I’m a soldier in the field, b*tch I feel like Justin Fields
—Tobi Lou, “Hurry-Up Offense”
On March 11, Tobi Lou dropped his latest album, Non-Perishable. First of all, the tape is heat. Like Tobi Lou, it’s a little weird in the best ways and I’ve been streaming it on Apple Music all week. If you haven’t listened yet or even heard of Tobi Lou, go play it through after you finish reading this. Actually - go listen to it now, and read this later. This blog post will still be here, but there’s no guarantee the album will still be available for listening.
You read that correctly. As of my publishing (March 17, ~11am PT), you probably have less than 24 hours to stream the tape. Upon releasing the album last weekend, Tobi Lou announced on his instagram that he would be deleting the album from the internet in one week. Whether Lou is telling the truth or not is entirely up in the air; I think there’s a good chance it’s complete cap. An artist completely removing an album from the internet is virtually impossible, especially in 2022, when tools like high-quality audio and screen recording, youtube to mp3, are abundant and at our disposal. But whether or not Lou removes the album from DSPs like Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, etc., I think the concept of an ephemeral album warrants exploration, especially in light of a music industry in dire need of transformation.
While scrolling though Tobi Lou’s Twitter, a link to a website from which fans could purchase Non-Perishable as a vinyl, CD, or tape for varying costs. They could also download the album digitally for $4. Considering I still haven’t purchased speakers to accompany my record player, I purchased the digital download.
Within a matter of minutes, I received an email with a link that enabled me to download the 11 tracks from the album as .mp3 files.
I could be projecting here, but if Tobi Lou actually follows through on his threat and removes his album from the internet (presumably from DSPs, music services, and youtube) it’d be a bit chaotic. It would be saying “if you didn’t cop my album, f*ck you, it’s not on streaming services anymore.” I love cultural chaos like this, I love supporting fellow Chicagoans, and I love seeing the little guy challenge incumbent systems so I was more than happy to spend $4 just in case he actually removes the album from the internet.
With my head buried in web3 projects 24/7 these days, I couldn’t help but wonder how Lou could distribute his album to supporters in a more crypto-native way, upon removing the album from popular music services after 7 days. Logistically, how could an artist give the global population a brief taste of their newest project and then best capture value from those who fully appreciate the work/have a willingness to pay? Further, how could an artist do so while minimizing the free-rider problem? (Since I bought the album and now own the mp3 files on my macbook, nothing is stopping me from sending those files to my friends or even making them available to download on my own website).
From a more creative lens, I’ve also been thinking deeply about how feasible it is to share a fully ephemeral music project. How could an artist create and share a song that self-destructs after a certain period of time (24 hours, 1 month) or whenever the artist decides and how might that affect how we consume music? Could this expand to traditional art? Imagine Damien Hirst selling a piece under a contract that he would repossess and destroy it after one year 🤯🤯. There are tons of tangents to pull on here (like how this affects provenance/remix culture, posthumous publishing of art/media, etc.) but we’ll save that for another time.
All this goes to say Tobi Lou’s pending removal of his album, Non-Perishable, from DSPs is another example of today’s artists actively rewriting the blueprint for marketing, distributing, and monetizing their music.
Music incumbents have had a major reckoning coming their way for some time but I believe the past 12 months, especially have catalyzed a crucible moment for the music industry. A few, select instances:
Kanye releasing Donda 2 exclusively on his Stem Player
A ton of artists leaving Spotify because of the Joe Rogan fiasco
Kings of Leon releasing their album as an NFT
The tiktok-ification of music 🤮
Taylor Swift re-recording albums to regain control of her masters
LimeWire’s rebirth as a music NFT marketplace
Don’t get me started Spotify charts & playlists
Small, but I also saw this clip of an artist debuting a new song at SXSW right after minting it as an NFT on Zora and immediately receiving a bid for 1 ETH ($~2600). Artists currently make an average of anywhere from $3,300 to $3,500 per 1 million streams on Spotify.
2022 is the year the music industry gets turned on its head. There’s a long list of companies and really talented people building in the future of music. Most of my favorites are web3 projects that rebundling the audio value chain like Catalog, Royal, Decent, and Audius, but I’ve also found interest in projects like Indify, Marine Snow and Discz. Another emerging space I’ve been looking into more these days is generative music - if you’re building software for this, slide in my DMs. I also love Trevor McFedries’ vision for Dapper Collective.
Streaming has completely screwed the economics for music artists. But as creators of the most powerful, sensory form of media, rearchitecting their ownership and distribution is an opportunity to radically increase equity in a criminally oppressive music industry.
given the time sensitive nature of Tobi Lou’s album expiry (& subsequently this post), I threw these thoughts together in a couple hours last night. most of them are half-baked, and I opted out of editing this piece. please excuse any typos and inaccuracies.