July 20, 2015:Discussion around blockchain and music is heating up

Discussion around blockchain and music is heating up

1936348_113461142376_5319430_nWe reported last week on the suggestion in a report from Rethink Music that blockchain technology and cryptocurrency payments could be part of the answer to the music industry’s transparency issues around digital services and royalty payments. But that report was part of a wider discussion around these ideas that is starting to pick up steam.

Berklee College of Music is heavily involved: its associate professor George Howard has been talking to tech luminaries and musicians alike about the idea of using blockchain technology – sequential databases used to track transactions such as those used for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies – within the music industry, and publishing their thoughts on Forbes.

For example, he interviewed Union Square Ventures partner Andy Weissman about his proposal for a ‘nirvana state’ for music involving rightsholders registering their rights on a blockchain, including rules on how a piece of music can be used by digital services.

“A machine could read those rules – and then build a music service on top of that. No more interminable contract negotiations over these,” suggests Weissman.

Howard has also talked to musician Imogen Heap about her proposal for something called Mycelia to use blockchain to solve “the deep opacity of the music industry”.

“It’s not always intentional; it’s just the deals, trigger points, and percentages are so complex – even more when mergers and acquisitions occur – that it’s hard to get it right every time, if you’re human,” she says. “BUT if you’re a computer program, a piece of software, a database… these issues disappear as it’s just maths half the time.”

For now, these discussions are taking place on the margins of the traditional recorded music industry, whether fuelled by organisations like Berklee or tech-leaning artists like Heap and Zoe Keating.

It may be tempting to write them off as digital utopianism destined to founder on the practical realities of rolling out a blockchain-based system for the industry – let alone the challenge of convincing all the current participants in the value-chain to sign up. Yet we have a hunch that this particular debate is going to pick up momentum, not die away.

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Stuart Dredge
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