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Open Channel: Welcome to the Renaissance!

Has the Internet democratized music? Well, sorta. But a model that turned over artistic and financial control to the fans would be true democratization.

Craig Anderton
Craig Anderton

“Finding a game-changing credible act and promoting it? That’s not done. Instead, the labels are marketing giants, promoting that which has already been proven by individuals online.” —Bob Lefsetz

Good point. So…why not let the inmates run the asylum?

The record industry used to hold the power. It decided which artists would get signed and promoted. Where they would record, when they would tour. Then, those decisions trickled down through the filters of radio stations, promoters and record stores. At the end of that line, consumers voted with their dollars about whether the record companies got it right. Those days are gone.

Today, the fans hold the power. They decide which artists are going to break millions of streams, and whether TikTok will overtake Instagram. They discover artists, click on “like” and subscribe, then spread the word. The artists know streaming services won’t really help them, because streaming services have as much to do with art as food trucks do with farming—both just wait until the harvest, and run with it. Streaming services or record labels rarely make or break artists. It’s fans.

So…why not let the inmates run the asylum?


There is a precedent. Go back almost 20 years to the Weed file-sharing model (as in, “spreads like a weed”). It turned the Napster paradigm on its head by paying people to share files. Weed encoded the artist’s files with digital rights management (DRM), then sent the files back to the artist—who could stream the files, put them on a website, duplicate on physical media, whatever. But here’s where it got interesting.

Listeners could play a Weed file three times for free. The fourth time, a pop-up asked if you wanted to buy it, at a price set by the artist. If you didn’t buy it, you couldn’t play it anymore. But if you did buy it…

Fifty percent went to the artist, and 15 percent to Weed. The other 35 percent was held in reserve so that it could turn every listener into a distributor and A&R department. Suppose I bought the song, thought you’d like it, and sent you the file. Then you bought it. The artist still got 50 percent and Weed 15, but now I received a 20 percent “finder’s fee.” If you sent it to someone and they bought it, you got 20 percent, and I received an additional 10 percent. And if the person you sent it to forwarded it to someone else who bought it, 10 percent went to you, and I received the final 5 percent.

Then that particular trail would end for me, which is why this wasn’t multi-level marketing. But it also didn’t have to be the only trail. I could forward that file as much as I wanted.


Listeners could cover their cost of listening to music, or even make a profit. For example, maybe some college kid launches “Sophia’s Super Soca” newsletter and forwards the hottest new releases to subscribers (hey, I’d subscribe). All the people who buy some of those Soca hits, and pass them along, help feed Sophia’s cottage industry.

Weed was Windows-only because it used Microsoft’s DRM, but when the DRM evolved, the modifications Weed made to accommodate its paradigm were broken. That, and a lack of Mac support, doomed Weed before it could even start to get traction.

But today, we have blockchain platforms that could handle this kind of transaction easily. You wouldn’t just click on “like,” you’d buy into becoming a distributor/promoter, and you could get paid for it. Every fan would become an A&R person, discovering and promoting new acts. The current “suggestion” algorithms, which simply recommend more music like what’s already in your silo, would be replaced by real people making choices about what you might like—and getting paid if they’re right.


What about music being free, you ask, and consumers not being interested in owning things anymore? Well, with Weed everything was free until you decided you liked one song enough to play it more than three times. Fans generally want to support their favorite artists—so when buying a file can give fans the opportunity to get paid for supporting their favorite artists, that’s an entirely different ownership model than downloading a file from Apple Music.

Has the Internet democratized music? Well, sorta. But a model that turned over artistic and financial control to the fans would be true democratization. The fans would become not just the consumers—they would become the business. The business wouldn’t be based on music filtering down from record companies, but filtering up from individuals. Yes, you. The individuals. The fans. The people who go crazy when they find some great new artist. The people with the passion and love of music that could fuel the Renaissance.

What upstart company is going to build on the kind of concept Weed started, put together some blockchain platform expertise—and let the inmates run the asylum?

It could happen…