SINGAPORE — If you want to kill a conversation quickly, just bring up words like “metaverse,” “crypto,” and “blockchain.” Eyes glaze over followed by some version of “Oh, look at the time. I must go.”
I can relate. “Metaverse” conjures up vague notions of whatever Facebook is building and involves wearing a heavy and expensive headset. “Crypto” is some weird virtual currency Matt Damon keeps trying to sell us and may or may not include a thing called Bitcoin. And “blockchain?” Who knows?
Here’s another term you can use to execute any conversation: “Web3.” Ready or not, this is where the internet is headed.
Hold on. Let’s back up.
The age of the internet is entering its third major era of evolution. Web 1.0 involved everyone building websites and publishing content. Think about all the gaudy, basic websites that littered the internet a couple of decades ago. Communication was almost exclusively one-way, from the publisher to the public. Content was pushed out.
We’re currently in the 2.0 era, a time controlled by big tech companies like Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat — and all the streaming music platforms. Web 2.0 allows users to publish and communicate with each other — at least to a limited extent, anyway, through leaving comments and maybe direct messaging.
More importantly, though, Web 2.0 has allowed these companies to become immensely wealthy by using the personal data we happily provide them by using their free services. Data is the new oil. In fact, data is now the most valuable commodity in the known universe.
This is a problem because it means that by providing these companies with our data, we’re all basically working for them. For free.
Think about it: When you go online, you become a data miner providing the tech companies with the rich, raw material they use to sell stuff back to you. Canadians are online more than six hours a day, nearly two hours of which are spent on social media. In South Korea, the average person spends 10 hours a day online. Not only is this actual unpaid labour, but we also don’t know what data these companies have on us. And they won’t say. Plus they keep finding new algorithmic ways for us to provide them with even more data which they then use to sell us even more stuff. Web 2.0 companies hold all the cards.
Big Tech is making trillions from our work and isn’t sharing in any of the proceeds. If this were physical labour, it would be called “slavery.” But because data isn’t framed in the same way, it’s completely legal.
This seems … wrong, doesn’t it? Enter Web3.
I’m going to use a bunch of words here — I think correctly — that define what Web3 is: Decentralized public ownership of property in the online world that’s tracked and enforced by blockchain technology. It involves things like metaverses (yes, plural), cryptocurrencies, digital tokens, and NFTs, things that will allow internet users to become owners. Instead of giving up our personal information using free apps for nothing in return, we will participate in the creation, operation, and governance of many of the things that make up the internet.
I just spent a week at the All That Matters conference in Singapore where people from the world of music, eSports, traditional sports, broadcasting, gaming, and marketing gathered to discuss this new era of the internet.
At this point, we could dive very deep into the weeds and get extraordinarily technical. Instead, let’s just skip ahead to some examples of how this will affect music. Some are already calling this the musicverse. And it sounds pretty cool.
First, no one is building a capital-M-one-size-fits-all Metaverse akin to what we saw with The Oasis in the book Ready Player One. A better way to think of what’s coming is many, many different metaverses that offer 3-D interactivity within many different artists in many different ways.
We’re already seeing the debut of some community-building apps like Drrops which allow community building between artists and fans. Headed by Our Lady Peace singer Raine Maida, Drrops was built with the idea of making it possible for artists to communicate directly with fans and vice versa without any sort of social media intermediary to skim away all the data. Bands will be able to learn more about their audiences while fans will be able to share exclusive opportunities, experiences, and merchandise, both real and virtual. Fans will be able to commune with each other, too, enhancing a sense of community.
For example, superfans could be offered a digital token — think of it as a virtual ticket — that will give them access to special things from the artist. Or the artist could sit backstage chatting with fans arriving at the venue, asking what songs they might like to see on the setlist that night. Individual fans might be rewarded with a shout-out from the stage.
Web3 will also impact touring. Going on the road for months or even years at a time is expensive, exhausting, and bad for the environment. One solution might be to have the artist set up in one location. If you want to see them live, you can but tickets will be very expensive because that will become an increasingly exclusive experience.
But if you can’t be there in person, that’s fine because the metaverse has no constraints of time, space, and even identity (more on that in just a sec). You’ll be able to enjoy the performance online in a VR/metaverse way for an exponentially cheaper price. Instead of getting 15,000 fans to pay $200+ each for a ticket in city after city after city, the artist will be able to stay in one place, playing in front of maybe a few thousand (or perhaps even just a few hundred fans) each night while simultaneously performing for, say, five million people in a metaverse who have paid $5 each. One such gig could theoretically gross $25 million and reach far more people in a much more efficient way.
That’s not pie-in-the-sky thinking, either. Artists like Marshmello have already held digital concerts in venues like Fortnite in front of 10 million fans who not only got to watch and dance (via avatars) but were also able to buy merch. BTS has a virtual concert that reached one million fans in 191 countries. Not all at once, mind you. But time and space are meaningless in the metaverse. Imagine how this could be scaled for a festival like Glastonbury or Coachella.
Or how about this: I predict that someone will inevitably recreate the Woodstock ’69 experience in a musicverse. See what I mean about things being freed from time and space?
At the same time, the artist will have a chance to build loyalty and community in entirely new ways. For example, back in 2019, Billie Eilish offered fans an on-demand tour of her bedroom, the place where many of her songs were born. Or maybe you’ll be able to get into a recording studio to collaborate with an artist on a session or remix. In this case, you become a creator of the content with the artist. Timbaland has already demonstrated this.
These are examples of how the musicverse will allow artists to provide their fans with an unlimited amount of attention and in ways not available at any price in meatspace. Talk about strengthening the ties between artists and fans, right?
On the business and accounting side, Web3 will also allow for much more efficient payment of royalties. The blockchain will keep track of who owns a song and who needs to be paid for a stream or a sale at a level of accuracy and security that far exceeds what we have today.
Fans will be able to own digital property. Let’s say you want to purchase a particular seat in a metaverse concert venue. That seat is yours and no one can ever sit in it. Later, If you want, you may be able to sell that property for a profit. But because all purchases are connected to the blockchain — the public ledger of all transactions and tracker or ownership — such sales and purchases will be tracked and policed. When such a sale takes place, the original creator of that digital property — say a rare piece of music originally made available only to superfans — will get a piece of the action on the resale. Try that with the sale of used vinyl.
If all this seems totally foreign to you, you need to spend some time speaking to any Gen Z music fan. They’re already engaging in entertainment this way. Around 79 per cent of young music fans are already okay with seeing their favourite artists in the metaverse.
And there’s more. About 65 per cent of Gen Z say that how you present yourself online is more important than how you present yourself in real life.
Let that sink in for a second. Remember how we used to project our identities to the world by wearing a specific artist’s T-shirt? (Here’s where I should point out that one in three fans of fashion who are aware of Web3 opportunities have already purchased some kind of digital fashion.) Gen Alpha, kids born since 2010, are going to take this even further. They will grow up in a world where virtual creators are the new celebrities. We’re already seeing that with TikTok influencers. That, though, is just the tip of the iceberg.
And here’s what I find fascinating and rather concerning for Canadians: Web3 is already rooted deeply in Asia, which is far ahead of North America and Western Europe. Digital citizens in China, Thailand, Indonesia, and India are already deep into this new technology, largely through mobile phones and almost exclusively through gaming.
Marketers and big brands (American Express and BMW are just two) are following fast. If we don’t get on board soon, we risk falling even further behind. That will be a tech tragedy that will have major economic repercussions.
Bottom line? Don’t get bogged down in the terminology and tech. Just as we gradually learned to use social media and other Web 2.0 tech, Web3 will seep into our lives gradually and silently. We will be pulled into it. At the moment, the on-ramp to metaverse is the world of gaming but music isn’t far behind.
This is just the start of a new revolution, perhaps as significant as the transition the web made 20 years ago. It won’t be long before Instagram will feel not just like an ancient GeoCities website but a dusty old book.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.