Music 4.5 in New York: Blockchain and the trust issue
“Is the music industry ready for transparency, truth, organization and clean data?” asked Vickie Nauman from CrossBorderWorks and Future of Music Coalition.
This was one of many questions posed at Music 4.5: Blockchain and the trust issue, which took place at ReedSmith in New York on April 26.
The seminar – conceived, organized and executed by London-based networking company 2Pears – was Music 4.5’s second showing in the Big Apple.
The day’s narrative began with an academic overview of the technicalities of blockchain by Neha Narula, Director of Research at the Digital Currency Initiative at MIT, with subsequent speakers dissecting issues around legacy data, the practicalities for artists, rightsholders, collecting societies and the recording industry, examples of where blockchain solutions have already been deployed, and a breakdown of the business case for blockchain adoption.
With most speakers approaching the blockchain issue from different angles, there was much dissent on how, when and if blockchain could solve issues of transparency and payments in the music industry, which is perhaps reflective of the ongoing disagreements within the industry itself.
The problem of legacy data
It was generally agreed that using the blockchain for new creative works could be useful. But, data, and in particular legacy data, and how it should be cleaned, managed and utilized was seen by most as the biggest initial obstacle before any blockchain solution could gain traction. “We’re getting ahead of the cart in many ways,” said David Hughes of the RIAA. “We need to sort out the asset management first.”
Joe Conyers III of Downtown Publishers suggested there are many new ways of acquiring and managing legacy data: “[Forget about] label databases, get the data from Spotify? Let’s rethink the incentives,” he said.
Micheal Simon of Rumblefish and Harry Fox Agency argued that the acquisition and collation of data alone would just be the beginning of a long process of making the data work for all stakeholders. “Making the data sing is a different skill than assembling the data,” he said. “Success means making markets more efficient”.
Transparency’s tenuous relationship with truth (and data)
Both Conyers and Tim Luckow of Stem pointed out that transparency is not the solution to all the music industry’s problems: “Transparency is just a lot of data,” said Convers. “Who did what, why, when, who got screwed –it is not the same as truth”, said Joe Conyers.
“It is not about transparency,” said Luckow. “It is about deep understanding of the data.”
The transparency that many in the industry say they seek could become a double-edged sword. “What is the artist up for sharing?” asked Luckow. “How much they are paid? The exact attribution of stems amongst the creators of a song/piece of music? This can be sensitive.”
“Will the indie/DIY community, who are usually the first to embrace tools for their own careers, be enough of a catalyst to drive it to a larger adoption?” asked event chair Deborah Newman of Musicstrat. “Will it start with artists like Imogen Heap and others who are on the cutting edge and want more control? Then what?”
Meanwhile David Hughes of RIAA pointed out that the quest for transparency started with the drop-off of big royalty checks, and that there is now another problem hampering the flow of money: YouTube.
Blockchain trust issues
It was generally agreed that artists, rightsholders, collecting societies and labels would have to take an active role in any solution for it gain traction, citing that any solution would have to fit with current workings. “We are not going to shift creative habits,” said Jesse Feister of Songspace, “but build the tech around them.”
Jesse Grushack of ConsenSys was perhaps the most optimistic. “Now we can start talking about the big global [blockchain] database,” he said.
An impressive event
Speakers and delegates alike were impressed were the caliber of the event and the discussions it curated. “[2Pears] jumped into this complex and challenging topic, reading and learning who the players are, who’s got what platform, and identifying the key issues and organizing the seminar in a logical and meaningful way,” said Newman who initially sowed the seed of tackling the blockchain in New York, following the Music 4.5 blockchain discussion in London last year.
“We couldn’t have asked for a more impressive panel of speakers or a better turnout,” said 2Pears co-founder Petra Johansson. “We have clearly hit a nerve with blockchain, and it’s a discussion we will see continuing in the months to come.”
Music 4.5: Politics of Licensing will take place in London on 22 June 2016.
2Pears will be returning States-side in the autumn for our third New York-based seminar – Music 4.5 The Value Gap: YouTube, Competition and Licensing. Stay tuned for more details.