While financial firms the world over are marching to the beat of the blockchain drum, it comes as no surprise that creators of intellectual property are also considering similar technological possibilities.
If artists can go directly to a blockchain as a means of distribution and EDCCs for autonomous payment governance, they stand to forge networks that circumvent the current powers that be. Blockchain technology is but a small facet of shifts in the music industry as it evolves to keep pace with trending technological advances.
The vehicles by which we have enjoyed music have come in very different forms over the years, be they wax cylinders, 8 tracks, or digital MP3 files. Each time technology advances, the existing foundations of distribution networks and their ability to adapt are tested. A precious few still buy CDs but even fewer buy cassette tapes, and practically no one buys 8 tracks. (Let's leave the hipster record resurgence by the wayside for now.)
In that same spirit of transition, when artists begin to look at the blockchain as a means of distribution, record labels may become the next institution to face disruption by the nascent technology.
Imogen Heap made history in 2015 by releasing her single, "Tiny Human," on the Ethereum blockchain. The project represented a successful pilot for the Mycelia foundation, founded by Heap. ConsenSys worked on engineering the backend to manage distribution and transactions via EDCC.
The "Tiny Human" blockchain project may not have seen the smoothest sailing (a buggy interface and a general lack of knowledge regarding how to obtain the Ether necessary to purchase the single only attracted 222 individual sales), but the project brought to light important notions regarding the obstacles facing blockchain and consumer acceptance.
Bjork has also embarked upon a journey into distribution via blockchain in conjunction with the British startup Blockpool. The Icelandic artist's latest album, "Utopia," will be available for purchase with Ether, bitcoin, and various other cryptocurrencies on November 24, 2017. Fans who pre-order the album will also receive 100 "Audio Coins" (valuing around $0.20 at time of press), which facilitate the purchases of limited edition albums and the like. It's a small but interesting gesture, and other artists may be inspired to explore the channels of cryptocurrency as a way to offer exclusive content to fans who are willing to go the extra mile.
Venues themselves can also achieve some level of autonomous governance through EDCCs. The legendary German electronic band Kraftwerk intends to use the Ethereum blockchain to manage ticket sales for a show scheduled on February 13, 2018, at the Kremlin Palace in Moscow. As trend-setting, cutting-edge musicians, Kraftwerk's foray into Ethereum-based ticketing may come as no surprise to fans. Concertgoers who use this method to purchase tickets will have their “stubs” stored in a mobile app, avoiding the necessity for a physical ticket and thus reducing waste. Blockchain ticket distribution may also help to contain the secondary scalping market where prices are inflated, thereby helping consumers save money and artists control costs.
There is a long way to go before blockchain systems can scale to the demands of consumers, but these attempts by artists to harness the technology are important stepping stones on that journey. Though third parties have created a global marketplace for artists to showcase their intellectual property, adding a layer of arbitrage between artists and fans, a time may come when those services may be supplemented or even replaced by blockchain platforms.
Until then, collectively, we can wait, watch, and listen.