Before it can be proclaimed the latest and greatest possible savior and solution to the music industry’s woes, more people (including fans and artists) need to understand the concept of a blockchain. Thankfully, the University of Middlesex and the Featured Artists Coalition have released a report on the technology, complete with a forward from Pink Floyd’s drummer, Nick Mason.
There are three overarching questions asked by the report, entitled Music on the Blockchain: What is blockchain, how might it transform the music industry (as many already claim), and what are the main challenges to widespread adoption. Kudos to the report’s authors for keeping a running dictionary in the margins, explaining some of the basic terms for this concept, including cryptocurrency, smart contract, proof of stake and mining. (It’s a terribly complicated subject, one I’m trying diligently to wrap my head around. Check out our previous articles here, here, here, here and here.)
Middlesex University has created the Blockchain for Creative Industries (BCI) creative cluster to research the applications of blockchain in the music industry. BCI, in turn, found four potential uses: An ownerless database for copyright information; faster and more accurate royalty payments; transparency, and the flexibility to user various sources and types of capital.
But to underscore how important blockchain could be to the industry, one researcher suggested its use and incorporation could be as revolutionary as the widespread use and availability of the World Wide Web. The same researcher adds that blockchain “arguably might give us back the internet, in the way it was supposed to be: more decentralized, more open, more secure, more private, more equitable, and more accessible.” A handful of international organizations, including the World Economic Forum, have given tentative support to blockchain, with the WEF suggesting up to 10 percent of global gross domestic product could be stored on blockchains by 2025, the report notes.
“Conceivably, the gradual placing of copyright data on the blockchain could ultimately lead to the creation of one, comprehensive copyright database for music,” the report states. “While the Global Repertoire Database, a high-profile attempt to achieve a broadly similar result, suffered an equally high-profile collapse in 2014, blockchain technology could by contrast allow the process to occur incrementally. The notion of a networked database for music copyright information is contentious, however…The question of who would enter the data is key, as is the question of how the data would be verified: there are legitimate concerns around ‘dirty data,’ with many repeating the adage: ‘garbage in, garbage out.’”
There’s plenty of information in the report about Imogen Heap’s Mycelia concept, a blockchain in which she “envisages including key, tempo, lyrics, instruments, the location in which a piece of music was written, even the type of coffee she was drinking as she wrote it.” That’s just one example of the type of metadata that could be assigned within a blockchain to make explicitly clear the role an individual or group of artists had in a given song or composition.
Transparency that granual might work against the larger industry’s support of blockchain, the report suggests.
“From the perspective of a label or publisher, some information could clearly be commercially sensitive; adoption would require, for instance, a belief that increased transparency would make companies more attractive to artists or, indeed, users,” it says. “For different reasons, fans too may be unwilling to share data. Even for artists, transparency can bring challenges, as is clear from issues experienced during some crowdfunding campaigns. While less established artists might wish to be perceived as earning more than they actually are, major stars might wish to downplay their revenue, fearing that disclosure would make fans less willing to purchase their work.”
There’s much more data in the report including some really detailed analyses about the pros, cons and obstacles standing in the way of widespread adoption. Read the whole thing here.
Whether blockchain takes off as a viable alternative to the current system of privately owned databases, each one wholly separate from all others and kept under strict lock and key, remains to be seen. But it’s clear this is a topic anyone in the industry—fan, musician, composer or executive, it does not matter—should spend a little time learning about. It’s not going away anytime soon.