If you haven’t heard Emma Swift, you’re really missing out. Her bio describes her as “an Australian-born songwriter, currently residing in the Nashville, TN and London, UK. A gifted singer inspired by Joni Mitchell, Marianne Faithfull, Linda Ronstadt and Sandy Denny, Emma’s sound is a blend of classic folk, Americana and indie rock. Although she writes her own songs, she is best known for her interpretations of other people’s work.”
That’s an understatement–In 2021, Rolling Stone Magazine named her version of Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately” as #17 in the 80 Best Dylan covers of all-time. Not only is her Blonde on the Tracks tribute to Bob Dylan one of the classic albums, her Twitter is an insightful look at what it means to be an independent artist in the streaming era. She’s a national treasure.
In the slow motion train wreck that is Facebook, it has become glaringly obvious that artists need an email service that keeps you out of the clutches of Big Tech, kind of a Proton Mail for artists. No data scraping, no surveillance, no monitoring. We get enough of that from the neuromarketeers at Spotify. I actually had this conversation with senior managers at Beats and Spotify years ago and basically got shined on because they wouldn’t allow artists to have email that the companies didn’t somehow control.
This email issue is really one of basic speech rights. We’re not trying to advance transhumanism or the singularity–we just want to find an audience for compelling music. We don’t want music to be a drug to drive fans quietly through some data profiling abattoir.
Emma’s Twitter post above nails it–artists need to promote their email lists and maintain email lists as a means of communicating directly with their fans. It’s simple and cheap and it’s something that everyone can do with a little study. An artist’s email list is just for them and their fans, not something they do to create value for some venture capitalists to improve their internal rate of return or IPO.
Given what we are finding out about the inner workings of these vile social media companies, a serious opportunity is presenting itself as an investment destination probably for someone in the artist business: Start a free email service for artists that doesn’t scrape data and is not promoted as an exit strategy like Mailchimp. (Mailchimp sold to Intuit for $12 billion–who do you think created most of that value?) If the incentives are set up correctly, the thing that gives it value to artist customers will be the thing that makes it unattractive to venture capital exiteers. Not to mention getting away from companies that willfully infringe all the livelong day, although that’s another story.
Emma is also articulating what I think should be part of a Fair Trade Music policy for social media companies. At a minimum, it’s the kind of thing that A2IM, AIM and IMPALA should be discussing seriously.
However this gets sorted, Emma’s comment resonates with a lot of artists who would dearly love to be able to get Big Tech out of their lives. Hopefully her comment will also resonate with a partner who can see the idea as an important project and force for good.