If you’re in the music business or hanging around the music business, you’ve probably heard about blockchain—an emerging technology that has taken on near-mythical proportions in the minds of many.
What is blockchain? Well, at its most basic, it’s a decentralized, open database that records transactions in a ledger comprising “blocks” of information. Most people associate blockchain with BitCoin, a cryptocurrency that has inspired plenty of breathless reporting. But blockchain doesn’t have to be married to invisible Internet money. It can ride on top of the aforementioned ledger like a smart database that works in any digital environment.
If that sounds like a whole lotta ‘bot talk, we understand. But it’s probably a good idea to get better acquainted with blockchain, because we think it’s going to power a great many services and processes that are currently slow, inefficient and prone to fraudulence.
Slow, inefficient and prone to fraudulence? Sounds familiar. But instead of complaining, let’s crank up the speakers and fix some stuff. There are currently a lot of smart folks trying to figure out ways that blockchain can resolve the music industry’s longstanding issues with transparency and accountability. Just weeks ago, Imogen Heap partnered with developers Ujo and Etherium to release what appears to be the very first song on the blockchain. That was kind of like the moon landing for music tech-nerds. And there are many more experiments forthcoming.
One new project/concept that we’re very interested in is .bc (#dotblockchain), dreamed into existence by PledgeMusic founder and FMC Board member Benji Rogers. This approach to the blockchain is different than some of the other experiments, because it would essentially be a new format extension that also serves as an information wrapper with all the metadata and permissions expressed in real-time along with the audio vehicle.
Now hey there, C-3PO. That definitely sounded like ‘bot talk. Let’s have Benji explain:
“Anytime an artist or rights holder is ready to make their works available to the world, they would create a .bc file rather than a standard WAV or MP3. This would mean that all of the data needed to figure out who to pay, who owned what, and when it was created would literally be contained and/or referenced within the file itself. Once this step was completed all of this information would then be written into the blockchain and made available for all.”
And anytime those permissions or obligations change (only the rightsholder or designated agent can make decisions about that) it is recorded in the chain as a permanent record (financials not included). Can’t get more transparent than that. Which is why Benji is calling it the Fair Trade Music format.
What we really like about the .bc idea is that it gives music people an incentive to populate our blocks with information, from who owns the copyright to who composed the song and performed on the recording. It can carry a lot more info than that, too, but Benji smartly focuses on what he calls Minimum Viable Data (MVD) that attach to recordings as they move through the network. The rights are owned by the rightsholder, but nobody owns the blockchain. Therefore, it’s much harder to let other people’s money congeal in black boxes that can be raided later.
We could attempt to explain all of this, but it’s much better when Benji does it. Check out his recent Fair Trade Music articles: Part One and Part Two. We need an industry where all parties are incentivized to be their best corporate selves. Where positive values are reinforced as a matter of infrastructure. This idea exemplifies those values, and we welcome more.
The response to Benji’s articles has been off the charts. (Or off the chain?) Now it’s time to hone and test the concept. Benji is working closely with FMC board vice president Ken Umezaki to better understand how the broader music community considers “fairness” in the current landscape. We strongly encourage you to take this short, FUN survey so that your perspectives can help shape the .bc concept.
It’s very exciting to see all of this unfold, and we’re psyched to watch it with you.