How blockchain technology affects the music industry

An overview of how decentralized music can help artists get paid fairly

October 29, 2021


The book Blockchain Revolution covers a wide range of topics about blockchain and goes to provide some problems and how blockchain can fix those. Chapters include The Trust Protocol, Seven Design Principles of the Blockchain Economy, Reinventing Financial Services, Re-architecting the Firm, New Business Models, The Ledger of Things, Solving the Prosperity Paradox, Rebuilding Government and Democracy, Freeing Culture on Blockchain, Overcoming showstoppers, Leadership for the Next Era. I deliberately share all chapters to encourage readers to check this book out because it brings a Bird’s eye view to the topic of blockchain and discusses what a scaled solution could look like. 

For the scope of this question I’ll talk about Chapter 9: Freeing Culture on the Blockchain: Music to Our Ears. Did you know the Music industry is a broken record? That might sound like a funny statement but it’s actually a sad statement. Every year artists get paid less either due to intermediaries like Record Houses, Music Labels, Publishers, Venues, Promoters, wholesalers, distributors, managers, agents, and tech companies. Essentially a lot of people take cuts in the revenue before the artist gets paid if anything is even remaining that is. In fact, artists should be paid first and the most. This chapter explores how blockchain puts artists in the center of their art and revenue streams instead of the bottom. Imogen Heap talks about how she partnered with Featured Artists Coalition to actually release her song on the blockchain and provided her bitcoin wallet address for the gathering funds that directly benefitted her, the album revenue, and her charity.

The control of music copyright is concentrated in a few big names. The solution to this is blockchain platforms and smart contracts which drastically reduce this complex problem. The vision is artists can start with value templates that relieve paper contracts and write everything in clear terms, using software and maths for the entire lifecycle of a particular album. Artists, engineers, performers and everyone else gets a percentage of revenue based on their contribution to the creative asset in question. The audience pays a streamium which is micropayments for exactly what they listen to and get a shared revenue if they become super fans that contribute massively to the growth of the artist. Rich data insights will allow artists to directly negotiate with advertisers and sponsors and measure results accurately. All information about the artist, revenues, music is available for anyone in the world to view in a transparent ledger. Artists are in control of all aspects of the music lifecycle and it benefits them and they are directly benefiting fans by offering value without any third party. 

After reading this chapter and everything that is going on in the wider creator economy I feel hopeful that all the third parties will no longer be able to dictate what artists can and cannot do. The artists will be paid what they are worth, fans will directly benefit, copyright infringements will be reduced and information will be more transparent for everyone to see. 

Most Interesting Paragraph

“Through the lens of blockchain technologies, musicians, artists, journalists, and educators are seeing the contours of a word that protects, cherishes, and rewards their efforts fairly. All of us should care. We are a species that survives by its ideas, not by its instincts. We all benefit when creative industries thrive and when the creatives themselves can make a living. Moreover, these are the bellwethers of our economy — they reveal faster than nearly any other industry how both producers and consumers will adopt and then adapt technology to their lives. Musicians have long been among the first to exploit innovation for the benefit of a great many others, too often at their own expense. These dedicated members of our society inspire us, every business executive, government official, and another organizational leader has much to learn from them about a new era of the digital age.” I love this passage because it is just so true music doesn’t just inspire culture, but it lights it on fire. It is an art form that is as old as entertainment itself and it will stay until the existence of mankind. If it’s so valuable then why are artists paid less compared to a scientist, a doctor, or any other contributor to science?

What I Still Don't Understand

I’d like to learn more about how contracts are set up today and why they are so hard to break. I’ve only heard about music contracts being complicated but unless someone is in the industry there is no real way to see it. I’d like to know directly what did Lil Nas X make after his wildly controversial and brilliantly marketed Satan video, and how much did he lose after Nike sued him for false promotion. I’d like to know what failed and successful contracts look like. 

What I disagree with

I’d also like to understand more clearly exactly how Bitcoin blockchain can solve this problem. From my understanding of Bitcoin, the network isn’t very well set up for smart contracts yet. Ethereum, Cardano, Solana all have a much more robust, cost-efficient, and energy-efficient way of handling smart contracts then why does the author constantly hint at Bitcoin blockchain being used as a source of answers for these problems. The important point of distinction I’d make is maybe because this book was written in 2018 where all the other blockchains were relatively new and underdeveloped to handle smart contracts at scale. It’s also interesting that the author doesn’t mention the use of NFTs to modernize the cultural aspect of music which is something we see happening today with Doja Cat, TikTok, Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park) all establishing direct channels of distribution with their fans. 

A Doja Cat NFT that I actually own

Link to the book:

Blockchain Revolution: How the technology behind bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is changing the world by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott