If you are a musician, you deal with former startups on a daily basis. You submit your music to companies like Bandcamp, Spotify, Soundcloud. These companies have built a platform to help musicians distribute, sell and promote your music. When these startups started did they ask you for your input? Were you involved in helping them build something that met your needs as an artist?
The answer to this is probably no. As a local musician, you should be aware of what technologies these startups are working on to help your business and career. One of these technologies is called blockchain.
Milwaukee Startup Week will host two Blockchain events – Blockchain Conference and Blockchain in Milwaukee – DocLaunch Happy Hour. I recommend that you attend at least one of these events and get a better understanding of the technology and what it could mean for your music career.
But what in the hell is blockchain and how can it help my music career? First off, I’m not telling you to start releasing your music via blockchain right now. But I want you to be more informed about new technologies that might affect your art and your career in music.
You might not know what it is, but you might have heard of bitcoin. The technology that makes bitcoin possible is based on blockchain.
Here are four blockchain features:
- consists of a decentralized database
- allows consumers and suppliers to connect directly, removing the need for a third party.
- transparent and secure
- reduces fraud
This video gives a great non-technical description of blockchain technology.
Yesterday kicked off the second annual Milwaukee Startup Week. For those who aren’t familiar, Startup week aims to bring entrepreneurs, investors, local leads, major companies together to build stronger entrepreneurship community. But why should a local musician care?
Read more below.
Here is a simple flowchart for a blockchain (via Financial Times):
How can this help musicians, producers, songwriters?
Blockchain not only can apply to a currency like Bitcoin, but to goods, property, and even music and art.
For example, Napster could be considered a precursor to blockchain technology. Music wasn’t stored on servers like it is on Spotify, Soundcloud, or Apple. But the songs were stored on many computers across the world – a decentralized database. Napster made it easy to find any song anywhere without gatekeepers. For example, one artist might be on Spotify, but not on Apple – a disservice to the artist and the consumer. But, musicians and artists were not compensated on Napster for their work.
In an article from The Next Web, they looked at five ways could help musicians in the future – access & distribution, global distribution, commercial viability, managing assets and digital rights, and combating piracy.
Even Milwaukee native D.A. Wallach addressed the possibilities of blockchain to help the music industry in article in Wired Magazine back in 2014. Wallach wrote:
“A new paradigm for music data management is sorely needed. One solution could be a decentralized, open-source global platform, owned and controlled by no single entity.
The platform would have two complementary functions. It would contain accurate, real-time, global data encompassing credits and rights ownership. This would make it the universal, authoritative reservoir for these types of information, and it would be open to and accessible by anyone; and It would serve as an instantaneous, frictionless payments routing infrastructure for all music usage fees and royalties.”
Examples of companies and artists tapping into the potential of blockchain
Even Spotify sees the potential of blockchain technology. Back in April, Spotify acquired blockchain company, Mediachain Labs to help solve some of its copyright issues.
The band of Imogen Heap released their music via blockchain back in 2015. Following the release, the band created Mycelia, a music eco-system based on a technology called Ethereum. Ethereum is an open-source, public, blockchain-based distributed computing platform that features a “smart contract.”
Smart contract is a term used to describe computer program code that is capable of facilitating, executing, and enforcing the negotiation or performance of an agreement (i.e. contract) using blockchain technology. The entire process is automated can act as a complement, or substitute, for legal contracts, where the terms of the smart contract are recorded in a computer language as a set of instructions. (via http://www.blockchaintechnologies.com/)
For example, a smart contract can keep track of ownership rights, which would be transparent and accessible to the public. Therefore an interested party, who wants to license the music could do so and pay the artist royalties directly and avoid the middleman.
Ujo is a blockchain music platform that helped Imogen Heap released their track “Tiny Human” via Ethereum. Ujo allows musicians to manage their artistic identity, music and licensing using the technology. Besides working with Imogen Heap, UJO has partnered with producer RAC to release his latest album, “EGO.” Ujo was recently featured in a mini documentary about blockchain and the music industry.
Announced today, Bjork forthcoming album, “Utopia” will come with cryptocurrency. When fans pre-order her album, they will receive 100 free AudioCoins cryptocurrency (valued around $0.19). AudioCoins, similar to Bitcoin, is aimed at the music industry.
The bad news
To say, blockchain technology is a silver bullet for the industry would be an extreme, over exaggeration. A 2016 article featured on the blog Rocknerd points out the downside of blockchain technology like scalability. The writer also points out that the Imogen Heap blockchain experiment only garnered just over $130.00.
Also, how would the gatekeepers and middlemen feel about this technology and would they lobby to stop its growth?
In a report from IBM, commercial and mainstream adoption of blockchain technology is at least 5 to 10 years away.
As an artist, you need to do your research and keep up with technology that affects your art. Attend events like the Blockchain Conference during Milwaukee Startup Week so you can get a better understand of technology. This is an opportunity to be part of the solution and not let the solution dictate your art and your career.
As a musician, you should check out the Open Music Initiative. They are creating an open-source protocol for the uniform identification of music rights holders and creators. They are looking for participation from creators, companies, academic institutions and organizations.
You should also check out this music industry guide to blockchain technology.