Team Blue: Beyond Sound

Garrett Swenson
Jun 15, 2017 · 10 min read

We are team Blue at IDEO’s Open Music Initiative Summer Lab. Four talented teams of people are tackling some of the music industry’s toughest problems under the guidance of IDEO’s supreme design principles and led by Eric Chan. Before we dive into the buzzing Summer Lab activity, let me introduce you to team Blue.

Jeffery Shivers and Jason Choi are both developers, Fangting Gu is our artist and graphics designer, Jordan Boone is tackling UX/UI, and I’ll be testing business viability and conducting overall design and market research. Team Blue is challenged with this brief:

We have interpreted this as reimagining the process by which artists are compensated for their digital works, and how we might reduce the friction that inherently exists in the transfer of digital rights and licenses.

Kickoff Week

The first week kicked off with an incredible group of speakers and panels. We listened to George Howard discuss the innovator’s dilemma and, concomitantly, how the music industry destroyed itself. Gavin Nicol of Context Labs led a crash course into the APIs that create the infrastructure of OMI. He stressed the importance of constantly creating implementations and that almost all software design is fundamentally a communication problem. At the root of this miscommunication problem is the inability to match a digital work to its creator. Additionally, developers of Intel’s Sawtooth Lake discussed how today’s infrastructure for digital asset exchange is fraught with intermediaries, inefficiencies, and security concerns.

The Problem Statements

During our brainstorming sessions, Team Blue broke down these big issues into three bite-sized problem statements:

  1. How can we solve the current inability to match a digital work to its creator?
  2. What platforms can we create to combat the industry’s inundation of intermediaries?
  3. How might we reimagine the relationship between the fan and the artist by reinventing traditional monetization schemes?

Applying Distributed Ledgers

In addition to creating prototypes that have market viability, we are tasked with analyzing applications of blockchain technology and distributed ledgers to see how these tools might fit into our everyday music consumption.

Preliminary Research and Ideation

Our ideation journey led us to a whole collection of ideas and our research journey helped us decide which ideas had viability, feasibility, and most importantly, desirability.

Interview with George Howard

George Howard is an associate professor of management at Berklee College of Music and manages a successful consulting firm that manages and advises companies from a wide range of sectors on strategy and technology. We had the chance to sit down and talk with him about our prototyping journey and to discuss those three problem statements stated earlier. Here are a few insights and takeaways that we gleaned:

  1. Immediately watch Reservoir Dogs (George is very fond of this film)
  2. In the context of the inability to match a digital work to its creator, how can we consider multiple contributors of a song and implement machine-readable rights that track back to the original content?
  3. The current market lacks a ‘customer facing side’ solution

We immediately found interest in the lack of a customer facing operation.


Check out our most recent survey here:

Approximate time to fill out survey = 2 min

In this survey we attempted to uncover insights about how digital arts fans interact with their favorite artists. Here is what we found:

  1. Over 85% said they considered themselves to be very frequent or extreme super fan listeners.
  2. The majority of those people prefer supporting their artist by attending live shows and spreading through word of mouth. Shockingly, more people preferred purchasing merchandise before they would purchase actual music.
  3. Over 82% said that interactions with their favorite artists were only occasional or non-existent.
  4. When asked how they would like to get closer to their favorite artists, over 60% said live meet ups. The second most popular option was VIP tickets and backstage passes.

In addition to this online survey, we conducted in-person interviews around the MIT Media Lab. From these, we found the majority of people described themselves as infrequent listeners who would rarely pay for music but love attending live events and some even attend multiple per year.

We believe that an increasing amount of listeners and digital content consumers are looking for two things:

  • Exclusive experiences
  • Authentic relationships

We feel these conclusions are evident when we look at the increased preference towards live shows, which illustrate exclusive experience (keyword here is experience). The requests for live meet ups also illustrates the authentic relationships that fans yearn for. These aspects go far beyond sound.

Online Research

Our online research yielded insights into the market of music fans and how they interact with what’s available currently. According to a Neilson Music study, super fans make up 14% of the total population of music consumers yet they account for over 34% of all music purchases. They will spend more than $422 annually, and over 53% said they would be willing to pay for exclusive content. The study concludes with an estimation that these super fans, “could spend an additional $450 million to $2.6 billion annually if they had the opportunity to snag behind-the-scenes access to the artists along with exclusive content.” Not all fans are created equal, and here we see how a powerful subgroup of these fans long for exclusive experiences and authentic relationships.

Check out the correlation between Instagram users and music spending. Another Neilson Music study concluded that Instagram users are 42% more likely to spend money on music than the general population. When using social media at live events, 83% use Instagram more than any other platform. We believe the reason this correlation exists is because Instagram is an incredibly effective platform for cataloging and sharing musical experiences.

Jim Squires, director of market operations at Instagram, has some thoughts into this in a recent interview he did with Adweek.

It seems that G-Eazy shares Squires sentiments as well. Billboard recently published an article about this same Neilson Music survey. Here is what they had to say about G-Eazy’s Instagram,

In this interview, G-Eazy tells Billboard,

“I like Instagram because it’s a direct connection to my fans — I can share exactly what’s going on in my life and let them feel apart of it.”

Forbes recently published an article that forecasts a trend in increasing exclusivity; a gambit to lure more subscribers:


Without further ado, we will introduce two prototypes that Team Blue have developed in an attempt to tackle the three problem statements listed earlier. The first prototype is SoundKey.

Prototype 1: SoundKey

Where rights holders and content creators shake hands

Imagine a world where negotiating complex, digital licensing contracts becomes as seamless as streaming music. What if digital rights contracts could act on their own, following parameters set by their rights holders? This is SoundKey, our solution to the current inability to match a digital work to its creator, and help combat the industry’s onslaught of intermediaries.

Built for Rights Holders: SoundKey is a tool for creating semi-autonomous digital works, and creating contracts for digital works that operate automatically and effortlessly. The basic premise of SoundKey is to host a database that rights holders of digital works can use to upload their rightfully-owned content. By analyzing the digital information of these digital works, SoundKey assigns each a unique identification number, like a fingerprint that represents the source of the material. It connects this unique fingerprint back to the rights holder of the content. In addition to this, the individuals who upload their content to this database can create contracts for how other content creators can engage with their digital works.

By combining various payment types and usage rights, a large number of licensing options are possible.

Curated for Content Creators: As a content creator, you don’t need to worry about using uncleared or infringing content any longer. You can easily find which content is currently registered in the SoundKey database by uploading your digital content in our Clearing House section. SoundKey will automatically analyze the digital content of your creation in will notify you where uncleared content is used. A prompt will allow you to interact with the smart contracts previously established by the rights holders of the content you are using in your new derivative work.

Our Approach: How might we utilize blockchain and distributed ledger technology to improve this concept? Using blockchain to record and timestamp the journey of a song and how it engages with contracts over the course of its lifetime could provide deep insights as to how we can reimagine digital rights on the internet.

Using blockchain technology, the song can easily record, track and process transactions, and even add users to its license

The ability to monitor these licenses on a distributed ledger means that the song can act semi-autonomously on the network and calculate the revenue that it collects across its lifetime.

The digital work will track the revenue it has earned for the copyright holder(s)

In this example, the revenue can easily be disseminated to the appropriate rights holders on a separate ledger. Participation in the blockchain creates consensus which allows for transparency to align all the stakeholders in the contract.

Prototype 2: Fansy

Journey into the underWORLD of music

Artwork by Nick Dupey

Fansy is a platform that pioneers a new world of engagement by providing artists the tools they need to host exclusive experiences in conjunction with authentic relationships for their most dedicated fans. We want to enable content creators and artists of digital content to connect with their fans on an unprecedented level and collaborate with other content creators effortlessly.

Subscription Based Model: The Fansy platform allows digital artists and content creators to design their own subscription based models in order to monetize their content. Subscription based models are nothing new to the music industry, but they are rarely seen. Back in 2014, the electronic scene experienced their first taste of a subscription based model when Deadmau5 released his app and subscription plan, specifically targeting super fans. Singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer has had her own go at the subscription model game by jerry-rigging platforms like Kickstarter and Patreon. (she successfully ran this monetization model and currently operates on a pay-as-you-wish model). Both of these case studies give us some insight as to the viability and desirability of a purely subscription based artist.

The Features: Fansy is your one-stop location to engage in every medium possible over the internet. Videos, music streaming, behind the scenes footage, vlogs, blogs, live update feed (think Twitter), live streaming (think Twitch), group chats, merchandise stores, downloads, and much more. We want to bring the feeling and experience of a live show to your digital life.

Value Proposition: By building Fansy on the infrastructure of SoundKey, our platform can provide the tools for content creators to collaborate effortlessly. Because the platform will have unique identifiers for original content, we can automatically ‘cite’ the original creators when any content creator uses another artist’s work to create a derivative. This guarantees trust in a network of creatives so they don’t have to focus on legality; they can just focus on the content creation.

We believe: Engagement is about building deep, long lasting relationships with your audience. By providing the tools for artists to do this, and as the market pioneers best practices, we can imagine a whole new world of exclusive content that people are not only willing to pay for, but are eager to support their favorite artists for the quality and the brand that they represent. This platform could help facilitate healthy, 2-way relationships between artists and their fans, increase longevity and engagement, while helping artists manage those relationships.

Wrap Up

Stay tuned for updates about our projects, specifically for Fansy. In the upcoming week, we will be exploring these concepts in more detail through various prototypes and conversations.
Click me to find out more about the Open Music Initiative.

Thank you!

~ Team Blue

The Open Music Initiative

Berklee’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship co-founded the Open Music Initiative to promote open source standards and innovation for music, and to assure compensation for all music creators, performers and rights holders. We share our stories here.

Thanks to Eric Chan.

Garrett Swenson

Written by

OMI Summer Lab 2017 Fellow. Analyzing applications of Blockchain technology for digital rights contracts with IDEO and the MIT Media Lab.

The Open Music Initiative

Berklee’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship co-founded the Open Music Initiative to promote open source standards and innovation for music, and to assure compensation for all music creators, performers and rights holders. We share our stories here.