There is, to put it mildly, a lot of hype and misinformation around the world of blockchain technology, cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs) – including their potential for the music industry.
Music Ally has already noted a blockchain backlash within many rightsholders, who question whether the tech and its fresh-faced startups can ever deliver on the promises that have been made.
One of those startups is British firm Jaak, and its CEO Vaughn McKenzie-Landell thinks that there’s a danger of any real progress being stymied amid this backlash.
“I think we need to reset. When we talk about blockchain we talk about loads of different things… If I said ‘internet’ to you, it would mean loads of different things as well,” he said.
McKenzie-Landell was talking at the FastForward conference in Amsterdam in a speech titled ‘Bored with Blockchain?’ in which he tried to head off such ennui within the industry.
He outlined Jaak’s focus: using blockchain technology to solve the music industry’s problems matching the metadata on compositions and recordings.
“Really, any of the other use cases that we go after with blockchain are things on the periphery, weeds around the edge. It’s here that the real opportunity is for music,” he said. “Blockchain can potentially solve the problem.”
But why? He offered a definition first. “Blockchain is a file that is connected to a peer-to-peer network. In this peer-to-peer network, instead of us sending files to everyone, we’re all putting data into this one file. Imagine it as a spreadsheet,” he said. “Everyone collects all the data up, and every so often someone gets to add a new row to our spreadsheet… a new ‘block’ of data. That’s the blockchain: it’s just a big spreadsheet… It genuinely isn’t as complex as we like to make it out to be.”
McKenzie-Landell thinks this is where blockchain technology can be deployed to tackle the music industry’s metadata problem.
“It is complex, I recognise that. We have to change every single mind int he music industry. It is difficult. Every single person we speak to, every person who’s going to make a decision about whether our company is successful, whether our peers are successful. They have a choice,” he said.
“I can decide to do the thing I’ve always done… say ‘yes it looks good but maybe we’re not ready for it or maybe it won’t work’… but some people are going to take the risk… We have to make sure everybody in the industry is willing to take that right path.”
McKenzie-Landell talked about current blockchain experiments: micro-licensing, a global view of rights, infrastructure as a service as proof-of-concepts; ticketing, fan loyalty and metadata curation as live tests; and crowdfunding – artists raising money through token sales.
“It’s very unlikely that all of these things will get off the ground. Some of these things will fail,” he said. But he suggested that the industry could reach an impasse. “There’s too many structures in place, too many contracts that are going to take two years to end… sometimes it’s just the wrong time, and it just doesn’t work out,” he said.
“We’ve seen what peer-to-peer can do… If you think about peer-to-peer and all of the people who were working on that technology when it first appeared, they were working to grow the industry. But then they ended up working on the other side, on things that harmed the industry,” said McKenzie-Landell.
He hopes that this time round, the industry will seize on blockchain’s potential for good, citing opportunities like real-time royalties and new music product experiences. “We’re saying the opportunities can be compounded if we’re able to land this first use case,” he said, before finishing off with a call to the music industry to continue getting to grips with blockchain tech.
“Just try and learn about the technology, understand it. Engage with any blockchain startups, and just really embrace the technology. It really is an opportunity for music.”