Written by Rosalie Cabison • Photography by Tim Mosenfelder, Getty Images • October 27, 2016
More than 15 years ago, music started becoming available online in ways—does anybody remember Napster?—that didn’t require jumping through confusing networking and permissions hoops. This was a great experience for music lovers, but not for artists trying to make a living from their recordings.
Music distribution was changed forever and kicked off a tug-of-war over digital music licensing among labels, publishers, artists and fans that continues to this day. Everyone wants (and deserves!) a fair share.
There are artists who have found ways to work their careers around this issue—pop phenom Taylor Swift wrote an entire Wall Street Journal op-ed about it—but does that mean we've given up entirely on the value of a song stream or an album download?
Benji Rogers, CEO of a startup called PledgeMusic, wrote an article that explains how “cryptocurrencies" could change how artists get paid for distributing music to their fans.
Pause: What’s cryptocurrency? It’s digital money. There’s a market and a conversion rate just like any type of paper money. The United States has the dollar, Japan has the yen, Thailand has the baht, and the Internet has cryptocurrency. You’ve probably heard of Bitcoin, but there are many other cryptocurrencies out there in the wilderness.
How is it going to help? Well, distribution/licensing/payout for a song when it is bought/played/used almost anywhere currently looks like this*:
*Note: Not an actual infographic. If you are looking for more useful visual aids, the Future of Music Coalition has some really helpful ones.
This confusing chain of information is tracked using contracts. These contracts are negotiated and written by groups of lawyers.
Rogers and his contemporaries in music/innovation imagine a future where all of this information about rights and royalties is coded and stored within the music file itself. The use of cryptocurrency will enable the payout for a song to occur automatically each time that song is streamed/downloaded/played/etc. All this information would be freely accessible and standardized to ensure fair-trade music to the entire world!
This is just the highest-level description of the idea, of course, and there are mountains of obstacles and details to work out before it ever becomes reality. But people are out there working on it, notably at something called the Dot Blockchain Music project. And if you’re interested, you can join them or learn from them! To explore the project in-depth, or if you’re a tech genius willing to contribute your brainpower to the movement, simply follow the link above into the future of artist compensation.