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Artists should control their work. That means we need better networks.

The musician Zoë Keating (who I admire) has written a very transparent, and a little sad, post about the decision she needs to make about YouTube:

They were nice and took time to explain everything clearly to me, but the message was firm: I have to decide. I need to sign on to the new Youtube music services agreement or I will have my Youtube channel blocked.

So what's in the YouTube music services agreement?

It turns out to be a five-year contract that requires her to make all of her catalog available for free on YouTube, with an ad on it. In other words, YouTube requires her to relinquish control over what she releases where.

Is such control too much for an artist to ask for in 2015? It’s one thing for individuals to upload all my music for free listening (it doesn’t bother me). It’s another thing entirely for a major corporation to force me to. I was encouraged to participate and now, after I’m invested, I’m being pressured into something I don’t want to do.

Yet this is the web! Zoë should be able to post her content to her own website, as well as services like Bandcamp, SoundCloud and the Pirate Bay. And she does do all those things (including, progressively, making her content available over BitTorrent). But YouTube gives her something that she feels she can't get simply by sticking her shield out on the web at large: audience.

This is the same reason that people are choosing to post to Medium rather than their own blogs. It's why photographers initially flocked to Google+, and why you'll find so many on Instagram now. It's because there are ready-made network effects that artists can harness in order to obtain greater reach, and ultimately get paid for what they do.

When a single entity controls the audience for a particular medium, as YouTube now effectively does, they can leverage control over the artists. The result is a worse situation both for artists and their audiences, as the activity of both is shaped to fit the platform owner's interests. From an artist's perspective, the terms demanded by sites like YouTube can feel predatory and invasive. In particular, why would mass market listeners pay for Zoë's album on her terms, when they can listen for free on YouTube's site?

The solution is to build the audience-generating network effects employed by YouTube to the web itself. It's not just about decentralized conversations: it's about driving traffic to artists' own websites, and allowing for organic, seamless discovery of media wherever it lives online. Ironically, it could be argued that this is what Google - still the web's go-to search engine provider - should really be doing.

So, fine. Google is choosing not to do that, and to build value into its own platform. In the best tradition of Internet technology, that leaves room for someone else to fill the gap. And in the best tradition of Internet technology, they will. It's just a matter of time.


If you've read this far, you should go get yourself a free Known site. Publish on your own site using a variety of media, and share it across the web.

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