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Make Art Without Permission: How S-DTV Breaks Down Barriers for Young Artists

An op-ed by G. Thomas Esmay, Assistant to the CEO, SingularDTV

The summer before I graduated film school, Robert De Niro told me I was f*cked.

De Niro’s message is familiar to anyone considering attending art school: you are going to graduate without a job — or so the conventional wisdom goes.

But I, like many others, chose to flaunt that wisdom and went to film school anyway. I did the things I was supposed to do: I attended one of the best film schools in the country, accrued professional experience with a variety of internships, and obtained hands-on experience working on sets with my equally ambitious peers.

But then I graduated, and reality set in. I had just spent four years at one of the most expensive universities in the world and I had no job prospects. De Niro was right — I was f*cked.

My story is far from unique. Many aspiring artists take on huge debt to develop their craft at traditional institutions and emerge upon an industry that’s stacked against them with gatekeepers at every turn. A recent article from the New York Times highlights a manifestation of this problem at Harvard’s American Repertory Theater Institute. The article profiles Katierose Donohue, an actress who despite regularly landing acting gigs, cannot afford to practice her craft because of massive student debt. As she puts it, “You immediately graduate and are handed the bill, and it’s like, good luck, you better book something huge and if you don’t, you’re never going to survive in this industry.” If Harvard, one of the wealthiest institutions of higher learning in the world, cannot or will not support its artists, then the system of producing college-educated working artists is irrevocably broken.

Indeed, the business of the arts — whether it’s visual, film, music, design — simply does not serve artists. Creative industries are monopolized by gatekeepers, individuals or companies who regulate and give permission for artists to create something before it can be shared with audiences. Filmmakers, for example, have to go through agents, managers, production companies, studios and distribution companies before they can reach an audience. Similarly long lists of gatekeepers exist for any creative discipline. With so many people needed to greenlight a project, getting permission to make a piece of art requires the luck of a lottery winner and the network of a political candidate. Talent alone won’t suffice. Instead, you need to be very lucky or very connected — something the vast majority of talented artists all over the world are not.

The artists of today and tomorrow need a radical redesign of the system by which we are allowed to create art and make a living. SingularDTV, a decentralized entertainment platform built on blockchain technology, offers an answer.

Already, there’s a lot to unpack here with words like “decentralization” and “blockchain.” Although both could and should be discussed in great depth, I’ll explain them through examples relevant to the film industry. “Decentralization” refers to the removal of the aforementioned gatekeepers and/or middlemen from the process of creating art. When you skip over all the intermediaries, art is built upon the relationship between artist and audience, so it makes sense that the business of art — from creation to distribution — should be built upon that direct relationship. Why go through a studio to finance a film, when the audience — the people already prepared to pay for a ticket — could just finance the project from the beginning? With crowdfunding becoming popular, this concept makes sense to many people. But on the SingularDTV platform, the distribution aspect of art also takes place without intermediaries. By cutting out the middlemen, the process of creating art is democratized, and this is all made possible by the blockchain.

“Blockchain” refers to the technology that powers SingularDTV’s platform. Often referred to as “the future of the internet,” blockchain technology was popularized by the creation of Bitcoin — the cryptocurrency making headlines for its remarkable value. But blockchain is capable of much, much more. By building its applications on blockchain technology with Ethereum, SingularDTV creates a transparent media industry ecosystem that allows its content creators to tap into the $100+ billion digital currency marketplace with complete agency over their work. That means there’s a lot of art to be made.

So, how does SingularDTV function? Firstly, SingularDTV is not simply a single application. It’s a platform built on a suite of applications that span crowdfunding, rights management, and peer-to-peer streaming or VOD. It’s the combination of all these that enables the removal of gatekeepers from all stages. Your audience will be able to directly contribute to your project with tokens, and then use those tokens to share in the profits when your project is distributed using SingularDTV’s peer-to-peer VOD portal. Imagine a combination of Kickstarter, Netflix and Spotify, except the artists retain the vast majority of profits. To be more precise, SingularDTV only charges between 0 and 5 percent transaction fees, meaning that in a worst-case scenario artists and their token holders keep 95 percent of their revenue. In this way, it will be easier for young artists to build their audience and make a living — and audience contributors can share in their success.

SingularDTV is changing the landscape in which art is made. No longer will artists have to ask for permission to earn for their work. Instead, the SingularDTV model directly rewards artists for making art on their own terms, cultivating their audience, even allowing for college indebted artists like me to immediately start working towards artistic and financial independence. SingularDTV is a project that could instigate a major shift in the way we all produce, consume, and interact with art, and give everyone a fair chance to express themselves and earn from their creativity, regardless of whether or not they have an overpriced degree.

…So back to Mr. De Niro: In his speech, he went on to say, “When it comes to the arts, passion should always trump common sense.” It is here that I have to respectfully disagree with him. Common sense and passion need not be mutually exclusive any longer; in fact, they should go hand in hand. Restructuring the economy of art to better serve artists following their passions — now that’s just common sense. Pioneers like SingularDTV are opening the door to a new economy of art and entertainment, one without gatekeepers and middlemen, where artists have control of their work.

We are only f*cked if we play by their rules. So let’s change them.

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SingularDTV is laying the foundation for a decentralized entertainment industry.

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