🔵 The Decline of Convenience Culture: A Forecast for 2024
Why quality over convenience may be techno utopianism's biggest challenge yet, and what that means for music.
It was with great interest that I read coverage of the Andreessen Horowitz (often referred to as a16z) submission to the US Copyright Office with regards to the threats posed by AI. I feel it perfectly illustrates the inflection point we are now at, and why 2024 might be a turning point for the techno utopian vision so loved by the likes of a16z.
This quote, I feel, typifies the a16z position when it comes to art and copyright:
"The overwhelming majority of the time, the output of a generative AI service is not 'substantially similar' in the copyright sense to any particular work that was used to train the model."
There are two thoughts here. First, it generally depends on what the model was trained on. As David Guetta has shown, if you feed any AI platform enough Eminem acapellas, you get something that sounds a lot like Eminem.
Second, one might argue that the output of these works is not substantially similar - until they evolve enough such that it is. By that point, of course, the genie is out of the bottle and it won't go back in. Unsurprisingly, that would also be the point when a16z's investments will likely be worth their most.
Reading this all brought to mind my favourite article of last year, courtesy of
Look around and the signs are everywhere. Elon Musk’s behaviour of late may be the most obvious; accusations of buried evidence surrounding deaths caused by driving, alleged interference in wars, dodging labour laws, ignoring calls from nation states to adhere to laws ... the list is so long that I still marvel at the fact he is not yet in jail.
The attitude, however, is the one reflective of most of Silicon Valley: smash everything and start anew, with control sitting firmly with Big Tech.
However what Broderick's article also argues is that the one thing Silicon Valley tries and repeatedly fails to destroy, is coolness. Perhaps even worse for US big business, the places where coolness is controlled are now moving overseas to Chinese-owned businesses like TikTok and Shein.
Going a step further though, I'd argue that even Broderick's article itself demonstrates something else: the mask is slipping, and people are increasingly tuning into the fact that technology is not, despite what techno utopianists like Marc Andreesen might argue, the answer to everything.
That is not to say it isn't the answer to some things - possibly even a lot of them. AI remains the perfect case in point. Is there a huge victory in it copying Eminem's voice? Not really. However is there a victory in it being used to help create better music, or (perhaps more controversially) to rescue John Lennon's voice from a dusty tape demo? Absolutely.
A good friend once said to me that marketing should be data informed, not data led. It is a maxim I've professionally lived by ever since. I would argue a similar position resides around AI: in music, it could be a great assistant, but working to make it replace musicians outright is a fool's errand.
Why? Because humans value authenticity - and over time, we're coming to value it all the more.
This is why I feel 2024 could be a really interesting inflection point. AI is now facing its largest tests, both among its public userbase, but also at a governmental level too.
A common refrain among AI doomsayers is that AI will replace us all, or that there is very little it cannot replace. This may be true; time will tell. However humanity is coming to learn that these conveniences do not necessarily make for a greater outcome.
That is why I feel the same inflection point is coming in 2024. We have had a decade or more of 'absolute convenience', which in this context means the ability to stream any music near instantly.
The problem is that this surfeit of music has overwhelmed most people, and the signs are starting to show. Album consumption is down. Hit singles are determined as much by 'lean back' listens at volume on DSPs as they are by 'lean in' behaviour like actively searching for (and then playing) a song. It simply doesn’t feel worth much any more.
Ironically, through 2023, rights holders like Universal fought for the thing they like the most: money. The conversation has been about how to squeeze more top tier artists from the same streaming ecosystem.
What these companies may have missed is that we are peaking on convenience culture in general, and that 2024 might yet prove to be the year where people seek out more qualitative, meaningful ways to discover music and culture.
People are all too aware that most things can be had near-instantly. The convenience of unlimited access has proven an oddly unrewarding phenomenon. Instead of enjoying everything more, we’ve devalued it and now it just doesn’t mean anything at all. Over time then, value is going to start shifting back to things carrying a much more enriching level of connection and reward, because people still care about investing value into things. It is a part of the human condition.
The techno utopianists argue that technology is the solution to everything. However art, music and culture are all cornerstones, defining aspects even, of humanity, and 2024 might just be the year when those values step forward all the more.
Have a great weekend,
🎶 listening to “Bull’s Dozing” by Fila Brazilia. This is a song I played to death on many, many a late night/early morning when I was still hyper from a great night clubbing and desperately needing to wind down. Too many great songs from these guys, be sure to check the whole catalogue.
📺 watching “Good News in 2023 (you might have missed)” by Sam Bentley. If you’re starting 2024 feeling blue, watch this to have a welcome counterbalance of positive things that happened in 2023. (Hat tip to my colleague Tom for the link!)
🤖 playing with Google’s Emoji Kitchen, which let’s you mash up two emoji into one brand new one. If like us you use Slack, this will be manna from heaven for new emoji you didn’t know you needed, like the “power vomit” one you can spin up by combining 🤬 and 🤮 Another hat tip to Tom for that one too!
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Stories from the Music Industry:
TheTicketingBusiness.com, which reached out to several individuals affected by the latest cuts, understands that most of the staff members responsible for Spotify’s presence in the direct ticketing space were made redundant. According to one former employee, Spotify has indicated to remaining engineers at the company that it will seek to revitalise its attempts to gain a foothold in the space before the end of 2024. However, given the apparent failure of its initial venture, it remains to be seen whether such goals are more likely to be fulfilled through the M&A route.
👆🏻Hot take: I’ve not seen this reported elsewhere. Interesting if correct, however. Expect more coverage on this next week if it is confirmed.
“The overwhelming majority of the time, the output of a generative AI service is not ‘substantially similar’ in the copyright sense to any particular copyrighted work that was used to train the model,” states the submission, filed October 30, which can be read in full here. “Even researchers employing sophisticated attacks on AI models have shown extremely small rates of memorization.”
👆🏻Hot take: see my comments in today’s intro.
The sync that has sent it shooting back to prominence is a key scene in Saltburn, the gothic thriller film that was released in cinemas last November, and then on Amazon’s Prime Video just before Christmas. Ellis-Bextor isn’t the only artist enjoying unexpected virality in 2023. Mason and Princess Superstar’s ‘Perfect (Exceeder)’ also features in Saltburn, and at the time of writing is fifth on Spotify’s Viral 50 – USA chart. It was originally released in 2006.
👆🏻Hot take: I suspect this is more proof of the continued power of TV and film to really highlight a hit rather than more grist to the “old music is overtaking new music” mill.
Considering the complexity of the above – let’s address the bigger need. We need a well-resourced, information, and data-sharing collective hub similar to those established in other industries decades ago. This hub must be built from active relationships within the music industry and function as an 'outside entity' to its members. A collective hub would be key in prevention while clearing innovation's commercial runway.
👆🏻Hot take: a great article from former SoundCloud exec Mike Pelczynski regarding streaming fraud, how it is evolving and what can be done about it. Worth reading if like me you’re somewhat under-informed on the topic.
Stories from the Broader World of Tech:
Every platform hosts its share of racists, white nationalists, and other noxious personalities. In some very real sense, there is no escaping them online. But there ought to be ways to see them less; to recommend them less; to fund them less. Other platforms have realized this as they’ve grown up. Here’s hoping Substack does the same.
👆🏻Hot take: a great, balanced take from Casey Newton regarding Substack’s poor handling of its hosting Nazi content. I would like to think this doesn’t need saying, but no, I don’t want to share a platform with people preaching violence against others and whatever other hate speech. Yes, censorship is a tricky area, but on this one it feels like Substack are failing to see sense.
Twitch is changing its sexual content policies again, this time to prohibit implied nudity on the platform. The platform already prohibits nudity, but Twitch’s new attire policy, which goes into effect today, also doesn’t allow streamers to “imply or suggest that they are fully or partially nude,” chief customer trust officer Angela Hession says in a blog post.
👆🏻Hot take: TBH I don’t think this is news per se, unless you’re a Twitch streamer planning to undress anyway. Its inclusion is because this feels like another disastrous handling regarding policies on-platform. Among smaller businesses I can understand it, but how many people have to see and approve these kinds of changes at Amazon/Twitch? Embarrassing.
Need something else to read? Here you go:
Many feel unhappy with their dependence on their cellphone, a wide-ranging Guardian project has found, but some insist not all screen time is equal
👆🏻Hot take: arguably this lends more weight to a general pervading sense that technology is not the answer to everything, and that in fact we’re now looking for more qualitative connection (and entertainment) elsewhere.
British influencer posted a weekly video for 10 years, about everything from pegasus crossings to the National Grid
👆🏻Hot take: this is something I noticed a fair bit as the new year started - i.e. creators announcing that they were either quitting altogether, or dialling things right back due to burnout. A sign of shifting attitudes maybe?
Who am I and who are Motive Unknown?
I’m Darren and I’m the MD of Motive Unknown. I started the company back in 2011. Since then we’ve grown to a team of 20, representing some 25 indie labels in the marketing strategy space, as well as working with artists directly.
Our artist clients cover anything from top-tier pop (Spice Girls, Robbie Williams) through hip hop (Run The Jewels, Dessa), electronic (Underworld, Moby) and more. Our label clients take in Dirty Hit (The 1975, Beabadoobee) Partisan Records (IDLES, Fontaines DC), Domino Records (Arctic Monkeys, Wet Leg), Warp Records (Aphex Twin, Danny Brown), LuckyMe (Baauer, Hudson Mohawke), and Lex Records (MF DOOM, Eyedress) among others.
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