10 January 2023
The status quo has us burn out worn out. Is there another way?
The zine closes with a visual that maps out where we are now — isolated, churning out content, competing on individual levels for attention — and where we could be going — collaborating, world-building, and cooperating to make bigger works together.
This visual isn’t an idle dream or overly optimistic fantasy. This is what happens when people start and join metalabels.
A metalabel is a release club where groups of people who share the same vision or cultural goals agree to drop and support work together. Metalabels are like indie record labels for all forms of creative output.
What makes a metalabel unique is its mix of individual voices contributing to a shared cultural vision. Metalabels empower groups of people who care about the same thing to contribute their skills to a common cause or aesthetic, building something greater than what they could on their own.
Examples of metalabels include:
The Royal Society — a group formed in the 17th century to promote a new idea we now call science, publishing monthly journals and texts by others who shared their views like Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin, manifesting a belief in science in the world at large, and still active today.
MSCHF — an art collective that drops absurd projects every other week that vividly reveal how manipulative capitalism is.
The Wide Awakes — a group of artists, activists, and musicians making political projects together.
The seven of us behind Metalabel.xyz have spent the past year-plus starting and operating a metalabel. In our experience, we’ve noticed and felt clear and meaningful advantages:
1) In a metalabel, your skills contribute to something bigger. Each metalabel represents a hoped-for future, a scene (established or starting), a celebration of a specific genre or craft. Each individual contributor to the larger project adds their voice and skills to that bigger vision. This match of skill and meaning is personally very rewarding.
2) It’s emotionally more fulfilling to release work as a metalabel. By releasing work with a group of peers, you feel less anxious about your work because you know you’re not alone. Other people having your back, making each other’s work better, and promoting each other’s drops is a massive improvement to the anxiety and dread of releasing work on your own.
3) It’s an economically better experience to drop work as a metalabel.When we dropped After the Creator Economy using the record format, more than two dozen people were paid out by the release, some receiving thousands of dollars for significant contributions and others receiving $100 for little effort. Everyone got paid, and it happened seamlessly thanks to the economic design of records on Metalabel.xyz that also allows for groups to programmatically recoup hard costs from their drops.
4) The metalabel model is a sustainable engine for cultural and economic growth. We’ve designed the upcoming Metalabel.xyz to default to split proceeds 70-30 between the creator of a record and the metalabel publishing it (this can be changed). This structure allows for each metalabel’s release to generate income for the creators of the work, as well as return funds to the metalabel’s treasury that can be used for upcoming works. This iterative, accumulating structure allows a metalabel to sustain and grow their cultural movement and resources over time, as this visual from the “What’s a metalabel?” page illustrates:
With each metalabel drop, the group’s audience, treasury, and cultural footprint grows. For more, see “What’s a metalabel?”
5) Metalabels are a proven model for creating world-changing and long-lasting impact. The metalabel structure is how movements and groups have persisted across eras and history. Groups ranging from the Whole Earth Catalogto Dischord Records to the Royal Society all managed to create significant cultural movements through the iterative and collaborative nature of their work using the metalabel model. This approach is replicable in other circumstances and in support of other cultural causes.
Over the past year we’ve been transformed by the metalabel model. We recently completed our first State of the Squad survey, where we shared our feelings on how we work together. (You can view the survey and fork your own copy here — recommended for decentralized and asynchronous teams especially.)
Three quotes from the survey:
“What's personally meant the most to me has been the partnership and collaboration with the rest of the group. I truly feel like I'm a part of something. I feel less alone. I feel less anxious.”
“I enjoyed being lost and found with you all. I love that I feel confidence in the squad that whatever we get stacked with, we will manage to figure out when we put our brains together.”
“It was a transformative year for me. I felt so empowered by being trusted and heard. I started the year being intimidated by our meetings and having a hard time speaking and ended the year finding myself in a place where I sometimes need to remind myself to leave space for others.”
In After the Creator Economy, the musician Pictureplane told us:
“Releasing music through a collective or group will always benefit you. Having a supportive record label or group of likeminded friends and collaborators that are hyping your music up can only be a good thing.”
Also in the zine, Samantha Marin of the Quorum metalabel told us:
“The creator economy is very individualistic and lonely, which is completely the opposite of how humans naturally behave. Working together as a metalabel opens up the opportunity for collaboration and breaks open the isolation into a more natural formation of groups. It makes it so every creator doesn’t have to design their own brand, build their own audience, and run their sponsorship strategy to make money. Multiple creators can share those resources — brand, audience, sponsorships — together.”
Creating and releasing work alone is lonely. We’ve all felt it. The structures of the creator economy convinced us we had no choice but to compete against each other for eyeballs and attention — an assumption that only the platforms themselves truly benefit from.
One day we’ll look back on these customs with surprise that we were so deeply enthralled to them, when a better model built on support, reciprocity, and cooperation was right there all along.
What’s after the creator economy? Metalabels: groups of creative people who share the same vision or taste coming together to contribute to larger cultural goals.
Until now, working this way has been difficult. To collaborate with a group of others you needed to create an LLC, trust one person to handle accounting, and move against hyper-individualistic tides so strong they’ve defined and shaped our social and technical infrastructure at its deepest core.
But that social and technical architecture is changing.
Recently, social value has been primarily determined by how many followers a person has. But increasingly now and in the future, social value will be determined by who a person squads with, who releases with them, and what larger projects their work speaks to and is a part of. The values are changing right under our feet. This is what it means to leave one era and enter a new one.
Over the past year, we’ve been painting a picture of this new way of working, drop by drop, through Metalabel. In the coming months that work will culminate with tools allowing groups of creators to establish their shared identities, drop releases, and sell onchain records of their work in ways that benefit not just the individual creators and collectors, but a wider network of collaborators and the shared beliefs and wider causes that bring them together.
Metalabels are the future and we want to build that future with and for you. Want a ticket out of the Creator Economy? Want to be a part of this movement? Want to drop work with us? Then sign up here.