Shaking Up The Music Industry With The Blockchain

The commercial and entertainment application for blockchain technology is a topic that developers have discussed with an ever-growing frequency. Aficionados of the blockchain are sure to read about the ways Web 3.0 will change finance and tech, but what about the music industry? How could the blockchain revolutionize something that has already had so many transformations over the years?

In order to envision the future of the music industry, we first need to understand the many problems it’s currently plagued with. As it stands, the information of music exists as a fragmented system spread across multiple databases, with little interoperability between them. Musicians seeking to track royalties, for example, have compared the process to a scavenger hunt with bad clues. If a publisher wants to enforce the copyright of a song, this requires a significant expenditure of time and resources with an army of personnel. All these inefficiencies lead to high operation costs and millions of dollars in uncollected funds annually. With such a disorderly ecosystem, globally tracking music rights, ownership, and payments are problematic.   

There have been several like-minded attempts to establish a multinational database of publishing and licensing information that have failed, such as the Global Repertoire Database (GRD) which was shelved in 2014. Even in the age of the internet, the building of a distributed network containing so many different variables from so many intermediaries becomes a monumental task. Benji Rogers, Cofounder of Dot Blockchain Music states:

“Fractured ownership and back catalogue challenges make a traditional database, let alone a blockchain, a really hard thing to do.”

At a recent public webinar in New York, Rogers delivered a comprehensive presentation detailing the problems of the music industry and the ways the blockchain can solve them. His talk breaks down the modus operandi of Dot Blockchain Music and what the future holds for music, media, and blockchain technology as a whole.

The following information is cited from slides in the presentation:

HOW IT WORKS TODAY

  1. Creators export songs from studio with no permanent metadata
  2. Songs shared with manager, band mates, friends, label, publisher etc anyone whom can add [amend]new metadata
  3. Song information (not recording) is registered with [Performance Rights Organization] PRO
  4. [International Standard Recording Code] ISRC added by distributor
  5. Song is released with incomplete metadata
  6. Copies of songs created and shared on the web
  7. Digital service providers asked to police themselves and find unofficial copies + to pay rights to holders on those unofficial copies
  8. Where data is missing money goes into black box

HOW IT WORKS WITH DOT BLOCKCHAIN MUSIC

  1. Creators export songs from studio with metadata hard coded into blockchain
  2. Song + data shared with manager, band mates, friends, label, publisher etc with permission to amend but not delete data (change log)
  3. Song registered with PRO with amended/amendable metadata + recording
  4. ISRC added by distributor
  5. Song is released by granting digital service providers access to the song file + data
  6. Changes to ownership (once agreed) broadcast to all parties to the song
  7. Duplicate copies of songs created not uploaded to trusted [Digital Signal Processor] DSP’s because they would already be there
  8. Song level tracking eliminates need for tracking black box money

What’s important to take away from these differences is that under Dot Blockchain’s platform, which is a hybrid structure of a centralized and distributed ledger, the many components of music information (rights, ownership, etc.) are neatly bundled together. By designing a new format or container to share and store this data, publishers and licensees can arrive at what Rogers refers to as the “most current truth”, or the most up-to-date version of a musical track. Because changes to a song can be made after it has already been commercially released, it is difficult to resolve disputes that involve numerous variations of one song.

A NEW FORMAT

Music formats have run the gambit from vinyl, 8-Track, cassette tape, CD, to MP3, and are continuing to evolve. Dot Blockchain’s solution of bundling music data manifests as a container format known as Minimum Viable Data (MVD), which is the minimum amount of information needed to travel on a network to determine rights. The same way a ZIP file is a container for multiple file types, the relatively small size of MVD allows for data to be packaged and shared on the blockchain.

MVD Format requires the following:

-At least 1 writer/publisher + contact/payment info

-At least 1 artists/performer + contact/payment info

-Song name

-Copy of music (does not yet exist)

A traditional music format is written as: your_song_name.mp3    

A Dot BC format is written as: our_song_name.bc

According to Rogers, “a Dot BC [Blockchain] container format is a new standard created, owned, and maintained by the music industry.” The power of this model lies in its ability to streamline the registration and sharing of data between multiple parties. The system creates a central and distributed network on the blockchain from which data can be easily ascertained. Although transparency is increased under this model, by “nesting” information, record labels can authorize the access of information designated to specific parties. In the same way that Dropbox allows users to designate which parties can view a file and which of those have permission to edit the file, so does the MVD format. It ensures that privacy protocols are established. Because the information lives on the blockchain, the history of all changes made to a song can be tracked from a song’s inception. This is especially important on songs with multiple contributors, like that of many major pop artists. In the music industry, it’s common for a #1 hit to begin with 20 contributors. The blockchain’s immutable properties allow for a documented history to occur, ensuring that all vested parties receive the proper credit, rights, and compensation for their efforts on a project.

THE INTERNET AS TRUTH   

One of the ways Dot Blockchain aims to resolve disputes is through “tagging”. Similar to when someone “tags” a photo on Facebook with the name or identity of a friend, Dot Blockchain’s tech utilizes a system that lets contributors accept a “tag” or deny it. If someone tags a person on a Facebook photo and the tagged individual realizes it’s not them, they can deny the tag and establish “truth”. This same verification process occurs with MVD files through the deployment of smart contracts anchored into the blockchain. Songs stored on the blockchain become broadcast-ready through a unique hash ID. As more Dot BC (Dot Blockchain) files are created, they build and add to a globally distributed database of rights. Industries that rely heavily on music syncing to license tracks efficiently and accurately, can sync to the blockchain and assess ownership from the database. Because the blockchain refreshes every ten minutes, it allows for the most recent version of a song to become available and contain its “most recent truth”. This streamlined process creates a precise and current database that is easily available at users’ fingertips. In the event of disputes, the blockchain exists as the holder of immutable information containing MVD files, history, and other data to establish ownership and rights.

OTHER INNOVATORS

Dot BC is only one of the many innovators that are utilizing the blockchain to revolutionize the music industry. Other platforms such as Ujo and Resonate are redesigning the ways artists share music, along with the ways profits are earned and distributed. The common elements shared by these platforms are a combination of decentralization and empowerment for the creators behind the products. Through blockchain technology, companies like Resonate and Ujo are adding their unique contributions to the changing music ecosystem. Alexandria, for example, allows listeners a ‘pin to play’ option where they can listen to an artist’s song for 1 cent per play. Rather than listening to a free 30-second sample on iTunes, Alexandria users can listen to an entire song for a penny collected through digital wallets that contain either bitcoin (BTC) or Ether (Eth). Users on Alexandria can also pin an entire album by scanning a QR code from their mobile device, which is linked to a digital wallet, allowing for micropayments to be collected instantly. If a listener decides to purchase the song or album, then the amount of pins (1 cent plays) purchased prior would be deducted from the total price. It’s worth noting that Alexandria’s platform would allow for similar versions of this process to occur not just with music, but also videos, HTML, and PDF’s. Visual media innovator Mediachain has developed its own platform to share and distribute pictures, and establish ownership through the blockchain. As technology evolves and more platforms toss their hats into the growing blockchain ring, we can surmise that the future of media as a whole will be influenced greatly by the blockchain’s propensity for record keeping and accountability. The transparent nature of these applications allows for artists to arm themselves with the tools to have more control over their work and establish an unprecedented level of fairness.