On February 1st, Billboard released an article announcing that SOCAN, MediaNet, Songtrust, CD Baby and FUGA are partnering with Benji Roger’s DotBlockchain Music, enabling DotBC to enter “Phase Two” of their Blockchain project. But there is no intermediatory group for a coordinated communication. While there is a Slack community, it lacks a Blockchain Roundtable. This leads to quite an array of questions left unanswered.
DotBlockchain Music and its new partners will now be able to conduct tests with 65 million songs. The open project that started in late 2015 aims for a more transparent infrastructure in music industries by introducing a new format called ‘.bc’, based on Blockchain technology. More precisely, it is no audio format but a new container format holding all content and metadata. The blockchain is supposed to provide a global and consistent database of musical content as well as to hold its metadata and copyright information.
The longer you think about Blockchain as an essential layer in music, the more questions arise. Click To Tweet
Though being enthusiastic over Blockchain myself, I developed serious concerns over the course of last year. In cooperation with Matthias Hornschuh (film composer) and Stephan Benn (lawyer) I consequently set up and curated a panel at “Most Wanted: Music” in November last year. This is when we initiated a small but coordinated Blockchain Roundtable, aiming at a true multi-stakeholder dialogue in music business. The feedback we got clearly showed a strong demand.
Looking back, it has been Imogen Heap’s “Tiny Human” release in 2015 that sparked the music industry’s awareness of Blockchain technology first. The one project that shows the most maturity in Blockchain is Bitcoin. Blockchain itself was first described in 2008 in context with Bitcoin. After providing a core component of Bitcoin, it gained interest in various markets and industries such as finance and insurances.
In terms of proven experience, Blockchain bears a maturity similar to that of a teen. Click To Tweet
With an evolutionary timeframe of only eight years, and a mere two or three years within research and start-ups in the music industry, this can only be described as first steps. However promising Blockchain technology is, it’s safe to agree with Jeremy Silver that at this very moment you can’t deny the scent of hype:
“In the case of the blockchain, [..] I found that many of the articles I was reading online on the subject, were turning out to be at least six months or more ahead of the point which the technology had actually reached on the ground. This is the definition of hype.”
(Jeremy Silver: “Blockchain or the Chaingang?”, p. 8).
Apart from DotBlockchain Music’s ubiquitous, conference-hoppin’ Benji Rogers (no pun intended, Benji!), there are start-ups, meet-ups, Blockchain seminars — well, you name it. You can’t escape it.
But something important is missing. It is the details and the depth of research that are missing… and taking time for it.
Everyone in music is longing for a solution to fix a myriad of issues. If a technology such as Blockchain promises to do just that any stakeholder is tempted to rush. Even more so because everyone knows:
'We once failed with Napster. There mustn't be a second time.' This presses the music industry. Click To Tweet
It’s stuck in our heads.
Yet, only few people in music industry know what Blockchain is all about. Even fewer people are well-experienced in a technology that is that young. The music industry may have failed with Napster. But there are some premises in the lifecycle of every project and every change that any project manager can enumerate:
- a draft of requirements and a request for proposal
- a proof of feasibility by prototype testing
- the approval of your client, not to mention adding features and debugging
- a carefully planned transition from the old system to the newly invented one
- finally, a kind of project advisory board bringing together representatives from all parties involved
With its partners, a proof of feasibility can be done. But there is no comprehensive catalogue of requirements. There is no plan for how to organise an approval from the entire music business. Most importantly, there is no concept for a transition. Also, there is no advisory board — no Blockchain Roundtable.
If the project fails, another hope is gone. Actually, in this case success has the potential to be more dangerous. If the prototype appears to work it might rush into music industry lacking any thoughts on transition workflows. What it will include though are incompatibilities.
Napster, in its first incarnation, was about distribution. DotBlockchain Music is meant to replace the basic infrastructure of the music business in its entirety which bears its risks.
Napster was about distribution. DotBlockchainMusic is to replace the entire infrastructure. Click To Tweet
Blockchain is a promising technology. But instead of, or at least in addition to flooding the business with a sandbox, there has to be a space for reflection and discussion. A source of information for any stakeholder, and a contact for anyone involved to ask for features.
It’s a great effort by Benji and his team. Even more so it has to be appreciated that DotBlockchain Music chose an open approach. Anyone can join, anyone can watch. It is people like Imogen Heap with her Mycelia project and Benji Rogers who brought musicians, labels, PROs, publishers and start-ups together again.
Music business needs the Blockchain Roundtable to host a discussion stripped from hype. Click To Tweet
Imogen Heap and Benji Rogers kick-started the willingness to positively and constructively discuss how to solve the issues in music business. This is indisputably the core benefit of Blockchain. Now we need room for the discussion to take place: the Blockchain Roundtable.
It’s not possible to manage an emerging product of that size and manage a community of the music industry’s size simultaneously. Moreover, both tasks should be separated to keep a healthy distance that allows for constructive criticism.
That is why, based on the talks in Berlin, we suggest one, or maybe more, Blockchain Roundtables. Their task is to answer questions, to handle information, and to manage communities.
- By collecting requests, any such group can provide a cumulative requirements specification catalogue. The catalogue has to be sent to the makers and developers, e.g. to providers like Ujo, BigchainDB or Ethereum. This includes not just DotBlockchain Music but any other team working on the implementation of Blockchain technology in music industries.
- Projects and stakeholders can be connected for in-depth tests and quality review.
- In case of the success of Blockchain, a Blockchain Roundtable can support the stakeholders in the transition of their businesses.
At “Most Wanted: Music” in Berlin, representatives from musicians, publishers, labels, technology start-ups and research institutions agreed upon the importance to launch the Blockchain Roundtable as described above.
The list of concerns about the implementation of Blockchain architecture is not a short one. Eventually, it might grow substantially if we go into detail.
Within the next weeks, the results of the talks in Berlin will be posted here.
Wolfgang Senges (LinkedIn) advises customers in music & media technology, focusing on Blockchain, archives and metadata. On ContentSphere, he shares his thoughts on the music business. Prior to entering music industry in 2008, he has been in charge of project and technology management at providers of Media Asset Management systems for broadcast.