It’s been almost a year since Digient Collective was conceived, and over the course of the last year I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job of getting out of the gates, so to speak. We’ve introduced ourselves, released a dozen or so singles, and started to build a bit of an audience. We’ve got a couple EPs planned for 2021, and at least one album. We’ll start releasing physical media this year as well, and we’re excited about the aesthetic opportunity that physical media offers. While we’re excited about this stuff, it’s far from the unique “thingness” I referred to previously. Thingness, it seems to me, can come from many things, but above all else I believe it needs to come from an authentic place.
Over the past year I also found myself going down certain rabbit holes, not in search of our thingness exactly, but chasing the same intuitions that reached a boiling point for me at this very time last year — those that inspired the idea of DC in the first place. It was exactly a year ago that I found myself speaking with numerous people from the music industry, all people who shared my frustrations but, like me, had no answers nor solutions. It was both refreshing, to have my theories validated, but also frustrating to not get slapped upside the head with the reality check I was bracing for. I felt a little crazy, and it might have showed.
And over the course of the last several months, since we started releasing music through Digient Collective, and thus navigating through the terrain a little differently, we’ve already learned a lot, made a couple painful administrative mistakes, and even had an artist name stripped away. The overall process is getting more and more optimized though, and we’re finding efficiencies and starting to find our lane on the crowded road. These daily operations have been something of an experiment too, witnessing first-hand and from a new and unique perspective, how other artists work from a creative standpoint as well as an administrative one. And while the challenges for DC artists have not changed, many of their administrative responsibilities have now shifted to Digient. This means Digient needs to rely on our own efficiencies and processes, or create them anew. It’s this experience that has only further emphasized the shortcomings of the many tools and purported solutions available to indie artists, and revealed more barriers to entry for a small bootstrapping label like Digient Collective. It’s become crystal clear that the music industry as a whole, and many verticals within the broader “music tech” category, really are an entire technological generation behind. The lag is real, and this started to really bum me out.
Recently, though, I found myself in what seemed to be yet another rabbit hole, when instead it became something of a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I stumbled upon the Open Music Initiative, a partnership between Berklee College of Music and MIT (both reppin’ my prior hometown, Boston), and specifically a whitepaper titled, “Towards an Open and Scalable Music Metadata Layer.” The whitepaper hit me like a bolt of lightning, striking right between the eyes. Not a migraine, but an epiphany, an ah-hah moment! Then I stumbled upon a Harvard Business Review article (another shout out to Boston!) penned by Imogen Heap way back in 2017 titled, “Blockchain Could Help Musicians Make Money Again.” Then I stumbled upon Mycelia, and The Creative Passport, and then, and then….you get the idea.
So, as it turns out, I’m not alone, we’re not alone! Turns out Imogen is way ahead of me, and many others are too, just as I had suspected! I couldn’t be more optimistic now. Why? Because I see real movements coalescing, movements and initiatives that prioritize open standards over proprietary ones, and that are being evangelized by organizations with very credible leaders, and importantly not corporations with uniquely corporate interests, and because the organizations, non-profits, and academic institutions throwing their weight behind these movements, frameworks and technologies are credible heavy-hitters who can stand-up, in numbers, to the heads of the five families and the juggernaut industry players. These open standards and movements take time, but when they gain steam they are often unstoppable. It’s the dawn of a new era and I am now convinced that we found a pitch to play on.
This all might seem a little vague and opaque, but let me further muddy the waters. The name “Digient” is very inspired by the idea of a “digient” in “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a novella from Ted Chiang. I’ll spare you the specifics, but simply put: a “digient” is essentially a life-form created in a digital world, a life-form that seems fully conscious, aware of and question its circumstances, and ultimately able to “exist” in the real world, potentially outliving their human creators (if they so choose), or instead they can opt to remain in their digital worlds indefinitely, where there are other threats and existential challenges. The story resonated, it presents many quandaries and conundrums, and poses very interesting questions. Conceptually, the idea of a digient is very inspiring, thus, Digient Collective. My point is, a thingness is starting to reveal itself and it’s happening in an organic way, in a way that aligns with a bigger idea. This feels right, natural, authentic. A thingness is akin to the idea behind a brand, and the idea behind Digient Collective, while conceptual in its original inspiration, is evolving and taking shape now. It’s no longer amorphous. I think we’re at a point where I can at least say the following:
Digient will be an indie label of tomorrow, one that fully and wholly embraces technological disruption in service of the artists and the art, and bucks the status quo. We’ll do this in three ways:
- we’ll embrace bold and divergent ideas and technologies
- we’ll support the platforms and organizations that are responsibly leading the way
- we’ll improvise our way into the future, testing and demonstrating our ideas, sharing our learnings and experiences, and creating a template for others
It’s in this sense that we want Digient Collective to be experimental, like an MVP. Seeing it through that lens allows us to be a lot more free-range than other chickens. Let’s just hope we don’t stray too far from the farm…