The music industry is constantly changing. From records to cassettes to CDs to streaming, how people consume music is ever-evolving. One constant though is the struggle artists face to be compensated fairly for their music. Whether it is delayed royalty payments or low streaming payments, artists are always at some sort of disadvantage. This post explores how companies are harnessing blockchain technology to bring a new level of fairness to the music industry and for artists everywhere.
The Current Landscape
The Internet brought an entirely new way to experience and find music. The creation of iTunes and Napster, among other platforms, made music much more accessible to everyone.
People can now listen to a single song without buying a CD. Streaming music online has become much easier as well with platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify. Artists can even upload music to SoundCloud to try to gain traction.
But with all great breakthroughs, there are hiccups. One major hiccup in this current age of the Internet is how little streaming services pay artists per stream. Spotify distributes payments in a pro-rate fashion, where artists are paid from a pool of all the revenue shares and at the end of each payment period an artist is entitled to receive a payment according to how frequently they are listened to. Studies also show that this model, as opposed to simply paying artists for each stream, hurts smaller artists.
Another flaw with the major streaming platforms is incorrect metadata. Metadata is data that describes all the attributes of an artists song/album (i.e.: album name, copyright info, publisher info, etc). If an artist’s metadata is incorrect, they will not be paid accordingly. Potentially billions of dollars have not been paid to artists due to incorrect metadata. Some reasons for incorrect metadata are that there is no uniform way to enter information nor is data verified.
Other issues for artists is the fact that they owe so much to producers and agents and have no way to provide music to the world without their assistance. Because of all the moving pieces in the music world, the waterfall of revenue down to artists is weak as they are typically paid last. But artists aren’t the only ones hurt, Spotify and Apple Music are two companies that have objected to royalty increases to songwriters. The objection to increasing has to lead to courtroom battles.
The problems described here are not limited to the music industry. Every art industry has its own problem with intellectual property rights and licensing. The internet makes it easy for people to use copyrighted work without permission through a variety of sources from illegal downloading to Google Images.
With the advent of blockchain tech, the traditional structure of the music industry can start to be reworked to allow artists a more even playing field; one where they are no longer solely dependent on a record label to distribute their music and are more in control of their intellectual property in general.
How Blockchain can Help
Blockchain can allow artists of all industries more control over their own licensing, which will allow a fairer pay. Because artists no longer need record labels to help distribute their music, they should be able to make their own choices and feel empowered as artists to run their own businesses.
Smart contracts are key in order to change the industry. Because much of the licensing language is boilerplate, instead of companies using attorneys and artists needing record labels to represent them, smart contracts can be made directly between the artist and the streaming platform. This cuts costs and intermediaries, allowing artists to collect more in royalties and saving both parties money. It is important to note that record labels can still exist and help artists in this scenario, artists just have better bargaining power with labels.
Now artists can make the agreements and the metadata is incorporated into the smart contract. This eliminates the metadata problem moving forward. Since blockchain is essentially a ledger, artists can monitor their own number of streams with nodes verifying that each chain is correct.
Blockchain can provide artists even more freedom going forward. An entire platform for musical artists through a series of smart contracts allows artists to decide their own rates and rules for their licensing. Each artist would be able to clearly show they are the copyright holder of their work while deciding what kind of license is available to listeners.
Because labels and distributors will no longer have an unfair advantage in bargaining, each can receive a share of their actual contribution to the work. Everyone could see how an artist is doing based on the number of listens and revenue per song.
A peer-to-peer system created by artists is possible and allows at least one channel for artists to take back control of their intellectual property and art.
Companies Fixing the Problem
Mycelia is a platform created for artists to allow the sharing of music in a clear and transparent way. Their goal is to allow artists to freely share while being paid fairly. Each artist can create a ‘Creative Passport’ that includes all the rights and acknowledgments in a song. With everything accounted for through the Creative Passport, payments through smart contracts are easy and transparent. Imogen Heap is behind the project and envisions Mycelia to be a space where creative types can learn, research, and relate to one another. For Mycelia, the idea of an open protocol that is peer-to-peer based is essential for the next generation of music.
Founder Jesse Grushack’s goal is to fairly pay artists and eliminate the bottom-of-the-totem-pole system that currently exists. Their main focus is on leveraging blockchain technology, mainly smart contracts, to seamlessly and quickly pay artists their royalty payments. Each time a song is downloaded through Ujo, a micropayment is sent to the artist. Currently, the company only offers downloading services but wants to expand to streaming in the future.
VOISE caters to independent artists; specifically, those looking to still get their careers off the ground and might not have access to representation otherwise. Artists can upload their music to the VOISE platform and are paid all their commissions. There are no service fees for artists so they are able to completely profit off those enjoying their music. Listeners can purchase tokens to access music and artists are paid through the Ethereum network.
Choon is a streaming service that pays artists through smart contracts. All licensing is done through smart contracts to be as efficient as possible. They pledge fair payouts for all those involved. Artists are able to upload their own music and receive payment based on the number of streams. Choon is likely the largest blockchain music service with over twelve thousand artists currently on the platform.
Blockchain tech can help the music industry facilitate fairer payments to artists. Peer-to-peer networks are not new in the music industry, but ones that allow artists to take control of their music are. Through the use of smart contracts, payouts are easier, faster, and no longer require intermediaries. While the music industry still has a ways to go, it is always changing and conceivably the next wave is with blockchain