The fall of Rome was caused by not enough Romans supporting my Patreon. So sad! If only there were some way of preventing our civilization from suffering the same terrible fate…
I know in real life people seldom walk around in vests. But I really like drawing vests.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows the same two people chatting as they walk through a hilly park. One, the person walking in front, is wearing a vest and tie, and has one of those beards that’s done with a very thin strip of beard. (There’s probably a word for it?) The other is an older woman, with curly white hair, a striped shirt, a calf-length skirt, and cat-eye glasses. Let’s call them VEST and SKIRT.
Vest is in front, taking big strides and scowling a little as he talks. Skirt follows a few steps behind, listening with a look of concentration.
VEST: Workers who aren’t paid a so-called “living wage” aren’t earning one! If they can’t handle wages set by the free market, a more productive worker will take their place.
A close-up of Vest’s face; over his shoulder, still several steps behind, we can see Skirt holding up a finger to make a point. Vest looks crabby, and honestly, Skirt looks a little crabby too. These two may not be destined to be close friends.
VEST: I can’t stay in business if I pay my employees more than I have to!
SKIRT: Think of it this way…
A close-up of Skirt, who is holding up both hands at shoulder height, “talking with her hands,” and smiling as she gets into what she’s saying.
SKIRT: If an employer can’t figure out how to pay a living wage, they don’t deserve to stay in business. A more productive entrepreneur will take their place, right?
For the first time in the strip, Vest has turned around to face Skirt. He looks very distressed, his eyes huge, and he’s yelling. Skirt, startled, takes a step back.
On October 14, Ethereum reached a milestone that alarms many who have pushed for blockchains as "censorship-proof" technology. More than 51% of blocks produced in the preceding 24 hours were processed by relays that filtered out transactions involving Tornado Cash, a crypto mixing service that was added to the U.S. sanctions list in August.
This 51% threshold doesn't pose an immediate threat to Tornado Cash users, because even validators that censor transactions will still attest to the validity of blocks created by non-censoring validators. However, if 51% or more of validators were to also stop attesting to non-censored blocks, they would no longer be able to be added to the chain.
The crypto community is never short on narratives and visions. Depending on what day of the week it is (and how the speculative crypto markets are doing) it’s about building wealth, poor people with no access to banking, amazing technology, democracy, etc. It’s a long list.
But as everyone who’s had some contact with advertisers in their life knows: If you want to sell something you need a puppy or a kid. Abstract ideas and narratives only get you so far and to get your target audience really in, you need a personalized story based on empathy with some entity or group. “Saving the planet” is all good but “Save the dolphins” is better. It makes the abstract narrative “real” in a way. Tangible.
Artists and musicians are a great puppy for the crypto cause because for many the situation is dire. Being able to live off of your creative output is a massive gamble, the whole system works only for a very few winners of the lottery – which isn’t random at all but skews towards for example people with (inherited) connections or very milquetoast people appropriating counter-culture to make it palpable to the mainstream audience. And many people want to help artists. Because humans love art. We need art. Or as the author Elizabeth Sandifer recently stated very eloquently:
A big problem with making money as an artist is how most situations that do pay frame creating art basically the same way as baking a bread or building a machine: You get paid based on an exchange of a good (the piece of art) with a client. Having grown up in the capitalist hellscape we exist in this might sound “natural” but it does not in fact translate how a lot of good art is created. While there is often a lot of craftsmanship within creating a piece of art, a sculpture or a piece of music, we don’t value artists for that. We value them for their perspective on the world, the way a painting can make us rethink our relationship to the world or how a song can make us feel.
Of course not every piece of media has this kind of gravitas. Some pieces are merely artistic, especially with digital assets becoming more and more an all-encompassing sludge of generic content. But even the most superficial pop tune, the most crass horror-splatter imagery can have and often has some artistic intent and sensibility.
If we need art, we need artists. Arguing that “everybody is an artist at heart” only gets you so far when you realize how many people barely have enough time to sleep well or have any form of leisure which is far from the kind of free time and mindspace you need to even develop your artistic practice. Not everyone can take off a year from work, care work and life to “find themselves and their art”.
The crypto community shares this analysis and proposes digital tokens – an approach sometimes called web3 – as the solution. With digital tokens on blockchains and their connected smart contracts as governance artists shall finally get their fair share: Instead of Spotify, Youtube or some more traditional intermediary reaping all the benefit and gatekeeping access to fans and income everything gets decentralized and put into the hands of artists: You want to earn of any secondary sale of your work? Write that into the smart contract. You want to get something every time someone listens to your track? Here’s a token. And everything is fully transparent and verifiable on a blockchain. The future has arrived.
I have two questions I want to address. First, does this actually solve the issues in the way of artists being able to live of the fruit of their work? Second, is this the radical new vision for art that is is presented as?
Solving actual problems
There are a whole bunch of problems artists trying to live of their work face and I won’t be able to list them all. And not every artist is facing all these issues because every medium of expression comes with their own problems and challenges: Trying to live off of large sculptures needs a lot of capital to produce and transport the artwork whereas digital artifacts tend to be relatively cheaply to produce and transport for example.
The problems I want to focus on here are the access to audiences, fair payment for the use of artworks and access to necessary invests to produce artworks.
Access to audiences
Findinganaudience is tough, regardless of how good you are. The internet (and the rest of the world) is full of content, of things to keep people entertained and busy. There are of course strategies to gain a following: Bands for example can try to tour constantly trying to get in front of as many people as possible. You can try to create something that can go “viral” to gain a following for your works. You can try to harness a traditional publisher and their networks and advertising to get your works out there (for a price). All these options are costly: Either they throw a nuke into your life by forcing you to be constantly on the road, or they force you to change how you work and compromise on your work to serve some platform algorithm or you pay ungodly amounts of money/your future income. How would crypto tokens and smart contracts change this?
Would selling your work or pieces of your work as tokens guarantee you an audience? How? Do people really pick music to listen to and invest their affection in by the way it is sold? “Oh this artist does not sell their tracks as tokens for crypto, I won’t listen to them”? Really? No. People discover art through friends and peers, through coming into contact with it randomly (for example a band being an opener for another band someone already likes), through advertising/product placement and of course through the almighty algorithms of the content hubs like Spotify et al. Tokenization doesn’t change this dynamic. Of course one could build a platform that only recommends tokenized pieces of art but how big an audience would that really be? And preselecting your audience based on their economic ideals and their focus on a certain piece of tech doesn’t sound like a good strategy if you care about your work because you’re not forming a connection to a new audience, you are just offering someone something for their tech fetish. It just doesn’t help with this problem. At least not at any meaningful scale.
Fair payment for the use of artworks
But maybe this is a way to get fair payments? Everybody knows that the subscription services many people use to consume music or other media (Spotify, Netflix, etc) tend to pay badly or obscenely badly. Also currently there is no way for artists to profit off of secondary sales: All that money goes into someone else’s pocket. And as a final issue: Many of the payouts of those platforms are far from transparent. How do artists know they got the money they deserve and that the platform didn’t manipulate?
At face value tokens and blockchains look like a perfect system for this: Yuga Labs, the company that governs the Bored Ape Yacht Club pictures (which I wouldn’t call art exactly but let’s just roll with it), to get a 2.5% cut on any sale of these pics. Forever. That would be a new revenue stream for artists, especially those selling unique works like paintings etc. Public blockchains also offer transparency: If for example listens or views of an artifact were tracked on a blockchain these numbers would be transparent at all time and hard to fake. They wouldn’t necessary be true though. Because this approach would enforce a rigid system of public surveillance that people would need to obey. Do I want my computer to publicly record what I consume? And if not and I can disable it, wouldn’t that skew the numbers especially away from works of art that might be controversial and whose consumption you wouldn’t want recorded publicly? And who makes sure I don’t just add 87461876216387216313613 plays of my track of me typing on my laptop for a minute?
So let’s assume we could magically enforce correct playcounts on the chain to reward artists (which again we cannot do!): So now we pay artists. With what? We give them tokens for plays. Now the artist has 1 million PlayTokens in their wallet. Cool. What to do with them? You can’t pay rent with those tokens, you need money. But who would buy these tokens? So now you have to either invent weird schemes to add “utility” to the token like voting rights on payouts but suddenly selling them off would potentially harm the artist’s right to participate in decisions governing the whole system. If the tokens themselves become a value you should keep them leaving rent unpaid.
But maybe the PlayTokens could be exchanged for money from a pot that all consumers paid into? Like you got 1% of the PlayTokens this month so now you get 1% of the money? Cool, you could pay rent. Unless some asshat spams the system with fake plays diluting your actual pays. You just open yourself up to have even the little money this could generate stolen without anyone in between to protect you. Doesn’t sound like an improvement.
Access to necessary invests
Creating especially physical artifacts can be really expensive especially if they are supposed to survive for example the weather. Do tokens make it easier to raise that capital? Well, actually they kinda do. You can just sell a token as an investment in a potential future work which is basically the same as most tokens work today: They are speculative investment vehicles with an attached promise of a future product. A bit like kickstarter just with even less validation/customer protection.
So yes, you could create a “project” that sells stake in your future sculpture, pump that token, sell them to your audience and exchange the cryptocurrency you earned to actual money. But say you have an audience that is willing to invest in you, why go the detour through crypto that is super volatile and that’s expensive and (given how often the exchanges are unable to pay out actual money) risky? Why not just collect that money from your fans by asking them for a few bucks? Where’s the innovation here aside from adding another layer of risk and volatility in the middle?
A new vision
But maybe we shouldn’t look too much at specifics and material impact on payment. Maybe this is a structurally new approach? A vision for how things could be better?
But what is this vision really? If tokenization is supposed to serve as a way to get paid for artworks and their use it still obeys the – as I wrote in the beginning wrong – understanding of art as a product to sell and exploit. As production of artifacts and not as a process of exploration and communication that can lead to different outcomes, some of them potentially monetizable. So sure, you can use tokens to double down on financializing and output.orienting art but that is neither visionary nor is it new. That is just the late stage capitalism we live in.
But one could sell tokens as access to the “inner circle” or “fan club” to make money! That wouldn’t be output oriented but maybe give artists some money without strings attached. And you could sell a new one each month to generate some reliable income so you can quit your day job and focus on art. Cool. You mean like fanclubs have worked for literal decades? Or how Patreon works? Much innovation.
Now I don’t want to claim Patreon (or their competition) is without problems. They take quite a hefty cut and having taken VC money they need to make returns at some point that are in no way realistically connected to their product. Patreon could have been this neat little service that does a thing, pays a bunch of people a good wage and otherwise becomes infrastructure. But as I said, late stage capitalism. Still services like Patreon or traditional fan club memberships have one massive advantage to tokens: You can paid in money, not something you later might be able to turn into a rather random amount of money. You get cash not a lottery ticket. So tokens don’t really add something structurally new but turn payouts to lotteries. Coming from the perspective of wanting to give more artists a decent life focused on their work (not daytrading their tokens in order to make rent this month) this doesn’t feel like meaningful innovation
I do actually have a soft spot for people trying to come up with ways of making art and creative output more viable for people. And sadly in this world that often means finding ways to get people paid so they don’t have to spend their time on … something. Really, I know. I do have a day job that takes up a lot of time I’d rather be doing something creative.
We need to find ways to get people housed and fed and taken care of health wise regardless of their output. To each according to their needs and all. But hyperfinancialization ain’t the way. It’s actually the opposite. Less focus on how to pay for output and more focus on human needs for example of artists. And while we are living in a capitalist world, focus on giving people actual money they can use. Subscribe to their Patreon, send them money via bank transfer or PayPal. Support artists without strings, don’t just buy stuff from them. Because that is what will lead to more art, different art, mindblowing art.
So to keep us from falling apart We’ll write songs in the dark And to stop us from fading away We’ll write for a better day This vomiting of anguish An eruption of the soul To radiate energy To comfort and console To scatter our thoughts To spatter our spirit A blizzard of fire With all we transmit
New Secret Knots comic: “In the Mirror”. Feel free to leave a comment around here, or in our Discord server. As usual, sharing the comic is always appreciated: that’s how people find out about The Secret Knots. Over the next[…]↓ Read the rest of this entry...
Jason Stone, founder of the KeyFi company who formerly managed assets for Celsius, filed a complaint against Celsius Network in a New York court, alleging the company was operating as a Ponzi scheme and owes them "a significant sum of money". Stone alleged that, despite claiming that Celsius's trading teams would properly hedge against any impermanent loss or loss due to token fluctuation incurred by KeyFi, they were doing nothing of the sort. Upon learning this in March 2021, they terminated their relationship with Celsius. However, Stone alleges that Celsius owes KeyFi "a significant sum of money", which Celsius has not acknowledged. Instead, Stone claims, Celsius has accused them of theft.
The legal complaint reads, "Prior to Plaintiff coming on board, Defendants had no unified, organized, or overarching investment strategy other than lending out the consumer deposits they received. Instead, they were desperately seeking a potential investment that could earn them more than they owed to their depositors. Otherwise, they would have to use additional deposits to pay the interest owed on prior deposits, a classic 'Ponzi scheme.' The recent revelation that Celsius does not have the assets on hand to meet its withdrawal obligations shows that Defendants were, in fact, operating a Ponzi-scheme."