James Blake’s proposed payment system for music is a mere fantasy that puts both fans and musicians at a disadvantage.

. James Blake’s proposed payment system for music is a mere fantasy that puts both fans and musicians at a disadvantage.


As a musician and creator, I have dedicated much time to considering the strengths and weaknesses of digital music platforms for both artists and fans. The current subscription models used by platforms like Spotify and Apple Music are disadvantaging artists, resulting in a decrease in the perceived worth of music for both creators and listeners. This has transformed music into something that appears to have little value or significance.

If the price of music is not sufficient, the solution is to increase the cost. However, this does not necessarily mean paying more to Spotify. Their approach of pooling all earnings and distributing them based on popularity is viewed by many as unfair and biased towards major labels. Instead, supporting artists directly is encouraged. However, the most effective means of supporting them is still up for debate. Some recommend purchasing merchandise and concert tickets, which may not generate a profit, while MP3 downloads continue to decline. Alternatively, some, like James Blake, propose individual subscription plans.

Earlier this month, the British producer gained widespread attention for expressing his discontent with the minimal compensation provided by mainstream music platforms. He argued that this has a negative impact on artists’ ability to sustain themselves financially. Just last week, he made it known that he is part of the launch of Vault, a streaming platform designed for artists to directly share their unreleased tracks with fans, for a monthly fee of $5. This enables me to send my music directly to you, without any interference or delay, and also includes a chat section for discussions among listeners. This business model is similar to that of Patreon and OnlyFans, commonly used by podcasters and other creators who produce content in episodes or installments. However, I believe that this may not be the most advantageous path for musicians and even holds disadvantages for fans in the long run.

The reason that per-artist subscriptions don’t make sense for fans is basic maths: multiply the number of artists you really care about by the subscription fees and the costs soon seem unrealistic, resulting in fans investing in one artist at the expense of another. And once listeners are locked in, there is a level of guilt associated with cancelling: the general subscription model is described as a “dark pattern” that makes emotional hostages of fans who want to break free of the monthly commitment.

Furthermore, when musicians switch to subscription-based models, they are under a certain obligation to produce content that has already been compensated for. It becomes a “dance, monkey, dance!” situation. My music does not exist solely because it was paid for; even if I never received payment, I would still strive to create as much as I possibly could. While motivation to create can be beneficial, the pressure to meet deadlines and satisfy consumer expectations can actually impede creativity. This can be seen in platforms like Spotify, which encourages artists to constantly release new music in order to maintain a presence on playlists and editorial content. Additionally, subscription models restrict access to music, serving as a paywall. It is disheartening to discover something you love but not be able to share it with others.

There is now a more accessible method for fans to directly invest in an artist’s work and gain exclusive access to fan communities without restricting access to the music. The idea of “blockchain” has faded from public attention, following the decline of the NFT craze in the early 2020s. However, this technology, which essentially stores data through verified sources, offers a simple solution for fans who want to show their support for a musician’s work. I have been developing a platform called Supercollector that operates on a $10 per track model. While this may seem costly, it provides fans with a one-time verification that can grant them access to any larger ecosystem I may create, such as a web community similar to Blake’s “chat section”. It also satisfies the desire of dedicated fans to be recognized as the first to support an artist, with publicly verified collections dated and openly displaying their monetary support for the music. Although the artist may not earn as consistently as they would with a monthly subscription, this instills a culture of valuing music rather than simply renting access to a constantly changing content stream.

This is only one option, alongside purchasing tickets and merchandise or taking advantage of Bandcamp Fridays when fees are waived and you can buy directly from artists. However, the particular platforms and products are not as important as the value of music itself. Despite my doubts about Blake’s suggestion, he has started a discussion. Instead of isolating ourselves in subscription-based services, this is a conversation that requires unity between musicians and their fans.

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Source: theguardian.com