Currently, there is a long line of stakeholders that stand between consumers of music and artists, each taking a piece of the profits before artists ever see their revenues. Advertisers, publishers, rights licensees, producers, corporate sponsors, talent agencies, and countless others all take their cut before the actual artists who wait 6 to 18 months for their share—and only get whatever remains.
The digital age alone has not democratized the music industry. In fact, the situation is worse for many artists today than it was in the latter part of the 20th century. However, some in the industry are arguing that blockchain technology has the potential to help the entire industry to collaboratively create a frictionless, sustainable, and healthy ecosystem with artists at its center, and that still has benefits everyone.
A blockchain can create and store hashes of digital music files along with a smart contract detailing the rights to the music and its owners. This way, consumers can pay for streaming music just like they do now, but using blockchain platforms. They’d then have the same access to their music, with a more direct connection to the artist who would be paid instantly via the same currency. Artists could promote their own music and offer special rewards for buyers like extra downloads or rights.
For consumers of music, adoption of blockchain technology would change almost nothing—except that the ability to file share and steal copyrights would basically be eliminated.
For artists, though, the difference would be profound: direct management of intellectual property and instant payment being two obvious examples of this. Furthermore, by linking every element of each digital work to the blockchain, artists would in effect be registering their intellectual property and creating a verified, worldwide peer-to-peer music database.
This massive database presents benefits and opportunities for collection societies, distributors, and labels. This huge amount of content would means a demand for better marketing and curation, along with verification of the data itself.
Artists and companies are already working towards using blockchain to change the face of the industry. Imogen Heap released a song, “Tiny Human,” along with all of its credits and terms of licensing, on UjoMusic, a beta blockchain-based platform. The song was downloadable in exchange for the digital currency Ether, for either commercial or non-commercial use. All the musicians involved in the song’s creation were paid immediately via smart contract to their personal Ether wallets.
22Hertz, an industrial rock band based in Toronto, has also created hashes of whole songs using blockchain technology allowing fans to tip them directly in Bitcoin and download songs for free. Fans can also pay half price for merchandise if they use Bitcoin.
In each case the artist can potentially use a unique smart contract to set new terms of service and usage for anyone who interacted with their work, from fans to distributors, and enable immediate distribution of revenues to collaborators and promoters. In short, every artist could decide who they wanted to interact with each one of their works, how much various kinds of interactions would cost, and how each interaction would take place—all without extensive, complicated paperwork.
Will music industry players support this kind of technology? This remains to be seen, but regardless of one’s place in the industry, it’s hard to argue that change isn’t necessary—especially since the technology is here and at least some artists will use it.