You most likely have heard of crypto currency and Bitcoins, but the full power of this digital revolution is hidden below. Blockchain technology may well be the technology that will change the way we enjoy music going forward. In a recent addition in Wired the concept of blockchain technology was discussed in the context of attending rave events or to put it simply as unofficial underground clubs. Per the definition and the essence of blockchain you would in principle be able to tightly control who should and would be admitted to your freaking hot dance parties. As an example attendees to the event may get a text message invite from a friend and receive keys that unlock more invites using blockchain technology. Such a procedure allows organizers and partygoers to remain anonymous and ensures only invitees will know about the event.
However the evolution will not need to stop with eager partygoers it may well also influence how we consume music going forward. An evolution around music streaming may well be around the corner. The old paradigm with huge labels and streaming companies dictating terms and conditions on behalf of the content producers may be about to change, in the favor of the musicians. It is like thinking up profound new ways for how decentralization and blockchain technology could be used to create a collective ownership of a streaming service like Soundcloud.
A major pain point for creatives in the music industry — such as songwriters, producers and musicians — is that they are the first to put in any of the work, and the last to ever see any profit. They have little to no information about how their royalty payments are calculated, and don’t get access to valuable aggregate data about how and where people are listening to their music. But a rising tide of musicians and bands are pushing toward transparency and fairness in their own ways — for example, Paul McCartney’s recent lawsuit again Sony, Duran Duran’s lost battle with Sony/ATV, and Taylor Swift’s dust-up with Spotify. It’s within this climate that an enticing seed of an idea is being planted: blockchain technology has the potential to get the music industry’s messy house in order. Blockchain has the potential to provide a more quick and seamless experience for anyone involved with creating or interacting with music. For example, listening to a song might automatically trigger an agreement for everyone involved in the journey of a song with anyone who wants to interact or do business with it — whether that’s a fan, a DSP (digital service provider such as Spotify or iTunes), a radio station, or a film production crew.
One such example could be Mat Dryhurst’s new initiative Sound Crowd, Dryhurst takes inspiration from crypto-currencies that operate without any central management. Rather, they are internally regulated by the personal investment and activities of each token holder—that is, someone who holds and can receive “payment” in the form of the crypto-dollar—has in the currency.
As commonly known by now, when SoundCloud—one of the world’s most popular embeddable platforms—began to crack under the strain of corporate pressure, the need for alternative means of archiving and circulating music became critical. One example of this is producer TCF’s (AKA Lars Holdhus) Futures Along the Blockchain project, which explores the possible applications of the blockchain—the technology behind the crypto-currency Bitcoin—in peer-to-peer music-sharing networks. But there is more and one promising opportunity is Saga. Saga is a software platform that put the musicians in the driver’s seat. It was developed by Mat Dryhurst and this how he describes it:
“I released a piece of software, Saga, that allows you to self-host your work, track each location where it is posted online, and make alterations to every discrete instance of the work where it lives. By this logic, the spaces where your work is hosted become yours to play with. What if a song objected to the ads being sold next to it, or a video responded to its critics? The idea of fixed work, petrified in time, does not seem consistent with the real time web that I enjoy. This framework also lets you do things like charge someone after a song has received 500 plays, or set a piece to self destruct. I think that seeing the work as an extension of the living artist online is really exciting, and Saga is my first gesture towards that alternate reality.
My hope is that by experimenting with the possibilities of the decentralized web, centralized streaming warehouses will seem as dry and contrived as the major labels the indie pioneers fought against back in the day. Why should the way we publish work be so conservative, or so tethered to the decisions of a few people who are primarily concerned with selling Bieber to teenagers? Educate yourselves about Ethereum, the blockchain and peer-to-peer protocols such as IPFS, and think about how you would like your work to exist within such an ecosystem before those choices are made for you. Perhaps only 10 percent of people reading this will find that proposition important, however 10 percent of the existing music listenership could represent a thriving parallel independent industry. We can and ought to build something better, on our own terms.”
So where will this bright future that Dryhurst is depicting lead us? It may imply that public ownership would not just engender an ongoing sense of responsibility for one of the world’s great archives of musical output. Soundcloud’s centralized design decisions currently predetermine how all users—big, small, genre-diverse, independent or not—engage with the platform. As a vision it may entail that the platform would be opened up to a “marketplace of competing ideas and ideologies for how music is experienced. This in turn could ultimately mean an open Soundcloud for all, where labels, record stores and radio stations all have more latitude and potential to take the streaming platform in a multitude of different ways to fit their unique needs.
How the Blockchain can change the Music Industry – A presentation by Benji Rogers and Imogen Heap.
“No new technology encapsulates the potential for positive change for this suffering music industry more than the Blockchain. Benji Rogers Founder & CEO of PledgeMusic and recording artist Imogen Heap will discuss how this exciting new technology has the potential to change the music industry.”
Going forward, Imogen Heap states that blockchain could also store information about and/or link to a musician’s online profile, such as latest biography, tour dates, press images, and social media-style information, such as artists you champion, charities you support, skill sets, or organizations or companies you are connected to. This information could then be updated and accessible to anyone searching for that data, whether human or machine. At the song level — e.g. michaeljackson.music/maninthemirror — the blockchain could share information on all of the people involved in the making of the song, at the very least, but in addition could be linked to the metadata on specifics such as the equipment that was used to produce the song, where and when the song was recorded, the artists’ inspiration for the song, attributions, and more – sort of like extended liner notes. This could help spawn new apps and services atop of those datasets, and with them, new revenue streams for everyone involved.