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When Musical Artists and the Blockchain Converge

By Michael Scott

The 1999 launch of the file sharing service Napster was a seismic wake up call for the music industry. For many musicians and artists, the path to making a living became exponentially more challenging, particularly when it came to recorded music. Illegal downloads, declining CD sales, measly sales from legal music streaming portals and a consumer move from whole albums to single tracks all had a chilling effect on artists’ businesses.

Enter the blockchain, the distributed ledger technology that many believe may be an elixir to these problems. Known as the software that undergirds Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, it features cryptographically chained blocks of data that cannot be modified. Due to its decentralized, secure properties, its potential applications are immense, with medical records, land use titling, online consumer sites and even gold being among the commodities experimenting with it.

Singer, songwriter and producer Imogen Heap has been an early adopter of the technology through his musical artist collective Mycelia. Ditto for the Pledge Music founder Benji Rogers and his launch of Dot Blockchain Music.

Supporting the Musicians

For starters, musicians face an environment where no comprehensive database of copyright ownership exists. The blockchain, due to its database and network qualities, is ideally suited to address this issue. It’s here where a cryptographic fingerprint could allow up-to-date accessibility to copyright records for all, rather than for a limited sphere of intermediaries.

There is also an issue with royalty payments that can take years for artists to receive. Here, blockchain-based smart contracts show promise in terms of being able to split off royalty payments as soon as a musical track is downloaded or streamed. Micropayments, which are currently not feasible under prevailing business...