thoughts on participation

December 22nd, 2021

since April 2021 I’ve been keeping a journal, documenting my thoughts on web3 semi-privately in a stream-of-conscious manner. i am now attempting to organize all of these loosely congruent ideas into several more digestible, cohesive pieces. broadly, my focus is on music and media in the context of web3. more granularly, i am simultaneously navigating different contexts: onboarding an existing record label community from a traditional landscape over to web3, and starting a new one altogether natively from within web3. both have unique challenges which i’ll be sharing thoughts and observations on here. if you’re already acclimated and involved in web3, wonderful, great, that’s awesome. i’m not really talking to you here, though. i personally don’t think enough is happening to build actual bridges and showcase use cases for what’s possible for creatives in web3 and so these posts will be my attempt at hopefully making this all feel more accessible to artists that aren’t yet involved, but might be interested.

participation as criticism

i’ve been thinking more about the differences between how i view web3 tools and how people-who-vehemently-despise-them view them—but also the similarities. what common ground exists in our mutual concerns and perceptions?

❌ “web3 is bad, actually” or “web3 is good, actually”

✅ “web3 is bad, actually” and “web3 is good, actually”

i ~personally~ think PFP (profile picture) projects (like Bored Ape Yacht Club and a bonkers amount of others you’ve surely seen on Twitter) are mostly unimaginative, [currently] mostly useless, and are complicit, generally, in perpetuating existing structural shortcomings in how we onboard and start new networks currently (use your wealth to acquire an asset). the communities and experiences around them are mostly, imo, pretty insufferable (lol sorry just calling it how i see it 😅) and feel akin to those of the speculative ICO bubble of 2017. presently, most have steep costs without delivering much in the way of utility or benefit—or, tbh, even aesthetics—aside from status which i personally view as unhelpful and VERY alienating at this stage. i have a hunch NFT naysayers feel similarly. we’re probably not far off on environmental concerns, philosophical concerns, and other ideological issues in web3 more generally too.

Jeff and my friend Sadie here both for sure speak for most everyone in independent music rn with these takes (lol, myself included), but it's the result of a perception that persists despite a vibrant community flourishing beyond the scope of PFP "generative" art. for now, PFPs have stunted the wider public's imagination of what this technology can potentially unlock.
Jeff and my friend Sadie here both for sure speak for most everyone in independent music rn with these takes (lol, myself included), but it's the result of a perception that persists despite a vibrant community flourishing beyond the scope of PFP "generative" art. for now, PFPs have stunted the wider public's imagination of what this technology can potentially unlock.

i get it though; we’re early days in a giant sandbox at the convergence of emergent digital tools, value, and art—most anything being built rn ostensibly has merit in an explorative sense. to be clear, i am not wanting to come off as outright dismissive of PFP projects and am not a utility-maxi when it comes to what unique digital assets should be. I think it’s awesome so much of this stuff exists as just, ART! PFP’s are simply what’s attracting most of the hype and attention currently, and so the more mainstream perception and narrative resultantly centers them when addressing concerns and possibilities (i.e.: jpegs that burn trees so Todd here can say he OwNs🤪 something no one else does from the confines of his new flat in Lisbon, “art” as money laundering vehicle, scams and/or pyramid schemes and ponzis, etc.—we all know the common talking points). if discourse about energy consumption, headlines about nine-figure Beeples and ape jpgs are all you know about NFTs and web3, yeah, I get that you’re gonna for sure have a um, [probably averse] Opinionnnn about this stuff! i’m hoping to illustrate that there’s much more to it than those examples, and that many exciting things are possible, but a cultural shift is required to make this more approachable. for starters, let’s stop calling them fucking NFTs. an “NFT" is very simply just a receipt for having participated in something and henceforth that’s what i’ll be calling it: a digital receipt. i don’t even love that as a name, but it has straight up got to be something different.

participation as signal

since i’m not really aiming my words here at web3-native audiences, it’s important to me to communicate my position on why i want to get involved with this vvv imperfect space rn despite (and because of!) the many various concerns i have with it; and to hopefully compel others that are skeptical, curious, or on the fence about it to do the same.

one thing i’m especially excited about with web3 tools, is the ability to bake in altruistic behavior. a foundational premise for me in my approach to shifting Topshelf Records to—and launching sone within—web3 is to thoughtfully signal what is important to us via the ongoing funding of public goods, the redistribution of value, and the amplifying of oppressed and systemically overlooked voices (the word ‘sone’ is defined as “a unit, used to measure the subjective perception of loudness”, and i think we can all agree there’re some voices that need to be subjectively perceived as louder than others rn). these are not one-time gestures, they are hardwired into the underpinnings and ongoing operations of these endeavors. governments and corporations aren’t going to do this work, but communities can and will—especially if organized in ways that treat enabling and empowering it as foundational.

other ways i’m seeing people thoughtfully shape this ecosystem are within the oft criticized environmental impact side of web3. the Celo blockchain has been carbon negative for 598 days and counting as i write this, and other proof of stake alternatives exist already that significantlyyyy reduce carbon emissions like Tezos, Near, Polygon, Solana, and many others. Ethereum itself is also in the midst of migrating to a proof of stake algorithm called Eth2 which will sunset their existing carbon-creating proof of work infrastructure and drastically reduce both emissions and network congestion. also, did you know?: an Amazon worker is allowed to sit and think about the warm touch of a loved one for a few seconds every time centrally controlled web infrastructure is moved from AWS to decentralized competitors like Arweave or IPFS? the above examples only scratch the surface, f’real.

it’s important to acknowledge that topically, the environmental impact of blockchains has moved considerably up the hierarchy of concerns (and marketable traits) among builders and proponents of these networks. this is in large part because of the backlash received from web3 and digital receipt opponents. it’s a super valid critique, so, if that’s you, thanks for participating in socially signaling this viewpoint ;)!

a cursory scan of the current web3 ecosystem yields so many amazing, paradigm-shifting, inspiring, empowering things that have long-term promise to challenge and force change to existing systems, re-organize currently inequitable structures, and have the means to re-distribute and re-contextualize our relationship with value itself. however, i also see a lot to be concerned about short-term in this nascent space—environmental, onboarding, representative, co-option, personnel, geo-specific, educational, etc., etc., etc.—concerns are all vvv reeeaaalll.

despite this dichotomy, if we can embrace using this stuff, and participate in shaping it, it can become something that’s valuable and useful for us and our communities long term. what is the cost of not building and experimenting with this new digital frontier and letting Facebook/Meta, et al build it for us? by participating we imbue potentially useful—but currently flawed—web3 architecture with mechanisms that better represent and signal our shared values and ideologies.

participation as value

a couple months ago, a popular digital receipt marketplace abruptly shutdown. unlike the countless Google products, Geocities, or our beloved Vine though, this platform shutting down didn’t affect the value of artist’s work because their work exists on an open, interoperable protocol that is inherently platform agnostic. the platform in web3 is just a shell: the presentational layer of the underlying protocol that you can engage with. as an artist, you can create work in this setting without fear of a platform shifting the goal posts, or slowly locking you out from your own audience unless you boost your posts, or forcing you to game an algorithm to get traction to reach your own audience, or just outright shutting down and taking down all of your content with it. why do we we put up with this shit currently?? why do we accept it as normal and how things are?? NO MORE GOOFY SHIT LFGGGG!!!

Facebook/Meta, Google, Twitter, etc. all exist because our data, in aggregate, has value. the communities we create and participate in on these platforms create value for them, but we don’t get to share in that value. that is going to change and become an obsolete model. this is a change i think everyone is vvvv mentally ready for, even though we keep showing up to the social media trough every day. it’s just a matter of creating frictionless viable alternatives:

Imagine if the Facebook community got so sick of Mark Zuckerberg that they decided to copy the code for the site, then run a version of it themselves. And imagine if the new site outperformed Facebook within a week, despite Zuckerberg’s billions.

our communities have value and we should have sovereignty over that. in web3, if i don’t like the direction a platform is going, i can leave, copy it, and start fresh. none of the data is proprietary in an environment where all data exists on an open protocol. if enough people agree with me, and come with me, then THAT’S THE COMMUNITY. if an outside force tries to capture the value of a community, that community can move elsewhere, retaining the value they create.

you’ve probably heard of GoDaddy. GoDaddy is a publicly traded corporation that is in the business of leasing TLDs (Top Level Domains), like, for example. to own a stake in the company, you have to purchase shares of $GDDY stock on the NYSE via a brokerage. typically, companies that “go public” in this way do so by listing shares of their stock on the stock market and allocate shares proportionally to early investors and the like. i have used GoDaddy’s services for nearly two decades, but i have nothing to show for it. web3 questions this convention, and flips the script, incentivizing and rewarding participation. Bas Grasmayer covers this dynamic more in his fantastic musings with MUSIC x. I’d want to quote some of it here, but honestly, I think you should just read the whole thing to get it in context.

you’ve maybe not heard of ENS. ENS stands for Ethereum Name Service, and they are also in the business of leasing TLDs. until November 8th, 2021, they were a traditionally structured privately held company. on that date though, they retroactively rewarded anyone who had ever used their service via an airdrop of their new $ENS token. overnight, anyone who had ever registered an .xyz or .eth name with ENS (the only domains they oversee currently), was rewarded proportionately with $ENS for their past participation with the platform. $ENS, like a share of $GDDY stock, has both value and utility, giving holders equity and decision-making power. the difference is that instead of having to buy shares or be an early investor to realize that value like with $GDDY and other publicly traded companies, $ENS holders were given it, for past participation in utilizing the ENS platform. $ENS holders now exclusively own and govern the future direction of the company. this is a huge paradigm shift and something I am personally very excited about exploring with Topshelf Records.

it’s also worth noting that .eth names (like mine, kevind.eth, for example) are themselves digital receipts. there’s a whole world of utility and inventiveness happening around digital receipts far beyond the scope of the jpgs i described at the top of this piece. something that’s also unique to web3, and that i have touched on previously, is the idea that kevind.eth is my login in this context. when i interact with web3 applications, i do so as kevind.eth for each, rather than via a platform-specific identity that is confined to each platform. in this context, platforms actually serve me and i take my stuff with me wherever i go, beholden to no platform. no more goofy shit, and now the value of the data we create isn’t solely mined by platforms, but is instead open to everyone to build with, creating infinite contexts and networks, with endless use cases.

with that in mind, let’s consider sone, for example. sone’s wallet address (0x6Fc790fcdB4362EFDa408CA57f14cD2Af5573916) is our username (soneworks.eth) which is our profile ( which is our login to get access to things we own or have permission to. this creates a whole new way to “be online” that centers individuals rather than platforms. the platform logs into you.

taking a closer look at sone’s wallet, you’ll see we own some digital receipts already. one of which we received for helping to fund LA-based record label Leaving Records’ initial steps to becoming a community operated label which they’re dubbing GENRE DAO. the digital receipt serves as an on-chain receipt for this connection, which can be further built upon at a later date should Leaving (or their community) decide to grant different permissions, rewards, or access to early supporters of their cause (like us!). for participating in their Discord server, i was given some $GENRE, which is the governing token for GENRE DAO, giving me a small voice in the direction of future processes within their community. sone also has a digital receipt for supporting Ampled, which is an alternative to Patreon for musicians; run as a co-op, and entirely owned by the participants that use it. this digital receipt was sold as a fundraiser to bolster Ampled’s efforts to fund web3 explorations within their own community. for our contribution toward that cause, we received a lifetime membership to their platform, and some cool merch—plus the digital receipt itself, of course.

other ways i see this manifesting are popping up daily. for example, Water and Music’s community just raised 20 ETH ($89,264.45 atm) in twenty-four hours on this very platform you are reading this sentence on!! admittedly, this support was almost exclusively from stalwart supporters and native web3/music enthusiasts, but it’s still an impressive show of what a nascent idea can flourish into in a short time. funds were allocated to all participants who contributed to the research, artwork, etc. as well as the Water and Music treasury so they can continue to fund future work.

to this point, i’ve focused on communities, but individual artists are realizing the value of their work by participating in direct relationships with their fans as well. Latasha recently sold a music video for 3.4207 WETH ($53,722.85 USD at time of sale) via an interoperable, no-fee, open marketplace called Zora. importantly, the sale of this canonical version of the video doesn’t prohibit her from releasing it in a more traditional way. the video exists on Youtube with 31k streams, the song is on all streaming platforms, etc.. i think there is a common perception that a work existing as a digital receipt disqualifies it from existing in other contexts when, in practice, the opposite is in fact true and tbh, strongly encouraged by all parties.

Another artist creating in both traditional and web3 contexts is Jamison Isaak, under the moniker Teen Daze (whom Topshelf has released music with many years ago). Isaak released Interior just last week through Cascine. The album’s on all streaming platforms, available on physical formats, and receiving proper distribution. all of these traditional means of releasing music are completely unaffected by Isaak’s web3 aspirations existing in parallel: he’s sold a digital receipt of lead single “Translation” for 1 WETH ($3997.25 currently) on a platform called Catalog. Catalog itself operates on Zora’s open protocol (in fact, so does the platform you are reading this piece on rn, Mirror), and operates a fee-less structure wherein artists can realize 100% of the value of their work. if the individual who purchased “Translation” ever sells it to someone else, Isaak will automatically receive 25% of that sale, in perpetuity. there’s never been a mechanism for artists to participate in getting paid on secondary sales of their work before, but web3 unlocks this for artists.

this three-tweet sequence from @HaleekMaul kinda says it all imo
this three-tweet sequence from @HaleekMaul kinda says it all imo

participation as equity

i’ll keep this simple. equity is a word that gets wielded too frequently out of context. i’m talking about equity for structurally marginalized people, not margins on $PEOPLE. web3, done right, offers a reset. thinking on the music communities i’ve been privy to over the last twenty years, if the ideologies we collectively espouse actually matter to us, then i think we should look to web3 as a blank slate to enact the internet we actually want.

participation as narrative

i consider myself an avid web3 enthusiast but also someone who’s skeptical and critical of what is being built, who’s building it, and why. i identify strongly with having enthusiasm for the potential of web3 communities and interoperable tooling, but also being openly critical of how we implement it all. so i think it’s important to hold space for both enthusiasm and criticism simultaneously. by participating in transparent and open networks, we can shape them over time to better suit our needs and interests—and importantly—address our concerns and criticisms until they suit our narrative. as Linda Xie points out,

“The technology potential is undeniable but still heavily impacted by how people design/use it”.

i’m imagining putting on a show where the performers and the attendees all get paid to do something they all would have shown up and done anyway (see you at sx?). i’m imagining a group of like-minded strangers coming together to buy a building in their neighborhood to create a community space with. i’m imagining ways to sustainably support journalists, musicians, researchers, poets, and creatives in every sense. i’m imagining a not-too-distant future where online communities overlap and do things like help fund public goods and services, sustainably fund creative endeavors, and re-distribute wealth. stuff that spills over from URL to IRL and has lasting effects. society has always funded the arts, but i think the inverse to be possible as well.

Songcamp was the first community I joined in web3 and was what definitely got my gears turning. it was the first time i saw any of the ideas i had loosely formulated in my own head play out in real time—and with wildly exciting results. Songcamp eventually went on to spawn a narrative-based participatory rollout for releasing music called ELEKTRA where listeners had to work together to find clues and solve problems that unlocked different pieces of music and experiences. getting to be behind-the-scenes seeing a team of dozens of individuals from disparate creative backgrounds come together to execute a complete, fully-realized shared vision was nothing short of AWESOME. it’s around this time though that, while recognizing what was happening was novel, compelling, and straight up ground-breaking, it no longer suited my narrative. and that’s something i want to communicate here: show up, try things in this space, but also it’s all good if it’s not 100% your thing. this should be fun! this is fun! find your people, find your zone. and if you don’t think it exists, idk, fuck it—start your own.

i don’t think i can speak about narrative without touching on ConstitutionDAO, which is an impromptu community that memed itself into existence to the tune of $47 million USD being pooled together by 17,437 participants tooooooo, uhhhhhhhh, buy one of the last remaining original copies of the United States constitution at auction from Sotheby’s. they were eventually outbid by a rich fuck hedge fund billionaire. despite the failure of their intended goal, the premise is still intriguing to me. not because i think any of this is particularly exciting (i think at least 3/5ths of the constitution sucks ass), but because even though they failed, thousands of people still hold the token that held all of this together. and while the core team behind ConstitutionDAO itself has stated the project has now run its course and concluded, the token’s value is actually up now as i write this, and a sizable chunk of the community has decided to stay, potentially utilizing the project’s token to collectively vote on new goals and a new narrative.

participation as reputation

you’ve by now hopefully realized how much overlap exists between all of these participatory similes. we’re entering a new interdependent internet and it runs on participation. i’ve contributed to several different communities in web3. i’ve started one of my own. i’ve joined some and dipped after it just wasn’t my thing, i’ve also joined some with intentions to contribute and ultimately let people down when i didn’t show up 100%. all of that matters in any context, of course, but in web3 the groundwork is in place so you can simply get involved and eventually find yourself on the path to a sustainable version of whatever it is you’re seeking, all by your reputation: what you’ve shown up for, what you’ve made or built, and what you’ve participated in. helping is a fucking currency now, y’all. we’re playing positive sum games. i think that’s really cool. when everything you do is viewable on an open, transparent, immutable, un-censorable public ledger, it literally pays to behave altruistically. read that again and tryyy and tell me the way the internet is rn is fine.

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