We’ve seen a few music-industry conference venues in our time, but never a giant tipi until today. Built in the grounds of musician Imogen Heap’s home in Havering-atte-Bower, it was the location for Heap to talk about the next steps for her Mycelia project.
She was unveiling Mycelia’s proposal for a ‘Creative Passport’, which is pitched as a digital identity standard for musicians. It’ll include verified profile information, IDs, acknowledgements and details of works, business partners and payment mechanisms.
Heap was also talking about the Mycelia World Tour, a three-day music and tech festival that will visit more than 40 cities a year, with the added goal of signing up local musicians in those areas to the Creative Passport scheme.
Official supporters for all this included industry bodies (the BPI, Featured Artists Coalition, the Musicians’ Union) as well as rightsholders and collecting societies (PRS for Music, BMG, Downtown Music Publishing) and tech firms (from Ujo and Musicoin up to Sony).
“It’s really hard to know where your money is when you sign a record deal… and the time it takes for any money to filter down, it can take up to two to three years,” she said by way of introduction, on her progression from traditional label deals to a self-releasing artist who controls her own rights.
“When I didn’t have a record label, I suddenly started to talk to people who I wanted to work with. Before it had always gone through the label… And that’s when I met lots of brilliant makers, musicians, producers and filmmakers, and I started to get my crowd around me… because they were dealing with me directly.”
Some of these partnerships led to Heap’s ‘Tiny Human’ project, where she released a song making use of blockchain technology, using smart contracts to automatically pay her collaborators, as well as letting fans pay for it using cryptocurrency.
“It seemed sensible if we could reimagine the music industry and how it could work in a data-driven world,” she said. “The music industry hasn’t really redefined itself or changed its business models in 100 years, yet here we had a completely new framework to work with.”
‘Tiny Human’ in turn led to Mycelia, a project set up to explore the further potential for this technology, as well as to encourage other artists and creators to get involved.
“We’ve been connecting the dots, because there are so many amazing new services cropping up: some blockchain-enabled, some not blockchain-enabled,” said Heap.
“For three years I went around and talked about Mycelia, and did lots of blockchain panels. So many blockchain panels! There must be one a day… And then I realised I could do the bit that we could do, which was creating all of the data we have about me.”
That’s the Creative Passport: all the data on Heap’s songs and recordings, the people she has worked with, her artwork and metadata and all the other information representing her career.
“If you’re an artist, you want a hub, a connective hub between yourself and anyone who wants to do business with yourself or your songs,” she said. The idea being that tech startups and streaming services can hook in to these passports to get all the information and content for the artist.
Heap said that while shoving the history of recorded music into this system may be tall order, it’s aimed more at new works and emerging artists.
“Legacy is legacy, but 95% or 99% of music is now generated by people who are independent. We do have massive huge famous superstars, and they’re a point one percent, but there’s all the other people who support that: the young, up-and-coming musicians who are unknown,” she said.
“This is about how do we connect them and bring them out, so that anyone who want to find out about them can do it?.. The services can benefit, and the labels can benefit too.”
Heap said that the ambition behind the Creative Passport is also to revive the idea of a global repertoire database, which has flopped prominently several times in the past.
“The reason I think it’s failed: a lot of it was ‘we want to own the data, no we want to own the data, no we want to own the data’… Nobody should own the data but us [musicians], because we generate it. That shouldn’t be something to profit off,” she said, before suggesting the Creative Passport could be the first step towards a “full songs database.”
Heap compared the music industry’s mis-steps over Napster at the end of the 20th century to what she sees as risks now in not engaging properly with blockchain technology – and thus leaving other entities to explore it.
“If we get it wrong, we could have a Napster times 1,000. If we get it wrong with Blockchain. And it is happening… if we don’t come up with solutions, somebody else will, and they won’t be on our terms,” she said, voicing the hope that blockchain tech could be the way music opens up even more to startups.
“We need to build the thing that they can build upon, and then we can see a real flourishing of new services: services that we can’t even imagine now,” she said.
“We don’t even really need to understand it to be honest. We don’t understand electricity. Well, I don’t! But it’s here, keeping us warm and keeping us lit… We’re just on the precipice of this awesome new technology, and we just need to get on to it… There’s real potential there, and as a result there’s money.”
In September, Mycelia will set off on its world tour of 40-45 cities. “If you have a service that you’re developing that you want to connect with us, you will also kind-of be on the road with us. And we’re also looking for sponsors in terms of cold hard cash, because it’s going to be expensive,” she said.
“Each week a different city, connecting with artists, services, technologists, hackers. This is like Mycelia’s travelling office.” Heap will lead the first year’s tour, but will then hand over to another artist for the second year, and another for the third.
“It’s a big vision. Might not all happen exactly as I’m presenting it. But if we don’t dream, nothing’s going to happen. So that’s the big dream,” said Heap.
“Curated data is really everything in this world, and if something out there cant be found, somebody somewhere is losing out. There’s an amazing opportunity in this world… we are moving from an internet of knowledge to an internet of value, and if you’re in the business of IP, as we are, then that could be really good news.”
Stand by for more on the talks and tech at today’s Mycelia event.