Water & Music

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Summary

MAEKAN's Eugene Kan and Charis Poon join this episode to discuss the key ideas in their essay "The Modern Creator's Paradigm," which argues that continuing cultural innovation will require greater creative and critical accountability from artists, platforms and consumers combined. We discuss the undeniable gatekeeping of music streaming platforms, the positive implications of raising financial barriers to creation and consumption, how Lil Nas X's career would not exist without multiple forms of cultural critique and how the future of media can escape endless news cycles and the psychology of "never getting caught up." At the end, we discuss Taylor Swift's latest music video, the role of merch bundles in establishing artists' cultural influence (and chart placement) and the departure of several key execs from YG Entertainment.

Show Notes

INTRO/OUTRO MUSIC:
Yung Skrrt & Jonah Baseball - "The Man" (feat. Houdinne & Lunarboy) (Instrumental)
Spotify | SoundCloud | Bandcamp
Yung Skrrt: Twitter | Instagram

COVER ART:
Arielle Trenk

FEATURED GUESTS:
Eugene Kan — co-founder, MAEKAN
Charis Poon — writer, editor and producer, MAEKAN
Both Eugene and Charis co-host the weekly podcast Making It Up, and were two of five co-writers of the essay "The Modern Creator's Paradigm: Reasons for More Critique and Accountability."

SHOW TIMESTAMPS:

[2:50]
Interview begins.

[4:00]
Are we as consumers sufficiently challenging the creative work that's out there? Is it our role to challenge it? Should the consumer always "win"?

[9:12] Music and video platforms are increasingly embracing their roles as gatekeepers, and taking on the burden of responsibility and scrutiny in their curation.
  • Liz Pelly's "Discover Weakly," a study of gender representation on Spotify playlists.
[15:45] A significant component of creative and algorithmic accountability just comes down to answering the question of why. Why is a platform recommending this song or movie to me? Why am I listening to this song, and does the platform know that reason? This is a question that word-of-mouth addresses better than any other tactic, and that algorithmic channels like Spotify's Discover Weekly still struggle to navigate.

[20:36] Thinking more critically about a piece of creative work arguably drives up the value of that work. "Without creative accountability, the new work that’s generated rarely gets the critique necessary for it to develop into something refined and of higher value."

[25:26] Regardless of whether the song "Old Town Road" is actually "good," Lil Nas X benefited from fast-moving forms of cultural response — including memes, which arguably comprise a form of cultural criticism.

[28:42] Despite whatever creative democratization has taken place thanks to technology, our silos of communal critique may be deepening.

[29:39] As a whole, if we're advocating for smaller, tight-knit communities of critique to help push culture forward, how many of those communities will we be able to see in the open? Who will even get to see it in the first place? (Hint: platforms.)

[30:57] From a cultural consumer's perspective, higher barriers to consumption arguably lead to more impactful and emotional investment in creators.

[33:41] Music distribution and tech companies are increasingly catering to the "middle tier" of independent artists and their teams.
  • I wrote a recent newsletter about how music distributor Stem made precisely this pivot to "middle-tier" services.
[39:01] A somewhat radical idea: What if creator-focused companies taxed hobbyists higher than professional artists for their services? Or, put another way, what if artists were rewarded with more equity, not less, for contributing positively to their culture and community — essentially the opposite of how traditional record-label deals are structured?

[42:44] Discussion of the key building blocks for the future of media, speaking from our experiences building MAEKAN (Eugene/Charis) and a Patreon membership (Cherie). Key trends:
  1. Moving beyond news cycles, accelerated timelines and output quotas.
  2. "Finishable content" — i.e. moving past the psychological feeling of never getting caught up.
  3. Infinite cultural mindset — i.e. fostering culture with infinite longevity and cross-generational relevance, instead of focusing only on content that drives short-term engagement.
[54:39] Overrated/Underrated segment begins. (this lasted more than 10 minutes, lol)

[54:57] Charis: The conversation and controversy around Taylor Swift's new single and music video "You Need to Calm Down."

[58:32] Eugene: The role of merch bundling not only in Billboard chart placement, but also in artists' cultural influence on- and offline.
[1:04:46] Cherie: YG Entertainment founder Yang Hyun-Suk stepping down, amidst a string of sex-related scandals in the K-pop world.

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What is Water & Music?

The fine print of big ideas in music and technology, hosted by Cherie Hu and featuring a curated selection of leaders, innovators, artists and thinkers from across the music business. This is an ad-free audio companion to the eponymous email newsletter.