Once upon a time twenty-plus years ago, people spent $100 a week on music, books, and magazines, directly supporting the creative cultures they cared about.
Today, people rent access to infinite creative work for $15 a month, with little of that money going to the creators of the works themselves.
In almost every creative and cultural medium, physical formats with clear, tangible value have been replaced with digital experiences that obfuscate paying for things directly, ultimately devaluing creative work.
The modern digital experience is too convenient and powerful for these changes to roll back. But the struggles of creative people trying to make ends meet under this new regime aren’t going away either.
What we really need is a new, compelling form of exchange between creators and audiences.
Reinventing the record
In July of this year while working on Metalabel, an idea appeared that I documented in a metablog:
What if the things we’re helping metalabels sell are records?
In music, a record is a term for an album, but it’s really an abbreviation for recording, which is a basic description of what an album is.
Similarly, we’re inviting metalabels and creators to create a record of their work’s creation and existence.
What do metalabels do? They make and sell records.
I made a video sketching out the concept that same day:
Since that video, the Metalabel squad went much deeper into this idea, in the process creating what we believe is a powerful new package for valuing creative work: the record.
What’s a record?
A record is a new format that creates a meaningful value exchange between artists and fans around any kind of creative output — physical, digital, conceptual, performative, ephemeral, live, exclusive, mass, or niche.
Records are digital containers for creators to issue, sell, and share editions of media, drops, invitations, experiences, physical creations, and other creative works in a collectible, permanent, and tradable form.
Because records are unbounded by the constraints of physical production, the format can be linked to any creative media. Records allow creators to editionalize not only the usual mass consumer creative goods (books, posters, films, albums, etc.), but also performative, digital, ephemeral, experiential, and other forms of expression that rarely fit consumer contexts.
Without contributing millions of plastic cases to landfills, records bring back the tradition of paying creators directly in exchange for an edition of what they make. Records reintroduce a direct way to value creative work.
How the first record works
This week, Metalabel and a group called co—matter released the first-ever record: a zine called After the Creator Economy available in both digital and physical form.
We made the zine available as a physical object ($35 | 100 editions), a free PDF download (unlimited), and a collectible onchain record ($75 | 100 editions).
This is what the collectible onchain record looks like (to see it in motion, visit the record page):
By buying this, collectors get the limited edition record of the work, a voucher for a physical copy of the zine, an access pass for future events, and credit as a collector and patron of the project.
This is what it looks like when a record opens and its contents are displayed (to see it in motion, visit my opened record page):
Within a few hours of the drop going live, all 100 records sold out, and as of this writing, just 13 physical copies of the zine are still available.
Records give creators and metalabels unique, transparent, and programmable economic structures to tailor the economics of their releases to their needs.
With records they can:
Set an amount of money to be recouped for hard costs before people are paid
Set what percentages of the proceeds to split between the creators, collaborators, and metalabel releasing the work
Programmatically and transparently split and hold funds according to the terms they set
These were the economics of After the Creator Economy:
The initial ~$3,000 in sales were set aside to recoup the printing and mailing costs of the zine
After those funds were recouped:
40% of funds were split between a dozen contributors to the zine
30% of funds went to the Metalabel treasury to fund future releases
30% of funds went to the co—matter treasury to fund future releases
The adaptability of these split structures means that whenever creators and a metalabel collaborate to drop work, everyone can be transparently and instantly paid for their efforts, while making sure hard costs are accounted for.
Records are a new way for creators to receive financial support in exchange for their creative work with real advantages to existing forms:
Records can bundle different formats and mediums together. Records allow drops to mix physical, digital, and experiential goods in one collection, or as distinct elements available separately as part of a larger drop. The mix of formats and offerings in a single bundled package is a core feature of the record format.
Records allow creative groups to recoup costs and grow treasuries. Metalabel’s financial contracts allow metalabels and creators to automatically recoup costs, then distribute financial proceeds among contributors after.
Records are a post-platform format. Records are stored and transferable onchain, meaning they can move beyond the Metalabel platform into other worlds and use cases. Because records exist permanently onchain, creators will never lose their work (or collection, as a supporter) should a platform go away or change hands.
Records are meaningful to own. Records give the public an opportunity to own a durable edition of a creative work and directly support the creators and their vision. No more material production of useless swag — collectors can receive editions of the work itself. Records can be traded, gifted, and resold, just like editions of books or vinyl.
Records preserve creative work in its context. Records include artwork, associated media, a creator’s statement, full credits listing all the collaborators, associated works, and more. It’s a deep canvas for establishing and cataloging the context of a creative work.
Records are onchain
The core architecture behind records lives onchain, meaning it’s stored on a shared public database called a blockchain. To date blockchains are synonymous with cryptocurrencies, but as I wrote earlier this year, blockchains have more applications than just the invention of new money.
In a new piece I published this week with Zora, I theorize that the Crypto Era – a period of time defined by rampant speculation on the potential future value of crypto – has ended, and the Onchain Era — a time when we realize the convenience and practical value of storing information onchain – is beginning.
What distinguishes these two eras is utility: moving from theoretical applications to actual ones. This change was brought about by the “ETH Merge” earlier this year, a technical change that dramatically reduced the energy, computing, and financial costs of the Ethereum blockchain, making it useful architecture in a daily way for the first time.
Records benefit from this substantial backend upgrade. Because of the Merge, concerns about carbon emissions from blockchains are no longer applicable. And we see onchain records as a partial answer to problems of wasteful materialism: by increasing the value of creative work in the digital space, we can stop creating unwanted byproducts of creative output like campaign swag and other future-landfill just so creators can get paid.
Records are love
More than anything, the record format comes from a place of love.
I remember countless times looking through my Dad’s record collection and the feeling of wonder the album covers and universes they contained sparked in me. It’s how I fell in love with music. The origin point for my life’s work since.
Metalabel’s reinvention of the record speaks from those feelings. Records are an expression of love and admiration for art, creative world-building, and the people who make them. We want these new records to bring a sense of wonder to creative works, and to help properly value them.
Metalabels and records combine aspects of what worked in the past with the technical architecture and openness to form that fits the present. By releasing work using records, creators and collaborators can monetize editions of their work, be directly compensated for all forms of creative output, and securely preserve it for years to come.
This drop features two metalabels collaborating to make and sell records that explore their shared values, just as that metablog back in July imagined. It’s the culmination of months of work from our team and a wider collaborator pool of more than two dozen people — a collaborative effort that the economics and credits of the project transparently and truthfully reflect.
From the content of the zine to the container it’s held in to its underlying economics, we believe this release reflects a new path for releasing, selling, and preserving creative work.
Early next year we’ll begin making the ability to start a metalabel, drop records, and more available to creative collectives for the first time. To be notified when that happens, drop your info here.
“The Onchain Era” (published with Zora Zine)
My favorite tweet in response to this drop:
Peace and love my friends,
I’m all about this. It seems like you’ve just perfectly described the way forward in a space that has been spinning it’s weals. I’ve watched the methods that Bandcamp has used and I see Metalable as similar but even beyond the music world’s realm.
Yancey, is the basic idea that when a song, book, or video is sold as a record, then that same digital content is never sold in other forms.
Or typically to we expect that one can one still (legally) gain access to the material via other means as well? e. g. can I listen to it on spotify too?
Big money drives these other channels, so it will be hard to ignore them. Maybe this is like Patreon, where folks pay for content that often others can access w/o paying.