From a financial perspective, the pandemic has hit the creator class hard. With the usual venues for live performances and exhibitions closed, artists, musicians, singers, actors, and creators of every description have been forced to fend for themselves. But something very new, and kind of amazing, has happened over the past year. The result may be the emergence of a first-time-ever, self-sufficient, profitable creator class.
The stereotype of a “starving artist” is old and hackneyed. Fine artists aren’t supposed to care about stuff like food or shelter. They’ve been “suffering for their art” for centuries. Dancers aren’t big eaters, so no one ever thinks about “starving dancers.” But musicians haven’t fared much better. Papa Bach was a church organist and an organ repairman on the side. Mozart was always borrowing money from his friends and relatives, although he did make some real money now and again. Beethoven didn’t die poor, but he also lived from commission to commission. Prior to 2021, there is one thing that every artist has had in common with every other artist who ever lived: they practiced their art at the pleasure of a patron.
Whether a monarch, a rich person, a corporation, a media company, a label, a museum, a you-fill-in-the blank, someone with money has funded practically every art project ever. There are a few notable exceptions, of course. But they do not prove the rule. In modern history, the vast majority of artists (no matter the artform) have both wanted and needed the equivalent of a “recording contract with a major label” in order to eat and pay the rent while attempting to accomplish their artistic goals.
The Mother of Invention
The creator class has undergone one of the most noticeable pandemic-accelerated digital transformations. Visit YouTube or TikTok or Instagram or any other social video site, and you are sure to find a creator fully empowered with direct-to-consumer (DTC) business tools. From payment processing to analytics to production capabilities, literally everything a creator needs to “get paid” is available with little or no investment. This is more than a digital version of passing the hat to support your busking. There is a massive tech infrastructure emerging to power, enable, and profit symbiotically with the evolving creator class.
After its most recent raise, Patreon (a platform that connects over 200,000 creators with about 7 million fans) was valued at $4 billion (which is triple its value in September 2020). Cameo is a site that allows celebrities to send personalized videos directly to fans (for a fee, of course). OnlyFans is a favorite app of sex workers and physical fitness experts. I wouldn’t call OnlyFans a “porn app,” but if you called it that, I wouldn’t correct you.
What’s important to understand is that every social video post has become an opportunity to promote original content that fans can support, and all of these apps (and dozens of others) are purpose-built to facilitate the remuneration of creators by their fans. But there’s more to the story.
NFTs, Crypto, and the Arts
Have you purchased an NFT for a new album, or recently started collecting NFT art? If so, you are in the vanguard of the nascent creator economy.
We’re in the middle of the NFT hype-cycle, so it’s hard to separate the hucksters and charlatans from the real opportunities afforded by ERC721 and ERC1155 smart contracts recorded on distributed ledgers. Due to the insane prices of some recent NFT transactions, it seems like everyone who’s anyone is getting into the game. Seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady announced he is launching an NFT platform called Autograph this spring. NFT hype notwithstanding, there are other excellent uses for the technology. Especially when it comes to the creator class.
One of the biggest issues of our day is the ability for anyone to mash-up anything and call it their own. Take a few measures of music from one song, one single beat from another, a sound effect from a favorite movie, a line of dialogue from an amazing video, mash ’em up, and you’ve got a new (albeit derivative) work. Who gets paid, and how?
Our copyright and intellectual property laws afford protection for creators, but enforcement is extremely difficult. It requires big, centralized organizations such as recorded music companies, publishers, performing rights organizations, movie studios, media companies, and others to monitor, manipulate, and control the granting of rights and the flow of money. NFTs (aka tokenized content) have the potential to decentralize this entire ecosystem.
Said differently, as blockchain technology evolves, transaction speed increases, and transaction fees decrease (all of which are slowly, but surely happening) and more content becomes uniquely identifiable using NFTs, the need for central authorities (aka gatekeepers) will diminish and possibly disappear altogether. Why? Because the creator class will be able to do it by themselves. The concept of an open, honest, one-to-one relationship between creator and community isn’t new, but the technology to do it at scale is.
Want to know more? Visit our Crypto Resources Page for useful links to the distributed ledger and blockchain ecosystem.
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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.