Music & blockchain: From theory to concrete application

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Up until now, links between music and blockchain have mostly been experimental. Artists like DJ Gramatik and Bjork have succeeded in releasing music on the blockchain in pioneering cases. Yet, we have not seen the advent of a blockchain-based music service that is as usable and widely applicable as the likes of Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music and Apple Music – but financially fairer to artists. The desire to change this status quo is what spurred the creation of disruptive music streaming platforms like Choon. Behind this forward-thinking decentralised industry model lies years of expertise in both blockchain and the music industry. Can the blockchain give the “from the bottom up” re-imagined industry model another chance to live?

Merging the worlds of music and blockchain: The beginnings

The benefits of releasing music on the blockchain – bypassing industry intermediaries and maintaining visibility of consumption – are not a secret. Some well-known artists have taken advantage of token-based economies that allows creators to get fairly compensated for their music. In such a system, the token becomes a reflection of creative output and its value increases as more people buy the music. This is undoubtedly a disruptive model that poses a serious threat to the current music industry landscape, in which artists must accept a complicated and obscure compensation mechanism whereby intermediaries such as the major record labels, agents and streaming services retain most of the profits before any money reaches the artist.

One of the first artist pioneers to embrace the concept of releasing music on the blockchain was Gramatik. He partnered with Singular DTV to launch the GRMTK Token (Gramatik’s intellectual property) in 2017. Anybody who participated in the initial token launch became entitled to a share of Gramatik’s creative output, and $2.25 million was raised within the first 24 hours. When internationally renowned Icelandic artist Bjork made her 10th album Utopia purchasable in cryptocurrency in the same year, she also tapped into the benefit of increased interaction with fans that this decentralised method provides. Fans who pre-ordered the album were rewarded with “Audio Coins”, which subsequently granted them access to additional benefits like the ability to purchase Bjork’s Limited Edition albums.

Despite the fact that both Gramatik and Bjork are clearly aware of the benefits of releasing music on the blockchain and have successfully implemented this strategy in their own careers, they still represent the exception rather than the rule. The current challenge is to create a more permanent connection between music and blockchain. Essentially, altering the current industry model dominated by record labels and music streaming giants and making the ability to release music on the creator’s own terms accessible to all artists.

Making the decentralised model accessible to all

The idea behind blockchain-based music streaming platforms like Choon is to not only cut out the middlemen, but also address the demand for increased artist-fan interaction. Such services are not seeking to fit blockchain into the antiquated music industry, but rather to build an entirely new model from the ground up: a far more viable prospect than trying to bolt a solution on top of the current legacy music industry, which involves the nigh impossible task of making deals with thousands of different labels, publishers and copyright societies, all with their own competing interests and obligations. Ethereum, which has grown immensely in the last 2-3 years, has allowed for the creation of a ‘new music industry’ entirely on the blockchain.

For example, Choon will be using Smart Record contracts — an automated rights management system that distributes automatic payments. Smart Record Contracs simplify agreements between all parties as well as making splits completely transparent and payment distribution immediate. There will be no need for lawyers in creating the contract, as the trust required between parties will be indelibly enshrined in the blockchain-based contract.

Income will be distributed in NOTES tokens, and with no antiquated accounting mechanisms hampering things, artists and their representatives can usually be paid for their streams by the end of each day. Choon will pay NOTES earned by the track directly into the Smart Record Contract, which will then re-distribute them according to pre-agreed splits. NOTES tokens will typically remain within the ecosystem, which eliminates cumbersome on/off ramps associated with cryptocurrencies. There will be numerous ways in which listeners can spend NOTES while interacting with the platform, including downloads, private concerts and chats with artists, as well as the sale of non-digital items.

This will solve some of the music industry’s most significant problems, including a lack of transparency, along with extremely low & complicated compensation mechanisms. A fundamental goal is to disrupt both centralisation and monopolisation within the current industry. Without intermediaries and middlemen, artists can get paid for their work instantaneously as opposed to waiting for months or years to receive a miniscule percentage of overall revenue, which was calculated in an over-complicated and obscure manner.

Re-building the industry model from the ‘bottom up’

The standard music discovery model operating today works from the “top down”. This means that industry ‘gatekeepers’, such as major label A&Rs, exert the most influence regarding which acts are discovered on a mainstream, international scale. Due to their contractual relationships with services like Spotify, Deezer, Apple and Amazon, these high-power executives are essentially able select which artists will become popular in a particular point in time and plug their music into major media outlets, using tried and tested marketing strategies to execute major promotion. Despite the popularisation of the internet and the small level of independent agency this has given to artists, the industry still operates predominantly in this manner. This is because major label A&R specialists control access to global-level promotion tools. This also means that artists often fail to recoup such promotional costs — which are extremely expensive — hence the huge amount of ‘unrecouped’ major label artists, most of whom are unceremoniously dropped from their labels.

What would be more sustainable and forward-thinking is to re-imagine the music discovery model from the “bottom up”. This type of system was actually attempted in the early 2000s, when the internet was just beginning to boom. Artists gained access to platforms like mp3.com, which seemed to provide the opportunity to shift power form agents and record stores to bands themselves. Unfortunately, this didn’t prove to be sustainable as there was no practical monetisation model. Slowly, the “bottom up” idea dissipated and old power structures reasserted their control.

The advent of blockchain, however, has provided creators with a new and more sustainable platform to re-imagine the “from the bottom up” dream. In this new cryptocurrency-powered model, millions of aspiring artists will share their music with the public, and those who resonate the most — gaining traction — will proceed to radio and charts. In the process, artists will get fairly (and instantaneously) compensated for the content they create whilst fans will be provided with a better, more personable way of discovering music and connecting with their favourite artists. For example, within the Choon ecosystem, artists can use their NTS to promote tracks, tap into various promotional platforms, as well as sample and license tracks — providing numerous additional ways to make an income from their music.

If blockchain-powered platforms can give artists a user-friendly route into an ecosystem where they can earn a living wage from their creations, everyone will benefit from a better quality of music. Fortunately, there was never a better time than now to re-fashion the industry model from the ground up.

Gareth Emery, co-founder, Choon
Image Credit: Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock