Either that, or Comcast will build a “slow lane” of the Internet where we have to pass by several artist streams before getting where we actually want to go. It could be the “downtown” of the Internet.

A Case for the "Artist Economy"

Technology has put much of the art world in an interesting place. Technological vectors continually promise consumers easier access to art, but instead of removing a barrier for artists to be discovered, a myriad more complications have emerged in light of these advancements. The digital revolution has made aesthetic consumption more convenient than ever, leaving consumers with an expectation of instant gratification rather than an aspiration for the greatest possible aesthetic quality. Online art galleries, streaming services and video hubs like YouTube have made it possible to acquire practically every work of art ever produced with only a few simple keystrokes.

"That’s enough Internet for today."
...Or, you might accidentally stumble upon literally anything else. Tread carefully.

While this widespread availability of art is great for the consumer, this has resulted in a mass commoditization of some forms of art, including music. (I’ve actually talked about this before - as a musician, the state of the music industry is quite interesting to keep track of.) This phenomenon is exemplified by the current feud between Spotify and Taylor Swift, the latter of whom claims that streaming services like Spotify devalue the music itself, and make it harder for artists to earn the money that their work warrants. In addition, some companies have started adapting to the idea of changing the way streaming services work, with Bandcamp appearing at the forefront.

Bandcamp’s new model for streaming is particularly interesting, as it’s no longer using musical tracks or even albums as their unit of commerce, instead letting the user subscribe to an artist. For a price that the artist defines, users can get instant access to everything the band posts, even possibly receiving exclusive content through the Bandcamp app. This signifies a huge shift in how the music economy works, with the artist themselves being the product up for sale. If streaming models like this catch on, the artist could have significantly more power in the way their music is sold.

Either that, or Comcast will build a "slow lane" of the Internet where we have to pass by several artist streams before getting where we actually want to go. It could be the "downtown" of the Internet.
Alright, maybe a lot of artists have been a product for a while. But this way, maybe they can actually get paid well.

It would be particularly interesting to see if this new “artist economy” ripples into other forms of art as well. Music is already a fairly “tribal” economy, in that consumers tend to follow an artist almost religiously in hopes that they will produce more art of a style similar to what they have previously released, and leave if that artist strays from their perceived authenticity. Other forms of art generally don’t have quite the same concept of a following, and are judged more on purely aesthetic qualities (e.g. picture how an interior designer shops for visual art, judging it on how well it fits in the room). What if people started selling a connection/relationship with artists in other media, much in the same way Bandcamp has started to do for musicians?

Given the current state of the music industry, one thing is certain: the traditional methods of selling music aren’t viable anymore. This industry has always worked on selling consumers improving levels of convenience, from vinyl up to digital audio files, but the industry has shifted to a point where convenience is expected, not simply desired. The technology is already in place to gain access to any song we want to listen to instantly, so some form of infrastructure will have to be built on top of that service, whether that be a relationship with the artist or some other benefit no one has even dreamed of yet. There are exciting times ahead for art, and technology will be integral in moving the industry forward.

Should You Be In Silicon Valley?

Recently, I returned home from an internship in Silicon Valley. Having spent the vast majority of my life in Raleigh, North Carolina, this was an entirely different experience than anything I had ever been through before, and it really opened my eyes to just how different the Valley is from the rest of the country. There are immense opportunities on the West Coast that don’t exist outside of the infamous technological center of the United States, but there are also many aspects of the area that cause me to question whether or not I would like to live there. As such, I thought I’d share my experience for others who might be in the same boat.

Let’s start with the good: SV is rife with opportunity for technology startups and emerging businesses. An enthusiasm for entrepreneurship seems to have infected the entire populace, with so many new apps and ideas being thrown around that it seems like every engineer is busy working on (or simply thinking of) the next big thing. Feeding into this, investor opportunity is everywhere, with venture capitalists searching for promising new businesses and incubators looking for teams to help churn out revolutionary new ideas.

Weren’t Facebook poke wars irritating enough?!
Admittedly, the ratio of revolutionary technology to trivial mobile/web applications isn’t as high as it could be. But we’ll get to that.

Beyond that, the Valley is an engineer’s paradise if for no other reason than the people who live there. In my experience, most (if not every) engineer who works in the area is truly passionate about what they do, and there are copious opportunities for these people to pursue to technologies or play with new ideas. There seems to be some sort of “hackathon” every week put on by some prominent company, and these events are well attended by like-minded people with broad passions and expertise. These, combined with frequent talks about new technologies/practices from industry leaders, form a networking utopia.

Even for non-engineers, the Valley offers a wide range of cultures, giving all kinds of people a place to thrive. San Francisco in particular offers a broad scope of things to do on the weekends, whether you’re a party animal or simply looking to explore different walks of life.

On top of all that, the whole “always 70 degrees and sunny” thing is pretty nice too. I will say that towards the end of my time there, I did miss being able to sit by an open window or on a screen porch to enjoy a heavy rainstorm.

It threatened to rain once. Everyone freaked out a bit.
It legitimately didn’t rain the entire 10 weeks I was in the area. Great for my walking commutes, but probably bad for the persistent drought.

Now, on to the negatives: Silicon Valley is, without a doubt, a bubble. The best way I’ve heard it described was as an “echo chamber”: once one idea gains traction, everyone and their brother is working on an imitator or the same exact technology, looking to make some money while the trend is around. Many ideas proposed in the Valley really don’t solve a broad problem that people outside the core Valley demographic experience, and simply further the notion that Silicon Valley doesn’t really care about the outside world. And yet, investors pour money into them like there’s no tomorrow. It feeds into a sort of arrogance about the area, where residents believe that those outside of Silicon Valley are beneath them somehow, and that there is little value in doing things outside of the software space.

<lame joke about “liquid assets” goes here>
Essentially, this is the only concept of “making it rain” that exists in the Valley.

Much of the technology that has emerged within the Valley has been hurtful to the community at large. Some startups will make a business out of reserving public goods, such as parking spots and restaurant reservations, and offering them at premiums through their applications. This ends up boxing many people out from these goods and results in empty, unpurchased spots/reservations that hurt the owners of these establishments. This phenomenon has gotten a fair amount of media attention, but so far, there doesn’t seem to have been a huge response to such things.

There’s also the cost of living. Granted, the salaries software engineers make out there tend to make up for the difference fairly well, but those in pretty much any other profession are likely going to find themselves strapped. Apartments in the area are ludicrously expensive, with a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco easily costing several times what it would in Raleigh (as an example). As such, most people living out there have to sacrifice apartment quality if they want to find a reasonably priced place to stay.

Transportation is also a hassle out there. While many companies have shuttles to take their employees to/from work at certain times, people living in unserviced parts of the Valley have to deal with an immense amount of traffic. This is true for any densely populated area, however, and is more of a minor concern. (Plus, the fact that there are intergalactic spaceboats of light and wonder everywhere lends some welcome eye candy to the commute.)

Basically, if you’re in the situation where you’re choosing whether or not to live in the Valley, ask yourself if the positives outweigh the negatives. It’s a fantastic place to be for developing engineers, and there are tons of like-minded people starting careers in the area. Living in Silicon Valley is an experience you aren’t going to find anywhere else in the world: if the area appeals to you, you won’t regret your decision.