P.A.R.A.D.I.G.M. Shift

Tony Parisi
7 min readSep 19, 2023
The absolute dopest venue I have ever given a keynote at: Meow Wolf, Santa Fe. Photo by NE$$Y the Rilla

Here is the full text of my keynote at the P.A.R.A.D.I.G.M. Shift event at Meow Wolf on September 15, 2023, presented by Santa Fe NFT. I gave an abridged version of the talk due to time constraints.

Thanks, Jeff and Kari from Santa Fe NFT, for pulling together this amazing event, and to Meow Wolf for hosting. It’s an honor to be here, at the birthplace of independent, immersive art.

I’m Tony Parisi, founder of Metatron studio, a content company for the Metaverse and web3. I’ve got a long history in immersive technology: I created the first standards for 3D graphics on the Internet; I programmed some of the earliest code for the Metaverse; and I literally wrote the book on 3D graphics and virtual reality — three of them actually! More recently I helped design a 3D file format called glTF — tech that everyone is using daily today to view interactive models and virtual worlds online.

Before the consumer internet was even a thing in the 1990’s I was already on a mission to give creators the tools to build not websites but their own immersive worlds. I was obviously early in that mission, and the technology was quite primitive — but the world is now coming around to this vision, as we can see all around us with real-time 3D graphics, VR, AR, and spatial computing.

In all humility I’ve done groundbreaking work — made history with a lot of firsts — but there’s something else. Another force that has driven me all these years. Because, you see, as much as I love technology, I’m also a lifelong musician. I’ve been playing one instrument or another as long as I could walk. So after a long and storied career in software, I recently quit my day job to pursue my artistic dreams, encouraged by the new tools that have come online to help creators succeed — and by the successes I’ve seen from the dear friends that I’m sharing the stage with tonight.

My current music project is called Judgment Day. It’s a rock musical I wrote about love and the end of the world: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl because a malign entity called THE ONE seduces and then enslaves humanity, and the world is destroyed in a cosmic battle between good and evil. AND: curtain. It’s rock, pop, electronic music plus orchestra, with some really memorable tunes… and it’s a whole lot of fun, despite the heavy subject matter.

We’ve already made music history with Judgment Day! It is the first musical theater released on the blockchain. We have a collection of 1,000 NFTs featuring songs from the concept album and amazing art by Marina Berlin, my partner in all things. We’ve sold out our first drop of 100 NFT’s, and will be doing another drop soon. Our NFT collectors get benefits like theater tickets once the live production is ready, access to workshops and table reads during the development phase, and they even get live card readings by Marina and yours truly!… because the NFT collection is styled as an oracle deck, similar to tarot cards. It’s a unique project and the ultimate goal of the NFT collection is to fund early development of the live show. Because folks, we’re going to take Judgment Day from the blockchain… to BROADWAY!

And on that note, today I’m proud to announce — exclusively to this audience at Meow Wolf, that we are partnering with DOUBLE EYE Studios, an award-winning immersive production company, to create the live production of Judgment Day! Double Eye has made some of the most amazing immersive interactive theatre — including Running, a multiplayer VR dance world based on a Reggie Watts song, and Finding Pandora X: an immersive theatrical VR experience where the audience plays the role of the Greek Chorus, interacting with live Broadway caliber actors — in VR — as the play unfolds. We have already started the creative meetings and I am super excited to see where this goes. And none of this would be happening without all of the new developments we’ve been talking about tonight! Web3, blockchain, online communities and of course 3D and spatial computing.

So that’s what I’ve been up to… but really, everything that I’m doing is against a background of massive change happening in the arts and entertainment.

Creators are in open revolt across film, TV and music. Years of dwindling residuals, exorbitant take rates by the large streaming platforms and an overall lack of transparency in accounting have gotten us here. Add to this devastating effects on income during COVID and the looming threat of artificial intelligence, and it has gotten to a breaking point. Industries that are unionized have taken to the picket lines, and those that aren’t — like music — are going a different route.

Artists like the people we’ve heard from on the panel just now, and whose music we’ll be enjoying in moments, are taking the power back. The creator revolution is here, and it’s starting with music.

But why? Why here and now?

I see three huge trends in play:

First, communities are the new scale. The world of web2, the big social networks and streaming services, they’re obsessed with scale. The only way to have a viable business is to reach hundreds of millions to a few billion subscribers monetized with cheap monthly fees and ads. But today’s social media tools like Twitter, excuse me — X, and Instagram are also just great places for folks to connect. They provide the ability for an artist to sell direct, without gatekeepers or app stores taking 20, 30 up to 50 or get this, in the case of music streaming services — 99 percent of the value an artist creates. Now we have business models with web3 and blockchain that can support independent artists and allow them to set their own prices for their art, AND KEEP MOST OF THE MONEY. Artists are connecting with their audiences in a variety of ways: good old social posts for reach and engagement; real-time audio group chats for sharing live performances and forging intimate connections; and live video streaming to go deep. With tools like these artists can connect directly with their 1,000 true superfans and build sustainable businesses and long-lasting relationships. You don’t need a million listeners on a streaming service — which, if you’re lucky, will generate poverty level income — and you don’t need hundreds of thousands of followers on social. Just small, loyal, avid communities of fans and collectors.

The second big trend is a movement from platforms to tools. With web3, power has moved from the platform to the protocol. The blockchain is public, permanent and transparent, and nobody controls it. And new technologies for creating 3D, AR, VR, and are becoming increasingly open, like open source game engines and Metaverse world builder tools, and media formats like glTF, the 3D standard that I had the honor of co-creating. Images, text, video and 3D models are just media; the smart contract code that powers NFTs is all based on standards and runs on public blockchain networks like Ethereum; all this stuff plays everywhere, giving creators freedom of choice on how and where to reach their audiences.

Finally, perhaps most importantly, the music artists we’re seeing tonight are hyphenates — project founders, visual artists, writers… they can’t be put in a single box. And they are entrepreneurs taking control of their destinies. Back in the heyday of the major music labels, an artist needed a big budget to record and produce, then manufacture albums or CDs, then ship them to stores, pay to get them good placement in the store and so on. That meant that they needed resources that only a record label could provide. But today, nearly all of these things are now very inexpensive or free, and of course anyone under the age of forty is a digital native that can do most of this on their own or with small teams. And creators aren’t just controlling more of this value chain; they are actually using these tools to define entirely new forms of entertainment, shaping novel products and services that combine music, visual art, gamification, and community. Artists are innovators, now, and this is a period of huge disruption because of that.

Those are the trends. They’re happening already, make no mistake.

But what does this all mean? How can any of us cope with the massive change — this PARADIGM SHIFT — that is afoot?

I think we need to do TWO THINGS:

First, we need a change of mindset. It’s time to revalue art — get in the frame of mind that it has true worth. Whoever said that a song should cost a dollar? I mean really… WHO SAID THAT? That’s not even the price of a cup of coffee. I love a good cup of coffee but let’s face it… as great as it is, it goes in one end and out the other in an hour. But a song… that’s forever.

Secondly, we need a change in point of view. Art isn’t a thing, it’s an ECOSYSTEM*. We have a tendency in the western world to look at things in discreet chunks, disconnected and disparate objects, versus whole systems that operate together. But when we view art as an ecosystem — creator, venue, fan, AND collector — and look at it as a FLOW, as an EXCHANGE OF VALUE, vs. as PRODUCT or COMMODITY, a lot of things change. Fans and collectors aren’t consumers, they’re participants! It’s a partnership.

And this, by the way, is the heartbeat of independent art. It’s the local gallery, theater, or music venue. It’s really just getting back to basics. So it shouldn’t be that hard for us to come to terms with;

We just need to clear our heads of the fog that technology has put over us in the past couple of decades. And now, just maybe, we have the tools and the perspective to do it.

As partners. As collaborators.

Let’s go.

* H/t to Neil Redding for his Ecosystem Paradigm thesis. It’s become an important tool for me in thinking about all this.

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Tony Parisi

Metaverse OG. Entrepreneur. Investor. Co-Creator, VRML & glTF. Head of XR Ads/E-Commerce, Unity Technologies. Pre-apocalyptic author. Music. @auradeluxe