Resilient musicians: from the individual to a collective
July 22nd, 2021

Musicians are often thought to be a resilient bunch:

  • They have to work jobs on the side to make their music;
  • They face lots of competition from other musicians in getting their music heard;
  • If they do find an audience it's near impossible to monetize them properly, and we're back to the first point

Web3 is about ownership and collectives who share revenues, knowledge, networks. So, if we move away from thinking about resilience as an individual solution to individual problems we'll find a much more interconnected and interdependent collective. It's exactly that kind of collective that Web3 is being built for and around.

A critique of resilience

I previously wrote about resilience and concluded that 'people need to know what's coming in order to find a response to it.' Back then, I argued for affecting resilience in the face of the pandemic. Here, though, my critique of resilience is broader. The computer scientists David Arsenault and Arun Sood laid bare the two opposing definitions of resilience:

One definition, known as engineering resilience, focuses on resistance to disturbance and the rate of return to quilibrium: resilience is the rate at which a system returns to a single steady or cyclic state following a perturbation. The other view of resilience, specifically ecological resilience, focuses on state changes in complex systems: resilience is measured by the magnitude of disturbance that can be absorbed before the system changes its structure by changing the variables and processes that control behavior within the system.

In both cases there are stressors that need to be recovered from. However, in the ecological resilience there is the allowance for change, albeit with an eye to control a certain behavior. What this more complex view of resileince allows me to focus on is how each individual musician, or at most a band, has to face the struggles I mentioned at the start.
At first, a focus on resilience for musicians seemed a positive development as it helped to highlight issues with mental health in an industry that previously left those untouched. The danger, however, is that the fact that you can become more resilient starts to feel like you should be more resilient. This contradiction is wonderfully captured in an interview with Kirsty Kurowski:

In its simplest terms, resilience means getting back up or recovering quickly when you’ve been knocked down, then feeling even stronger than before. It doesn’t mean avoiding failure and it’s not about trying to carry on regardless of how you feel. So it's not about being superhuman!

The second part of that sentence carries a kindness and an awareness that Kurowski also advocates more broadly. In that first part, however, we see the problem: you are resilient when you come out of a struggle stronger than before. That just won't always be the case and it won't affect whether you are resilient or not. There's decades of research into resilience that show the complexity of the concept. And yet, because to be resilient is to bounce back, it's important to bounce back. If you don't, you're not resilient and, to put it bluntly, you won't make it as a musician. But you simply cannot always bounce back. And when you can't or you don't, that's when it's important to have a network.

Web3 & resilience

When you dive into Web3 solutions and protocols and into blockchains and decentralized apps you'll often come across the word resilience. The context relates mostly to a decentralized app or the Web3 more generally becoming more resilient. This is done through, for example, IPFS. Another typical example comes from Audius, which switched their operations from a reliance on a single provider to a network of providers. What's striking about this is how it focuses resilience on the power of the network and a sharing of responsibilities.
Taking this a step into the direction of music we see some great examples of musicians and creatives coming together in DAOs or using tokens to engage with their fans. All of these examples show a network of people coming together, whether that's musicians, songwriters, producers, etc. coming together or whether it's a single artist involving their fans the key issue is the creation of a network effect. In that way, resilience is never an individual thing to have or possess. It's also never something that is internalized in a single musician - or a single band.

The problem of finding your network

The promise of Web3 is vast, mainly because a lot isn't etched in stone yet and the possibilities are bigger than the current results. This gives people freedom to build networks as they want them. First, however, you need to access Web3. And while we're quite used to connecting with our online bank, it's a new concept to, for example, set up a wallet. Early Web3 success stories bridge this gap by providing Web2 tools that people are used to. This kind of middle road leads some to talk about a Web2.5.
The jumping off point, then, doesn't immediately have to be setting up a DAO or launching your own decentralized app to support your music. You may already have a Patreon or similar community, or perhaps you have a small but dedicated following on social media. Whatever it is, the next step is simply to create an environment where everyone in those communities benefits from improving that community. A first step can be to have a discussion with fans about what they would like and how you think they can further advance you in your music.
Aside from fans, networks can also consist of fellow musicians, or fellow songwriters. Taking the example of the Dutch Sisters in Songwriting, they succeeded in creating a wonderful community. In a next iteration, they could consider setting up a songwriting camp as a DAO, helping onboard all the artists onto the Web3 and letting them govern their releases together.

Resilience by design

Whether it's with fans or with a community of artists, what's important is that by sharing responsibilities, potential revenues, and creating a network effect you automatically become more resilient. Even if you don't know what's coming, having a fallback option means you'll bounce back more easily. What's more, it may not even be a bouncing back but an adaptation to a new reality, one where there's new potential for co-creation.

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