Startup explorations #2 / Trends and opportunties: Beginning notes

January 7, 2021

I mentioned in my previous post that I'm interested in the problem of audience-building for artists or creators. There seems to be great opportunity in building off the current global trend of the booming creator or "passion" economy: middlemen between creators and audiences have largely faded away, creators have more control over what they produce, and audiences get to interact directly with their favorite creators. The subscription model and "micro-patronage" have become widespread and have been shown to work—we may find other useful models in the future, but the shift toward more direct relationships between creators and audiences has effectively facilitated meaningful human connection and is likely to last.

The dominance of video is also a current trend, greatly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many performing artists, notably musicians, have been driven to adopt video (Zoom, YouTube, Facebook Live, etc.) as a short to medium-term solution for performance, teaching, collaboration, etc. Given these trends, it becomes important to remember, what are audiences paying for? Quality of content itself remains important, but it's also meaningful and effective connection, which technology attempts to facilitate.

Some parallel directions this could take:

Meaningful connection through in-person events. Video will continue to be vital for many creators (a trend that should not be cast aside), but I've observed that many creators have also begun to be more aware of its limitations—notably, that it can never replace the human aspect of live, in-person experience. This would apply more to performing artists: instrumentalists, singers, actors, dancers, etc. Hence, the opportunity to take an opposite route and encourage audience-building with a hyperlocal approach. What if we could have a platform that enables performers and audiences to find each other in-person through a map system, updated in real-time with all events currently taking place near a given user's location?

Meaningful connection over the internet. This is more applicable to creators: composers, songwriters, writers, filmmakers, visual artists, etc. Could we have a platform that focuses on enabling creators and fans to find each other by highlighting quality work? Many of the current independent creator subscription sites such as Patreon, Substack, etc. do not have developed systems for either discovering new work or audience-building.

One possible approach is a more developed system of personalized recommendations. Perhaps a user, with each sign in, can be shown a page with a dynamic list of work that they might like and consider supporting. Any user can choose to highlight any work they find particularly impressive, which goes into the system that manages these recommendations. To make this meaningful, quality work would have to be emphasized. Instead of organizing or ranking recommendations by "likes" or numbers of supporters (which can be off-putting to artists who don't already have large followings), perhaps there would be a kind of endorsement from someone in the community who has chosen to highlight it. This could be one way to incentivize community engagement—by correlating it with platform visibility and discoverability.

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In summary, my thinking is to build off all or some of the trends outlined above—the creator economy, dominance of video, the subscription model—while in parallel possibly resisting aspects of those trends that are negative—lack of meaningful connection, information overload, low-quality work, the concentration of success to creators who have large followings before they even get into a new platform.

My thinking on all of this is naturally influenced by my personal experience as both a performer and creator, and my ability to sympathize with the difficulties of audience building. I have a good sense of the conflicts many artists face: they are sensitive people who strive always for meaningful connection and quality work rather than pure numbers, balanced with the need to compete and sell in a winner-take-all environment. I think we can work on building a platform with a strong human element to it that takes these things into account, that will ultimately encourage more creators to take their careers into their own hands.


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