when I am not able to work freely from my beginning to my end, I loose some of that meaning. Work becomes disrupted sentences, syntactically lacking, low resolution images that convey something but what is distorted by the medium.
To front the third of four genesis chains we bring you Anja T. Lahrmann, a composer, producer and musician who has been performing as Excelsior since 2015.
The voice is often the aorta in Lahrmann’s body of work. She approaches composition as narrative sequences in which vocal structures, melodic lines and chords unfold alongside chains of digital processing like small paths in a landscape.
Having developed her musical persona by positioning herself amongst varying constellations of musicians, she tends to see herself more as a collaborator than a frontwoman bouncing openly against the borders of collectivism and DIY.