Dhole Moments is not a music blog. I will not pretend to be an expert on music, music theory, or music appreciation.
But it goes even further than that: I am so untalented at music that I exert a vacuum pressure on musicians who cross my path at furry conventions.
Regular readers of my blog would expect that, should I ever discuss any topic that intersects with computer audio, it would probably involve leaking the contents of encrypted voice chats through, like, compression oracles or something.
Not today, though.
Instead, I’d like to introduce everyone to the Aural Alliance, a furry music label that aims to disrupt the perverted economics of the music industry.
What is the Aural Alliance?
To answer this question, you first need to have a vague sense of how traditional music labels and music industry contracts work: The music industry uses predatory “advances” and crooked accounting to keep artists in debt.
This predatory behavior isn’t exclusively weaponized against black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPoC) artists; it’s used against queer and disabled artists too.
Unless you have star power, you’ll take what you can get, because there are dozens of hungry upstarts ready to seize your opportunity if you hesitate to take it. Chase the carrot, mind the stick.
The Aural Alliance is a rejection of this traditional dynamic.
Traditional music labels will lend you money to cover the production costs of a musical work. Music sales will then be used to pay off your loan before you ever see a dime.
Aural Alliance straight up distributes 60% of its income to all artists, equally, and uses the remaining 40% to cover operations.
Why You Should Care About This
Unlike many bloggers, it’s difficult for me to classify my regular audience with one simple label or categorization.
Dhole Moments is a furry blog, sure, but not everyone who reads my writing is a furry. I write about computers, security, and cryptography, yes, but not everyone who reads my blog is particularly interested in those topics either.
It might be tempting to read about a furry music label built on socialist principles, shrug, and say, “So what? I’m not a fan of furry musicians or socialism. Where’s your post about key management you promised, dhole?!”
To understand the impact and significance of the Aural Alliance, some knowledge on current events and technology culture is needed.
The Enshittification of Music Sales
Cory Doctorow coined the term enshittification to describe a phenomenon that happens to online platforms. The cycle goes like this:
A new platform is operated at a loss, to gain users. This is usually the Venture Capital funding stage of a “start-up”.
Then once they have enough critical mass to exploit the Network Effect, they sell the startup to the public stock market.
This sale is eventually followed by a shift in priority, where they take away the parts of the platform that users loved (usually following the boiling frog strategy), in order to make it a better deal for their new owners.
This is enshittification: surpluses are first directed to users; then, once they’re locked in, surpluses go to suppliers; then once they’re locked in, the surplus is handed to shareholders and the platform becomes a useless pile of shit. From mobile app stores to Steam, from Facebook to Twitter, this is the enshittification lifecycle.Cory Doctorow
That’s not the only trick up the sleeves of wealthy business interests.
Last year, Epic Games acquired Bandcamp: The only music distribution platform that was fair to indie artists.
Last month, Epic sold Bandcamp to Songtradr, a music licensing service that basically acts as a vampiric middleman: Squeezing money from sellers and buyers alike while providing nothing of value. Songtradr is the outcome of an economist thought experiment, “What if landlords existed for our ear drums?”
Yesterday, Songtradr laid off a significant amount of Bandcamp’s staff.
Songtradr’s business model is the end goal of every Silicon Valley start-up that receives VC funding: Capture near-monopoly power through technology and the network effect, then become a middleman that only exists to add a transaction fee while a tangled web of contractors that compete with each other actually fulfill the services rendered. And they want to do this while driving positive exponential year-over-year growth, to keep investors happy.
Time and again, this happens to industries that affect millions of peoples’ lives, and we’re all the worse for it.
The enshittification of Bandcamp is well underway by its new masters. Independent musicians the world over would benefit greatly from a good alternative.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a recommendation to offer today.
Bandcamp had too much goodwill with its community for a serious competitor to emerge from the noise floor. The Internet got complacent.
In another business vertical, Itch.io currently has a similar vibe with the indie game dev community: It has fostered tremendous goodwill and treats creators fairly.
In 2021, itch.io properties were added to the Epic Games Store launcher. Thus far, it has remained undisturbed. Who knows how long this will hold out?
(Especially considering the abundance of LGBTQIA+ content hosted on itch.io.)
Opposition and Hope
Cory Doctorow, who coined the term enshittification, has proposed what he calls an audacious plan to halt it, and throw its effects in reverse.
Cryptography luminary Phil Rogaway was asked to deliver a keynote at NIST’s Third Workshop on Block Cipher Modes of Operation. (Slides available now, recording to be available soon. I will share it here when I have a link to it.)
Rather than focus too much on OCB or his other contributions to computer science, he chose to talk about what he called Radical CS: A rejection of the Standard Technological Narrative (STN) that technology is an apolitical tool that only improves things for everyone.
(TODO: Add video here when it’s public.)
PhilosophyTube recently tackled the topic of Ethical AI, which is way more interesting than you may suspect.
Many of the people behind the hype of large-scale computing (which is what we should be calling it, not AI), whom are trying to influence public opinion and legislation in order to maximize their own profit, are the exact same people that are driving the enshittification of platforms.
They’re also largely the same people that hyped blockchain too. And you best believe I got a video for that one:
Enter, Aural Alliance?
Hackers, queers, and queer hackers have always been part of the resistance to enshittification.
The Aural Alliance isn’t building a new Bandcamp today, they’re merely building a better record label.
If you had to describe your mission in one sentence, what would it be?Me, to Finn (Founder of the Aural Alliance)
Fostering collective success through respect and collaboration would be the fancy answer I guess hahaFinn
However, sometimes all you need is enough activation energy to get a movement going.
If the Aural Alliance is successful in their goals, it will serve as direct, living proof that a better business model is possible; that artists and musicians can get a fair deal from their craft.
If their projects like the furry music database take off, this may also plant the seed from which tomorrow’s Bandcamp alternative will sprout.
And even if that doesn’t happen, at least some artists will suffer less as a result of the Aural Alliance’s work. That’s a win-win to me.
How You Can Help
A non-exhaustive list of ideas:
- Follow the Aural Alliance on various platforms (yes, including Bandcamp, for now)
- Donate to the Aural Alliance, which benefits all its artists
- Write about the Aural Alliance (especially if you have a blog)
- If you’re interested in the furry music database project, consider donating to Silver Eagle
- Regularly check out the Aural Alliance’s Releases calendar for new songs, albums, etc.
- Request your favorite Aural Alliance artists at your favorite furry convention
Finally, I’d like to close with sharing an excellent work from one of the Aural Alliance musicians, Tonya Song, that every LGBTQIA+ person can definitely relate to.
If none of my words can sell you on the value of what the Aural Alliance is doing, this is sure to do it:
Header art by AJLovesDinos.