Blockchain technology has been silently creeping into different industries, solving problems through the resourceful use of smart contracts. For example, retail chain giant Walmart has partnered with IBM to use their blockchain infrastructure and implement a supply chain management system in order to track food items from local suppliers all the way to their stores.
Blockchain’s tamper-proof qualities have also made it the ideal candidate for identity authentication systems in a wide variety of applications. Moreover, if pundits are to be believed, the use of blockchain for asset tokenization will solve the dual problems of security and liquidity in illiquid assets, particularly real estate. And if this report is anything to go by, then the pundits might just be right!
What’s even more encouraging is that it’s not just private enterprises which are opening their doors to distributed ledger technology. Through Project Building Blocks, the World Food Program (a branch of the United Nations) is using a permissioned version of the Ethereum blockchain to distribute cash directly to Syrian refugees in Jordan’s blockchain refugee camp.
Government agencies have also started embracing blockchain’s immutable features for securely tracking land records, providing loans to low-income borrowers, and so on. The use cases for blockchain technology are only limited by the scope of human vision today.
The Music Industry – An Unlikely Candidate
The music industry might seem to be an unlikely candidate when it comes to the use of blockchain. But like all other industries which have resorted to blockchain, the music industry too is getting plagued by problems which require unconventional solutions. Age-old problems are becoming more damaging, and new complications are arising due to improper use of modern technology.
The biggest cause of dispute is the revenue sharing model between the lyricists, the composers, the musicians, the producers, the distributors,… the chain just goes on and on. According to a report by Rolling Stone magazine, content creators get only about 12% of the sale proceeds! To add to the discontent, music sharing apps are rarely transparent about their revenue sharing models with the content creators.
In 2015, musician David Lowery filed a class action lawsuit against Spotify, accusing them of deliberately distributing copyrighted material without any license. Furthermore, there are multiple stake-owners when it comes to the ownership of a song itself. In many cases, the details of all content creators may not even be properly recorded down, further adding to this mess.
Proper payment of royalty is more of a technical than an ethical problem today. The details of various artists who have worked on a song are included in the song’s metadata (alongwith other information, such as record label, date of recording, and so on). The problem here is that there exists neither any standardized format for recording metadata, nor any formal verification procedure for checking the accuracy of the metadata.
Different databases end up storing the same metadata in different formats, or even worse, completely different versions of metadata. When a platform plays a particular song, royalty is paid out to those artists whose names are present in the song’s metadata. Thanks to the inept manner in which metadata is managed today, artists are missing out on billions of dollars’ worth of royalties.
Distribution of royalty is often a circuitous process (image courtesy Edgeworth Economics)
Music reality shows have introduced a completely new complication – fraud in public voting stages. American Idol and its ilk usually contain multiple stages of public voting, and each such voting round is typically followed by the elimination of the contestant with the least amount of votes. Needless to say, such voting rounds involve high stakes for the contestants.
Unfortunately, the voting procedures are marked by a complete lack of transparency. American Idol, the poster boy of these reality talent shows, has been rocked by accusations of vote manipulation on multiple occasions. To make matters worse, unscrupulous phone companies have taken advantage of their voting procedure to trick thousands of unsuspecting customers.
Reality shows like American Idol have come under the scanner for fraudulent voting techniques
Blockchain to the Rescue
Blockchain technology offers a ready solution to a host of problems that the music industry faces today. It offers artists a bridge to directly share their creations with the audience through decentralized music streaming platforms, and accept payments in cryptocurrencies, thereby completely cutting out the distributors and centralized music sharing apps.
The songs’ metadata can be recorded on decentralized public ledgers, making it immutable, publicly verifiable and completely transparent. Moreover, interoperable blockchain systems would make it possible for the same metadata to be freely exchanged between different decentralized streaming platforms, eliminating any ambiguity related to the payment of royalties. And the use of blockchain systems for voting is already a well-researched topic.
Prominent musicians all across the globe have also been doing their bit in promoting the union of the music industry and blockchain technology. In 2017, a group of popular musicians including Mariah Carey, Lana Del Rey, Marilyn Manson, Sia, Lamb of God and many more announced that they would be accepting payments made in Monero, and even offered discounts for such payments. Other famous artists have shown their support by directly involving themselves with upcoming blockchain based music projects.
A growing list of musicians are accepting crypto payments (image from ProjectCoralReef's website)
Mycelia is the brainchild of two-time Grammy award winner, English singer-songwriter Imogen Heap. Founded in 2015, Mycelia is developing a blockchain-powered ecosystem which would connect all online music interaction services. They are creating digital identities for musicians on their blockchain network. Known as Creative Passports, these digital identities would contain verified profile information of musicians, details about songs composed by them, acknowledgements, payment mechanisms, and so on.
Use of the Creative Passports would ensure that payments made to musicians for their work is hassle-free, transparent, and commiserate to their contribution for collaborative efforts. For all intents and purposes, the Creative Passport would fill in the void created by the absence of metadata.
In a bid to promote her project, Imogen Heap had released her single “Tiny Human” through Mycelia’s platform in 2015, and used their smart contract system to pay to all contributors. Last year, as part of her 2019 "Mycelia World Tour", Heaped performed in 40 cities worldwide, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, London and Manchester, promoting awareness about the merits of blockchain technology among music aficionados, and encouraging other stake holders in the music industry to explore possible use cases.
Imogen Heap - one of the foremost advocates of blockchain in music
Viberate is seeking to create the biggest crowdsourced curated live music database in the world. Their platform plans to cover each and every aspect of the music industry - musicians, booking agencies, venues, organizers, events, and even fans and social media engagement! Viberate was launched in 2015. As per their website, their database contains 460,000 musicians, 100,000 venues and 500,000 events today.
Their platform runs on data provided by their users, who in turn are rewarded by their native Vib tokens. Viberate uses blockchain technology to manage millions of crowdsourced data points, which includes real time rankings, profiles, social media posts, and so on.
With their 3.0 platform, Viberate plans to integrate services such purchasing tickets of music concerts and live shows, or booking musicians for gigs. Their roadmap includes launch of a crypto payment platform for these services as well, which would allow users to pay in Vib tokens. Viberate also helps artists promote their latest creations and connect with their followers more intimately.
International chart-toppers and crowd favourites like Robbie Williams, Linkin Park and The Chainsmokers have signed up with Viberate in order to improve their engagement with fans. Popular musicians showing faith in blockchain-based services goes a long way in validating the effectiveness of blockchain technology in the music industry!
Musicians are using Viberate's platform to increase fan engagement (image from Viberate's website)
Isina is a worldwide online talent search and development platform, where independent musicians can work under the guidance of top musicians and earn recognition. Founded in 2013, Isina currently works with musicians in 6 different fields. Each field is headed by leading mentor musicians, including 11 time Grammy Award winner singer/songwriter Kenneth Edmonds and renowned saxophonist Kenny G.
Musicians can upload their work on Isina’s platform by paying a fee of $30. In return, their work is reviewed and they receive mentorship by the respective division head. Moreover, the 30 best musicians from each division (chosen by both the mentors and the audience) are selected for a 6-week mentorship program in Los Angeles every quarter. Throughout this program (known as the ‘Arrival’), the participants get the opportunity to interact with top musicians and record their songs in popular recording studios.
Isina is integrating blockchain technology into their upcoming 2.0 platform. Their blockchain will support 2 distinct tokens – Isina vote token and Isina token. With the Isina vote token, Isina will migrate to a blockchain based voting system. Each voter will be identified through biometric authentication, which will be tethered to his or her IP address. This will guarantee the integrity of the voting process.
The Isina token, on the other hand, will be used for making payments on the platform. Artists who submit their work for review will be able to make payments, and audience members will be able to reward their favourite artists through Isina tokens. Isina is the first music project to implement voting through blockchain, and depending on their success, other such music reality programs might decide to follow suit.
Isina's platform allows freelance artists to reach out to a global audience (image from Isina's website)
Blockchain technology has taken baby steps in the music industry, but it’s encouraging to see musical heavyweights throwing their weight behind this. Even Spotify acquired blockchain startup Mediachain Labs to develop a technology to connect tracks hosted on Spotify’s service with their rightful creators. With time, the music industry will hopefully become even more welcoming to blockchain, and we will see many more such initiatives in the near future.