brandon king is a dj/sound-selector, multidisciplinary artist, and cultural organizer from the Atlantic Ocean by way of Hampton Roads, VA. He creates installations exploring African diasporic identities, honoring his ancestors’ stories through archival and found materials, sound collages, painting, film, and other forms. He is a founding member of Cooperation Jackson, a cooperative network in Jackson, Mississippi, and a member of the New York City-based artist collective Purple Tape Pedigree (PTP). brandon also currently serves as the Executive of Resonate Coop, an international, open source, music streaming platform cooperative, democratically governed by its members: artists, listeners, and workers.

When Mark from Fortunately reached out to brandon, asking to feature Resonate, brandon mentioned that the cooperative is currently on pause while members try to secure more funding to address technical issues. After discussing how many cooperatives experience similar challenges, they agreed that being transparent about these challenges can actually be productive. Improving a cooperative involves hard work, learning from mistakes, and making continual adjustments. The following is an edited excerpt from their conversation on these challenges.

                  The Resonate manifesto, titled "It's time to play fair," is a set of values that orients to how the cooperative could benefit its members and society. It also helps define our relationship to capital and power, prioritizing people's needs over profit. I've seen a lot of dope things on paper regarding a cooperative’s vision. Living under the confines of capitalism means it's challenging for these visions to be actualized. Many times, they are aspirational, whereas if all the cylinders were working, the vision could be more fully realized. We can talk about our values as musicians and artists, but how do we set up mechanisms within our cooperative structure to operationalize aspects of the manifesto and make them a reality?

To give some context for Resonate’s formation: it began in late 2015 as a way for people who were witnessing the growth of music streaming platforms and wanted to find something that could be more fair for artists and consumers. The coop implemented the "stream-to-own" model, which is similar to a jukebox in that people contribute money to play music on the platform. After a song has been played nine times, it’s added to your personal library. The company also initially had a connection to blockchain, but the token ended up crashing. Because of this, Peter Harris, the founder of Resonate, considered shutting the company down until Rich Jensen, one of the founders of Sub Pop Records, expressed his interest. Rich has a deep understanding of the music industry and how local scenes can become a global phenomenon. He convinced Peter that they had potential—and a dope name. 

As a platform cooperative, people can join from all over the world. What I've noticed, though, is that people who join are mainly white, cis-gendered, English-speaking men from the US and Europe who have time to engage in such platforms. They may be passionate about Resonate, but their familiarity with decolonial, intersectional ways of relating is limited, and learning is a process. We’ve had a cultural strategist consult with Resonate, and they implemented Dismantling White Culture meetings. This was for anyone within our coop who wanted to participate. How can we build Resonate's cooperative culture and collective consciousness in ways that increase the capacity and access of culture bearers from frontline and marginalized communities? How can we create space for these communities to shape our cooperative in ways that meet their needs, and also connect them to a broader cooperative ecosystem and transnational community? I don’t believe it’s “democracy” if most of the people in the room reflect the people whose identities already assume positions of power within society. I’ll never accept the notion of democracy existing where there’s just one black face in a room full of white people making decisions. If you're not making space for other voices, all the different terms used to talk about “how democratic we are” is bullshit. As Executive of Resonate, I’m questioning how I can make a space where folks from my community feel like they’re welcome and where there is a good vibe. But it’s been challenging. We live under capitalism. That’s a constant struggle. We live under white supremacy. That’s also a constant strife. These things have to be unlearned, and there will be growing pains.

I believe that this platform can be super beneficial to artists, musicians, and people who simply love music all around the world, especially folks who come from areas where a lot of music originates. Within the US, I think about blues and these extracted art forms. American music came from enslaved Africans. What are the descendants of enslaved Africans' positionality within the music industry today? I think about Sly Stone living out of his van, unhoused. How the fuck was that ever made possible? We need tools that are distributed and decentralized that we own and democratically managed. What’s dope about a platform coop is its global potential. There are hubs of resources where people got bread, many times accumulated through generations and generations of exploitation and extraction. And there are places where there’s not a lot of bread, there’s a deficit, and communities whose land and people have been exploited. How can we support these regions and communities in the margins? Places like Mississippi, where blues, gospel, and jazz music originated. That's my orientation and how I see the development of Resonate and the operationalization of the manifesto. If we just allow "first come, first serve," it’s going to be mainly white dudes. That’s been the growing pain. We need to be educated about the reasons why we’re taking this approach, combined with the practice of showing up in space and making space for people. Some folks haven't been in the practice of that. They may have ideas around solidarity economy, cooperative economics, and the commons, but actually being in space with communities that you claim to be in solidarity with can be another story. Taking direction and leadership from said communities, that's an even bigger challenge.

Being in Cooperation Jackson from the beginning, I learned that real change takes time. Being democratic is something that we haven't been taught. This is something that we don't have much actual practice in. And so it takes a bit longer for us to make decisions because we're not operating in an autocratic way. We're not like how the venture capitalist (VC) bosses do, they can just make a decision and everyone falls in line. For me, it’s ultimately about how we want to relate to each other and manage the resources and wealth generated from our collective contributions. It's like, the world is burning and it could be that doom and gloom kind of thing that is constantly happening. The system will always put fires in front of you to put all your time, your energy, your capacity into putting out and never leave you time to actually build the world you want to see.

I believe in a “fight and build” strategy: to be able to build and resist enough to get the beast off your neck while also creating a sort of infrastructure that is life-affirming for people and the ecosystem we live and breathe in.It takes time—many times it's messy—but it's an experiment, and having it together all the time isn’t humanly possible. I think it's important to be able to talk about the contradictions and challenges. We can learn through our mistakes, but our current system doesn't allow space for that. Sometimes we play into this structure because it might mean more resources in the interim to be able to do what we’re trying to do. I feel like that’s a trap though. And I want to be a part of a cooperative, a part of an ecosystem of folks that are actually being real about our shit. We need honest dialogue. We need to be able to share about our challenges because that's the only way we're going to troubleshoot, learn to move forward. Maybe we have different ways of presenting ourselves for the nonprofit world, but if we're talking comrade to comrade, cooperator to cooperator, let's keep a hunnid. Let's keep it a buck.

It’s Time to Play Fair

A Manifesto by Resonate Coop.

1. Music is art, not content. Creativity should be in the hands of its creators, not those looking to extract or exploit its value. 
2. We believe that co-ops are the future of a more egalitarian internet and society. Technology must benefit all involved by weaving communities into thriving, sustainable networks that address the diverse needs of people by providing them with their life essentials. Building a worldwide network of co-operatives is a key part of rejecting the destructive power of Capitalism and Colonialism within our societies, fostering a world built on co-operation, communal control of the commons, and the equality of unequals.

3. We are the stewards of our artists’ creativity. We have a duty of care to the artists, music and other works that we host on Resonate. Our goal is that artists are able to thrive, and that the work entrusted to us is respected and protected.

4. The music “industry” is broken. Its extractive and exploitative hierarchies have never truly served artists. Power has been consolidated in the hands of a small number of technology companies and dominant major labels. We are building a new ecosystem founded on principles of fairness, transparency and co-operation.

5. Artists should be able to build and maintain sustainable careers on their own terms, without exploitation. We should build systems that support and enable their creativity, and human value, and honor their social contributions.

6. Everyone should own their platform, own their data, and their own network. Co-operation and community are key, not marketing schemes for VC-funded Platform Capitalists.

7. Platforms, technology companies and corporations should not dictate the terms of distribution. Artists should retain all ownership and rights, be able to decide what, when and how they make their art available to the public, and the value of their art.

8. Privacy, inclusivity and ethics are not after-thoughts. They must be built-in by design, considered from the start and actively sought at every stage of development.

9.Culture > Profit. Value cannot be reduced to numbers, follower counts, clicks or other metrics. Value is not just measured in public success or monetary worth. Art has a value to society and humanity that cannot be quantified and commodified.

10.Active engagement in culture should be incentivized over passive consumption. Respect for artists should be built by giving them agency, as well as building real community and mutual strength together with their listeners and fans.

11. We reject the historical basis of property in divine right and human supremacy in ecological relations. This “divine right” over property has led to the commodification and extraction of most of the Earth’s life support systems, and also the commodification of human beings. To redress the harms of colonisation, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the genocide of Indigenous Peoples, the creation of ‘under-developed peoples,’ persecution of the LGBTQIA+ community and many others, we must engage and align with all dispossessed communities. We realise that these historical harms were fundamental to the expansion and apparent success of Capitalism. By democratising, decentralising, and diversifying economic activity we can lessen consumption, and redistribute resources and power. Co-operation enables us to move forward in mutualism with one another, and this planet, constructing an economy both visionary and life-affirming.