Introducing R.AV

R.AV is a step towards building the creative and financial infrastructure needed to sustain and expand a new musical ecosystem in the digital world.

The music industry is at a breaking point. Dwindling sales and meager payouts from streaming platforms have turned artists into content creators, making it increasingly difficult to make a living from music. The flood of new releases every day means that the essential curatorial work of labels gets lost in the content production mill. And even for the casual fan, it's becoming harder and harder to see your favorite artists when touring has become unsustainable thanks to collapsing infrastructure and inflation.

It’s a crisis that feels both completely contemporary and part of a longer cycle in the music industry. Looking back to the 70s, for example, the industry was at a similar juncture. Major labels controlled the airwaves and nightclubs, royalty payments were dwindling, and the entire industry was dominated by a few gatekeepers. In an attempt to tackle some of these issues, in the summer of 1975 three New York city DJs, including the famed founder of The Loft, David Mancuso, created the New York Record Pool.

The Record Pool worked by bringing together a group of DJs and artists from across the Tristate Area to comb through new releases. This group would host weekly meetings, working collaboratively to identify the best new dance music from both independent and major labels. Unlike its cousin the Record Club, that is, the Record Pool was an exercise in curation and selection.

Equally important, the Record Pool's goal was to develop alternative distribution channels outside of the backroom dealing of the major labels. In the accompanying manifesto, the founders made this much clear: "The record pool will be a self-service, self-regulated, independent calm center which will act as a point of exchange between record companies and discotheque DJs [...] This will result in our being able to devote more time and energy to the creative aspects of listening and presenting music."

David Mancuso's Record Pool
Judy Weinstein's Record Pool

The Record Pool was meant to act as a new port of call for fans, labels, and artists alike: fans were going to hear a wider cross-section of music, labels could circumvent the payola, and, ultimately, musicians and DJs could focus on the art itself. The emergence of the Record Pool had a hint of the utopian. Wrestling the means of distribution back from the majors and providing a curated selection of the best music out there was as radical as it was intuitive.This is where we are at today—trying to think through new models and possibilities of distribution, while also looking for new ways for artists and fans to meaningfully connect with one another.

It’s this experimentation that forms the seed of Refraction's A/V Club (R.AV). Taking the principles of the Record Pool and merging them with the transparent, democratic infrastructures of the blockchain, and the creative potential of new technology, R.AV is an opportunity to help rethink distribution channels, but also, like the original New York Record Pool, a way to provide a curated selection of the most exciting music out there.R.AV will be a home for artists to develop, present, preserve, and value their work in the digital sphere. Through the possibilities enabled by the blockchain, we want to explore foundationally different ways of producing, releasing, and interacting with music.

Web3 technology is simultaneously a creative tool, an archival resource, and a digital format. This means that it can fundamentally reshape the way we think about what a piece of art can do. By bringing together the audio and the visual, we want to encourage new types of listening and conversation between artists and fans. R.AV seeks to build new contexts and insights into both the musical and the visual realm, looking at how this technology can help combat the attention economy's increasing detachment from art by reframing and reformatting what a piece of music can or should be. What are the forms and formats that a digital release might take? Whether that is online, via in-person experiences or physical objects, we want to ask what is next in the evolution of musical form?

To undertake this radical structural rethinking, we've developed three pillars of experimentation:

Research & Development

R.AV is built around the value of experimentation. This means taking time to research and develop new ideas. We are assembling a group of established creatives working at the intersection of art and technology who will help us realize new tools, models, and mediums for artists to express themselves creatively in the digital sphere.

Distribution & presentation

A structural issue with previous industry models is the lack of flexibility that goes into the distribution of music. The industry has seen some changes in this space (e.g., Bandcamp Friday), but many of these models remain entrenched in legacy platforms and formats such as DSPs and vinyl.

R.AV will work directly with artists, labels, and collectives on new innovative ways to release their music. Reaching new audiences and figuring out where and how fans and artists alike can come together.

Archival Work

As much as R.AV is about building future formats and ideas, we also understand the importance of contextualizing our work within a longer history of creative technology.This archival work is enabled by R.AV’s adoption of the blockchain. Putting art on-chain creates a lasting footprint and record, ensuring the work isn’t lost into the ether.or historical obscurity.

How It Works

R.AV, like Record Pools and their cousin, the Record Club, is a subscription-based service.

Memberships will be structured around monthly drops and curated experiences and will provide ways for artists and fans to engage in dialogue in meaningful and transformative ways.

Through their subscriptions, members will have the opportunity to support and own unique audio-visual pieces from both emerging and established artists, getting access to the full R.AV catalog for free along with additional perks.

Non-members will be able to purchase a selection of individual releases via our online shop.

More than a patronage model, R.AV seeks to foster a vibrant community of music enthusiasts and pioneers who value creativity and innovation and who understand the challenges and opportunities for supporting music and digital content.

With all the static and noise of the contemporary industry, the actual music often feels secondary—like background noise for content generation. This is an opportunity to reclaim the art for the art's sake. R.AV is a step towards building the creative and financial infrastructure needed to sustain and expand a new musical ecosystem in the digital world.

Image Credits:
Celebration of Judy Weinstein’s record pool For The Record’s 1st anniversary. With DJ’s Kenny Morgan, Jellybean Benitez, Jonathan Fearing, Danny Krivit, and Larry Levan.
©1978 Discothekin’ - The Disco Professionals’ Newsweekly