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, and are constantly evolving. Even relatively recent innovations like the iPod Nano and Shuffle are stepping aside, as music streaming services gain in popularity. A look forward reveals that MP3 files may soon be phased out, replaced by more powerful MPEG codecs like AAC which are said to deliver better quality at a lower bitrate. It seems that vinyl may be the anomaly that escaped the march of time to be re-adopted by hipster hobbyists.
In that spirit of transition embodied by the changing media that fans use to listen to music, artists are beginning to look to blockchain platforms as a means of distribution. Were this trend to gain steam, record labels may find themselves the next institutions to face disruption by the nascent technology.
For instance, 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 physical tickets and thus reducing waste. Venues can achieve some level of autonomous governance through ticket sales managed by EDCCs. Blockchain-powered ticket distribution may also help to contain the secondary inflated scalping market, which affects consumers and artists alike.
Other artists like Bjork and Imogen Heap have also endeavored to incorporate cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology into their music.
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, totaling $130.20), 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," is currently available for purchase with Ether, bitcoin, and various other cryptocurrencies as of 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.
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.