My Insights

Songcamp: A Token for Understanding Music + Web3

Songcamp: A Token for Understanding Music + Web3

I’ve been in the music/blockchain space for 5+ years, and have had many similar conversations with many people. When I first spoke with Matthew Chaim, it was different. I knew immediately I'd met a fellow traveler who “got it”: an artist with experience creating music and feeling the pains of the music supply chain; and with ample curiosity and understanding to start poking around and wanting to build something himself. 

Chaim and I met when I hosted him during a “Music Hits Web3” panel at Seed Club’s Creator x Crypto Summit in early April 2021. The next day, he announced his plans to start Songcamp, and held the first squad call the following Monday. Perhaps because I also come to the crypto world from a non-tech-first perspective, his approach with Songcamp really resonated with me. 

I was not alone.

In one short month, Chaim convened three artist teams, plus two visual artists and two project managers. He pulled in the Catalog, Zora AND Mirror teams to support the release, garnered inaugural sponsorship from Seed Club via an "Unlock NFT", and attracted over 250 people into the Songcamp Discord. Not to mention total sales and distribution of value to artists and their teams totalling over 10 ETH, valued at approx. $34,000 USD on the day of the sale . . .

Songcamp is loosely based on the music industry’s songwriting camps, the model through which many of today’s pop hits are written in a multi-day collaborative session between song writers, recording artists, labels and producers. Songcamp borrowed the best from this model: the collaboration, the time limits, the multi-faceted team, and transported them into Web3. It left behind the most challenging aspects of current song writing: disputed copyright splits, slow and incorrect royalty payments, and lack of transparency on the song’s distribution. By convening artists, fostering creative space, and working directly with new protocols to release and distribute, Songcamp is establishing itself as an experiential portal for creatives in the music industry to better understand and shape Web3. The best place to learn by doing.

Chaim is a natural educator. During the weekly Songcamp squad calls he welcomes and orients new members, while inviting everyone to learn, play and create collaboratively. He uses every stage of the creative process as a teaching tool, including explaining how to set up a Metamask wallet and how payment splits and auctions work on Mirror. Most recently the collective creative experiences have resulted in crowdsourcing an updated @songcamp_  Twitter handle, designing a grid of new Songcamp identicons on Figma, and running a turbo 30-minute “Minicamp” resulting in three impressive songs and graphics.   

Talk is abundant and cheap (a bit more on that later) in the music crypto space, and value lies with those building something you can see. Show don't tell, always. In that spirit, I sat down with Matthew, and then had a discussion with Matt Parad, Gavin Slate and Samsonite, artists from the first Songcamp cohort, to share what they built and learned. Below are highlights from our conversation, along with my insights about how Songcamp fits into the greater music industry and developing Web3 space.

d’Avis: How do you describe Songcamp?

Chaim: Songcamp is a Web3 lab experimenting at the edges of music and internet, with hopes to build into a valuable and accessible rabbithole for musicians to fall into with the new Internet. We are passing back findings along the edges, for others who are non-crypto-native. We were playing in the unknown, and approaching with a beginner’s mind. 

Samsonite: It felt like a melting pot for people who are curious about music and blockchain. It was something that I felt was really needed in the space, and it popped up at the perfect time. 

Art reminds us to be human and pushes our societies forward, and yet we seldom resource it adequately. Recently, activists in the MOMA Strike group posted, "The aesthetic and imaginative powers of art require material support: Economies of solidarity, platforms of cooperation, infrastructure of care and mutual aid. But the political economy of the art system is antithetical to these life-affirming practices." 

d’Avis: How are projects like Songcamp rising to the challenge of providing artists what they need to create? 

Chaim: At the start, we turned on our cameras and met each other, and we started feeling those “camp” vibes on that first day. That’s the best you can do: create the human bond. It was a clear path for value realization. We knew it wasn’t “thrown to the wind”. I’ve had conversations with producers where they discussed how they typically wouldn’t see anything for their work. So for producers, specifically, this was a powerful message.

The auction ended and you immediately could claim the funds. Artists collectively owned and created this space. It’s not “how do we fix it,” it’s “here’s a completely new avenue.” When it becomes us, what do we need?
- Chaim

Samsonite: To be totally open about it, I toured for 10 years, struggling, working double jobs. I really value creativity and artistry first, but I just wanted to make a shitload of money so I can just make art. Because that’s the coolest shit in the world, but unfortunately society doesn’t value it as such. So I was learning about finances and markets, which is a different side of my brain.

What completely attracted me to crypto and Web3 is the rebellious nature of it. The punk rock aspect of it. I come from DIY communities, so I’m all about doing it yourself, and these tools allow for that. 
- Samsonite

Songcamp also disrupted a key element of the songwriting practice around discussing, deciding on, documenting, and often debating, the “splits” or division of royalties amongst the songwriters and other musical contributors for a song. These splits dictate each contributor’s percentage of ownership of the song’s copyright, and are directly linked to the portion of royalties they receive. 

Chaim: The splits were completely public, and that’s a very powerful arc of the story. We could see the direct value in real time. Splits became an open conversation. As artists, we’re not given a template that works. I tweeted something recently: by making deals in the shadows, our shadows are making the deals. This takes it out of the shadows, and changes the conversation. 

Samsonite: I have no qualms with discussing money anymore. I used to, when I was younger, with the music, that was always a no-no, but then you realize how that shit gets complicated, so it’s really actually good to talk about that stuff. I love that it was all equal, and for lack of a better word, socialist. It felt like I could just chill and make the music.

Parad: Whenever I go into split situations with artists, that is the single most contentious and dramatic, and potentially destructive, part of making music. Songcamp is really amazing because it dispels the bullshit that the music industry has put into our blood. The industry has trained us to pitt ourselves against each other. So that element was amazing to me. We could create freely within that space.

We didn’t know if these songs would make any money. But the promise of them making money was potentially more real and more tangible than if you wrote a song on an album with an artist signed to a major label, which is crazy. That’s what made me feel really comfortable. I’m going to do as much as I can, and be as invested as I can, because I know everyone’s getting the same. That’s the way I wish normal writing sessions would go.
- Parad

Slate: We knew it would be public on the chain. Having it here, and knowing it, we could just do our thing and forget about the splits. 

In my conversation with Matthew, I referenced the concept of “primacy” which David Rudnick explained in Mat Dryhurst and Holly Herndon’s Interdependence podcast. Rudnick described himself as a “primacist”, favoring neither physical nor digital prime, but rather, someone who “makes work that explores the difficult space of compatibility between these two sides.” 

This schism we’re all experiencing between the dualities of “physical prime” and “digital prime” seemed particularly relevant to Songcamp, because I had seen Matthew artfully bridge the two worlds. This creative process was 100% digital prime, and yet for the artists involved, it led to a more personal creative process. 

d'Avis: How did the non-traditional release format impact the creative process?

Chaim: A role that wasn’t foreseen was the creative director. I played that, which I’ve done before and enjoy doing. There was a lot of vibe management too. I did one-on-one calls with each artist, and made sure the teams were well matched. The biggest hurdle was getting it going, but the teams ended up being very self sovereign.

Parad: Magically, this really could have gone the other way, but we were all proficient enough to do the job. That is potentially going to be a hurdle moving forward: who can work remotely, digitally, proficiently to release a fully finished song in two weeks or less. That was a bit of our hurdle, getting a mix that we all agreed on, and who was going to mix it. We decided it’s done when we say it’s done. 

Slate: I do demos for artists, but I would never mix something, and would never have the confidence for it. When you create in this new format, the listener wants it to be a little bit pure. Not to say I want to get rid of mixing, but there’s something super interesting in that thought that, it’s really purely from the three people who did it. No one else gave their spin on it. 

Samsonite: It catered to resonance vs reach, exactly what Matthew is jamming on. There’s no pressure to make sure that everyone on TikTok is going to resonate with it far and wide. That really gives it room for more nuanced art to come up to the surface, because you don’t need everyone to listen to it for it to be successful, you just need that one person. 

Slate: If I’m going into a writing session, I’m stuck in a bit of a box. I have to appease the A&R person that this artist is locked into their deal, and I have to appease their label. I’m going through 4 or 5 steps.

So for me to go and create, that’s what Songcamp opened up. That’s how almost all of us started out, making music in our bedroom. This was the most pure version of being able to create from emotion.
- Slate

Parad: We have space to play around here and can do what we want. It would be great if everyone wanted to play this song a million times a day, but this is a real opportunity to make something artistic and not really pander to anybody. 

The pain points of onboarding also came into play. The group was largely “crypto-curious”, if not crypto-native, and so this was a welcome orientation for each of them. 

d'Avis: How familiar were you with Web3 and crypto before Songcamp?

Parad: In 2017, everything was exploding, and so I got a Coinbase account, I bought some stuff, and everything tanked. I was like screw this. I just dropped $2,000 into this, and it broke my heart, so I’m done with this. And I didn’t look at my account. If I hadn’t been dumb in 2017, I wouldn’t have had the little I have to play around with now. It gained value, so having a few hundred to throw into MetaMask from Coinbase was a good chunk. 

This is a very seldom discussed, and incredibly important element of crypto. Due to growing prices, it is becoming prohibitively expensive to learn Web3 experientially, especially on the Ethereum network, where the majority of platforms and liquidity currently sit. The technology is also not infallible. During the final minutes of the auction, Mirror, the platform used by Songcamp, experienced delays, resulting in some bidders losing their final bid.

d’Avis: Would you be willing to talk about the tech challenges that happened right at the end of the auction? Did you figure out what happened?

Chaim: Mirror’s host had a timeout in the 15 minute period when the auction was ending. I was in touch with them the whole time and after. So they recognized that that can’t happen in the future. It’s like we discussed, it’s good to have people using these tools, having demand for them, even when there are problems, it shows that people want the tools, and that there’s a need to build and improve them.

Matthew and I also discussed the need for more diversity, and since the first cohort, which was entirely men and largely white, he has made considerable efforts to expand the outreach more inclusively, and is working directly with leaders in diverse communities to attract new artists.

d’Avis: How are you ensuring that Songcamp is inclusive and equitable

Chaim: Well, for starters, we now have women applicants. We’ve been working with Mint Fund, who are doing amazing work and are interested in getting more involved on the music side. And we’re connecting with musician LATASHÁ and HerStory DAO. She’s doing a ton of excellent work in the crypto music space.

Web3 only stands to gain from a desperately needed infusion of diversity. It is a rare meeting when I am not the only woman, the only slightly brown person, and the only person over the age of 40. With homogeneity, there is dependence on economic narratives that have privileged those already most in control. This includes the myth of scarcity being the sole path to economic value. When music moved from cd’s to streaming, it lost its scarcity, and with it, its perceived financial worth. While the "non-fungibility" of NFT's are suggested as a path to recapture scarcity, and thus value, I wonder how we might let music be both abundant and valuable. 

d’Avis: What are your thoughts on scarcity and abundance?

Chaim: Catalog has shaped this thinking for me. There’s a one-of-one canonical record, and it is the song. You create this scarce piece, like the first printing of Abbey Road, and then the more ubiquitous an item is, the more valuable that item is. I think of it like the Internet original recording, and see digital as distinct from physical things. What if music is completely abundant, but we capture the cultural value of that music, fractionalizing the value of the pieces of the music. Euler Beats is also experimenting with this, offering original recordings, plus finite prints. 

Songcamp is rooted in creativity. Creative music and visual art, yes, but also creative tech design. The creators learned from the tech, and more importantly, the tech learned from them. In the Interdependence podcast, Rudnick described art as an “activation token for how a society accesses myth”, used by societies to unlock shared values, understandings and narratives, and discussed the importance of preserving and bringing these tokens as we merge from physical to digital prime. With Songcamp, Matthew has shown it’s possible to make these bridges quickly and skillfully. I say bring it. This music + Web3 space needs more tokens of understanding, passing back and forth between the two worlds.