Blockchain democracy: a Music 4.5 debate on empowering artists and their music

MUSIC: In the future, when Blockchain Tech and Behemoth Data could end up ruling how businesses operate, artists would have no excuse for relying on representatives to get paid for their music.

During a debate at a recent Music 4.5 event, speakers said performers, songwriters and other rights holders must stop relying on their managers, agents or lawyers alone to collect the accurate amount of royalties due from record labels, music publishers and collecting societies.

Called Global data, blockchain and chatbots, the debate’s theme centred on how the emerging blockchain tech (normally associated with the bitcoin digital currency) and similar open-source platforms could give artists direct control over the metadata (information) compiled to describe their works for commercial use.

“Artists must be librarians, archivists, and know how to run an operation where they do the business as well as understand copyright laws,” advised speaker Robert Kaye (pictured, below), Founder of crowd-sourced database MusicBrainz, part of the Barcelona-based not-for-profit organisation MetaBrainz Foundation.

“The music industry has far too many interests that are being fought for,” added Helienne Lindvall, Head of Business & Songwriter Relations at Stockholm-based Auddly, a song data-management platform co-founded by ABBA member Björn Ulvaeus.

“We need an information hub where creators can easily put in that metadata, which will be pushed through to where it needs to go. But to get writers and artists to do that, you’ve to make them realise there’s a problem. And most songwriters don’t know that. They think their publishers will take care of everything.”

Why blockchain matters

Super accurate metadata supplied by trusted parties ensures a John Smith does not get the royalties for a song written by Jon Smythe. It means Jon Smythe’s fans can discover his songs easily on the growing number of streaming platforms.

Digital platform operators would then know where to go for the legal permission to stream a Jon Smythe hit. And how that recording’s copyright is protected in different countries becomes easier to track.

The existing methods of using the closed-off databases controlled by different corporations and organisations no longer cuts it. A metadata error in one database ends up being copied by the others.

The industry tried to solve the problem with the Global Repertoire Database (GDR), an international centralised hub designed to contain the metadata for every copyrighted musical work. But it became cumbersome, collapsed and died in 2014.

In the age of streaming and playlists, where basic monthly subscriptions and advertising pay for the innumerable times a song is played, calculating who earns how much in royalties is getting more complicated than ever.

Experts believe a major solution lies in giving artists and other rights owners direct access to the metadata that describes their works via blockchain networks and similar platforms.

A registered artist would be able to correct errors and remove unnecessary duplications in metadata that streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, TiDAL, Pandora, YouTube and Amazon Music Unlimited can rely on to pay for copyright.

Data and the single artist
As Shadi A Razak, Chief Technology Officer at UK-based cybersecurity and data-protection specialist CyNation, observes: “We live in world where the boundaries between people, business and technology are increasingly blurred. Ever increasing amounts of data are being accumulated.”

He continues: “Executives, artists and digital curators need to better understand how the data they are using is being collected, created and distributed. Relying on IT departments and techies isn’t an excuse anymore.”

But as with all technologies at the embryonic stage, how blockchain and other open-source tech will be used to manage the metadata needed to remunerate rights owners fairly varies.

Among the ventures promoting a blockchain solution is Mycelia, a not-for-profit organisation spearheaded by UK artist/technologist Imogen Heap and centred on how the tech can help music creators.

“Most of the time, these services miss the creative point, which is the artist,” said Carlotta de Ninni, Mycelia’s Head of Research, who was also speaking at Music 4.5.

MusicBrainz’s Robert Kaye describes his venture as the crowdsourcing Wikipedia for music. “We prefer to call our users curators because it involves people working together with a goal to create something that has value. It means collecting the right things, tossing out the things that are not correct, the duplicates, the mistakes and irrelevancies.”

JAAK of content trades
Another Music 4.5 presenter was Vaughn McKenzie (pictured, below), CEO of blockchain start-up JAAK. He argues that the appropriate blockchain solution not only helps artists earn a living, it also encourages them to license content to digital users.

The JAAK platform, currently in private alpha mode, centres on two tech products: one that allows users to manage content-rights metadata in a decentralised data network; and another that allows rights holders and content creators to publish click-through licences for the use of their content.

“Licensing content is difficult. There is a scale problem. The entertainment industry is generating more content all the time, making it harder to keep track of where the content is being used. We need a scalable way to provide content to everyone who wants it,” McKenzie explained.

“Blockchain provides the means to incentivise all participants on the network to validate new information and seek out the most authoritative providers.”

Music 4.5: Global data, block and chatbots took place on 28 September 2017 
The next edition, called AI, Music and Entertainment; Unleash Your Imagination, is on 29 November 17