By Erki Koldits, CEO and co-founder, PopSpot
“Yeah, they’re great but they were so much better before they sold out.” Whether it’s a formerly independent musician who’s signed to a major record label or an underground mural artist that’s started taking on corporate commissions, it’s a sentiment we’re all familiar with (and may even have expressed one point or another).
It’s understandable too. Taking a more mainstream approach to their careers inevitably means that creators have to play it safe and take fewer risks. But for many creators, there’s no other option. The average musician in South Africa, for example, earns less than R10 000 a month. If that’s what you’re taking home every month and a record deal (with all the promotion that it entails) gives you a chance at earning a decent living, you’ll take it.
Fortunately, technology is changing that reality. By allowing creators to interact with, and get support directly from, their fans, they also get a much better shot at retaining a sense of authenticity.
A broken system for creators and fans
The very fact that the concept of “selling out” exists should tell us that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the mechanisms currently in place to support creators. If creators were able to live comfortably on their own terms and keep creating the art they want, then there’s every chance that they would.
But that becomes difficult to do when you’re putting out multiple albums annually to try and maintain your streaming revenues while still gigging for most of the year and doing all the social networking stuff necessary to promote yourself as an artist. For visual artists, the situation may be even worse. Without enough commissions, they could literally end up on the streets.
And while corporate collaborations can be a useful income stream, they come with their own pitfalls. Unless you’re a very high-profile artist, for example, the brand usually has much more creative control over the collaboration than you do. And if the brand ends up in hot water for something (such as poor environmental practices or unequal gender pay), then you’re forever tainted by association.
In recent years, some players in the technology space have tried to rectify this situation by providing avenues for fans to directly support their creators. Buoyed by the willingness of fans to back projects on platforms such as Kickstarter, they started building platforms where people could back creators for their ongoing work.
Perhaps the most high-profile of these is Patreon, which allows creators to run their own subscription services. While it’s a step in the right direction – and has allowed podcasters, musicians, video essayists, and other creators to build sustainable independent incomes – it still falls short in several ways. Supporters, for instance, are typically forced to go to other platforms if they want to consume the content put out by the creators. It also does little to simplify the effort creators have to put in when it comes to promoting themselves across a range of social media platforms.
The Web3 way
Fortunately, Web3 (the decentralised, blockchain-centric vision for the future of the web) is providing an avenue for solving these and many other of the issues that creators face. For one thing, its decentralised nature means that creators are much better placed to build authentic communities with their fans in the same place as they drop new pieces of creative output.
It also means that using platforms like PopSpot creators can pursue multiple revenue streams in one place, including subscriptions, once-off NFTs, and merchandising sales. Crucially, creators can also provide fans with incentives for promoting them, including rewards and payment. By cutting out middlemen like studios and promoters, it’s possible to create a much more authentic ecosystem that centres the creator-fan relationship and fosters ongoing creativity. And even if an artist decides to collaborate with a brand they’re in a much better position to do so in a way that aligns with their values and who they are as an artist because they have a visible and active community that directly supports them.
A number of pioneering creators have seen the potential this model offers and are embracing it wholehearted. In South Africa, look out for announcements from the likes of Costa Titch and Moozlie in the very near future for an idea of how it’ll play out locally.
Selling out is hard to do
Of course, there will still be creators who’ll be perceived to have sold out. But there will be many fewer who have to do so to keep food on the table. With the direct, ongoing support of their fans, they’ll face fewer commercial pressures and will be in a much better place to produce truly authentic content. That can only be a good thing.