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Can Blockchain Save The Music Industry? (wired.com) 129

An anonymous reader quotes Wired: Last fall, a group of music industry heavyweights gathered in New York City to do something they'd mostly failed to do up to that point: work together. Representatives from major labels like Universal, Sony, and Warner sat next to technologists from companies like Spotify, YouTube, and Ideo and discussed the collective issues threatening their industry... The participants of that confab would later form a group called the Open Music Initiative... "Pretty early on it was obvious that there's an information gap in the industry," says Erik Beijnoff, a product developer at Spotify and a member of the OMI.

That "information gap" refers to the data around who helped create a song. Publishers might keep track of who wrote the underlying composition of a song, or the session drummer on a recording, but that information doesn't always show up in a digital file's metadata. This disconnect between the person who composed a song, the person who recorded it, and the subsequent plays, has led to problems like writers and artists not getting paid for their work, and publishers suing streaming companies as they struggle to identify who is owed royalties. "It's a simple question of attribution," says Berklee College of Music's vice president of innovation and strategy, Panos A. Panay. "And payments follow attribution."

Over the last year, members of the OMI -- almost 200 organizations in total -- have worked to develop just that. As a first step, they've created an API that companies can voluntarily build into their systems to help identify key data points like the names of musicians and composers, plus how many times and where tracks are played. This information is then stored on a decentralized database using blockchain technology -- which means no one owns the information, but everyone can access it.

Can Blockchain Save The Music Industry?

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  • Unlikely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dprimary ( 215604 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @03:39PM (#55170413)

    Getting rid of record companies could save music though.

    • Re: Unlikely (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It isn't really an industry. It's a bunch of people claiming stuff is "theirs." Once it's been played out loud it's ours.

    • No, Mildred, blockchains are not a panacea. In fact, this is a typically stupid application of the idea.

      Some MBA type, who only thinks he understands blockchains, figured this would be great.

    • Let's hope not.

      The recording industry richly deserves to fail. Their business model is harmful to human culture.

    • by MercTech ( 46455 )

      With crowdfunding sites like PledgeMusic or BandCamp; a record label is irrelevant any more. Many musicians have found it is easier to fund production by pre-sales at a crowdfunding site then all sales royalties go to the musicians instead of a parasitical label. Most of the per track sales are via iTunes or Amazon these days making a record label even more irrelevant.

    • Uh ... who the hell said anything about saving the music "industry" lol ... lemme guess ... the "music industry" ?
  • by Kohath ( 38547 )

    Music will always be an entertainment business regardless of blockchain.

    Will blockchain save some specific business model? Who cares.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is the bunch that wilfully chose to be (and in their own words) "last to market" on "digital".

      IOW, they're screaming idiots complaining about their entitlement, not actually in the business of "entertaining" anybody. And it shows, looking at what they put on the market. No amount of anything can save such idiots. Certainly not "blockchain".

      There's another reason: "Blockchain" solves a very specific problem at a rather steep cost. I don't see how that would apply to distributing music, really. It's eit

      • Re:Worse than that (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mikael ( 484 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @04:18PM (#55170617)

        The problem is that everyone who was involved in the creation of a particular track; the lead singers, backing vocals, musicians (individual royalties), orchestras (collective royalties), plus any sampled sounds (other tracks), recording studios, directors, all get a percentage of the actual royalty. Sometimes people get subcontracted by movie companies, recording studios and bands. But then the problem is that the publisher collects the profits from the sales and marketing, sends them down to their subcontractors, but the whole chain of financial distribution breaks down, leading to unpaid artists. The distribution of payments is done through individual agreements between separate financial entities.

        What if the entire chain of royalty percentages could be stored in a blockchain. Every contributor has an account number, their percentage is stored as well, and all the publisher has to do is go through the blockchain and send the money directly to their account. Because of the encoding process, it's impossible for anyone to fiddle the royalty percentages afterwards.

        • Re: Worse than that (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I work for one of those collection societies and this is exactly what is required (i even know exactly how this would work but is had major issues becuase of the record companies and the way they operate).

          The problem is that none of the major record companies can even begin to add suitable attribution information and pass that onto the collection societies (or tights metadata to the likes of Spotify), hell, they can't even get basic information correct half the time, even what the tracks are even called and

          • by Anonymous Coward

            I work for one of those collection societies and this is exactly what is required (i even know exactly how this would work but is had major issues becuase of the record companies and the way they operate). The problem is that none of the major record companies can even begin to add suitable attribution information and pass that onto the collection societies (or tights metadata to the likes of Spotify), hell, they can't even get basic information correct half the time, even what the tracks are even called a

            • There's also an inherent tension: a technique for making the gathering and retention of highly granular metadata, allowing you to watch the final song/other media thing come together like it's a program under revision control would be pretty cool. Some people wouldn't like it because it would be a dig against their theory that they are a freestanding genius or whatever; but it would be pretty cool information; and making it not a giant PITA to gather would be step #1 in ever having it gathered.

              However, i
        • by aix tom ( 902140 )

          The whole system is insane, in my opinion.

          The "Pay the artist" is a pretty OK model, when the music is indeed made by an individual artist. The same way that you would pay a painter for a picture for example.

          But when you have an "industrial created thing", like mainstream music, or a car, there is no sane reason, for example, to pay the people who build the car by the amount of people buying the car. In that scenario the "Industry" first pays the people building the car, and then selling the car to customer

    • As a musician, I care.

      The music industry as we know it can't die soon enough, including the streaming services and online stores. The whole lot, burn it down. Because only after we've completely dismantled the parasitic machine that exploits musician labor to get executives rich while musicians barely afford food on their table and consumers not get value or access for their money, only after the whole damn lot has burnt to the ground can we replace it with a new industry thats good for musicians and good f

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @03:41PM (#55170427) Homepage Journal

    This disconnect between the person who composed a song, the person who recorded it, and the subsequent plays, has led to problems like writers and artists not getting paid for their work

    I'm totally sure that's the reason.

    • Re:Oh yeah... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @03:53PM (#55170491)

      Yeah, the idea that the underlying problem is due to a supposed "information gap" is mystifying. Each of these groups already knows (or can easily find out) exactly who was involved in producing the songs they're talking about... they just don't want to share.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "I'm totally sure that's the reason."

      Actually, that is a reason. But putting "Blockchain Tech" in the hands of the Music Industry is...well... foxes and henhouses.
      I'll give a related example: Say that I'm working on a book about Landscape Photography in Romania. I've never been there, so I want to pick examples of technique off of the Internet. There are full features in the EXIFs and IPTC Headers to cram as much Metadata as possible in each JPEG, so it should be easy to get the names and contacts of Photog

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @03:49PM (#55170461)

    Blockchain technology so far has failed to achieve ... anything. It does sound like everyone just wants to throw it at everything and hope it sticks to something.

    • Bitcoin technology is more like a shared database that a single entity on the network cannot try to corrupt or modify without the knowledge of others.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      So far it hasn't been hacked by someone giving themselves 2000,000,000 bitcoins. That happened to Lyonesse, a Facebook game.

    • Blockchain technology, as implemented in Bitcoin, seems appropriate for things that people are willing to pay upwards of $5 per transaction to verify. Maybe you could reduce the complexity of the problem to solve and reduce the pool of people attempting to solve it, but as it stands in Bitcoin, its own popularity means that the true cost of the transactions (which will eventually start to be paid when the hobbyists funding it from their own pockets, or illicit sources of free electricity, run out) is ridic

      • but as it stands in Bitcoin, its own popularity means that the true cost of the transactions (which will eventually start to be paid when the hobbyists funding it from their own pockets, or illicit sources of free electricity, run out) is ridiculously high.

        So blockchains haven't even managed to properly deal with the original problem for which they were developed.

    • Yesterday I wasn't feeling that great, so I set up some blockchain and now I feel much better!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Opportunism fucks itself, why should we care? Music will be fine without the "industry" that parasitically feeds off artistry and churns nothing-pop. Fuck the music industry.

    Letting it die will be the best thing for music possible.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @03:55PM (#55170497) Journal

    ... All problems look like nails.

    I git the impression that applying blockchain to attribution databases may be one of these cases.

    But I would be pleased to be proven wrong.

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

      Agreed. I can't see why the same can't be achieved using some additional tags in the audio files.

      • You don't even need that. As long as you know that Don't Fear The Reaper (original studio album version) was played you can just look up the cowbell player, assuming it was ever known in the first place.

    • Is attribution even a problem that needs to get solved? As far as I can see, the music labels are the rights holders: they get paid and then redistribute some of that money to mucisians and songwriters as per contract. Spotify do not need to know who the drummer was in Satan's Rubber Toast when one of their songs gets played.
    • That's not a fair comparison. Hammers are useful at hammering nails.

      So far Blockchains haven't proven themselves useful at anything. Certainly not at running a virtual currency.

  • by jwhyche ( 6192 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @03:56PM (#55170501) Homepage

    The correct question is "should block chain save the music industry?" What the big record companies seem to not have grasp is their tight grip on music is over. Nobody really needs a big ass record company with a huge printing and distribution network to make it.

    All they need is a good streaming service and a decent group of followers on social media. it's all coming full circle. The artists can control their own music again.

    Big Music (tm) isn't dead yet but the farm is coming out of the house with the shotgun. Time for that trip behind the barn.

  • I hate the music industry.

  • Can blockchain? No.

    Bitcoins and their ilk are like painfully constructing tulips to sell for a tulip mania.

    • ... maybe
      It might help calm the copyright trolls down if there is a public ledger that says who has rights to what.

      • It gets into what is a song vs a different song.

        Is Drum Beat A + Lyrics A the same as Drum Beat A + Lyrics B?

        What about drum beat A re-recorded to make drum beat B?

        What about drum beat A on a different set of drums?

        What about drum beat A with different speed or distortion?

        What about drum beat A + mocking lyrics C as a parody that should be protected under fair use.

        • If I bought the rights to "Song A" from Artist A and Artist B who owns "Song B" claims I'm plagiarizing them, shouldn't that be an issue between Artist A and Artist B?

          If Song A was never Artist A's to begin with, they're illegally selling it.

  • by willoughby ( 1367773 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @04:15PM (#55170599)

    Not getting paid, er, when and by who? Look, I have a stack of books around here, all of which I bought used. The authors don't get paid - again - when I pick up one from the stack and read it. Why do you people in the music industry think you are so much more special than other artists?

    • Not getting paid, er, when and by who? Look, I have a stack of books around here, all of which I bought used. The authors don't get paid - again - when I pick up one from the stack and read it. Why do you people in the music industry think you are so much more special than other artists?

      I know it is not done on this site to stand up for musical artists, but this analogy is plain wrong. The situation you describe is analogous to you buying an LP or CD or whatever physical recording medium from someone else, making it unavailable to the original owner. He cannot read the book any more nor play the CD. No musician objects against that.

      The situation at hand here is one where music is streamed or otherwise distributed without a traceability of the persons that are entitled to royalties on the

      • Ok, I'm a designer, I work at a studio where I get paid a salary, and sometimes I do freelance work in which case I get paid for the amount of work I did.
        Do you think I should get paid every time something I worked on gets published or aired?
        Because I certainly don't feel entitled to it.
        And I fail to see how me spending a day in front of a computer and a Wacom tablet is different from a drummer in a recording studio.

  • Does keeping attribution information in that level of detail really important? It's not as if the performers actually get paid, unless they reach superstar level.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @04:52PM (#55170765)

    ...That "information gap" refers to the data around who helped create a song. Publishers might keep track of who wrote the underlying composition of a song, ...

    It's been possible to know and track this information for decades. What hasn't been present, and still does not look to be present, is the desire of the music industry executives to share revenues with those who actually create the music. As the old adage goes, ~unless you are a large enough music act that you can dictate the terms of your contract, the record companies will own you and your music.~

    .
    Anything the record industry does is probably more oriented towards two main goals: (1) extract more money from the consumers of the content, and (2) channel as much of that revenue to the record company executives as possible. Everything else is most likely little more than a smoke screen.

  • The music industry could easily keep track of all this information.

    The simple fact is that they would prefer to rip off artists. Poor information is merely one way to achieve that objective.

  • Nope (Score:5, Informative)

    by XSportSeeker ( 4641865 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @04:58PM (#55170797)

    Can gaff tape fix something that was born fundamentally broken?

    First of all, the music industry is in no need of saving. It never has been, it only grew up with the Internet era, and all the doom and gloom we've been hearing in the past few decades ammounts to a bunch of whinning from people who are still living in the past. It's self evident and you just have to stop a minute to think about it.

    Artists and musicians have always taken a minor fraction of all profits the industry makes, and if anything we have far more famous artists these days with far more money than artists had in the past. It's downright ridiculous to think that a industry that generates multiple millionaires a year, all of those who are getting pennies on a dollar for their work, is in any need of "saving".

    That's despite piracy worries, despite all the music industry complaints about digital distribution paying little to them, despite the music industry pouring truckloads of money on fruitless stuff like DRM, lawsuits, and a whole bunch of others. I posit the entire industry would be just that much richer these days if they did absolutely nothing about piracy and overall copyright infringements, investing instead on better ways to sell music on the cheap in digital distribution from start.

    The fact is that some big labels are getting left behind because they refuse to adapt to new paradigms of music distribution, they get entrenched in old ways, and then another company comes up, seizes the opportunity and sweeps profitability away from them. And then, when they realize that their way isn't working anymore, they start whinning and crying about it saying that the music industry is going away because piracy or something else. It isn't. It's just the cries of old men who did not care about evolving.

    Blockchain technology can do little. If it's about securing details of original recordings for those who care about it, sure, why not? But that matters little on the overall scheme of things. As long as you can play a track and capture audio from it, the information will get lost.

    And the music industry might be big and powerful, but there's a hard limit to what they can demand from costumers, be if final users or businesses. You just cannot expect everyone to adopt blockchain technology when it's not in anybody's best interest to replace hardware, software, and whatnot just because the industry said so. It's just the same as DRM. Movie and music industry has been trying to force it down people's throat for years now, people have always found a way to strip it right off, bypass or get around it, to keep consuming as they always did.

    But this has been clear for a long time now. We've been saying this for long enough to fall on deaf ears. The gaming industry more or less understood this after years and years of wasting money and making costumers furious with anti-piracy crap: Steam did it because it provided a convenient and cheap way of playing games. Platforms like GoG is taking all the old games from an era of aggressive anti-piracy strategies, stripping them all off, and selling those without it. And it works.

    But these big labels can keep getting together to divise ways of implementing even more crap to shove down unwilling costumers' throats, as they always did. What will happen next is that companies who knows how to deal with the situation will take over, artists will flock to those platforms as costumers will also do. And then we can all see this dark chapter of corporative greed in music industry and other entertainment related industries come to a close.

    • Well said. I find the addition of block-chain to problem X quite funny, but you nailed the issue. Born broken, even gaffer's tape can't fix this dog.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @05:19PM (#55170885) Journal
    This seems like a situation where 'blockchain' is both hopelessly outmatched and overkill.

    Even the most elegant and fastidious cryptographic verification methods do absolutely nothing to prevent your metadata from being garbage; people can still fail to enter it, enter it inaccurately or dishonestly, enter it correctly for an entity that will be impossible to find two decades from now(or have its own byzantine chain of custody; as in the case of the assets of a dissolved corporation, say); and without people thoroughly, accurately, and honestly filling out a bunch of tedious paperwork, the crypto does little more than help make the garbage look authoritative.

    It is certainly true that some metadata schemes are too constrained to track all the information one would like(ID3 tags, say, especially the early versions, are pretty limited); but anyone who thinks that the problem of people not filling out and maintaining basic records is a problem that can be solved by throwing advanced record technology at it should really ponder the shattered dreams of the 'semantic web' for a few minutes.
  • This idea didn't originate with the record companies, I'm sure. Imogen Heap has been talking about it for quite a while now. At least a couple of years, as far as I can recall.

    http://myceliaformusic.org/ [myceliaformusic.org]

  • The music industry remains anchored in the 20th century. It should evolve, not be saved.
  • I remember reading some articles a few years ago talking about "hypertext" *Note that this is NOT HTML. Hypertext was an attempt at creating a universal referencing system that would allow all the information on the internet to be linked and referenced and most critically monetised, no matter what got shifted/changed. Blockchain sort of sounds like something very similar to what was proposed with hypertext. A universal way to track information and ensure payments are made to authors. I know it began of cour
  • like Uber, Lift and the rest of the "gig" economy pushed by big tech companies, this has gotten swallowed by the race to the bottom. Quartz.com had an article this past week showing that listening is up but revenue is down:
    https://qz.com/1071783/apple-m... [qz.com]
    revenue is down because people are getting subscriptions for which lawyers and tech companies are taking most of the profit leaving those who actually build, create and do work with crumbs....
    lather, rinse, repeat industry to industry....
  • Losing track of all these creatives/artists/session players is exactly the plan. It always has been.

    What they are doing now is trying to figure out how to prove who stole what from the ??AAs. Nothing they want to do will change their greed. The publishers believe they are the reason the music exists, demented but true sadly.
  • Can Blockchain Save The Music Industry?

    Their fallback is 2 Chainz [wikipedia.org].

  • by rundgong ( 1575963 ) on Sunday September 10, 2017 @06:29PM (#55171121)
    It seems blockchain is the solution to all problems these days.

    The root cause of this problem appears to be meta data doesn't always exist in the files sent to streaming services. How about trying to fix that problem first?
    If they can't get this right, what are the odds they can do it in a distributed ledger?
    • by mikael ( 484 )

      Maybe there is some way of making sure the file can't be sent to the streaming distributor unless all the meta data is correct?

  • Neither the labels nor the streaming companies have any vested interest in paying their artists. It's not that they can't, it's that they don't want to.

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