The biggest buzzword around the music industry is blockchain.
Some individuals and companies are devising their own fully electronic data bases for storing, categorizing and tracking all components of the recording process to ensure all royalties and credits are rightly attributed and that everyone gets paid their fair share promptly.
Others are designing their infrastructures, working together to create systems like the Open Music Initiative, bringing together representatives from the major record labels, artists, agents and educational institutions to collaborate on a new way forward.
Darryl Neudorf is one such creative, forward-looking person. With more than 30 years’ experience in the music industry as a composer and performer, Neudorf is behind ThePOLR.org, a blockchain-based “streaming music service in the shape of a bagel.”
For the past hundred years, the music industry has created “a litany of intermediaries” between musicians and their fans, some of which have helped strengthen the relationship while others have only been barriers.
Allowing the artist to directly connect with fans, eliminating the intermediaries, is a solution worth pursuing, he says.
He envisions a streaming services-only world, something record labels might have a hard time understanding even as their revenue from physical products drop. The “hastily attached” relationship between labels and current commercial streaming services is riddled with conflicts that could bring down the Spotifys and Pandoras of the world. That creates a window for other systems to join the fray as alternative paths.
“I find that many blockchain-based music initiatives are exploring some really interesting approaches, but many are too novel for mass adoption,” Neudorf says. “For me, the sign that it is working will be when there is a system where the user doesn’t even have to know that a blockchain is even involved.”
His solution is centered on streaming, with the customer-facing aspect looking much like what users of streaming services are used to, with the added ability to create their own user page and form their own community, akin to Facebook or MySpace page.
Behind the scenes, however, things will be much different.
“First of all, it isn’t a corporation whose ultimate goal is to profit off the user’s data. It is as close to a distributed autonomous organization as technically and feasibly possible. A non-profit entity would be set up to oversee its operation and evolution with the focus being that of providing 100% payouts between the artist and appreciator,” he explains, adding that the non-profit would receive funding from a mechanism outside the payout structure.
Funds distribution would be “subscriber share” instead of “pro rata,” something discussed at length last fall during the Future of Music Coalition’s annual meeting. All the user’s fees go directly and exclusively to the artists they like. “When engaged in the community network, the user controls their data and no corporate entity is data mining,” which addresses privacy concerns that might crop up, Neudorf says.
His platform, The POLR, has been germinating in his mind since before the word blockchain became a thing. Recalling the mid-90s when the internet was just starting out, many in the music industry began talking about the concept of a “smart contract” as a way to bring artists closer to their fans while ensuring proper and quick payment to the artists. When bitcoin came along, it addressed the need for a direct, secure, incontrovertible method of payment.
“As I did more research into bitcoin and what the blockchain was all about, I began to realize that this new technology has the potential to solve the puzzle of micropayments,” Neudorf says. “Not only that, it could also help facilitate a giant global database of music!” As the industry started to get involved in streaming, and independent artists started topping charts, he felt the industry was on the verge of a seismic change.
The vision from nearly 20 years ago was now a possibility. The POLR—Path of Least Resistance—will address artists’ complaints about the “pro rata” payment system, in which they get fractions of pennies per stream, by incorporating a subscriber-based system instead, meaning the artist will get 100% of the money from each stream. That’s an easy benefit for musicians.
But what about fans? What’s in it for them?
There’s an initial subscription fee for The POLR’s users to give them streaming access, but this also allows them to build a user page and join a community, The POLR’s version of a marketplace.
“Artists can sell their things to their appreciators, but appreciators can sell things as well, to artists or other appreciators,” he says. “It is a giant global music marketplace.”
He envisions fans offering their services as graphic designers to bands they love, offering to host house parties, helping to book tours, creating remixes or playlists. “The system could keep track of these remixes and playlists and compensate accordingly. The opportunity to collaborate on projects is truly exciting and gives those who really love an artist the potential to get involved beyond just being a passive listener,” Neudorf says.
At the moment, The POLR’s an initiative, about 18 months old, and Neudorf is talking with other pioneers in the blockchain world in the hopes of working together. “Since the recorded music industry is finally completing its migration to this network of computers, it only makes sense to build a music delivery and compensation system that also adheres to the technology that it resides upon. An unowned, neutral, global stream system that provides direct connections for music that, like the ‘net, seeks the path of least resistance between artist and appreciator.”