Computer code that seeks to replicate human creativity can’t generate genuine connection
Fandom comes in myriad packages. Live concerts and meet-and-greets are one version. Hand-signed, customized merchandise is another. Technology has given artists and creators more opportunities to directly connect, rather than fewer, and it’s also made it far easier for fans to interact with each other. The Internet birthed new channels of direct connection via social media posts, newsletters and customizable merch. It’s also made ticketing to live shows easier.
The answer to AI isn’t less tech, but rather new tech. Tech in the form of blockchain can help keep AI in check. Web3 has been much-maligned lately, and it remains misunderstood, but it presents potentially the most important and transformational weapon for artists to accelerate and monetize fandom. Web3’s blockchain technology promises a direct artist-fan exchange of value that disintermediates Web2 middlemen like Apple, YouTube and Spotify that extract heavy tolls on the entertainment industry on every transaction.
Because of that toll-taking, it requires about 20 million streams on Spotify for an artist to earn $50,000. Web3-fueled fandom requires only a small but passionate community — not millions, but perhaps just the famed 1,000 “true fans”. If they can pay $100 a year, the artist has $100,000 in annual income. That’s a model for Web3-empowered fandom, or what Animoca founder and Web3 pioneer Yat Siu calls “inclusive capitalism.”
In inclusive capitalism, audiences are not mere consumers. Rather, they become stakeholders in the artist’s livelihood and are happy to give support, because they value access to and interaction with their creative works, personalities and lives.
On the flipside, the artist understands and appreciates their fans’ emotional and financial investments and creates new works, experiences and other forms of value to delight them. Together, they create a symbiotic community with the artist at its center. Fans not only feel appreciated, they feel motivated and become active artist ambassadors.
I wrote about this new kind of community-centric business model nearly 10 years ago in the pages of Billboard. I believed it then. And I believe it now. Only this time, Web3 gives the power to more fully realize this vision in the form of nonfungible tokens or NFTs that, put simply, are a new and direct way to deliver value in both directions, from artist to fan and fan to artist. Fans can even invest — literally, financially — in the success of their favorite artists. Royal offers a platform for fans to share in song royalties.
The term “NFT” has fallen into disfavor in recent months. It didn’t help that Coachella sold lifetime passes in 2022 as NFTs through the now-bankrupt FTX, where they’re now stuck — hardly the desired fan experience. But whatever name we use now — “digital tokens,” “digital tickets,” “digital collectibles” — they can be game-changing when properly implemented.
In the entertainment world, think of these Web3 digital assets as “tokens of culture” — another Yat Siu-inspired term which means that they embody artists, their works, and everything else they represent. And because culture is personality-driven and constantly evolving, only humans are capable of creating it, as opposed to AI that simply recycles it. So sure, fans can use AI to generate songs inspired by their favorite artists, like the fake collaboration between Drake and the Weeknd that’s blown up online. But true fans desire and appreciate the real thing. They value the craft and story of it all. They crave access. That’s why they are fans!
AI isn’t all bad. It can become a friend to creators, not a foe, when it operates in a Web3 environment. As one example, think about musicians giving their fans access to certain music stems, even those they’ve discarded, as part of a tokenized offering. The artist’s AI could give fans an opportunity to create their own new songs based on those stems, each fingerprinted with the artist’s musical DNA so that it is monetized and paid to the artist via the blockchain every time that AI-generated song is played. Web3 provides the transparent reporting and payment, while AI serves as a means to tighten the connection between fans and artists, not alienate them.
Tech leveraged to expand audiences and deepen fandom should be a fundamental area of focus as we think about AI. Fretting about the coming AI wave only paralyzes us. Instead, we must act. I’m no anti-tech alarmist: In fact, I’ve run several tech-forward media companies. Rather, I’m a realist who’s been on the frontlines of previous tech tidal waves that massively impacted the entertainment business. But those were nothing like AI. And we’re just stepping up to the plate in this AI revolution, which is in the earliest of innings.
So artists, focus first on fandom. Use every tool in your arsenal, both old and new, and push back on AI disruption with something impossible for it to recreate: your individuality and your humanity. In a phrase inspired by that very human movie “Field of Dreams,” artists, if you build it — a fan-fueled community augmented and activated by Web3, that is) — your audience will come.
For those of you interested in learning more, visit Peter’s firm Creative Media at creativemedia.biz and follow him on Twitter @pcsathy.
Peter Csathy is a WrapPRO contributor writing about the intersection between tech and entertainment/media. He's chairman of Creative Media (https://creativemedia.biz/), a boutique media, entertainment and tech business advisory and legal services firm. His monthly “Fearless Media” newsletter (https://fearlessmedia.substack.com/) covers the future of entertainment, media and tech; and his weekly “AI & NFT Legal Update” newsletter (https://ainftlegalupdate.substack.com/) covers the AI and Web3/NFT ecosystems. You can also listen to his “Fearless Media” podcast (https://fearlessmediapodcast.buzzsprout.com/) and follow him on Twitter @pcsathy.