My Insights

Web3, or Flattening the Pyramid

Web3, or Flattening the Pyramid

This is the lecture that I would typically give in the first week of the Music + Blockchain course I taught at Berklee College of Music.

Before diving into the fun and funky worlds of NFT’s, social tokens and DAO’s, I still like to start with why blockchain matters, and how this explains what Web3.0 has to offer. 


Let’s play a game. Close your eyes, and for a moment, consider who controls you, or holds power in your life, and in what ways. I’ll start: Who controls your finances? Banks have most of that data, most likely. Perhaps a brokerage or financial management company, if you’re lucky. 

Ok, now who controls your health and medical access and information? Your health providers probably use some medical chart software. Your insurance provider has a separate file on you, and perhaps some of that info is shared back and forth. Do you use an app to track your sleep, physical activity or reproductive health? Do you know what they do with your health data? How secure it is? Yeah, honestly, me neither.  

Now what about your social relationships? Your friends’ birthdays? Your ability to message and connect with them? Do you have all that info written down somewhere? It’s Facebook, isn’t it? Instagram. LinkedIn. 

You may be seeing where I’m going by now. So, rinse and repeat.    

Eventually we get here: 

This was my first time teaching with the Zoom whiteboard.

What you start to see is a familiar structure. There’s you. There’s what you want (securing your finances, easily paying for goods and services, accessing and tracking your medical records, staying in touch with friends). And then there’s someone, or more often, many someones, in between. 

Chances are, the someone in between is a platform or service that makes this process convenient, increases trust, and charges, in some way, for that service. Banks, brokerage firms and credit cards charge transaction and service fees; health care providers pay for the medical record platforms, with costs eventually passed on to consumers; and as we know well at this point, we are “paying” for the social network sites by giving them unfettered access to all of our personal data at all times, with which they can, and certainly will, do whatever they like. No free lunch, indeed. 

This is particularly true in the music industry, and that top point in the pyramid, rather than being a single intermediary, is more like a tall, wide plateau of rent-seekers, extracting value, and ultimately decreasing the money that passes from fan to creator. 

These middlemen, or intermediaries, are much of what Web2 was built upon. Web1 allowed information, which “wants to be free!”, to be accessed on a digital network. Web2 delivered on the dream of interacting with all the information, anytime, anywhere, and, importantly, being able to insert your own information as well. Everyone became a creator! On the surface, the means of creation and distribution were suddenly democratized, and don’t get me wrong: we are all better for it. The ability for marginalized people to broadcast and connect, whether activists or artists, has given rise to some of the most meaningful movements we’ve seen in my lifetime. Down with information asymmetry!

However, it turned out that the means of distribution were not actually ours. We feel this anytime one of these services goes down. During the Gamestop craze, all the brokerage firms froze their accounts, and my father texted me a pic of his retirement savings with a (fortunately incorrect) balance of $0.00. When MySpace disappeared, so too did the music, networks and followings that artists had accrued there. As digital publications are bought, sold and shuttered, journalists have followed this fate, losing proof of their bylines.

This can happen when you don’t actually own or control the printing presses and the bookstores. (Side note, ever heard of a monopsony?)


Bitcoin was born after the financial collapse of 2008, when “too big to fail” banks were rescued, while individuals were not. Trust in institutions eroded. Bitcoin became the first use case of what a blockchain could do. 

There’s lots about the Bitcoin blockchain I am not going to get into. What is relevant is that it showed it was possible for transaction and value records to be stored, permanently, by a networked community of anonymous individuals with aligned incentives, but with no central guidance beyond Satoshi’s white paper. The existence of an immutable, decentralized and distributed method of storing data opened up possibilities beyond the financial world as well. 

Simultaneously, music was in the process of being converted into data: 1’s and 0’s. It wasn’t long before some realized that music data, including liner notes, rightsholder records and payments, could similarly be stored and shared using blockchain technology. 

These experiments allowed networked, anonymous individuals, who had previously depended on middlemen to authorize which data and transactions could be securely trusted, to have secure, trusted interactions directly with each other.  A third party no longer had to certify a record as true, or store it on a centralized, privately-held platform, and take their sliver of the pie in so doing. The structure of a blockchain allowed information and transactions to be shared directly, with a transparent, immutable audit trail. Goodbye middlemen!

Suddenly this opened up the ability to digitally, directly connect with others, and allowed users to imagine the new models that these direct connections might create. 


Depending who you ask, blockchain technology, and it’s associated NFT’s, social tokens, DAO’s and general Web3 infrastructure, has been adopted too slowly, too quickly, or, right on schedule. Music copyright (another overly complex topic) has made music and blockchain a continually interesting but challenging marriage. However, in 2021 we seem to be on the cusp of a hype cycle that may finally push adoption and belief over the edge. 

With the sudden proliferation of crypto projects generally, and NFT’s most specifically, the mystique of blockchain technology is starting to wear off. And yet, not surprisingly, the fundamental philosophy behind why blockchain matters, at least to me, seems absent from most conversations around designing projects and experiences in Web3. I wrote about this desire for a reckoning of value and exchange earlier here as well.

I see Web3 as an opportunity to own and control the systems that we use to connect, rather than those systems owning and controlling us. To have systems that are open and clear in how data is used and stored, and to have accessible and clear mechanisms in place that allow us to manage and move our data. To have direct economies that allow for humans to set and exchange value, rather than systems and platforms pricing artists' work to zero. And to have tech that is designed with our bodies and our environment in mind. I am encouraged that the NFT conversations, with artists involved, are actually accelerating the pace of demands to make the tech carbon-neutral.

I have one wish for Web3: let’s leave behind the mistakes of Web2. 

As we flatten the pyramid and directly connect with each other, I think we can all agree that we’d gladly lose Facebook. However if we are not intentional, we WILL repeat our past mistakes. If the same designers, developers and investors, or similar, give rise to Web3, we will see the same problems repeat. We will design protocols that preference white, fully-abled, wealthy cis-men. We will design algorithms that amplify harmful voices and exploit the most marginalized. We will design user experiences that endanger vulnerable populations. We will design economic models that destroy our global climate. 

But we, right now, have the power to make positive choices. 

I will be building these ideas out in future pieces, including how to build with and for community, a deeper dive into Web3, and examples of Web3 pioneers that are making protocols and data portability accessible. If these ideas resonate and you want to learn more or work with me, get in touch.