Music On The Blockchain: An Overview Of The Leading Developments Transforming The Industry

“The music industry is broken,” has been said many times. Built upon models designed in a pre-digital world, the back-end infrastructure of the music business has failed to adapt to the needs of musicians, markets, and industry organizations. Systems of rights management, accounting, and payment distributions used in the industry have not upgraded along with the other internet technologies that have changed the industry, becoming a fragmented mess, leaving countless artists unable to make any sort of decent living off their work, and delivering equally-damaging blows to the profitability of record labels and publishers.

While the problems plaguing the music industry are broad and complex, the emergence of blockchain technology has been foreseen to be THE disruptive, transformative force in solving the challenges faced. Though progress has been incredibly slow, despite much talk about the potential of the technology’s implementation in the industry, a turning point is near as the music world braces itself for the adoption of this new wave of fintech. Upgrading industry infrastructures to register digital asset rights on a distributed public ledger in combination with a range of self-executable smart contracts is an innovative prospect, the effects of which are difficult to overstate.

Not only will the blockchain level the playing field for artists, granting them direct access to markets and means to get paid instantly for the sale of their art — versus middlemen taking huge cuts and slowing payments through overcomplicated processes — industry-wide infrastructural evolution built upon blockchain developments hold the potentially for massively increasing organizational accounting & payment efficiencies, while simultaneously unlocking billions worth of assets through new licensing structures possible though an integrated, collaborative ecosystem utilizing a transparent distributed ledger, smart contracts, and digital-identity-based reputation systems.

However, implementing such infrastructural developments throughout an entire industry is no small feat.

While few have begun slowly working on small projects in the space, the broader vision of how to integrate numerous components throughout hundreds of organizations & platforms is far beyond the scope of most industry players’ comprehension — requiring a highly detailed strategic roadmap for how to truly revolutionize an industry through the interoperation of multiple technological systems and human-governed strategic alliances. In the meantime, strides have been being made by a handful of entrepreneurs leading the way in the space.

I’ve had a long, intimate history with music — from growing up playing piano & guitar, composing, recording, and performing through my teens, shifting focus to DJing & producing while holding great ambitions for the biz. While my life’s path diverted in a variety of interesting directions, there was always a magnetism to music that couldn’t be avoided — and upon having dove into learning about blockchain technology and assessing the scope of its applicability, the clarity came:

There is a tsunami of transformation approaching the music industry, as blockchain apps hold some of the key pieces to solving many of the greatest challenges both artists and businesspeople in the music game have struggled with for years.

A turning point is upon us. And how the coming of the internet revolutionized the way music is distributed, so shall blockchain have as equally if not greater an impactful upon the infrastructure of financial flows throughout the music ecosystem in its capabilities for ensuring transparency in the effective compensation of artists for the value created through their work.

While volumes could be written on prophetic outlooks for how the musical landscape will be changed with the innovations ahead for digital rights management, licensing structures, incentivized curation models, and more — this piece is a curation of the leading news and developments in the music-blockchain space.

What follows is an overview of the key players and projects (or at least those who’ve made themselves visible to the public eye) is breaking ground at the intersection of blockchain technology and the music biz.

At the forefront of the music-blockchain movement as one of the biggest advocates, is Imogen Heap.

Leader of the Mycelia project and the first artist to have made an official music release on the blockchain last year with her track, “Tiny Human,” a good majority of the news available on the subject features Imogen as one of a handful active in promoting the case for a blockchain-driven revolution of the music industry.

If searching YouTube for info, you’ll find several videos of her going through much of the same content — though this is probably one of her best presentations worth viewing:

And another excellent presentation from Imogen Heap & Benji Rogers:

Benji Rogers, who also founded the music crowdfunding platform, Pledge Music, has also risen as a championing voice in the space with his blossoming project,

dot blockchain music

An interesting open-source development whose primary angle is establishing an industry-wide codec standard to hold a blockchain-registered collection of metadata within a music file, which can then be utilized in the execution of smart contracts drafted for the licensing of the digital music asset.

’Tis indeed an aim with gigantic aspirations, to unite the entire music industry in accepting such a protocol — though the vision contain some excellent logic and could prove highly transformational, no matter how far the actual initiative gets.

Again, there are a few YouTube videos available of Benji talking on the matter, though this is one of the best:

His Medium blog also has some excellent writings that make for great prerequisite reading on the subject — including one of the most definitive published outlooks on the subject, “How the Blockchain and VR Can Change the Music Industry”.

Jumping back and forward…

“Imogen Heap shows how smart music contracts work using Ethereum” is another great article from the International Business Times explaining the system, as it worked with the release of Tiny Human on the Ethereum-blockchain-based platform, Ujo.

While Imogen’s Mycelia project has been collaborating with another platform for her next blockchain release, Amuse — a Sweden-based venture that seems to have been getting its start primarily with artists from throughout Africa — Ujo has undoubtedly been one of the top visible developments receiving the most press.

In this video, Jesse Grushack of ConsenSys, the Ethereum developer team leading the Ujo project, gives an excellent overview:

And a couple good reading pieces from Ujo’s Medium blog:

“Music is Broken”
 and
“Emerging From The Silence”

This is another great video on Ujo from Phil Barry, who while was the frontman for the project, has since parted ways with Consensys and is focusing on a new project, Blokur:

And two other articles covering Ujo worth reading:

“Is Blockchain Technology the Future of the Music Industry?”

And

Forbes’ “How Blockchain Startups Are Disrupting The $15 Billion Music Industry”

Introduced in the Forbes article alongside Ujo is PeerTracks, running on top of the Muse Blockchain, which is built on Bitshares’ MIT-licensed Graphene technology. More on Muse in another Forbes piece:

MUSE: Leveraging Blockchain Technology To Revolutionize Music Industry

And more on PeerTracks: “A Conversation with Cedric Cobban, Co-Founder of PeerTracks”, plus a video overview with CEO, Eddie Coral:

Given the video came out a couple years ago, it seems progress with PeerTracks may have been going slowly. Updates and platform development history may be accessible on Muse’s BitsharesTalk forum — though the degree of engagement displayed there isn’t all that confidence-inspiring and may lead one to question whether or not the project has been abandoned entirely — unless the development is going on solely behind the scenes.

The two contenders have also gotten their press in Billboard with the article, “How ‘the Blockchain’ Could Actually Change the Music Industry

Another leading venture that hasn’t received as much attention, though appears to be holding promise behind blosed doors is…

Revelator

As well-introduced in the International Business Times’ “Bitcoin innovators head to market with music rights on the blockchain”, Revelator seems like it may be making good progress — especially upon the news of having received $2.5 million in capital investment

Another platform that appears to be ahead of the curve, covered well in “Blockchain-Powered Stem Raises 4.5 Million to Disrupt Music Industry”:

Stem

While they have managed to raise the most funds of any publicly-mentioned music blockchain project and looks like there’s some significant players involved, very little other info has been disclosed about it, with not much available in the way of transparent updates and close to zero action on their blog this year. However, upon some deeper investigation, it would appear that this might be the most professional outfit in the space with the deepest roots into well-established organizations in the industry — and while it’s not clear when the platform will be fully up and running, they are already in beta with a number of artists utilizing their back-end systems.

For some great insight into this project, check out this excellent blog post from co-founder, Milana Rabkin, speaking to the core mission and heart-based reasons for such a development:

“Why I’m Doing This”

One other newcomer to the scene is Tao Network.

Managing to [raise $100,000 through a crowdfund this August] and launching a number of (not the highest of standards) YouTube videos featuring various artists, producers, and industry people talking about the potential for the project, it seems some support has been gathered. Though as to how this one will roll out, time will tell.

And last to mention of these types of artist-to-market platforms, the Decentralized Library Of Alexandria.

More info on this available in a Steal This Show podcast and a news release from April 2015, their coverage in Vice, and the following YouTube vid:

In the domain of music curation

BitTunes is an interesting app aimed at incentivizing buying & sharing of independent music with Bitcoin. I’m not totally sure how the rewards for sharing music would work, whether its a time of curation model similar to Steemit. Though it’s definitely a niche community catering to a crowd of independent artists and music consumers who are also into Bitcoin. Doesn’t look like a huge deal unless you’re already spending money on indy music, though worth a mention nonetheless as it is semi-blockchain-based with its integration of a Bitcoin payment system.

More on BitTunes is covered in “Three Startups Trying to Transform the Music Industry Using the Blockchain”, along with additional perspective on Ujo & PeerTracks.

Another one breaking ground is blockchain-based streaming service,

Resonate

Not totally sure what their model is or how it’ll work, but seems like an interesting concept, and if you sign up on their email list, you’ll get the opportunity to buy in and become a part-owner of the platform for just $5. (And if all checks out and looks worthy of further support, there is a bigger crowdsale to follow).

With huge corporate streaming services taking some heat lately for making billions in profits while paying artists fractions of pennies, it could be cool to see what comes of this alternative system.

There has also been forward movement to implement blockchain technology in the radio side of the industry, best introduced here:

“WBUR’s BizLab begins testing innovations for public radio”

For more YouTube content on overviews of the larger landscape, these are some great videos from the “PRS Explores: Blockchain” event held earlier this year:

Also some perspective from native Steemian and Platinum-selling artist, @thisisbenbrick: “Can Steemit & The Blockchain Kill Spotify?

While its unclear at this point how exactly things shall all progress with different startups taking varying approaches, there are also some larger-scale collaborative alliances being formed to develop an ownership rights database for the entire industry:

The Open Music Initiative

A couple key articles overviewing the scope and aims of the project:

“Open Music Initiative Adds Intel Technology To Help Simplify How Creators Are Identified, Paid”

“Enough With The Lawsuits: Berklee, MIT Lead Effort To Create Ownership Rights Database For Music Industry”

A similar consortium appears to have developed in the UK — a “Music On The Blockchain”report being another foundational collaboratively drafted by the Blockchain For Creative Industries Research Cluster at Middlesex University and the Featured Artists Coalition.

AND, last but not least, is the Fair Trade Music initiative that is a growing organization working in harmony with a few of the other groups mentioned above as well as numerous songwriter guilds and behind-the-scenes players on industry-wide solutions.

Lastly, two great videos from the 2016 Midem conference with a guest panel of some of the top players in the space (some mentioned above, others not):

So that’s about that.

After a few months digging into the subject, this is pretty much all the best news out there on music & the blockchain. Feel free to research more, though at this point, most of what is available is just different rehashes of the above content.

Though if you do happen to know of any other music-blockchain projects, initiatives, or developments that haven’t been covered here, do please add to the comments below.

And if you are interested in keeping up-to-date on what’s going on in the field, feel free to follow the “Blockchain-Music” Twitter List I’ve been cultivating (and will continue to be growing while coming across more) as a feed of tweets from the key projects and players in the field…


Originally published at steemit.com on October 9, 2016.