Blockchain technology has made it’s fair impression as far as technological innovation goes.
Most people involved in music are now questioning the actual (if any) application of blockchain in the music industry.
This post will take a deep dive into how blockchain can help the music industry.
To basically have a clear understanding its quite vital that I give a definition of blockchain right off the bat because it is vital for this article.
So what exactly is blockchain?
Simply put, blockchain is simply data stored on blocks of information and linked together in a permanent chain. This is done in such a way that, a new addition of block to the chain makes the previous block harder to modify thereby making each block even more secure.
Now that we have an actual understanding of blockchain technology, we can now get into how it can actually help the music industry.
One of the biggest problems that we face in the digital era is the ease with which files can be copied and shared. This is a huge problem, because media like music has a high cost of production and a very low cost of reproduction.
After reproduction these files can be shared and easily turned into public goods.
Which makes it very inconvenient and a huge problem because the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted work can be done by pretty much anybody.
In such a situation blockchain can be of great help because it introduces digital scarcity unlike the world of easily copiable data.
Blockchain technology essentially makes finitude and singularity possible. The fact that scarcity is a key component of blockchain technology would mean the introduction of digital collectables; unique and non-fungible which means they are not easily exchanged for similar items.
The non-fungible attribute is quite key because it means every digital asset would be different and not mutually interchangeable.
Royalty payments just supply chains alike can lack transparency due to the fact that they composed of distinct, independent businesses.
Although their interests align in the end goal of profit maximization, these businesses can often times have misaligned interests between different upstream and downstream members.
With regard to this, blockchain can help alleviate any transparency issues because it basically leaves an audit trail, for example, of music rights ownership and usage over time.
Blockchain is selectively transparent which means you don’t have to be worried about security. This transparency can be as much as the user wants it to be.
This is a very important feature because Artists and managers could be able to see whether payments were being efficiently processed, for example, without making that data available to the public.
Composers and songwriters in the music industry currently face a challenge. This challenge is that royalty Payments are inefficient and can sometimes take months or years to reach the intended creator. In a world were people are able to access and play music with a single click in seconds, this is a major issue.
My main issue here is not just that Payments are slow, the main issue here is that by the time the payment makes its way to the creator, collection societies would have most likely taken a cut.
This is a problem because most creators feel they are not getting a fair share of their payments.
Blockchains could essentially make royalty Payments faster. This can then create a world in which playing a song automatically triggers a royalty payment through smart contracts.
Furthermore, blockchains are characterized by lowering of transaction costs which is very vital in the current streaming era which is known for its large numbers of low value payments.
Blockchains could facilitate micro payments to creators. This would then create a world in which users pay for content as it streams without needing a middleman.
As of the present, copyright information is stored on centralized siloed databases. These are pretty much incomplete and will often conflict.
So many attempts have been made in the music industry to create and build a comprehensive database, but all these attempts have failed.
Blockchain technology can provide a distributed and networked alternative to centralized and siloed databases. Which could be a single source of truth as to who has the rights to a given song.
This networked alternative can work because the ability of blockchains to align incentives encourages independent actors to put aside their interests and come together to produce something for the good of all.
One of the crucial features of blockchain technology is its ability and overall potential of encouraging good behavior among among parties who don’t know or trust each other.
This could incentivise new forms of massive decentralised collaboration right across the creative economy, with individuals getting rewards according to the perceived value of their overall contribution.
For a sense of how this could work, we can look to Backfeed, which is an initiative that uses blockchain technology to encourage massive, open-source collaboration between peers without centralised control.
Backfeed introduces a social protocol on top of blockchain based infrastructures to coordinate individuals through the creation and distribution of economic tokens and reputation scores so as to eventually allow for the emergence of meritocratic systems and emergent alternative economies.
According to Davidson et al. 2016, The result could be ‘massive open-source collaboration without any form of centralized coordination.
The good part about blockchain technology is that it goes beyond the scope of most business models.
With regular, licensing. Using a song for maybe a TV show would require a sign off from a number of people. Locating these people may be a challenge and is still a challenge faced by most musicians today.
If the rights of a creative were registered on a blockchain the conditions of its reuse and use would be visible for every one to see. Theres also potential that smart contracts may automate most of the licensing process.
Creators could set their own, machine-readable, rules determining how their works can be used.
This can make reuse and the use of songs for any sort of license that much easier to work with.