Why Don't We Have a Music Creator Economy?
Notes on the music industry's long-awaited 'Instagram moment'
First things first—an apology. It’s been a while since I published an essay! The last few weeks have been challenging, and I haven’t had the time to do much writing. I will be sticking to my regular cadence this summer.
In more exciting news, I want to expand this community into a Discord, introduce paid tiers and premium content very soon! Stay tuned.
And with that out of the way:
Welcome to Issue #11 of Appetite for Distraction, a newsletter exploring how technology is bridging the gap between art and commerce. My goal is to make this a resource that cuts through the noise; helping creators and creative industry professionals make informed decisions.
If you know someone who would prefer their industry insight in Spanish, direct them towards Apetito por la distracción for the spanish version of this issue.
As always, thanks so much for subscribing, and please tell a few friends if you’d like!
TikTok Recently Launched a Sound Kit for Music Creators
TikTok’s Sound Kit will let music creators directly export their music as sounds which TikTok creators can use in their videos. Previously, creators were restricted to TikTok’s library of licensed music. If they wanted to use their own music, they had to play it aloud on their phones while recording. TikTok’s Sound Kit is integrated with music creation apps such as Audiobridge, Landr, Rapchat, and Yourdio, offering a great way to bring musicians closer to the broader creator economy.
But the broader question worth asking is: instead of establishing music creator platforms as suppliers for TikTok, why don’t we have a standalone music creator platform that effectively combines content, community, and commerce?
Building a successful music creator platform
Short answer: making music is hard. Unlike user generated video content, we have a surprisingly low tolerance towards raw, unpolished music. The most simple short form video is received with amusement. Amateur music on the other hand is received with annoyance. Readers who have ever lived with someone trying to learn the saxophone know what I’m talking about.
Creating content is hard, but platforms in the creator economy make it easier. Photography had its Instagram moment; videography had its YouTube and TikTok moments; even audio had its Clubhouse moment—although it wasn’t music-related.
Why then, does the creation of short-form, user generated music remains so elusive? While we wait for the ‘everyone is a musician moment’ to come, in this essay I map out why we don’t (yet) have a truly engaging music creator platform, and assess some of the companies trying to change this.
Let’s get straight into it. Successful creator platforms combine the following ingredients at different stages of their lifecycle:
Easy + Frictionless Content Creation
The ability to download an app, create the first post and put it out instantly is absolutely critical. Any friction at this point is really detrimental to the platform’s success. Let’s take TikTok for example—the platform makes the creation of content so easy that it's almost hard not to create content. Their remix feature, duet feature, etc enable network effects of creativity and ensure users have the right set of tools to create high quality content with relative ease.
The problem is, making enjoyable music is really hard. It still seems to be restricted to a hyper specific group of musicians, producers, or more advanced enthusiasts who are willing to tinker with these tools for a while before they can churn out something of decent quality. This creation process needs to be greatly simplified.
This part of the puzzle seems deceptively simple, but it's really not. For a platform to ensure users stay engaged and engage with other users’ content, distribution has to be elegant.
Currently, music content creation and content distribution seem to be highly disconnected. Users create music on one platform (Boomy for example) and then distribute it on another platform—streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music etc. Content creation on a UGC platform and content distribution on a PGC platform is like emerging YouTubers and TikTokers competing with the latest Marvel or Spielberg movie. Different games require different arenas.
Moreover, from a user experience perspective, knowing what kind of content to surface and to whom is important. Should the feed be based on an interest graph—surfacing genres of music that users like? Or should it adopt a social graph, showing users what their friends have created? Answering these questions is important.
Users don’t just visit a platform to create and distribute content, they come to play status games—to see how many likes, comments, shares their content received a.k.a. social approval. Consolidating creation and consumption on the same platform neatly aligns social effort and social approval.
If the incentives to create and post content are aligned with audience growth and monetization, the platform promotes aspiration—motivating more users to create content, thereby attracting more consumers, and getting the flywheel turning. The number of individuals who download TikTok and create their first post with the hopes of being the next Charli D’Amelio is astounding—but also very human.
Enabling status games helps aspiring new users to create content and build an audience. What about established users who have already built up an audience and are at the top of this status hierarchy? That’s where the next ingredient comes in.
Mature creator platforms offer an efficient way to convert social capital i.e. accumulated audience, into financial capital, i.e. money. Audience captured on one platform will inevitably be monetized—either on the platform or off it. Most creator platforms try to capture these transactions between creators and their audience on the platform, for two reasons: first, to establish the platform as a substantial revenue stream for music creators, thereby locking them in, and second, to bolster their non-ad revenue by having a take-rate on these transactions. The take rate really depends on the scale of the platform and how reliant it is on ad revenue.
Alright, now that we’ve explored the key ingredients necessary for a successful music creator platform, let’s take a quick look at some of the companies who are trying to solve this. I’ve mapped a few music creator tools that have been proactive recently, and how they stand based on the parameters we just outlined:
— Legend —
✅ = Exists and is easy, frictionless
🤷🏻♂️ = Exists but highly confusing
❌ = Doesn’t exist
Creator tools: The music industry's new top of funnel | Midia Research
With fairly established content creation, distribution and audience building, monetization is the next frontier. YouTube’s answer to TikTok’s $200 million Creator Fund, Snapchat’s $1 million per day Spotlight Program, Pinterest’s $500k Creator Fund, Substack’s $100k writer grants—the list goes on.
A Hot Trending Billboard Chart might help Twitter regain its relevance in the music promotion space, a position currently dominated by TikTok.
What I’m Reading
Story of Philosophy | Will Durant
One of my all time favorite books. Will Durant was a master at crafting narratives. I recommend the chapter on Schopenhauer:
What I’m Listening To
If You’ve Made It This Far..
You can make it all the way.
What I’m Brewing — La Sarutaia, São Paulo, Brasil from Madness Coffee, Alicante
Also check out James Hoffmann’s guide on how to brew dark roasts.
Until next week,