By Shiv Madan, CEO, Blockparty
We don’t listen to music the way we used to. Vinyl and cassettes gave way to CDs, which in turn yielded the stage to MP3s. Streaming overthrew downloads at the top of the charts, while vinyl went on a wildly successful comeback tour. Talent scouts who once would have sought out bands playing small bars or local concert venues now spend their days trawling YouTube and SoundCloud for the next big name.
When a star is born today, it rarely happens the way it does on the big screen. But if listening technology has changed, fans’ desire to connect with their favorite artists has remained a constant. Who wouldn’t love to get up on stage with Drake, Taylor Swift, or Lady Gaga?
Social media has made it easier to connect with artists, for better or for worse, of course, but fans still crave more interaction with their heroes. Grammy-winning British musician Imogen Heap believes that blockchain technology provides a powerful new way to link musicians with their most devoted listeners.
Blockchain creates a “distributed ledger” that allows direct and unfalsifiable transactions between two parties without need for a middleman or bookkeeper. Heap is currently planning the digital release of a very unusual live album: thanks to the “smart contract” technology embedded into the files by Heap’s foundation Mycelia, the royalties for the album will be split between the artist and the 150 lucky audience members who attended her Stockholm performance.
And while Heap’s album release is, for the moment, Mycelia’s flagship product, Heap and her organization have extensive plans for expanding their offerings, including a digital “Creative Passport” designed to “simplify and democratise collaboration from meaningful commercial partnerships to creativity.”
Every day, musicians complain — justly — that music has become too cheap. Stars like Taylor Swift (who, coincidentally, has worked with Imogen Heap) maintain that streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music pay far too little for their labors; the streaming companies respond that it’s better to receive a small royalty from streaming than to lose money to piracy.
But the same consumers who pinch pennies on digital music are willing to pay premiums for genuine connection. The unprecedented success of Springsteen on Broadway derives in large part from its intimacy: The Boss plays dozens of shows a year, but most of them are in huge stadiums; it’s been decades since he regularly played small venues like The Stone Pony.
Most fans are hard-pressed to imagine greater connection than an exclusive concert, but blockchain opens up new possibilities for direct interactions between artist and fan. Tomorrow’s stars might sell portions of an album’s copyright, split legal ownership of their latest video among thousands of fans, or even distribute concert tickets without interference from scalpers. The most serious fans want engagement beyond clicking “follow” on Twitter or liking an Instagram post. Blockchain will foster these links.
The headlines about blockchain often herald the ways analysts believe it will change the worlds of business and politics. It’s true that cryptocurrencies, frictionless payments, distributed applications, and chain-verified voting all hold incredible potential, but it would be a shame to neglect the new means of engaging with culture that the technology allows.
Imogen Heap has allowed her audience to become partners and investors in her career. Financial analysts have long known that blockchain will enrich the world. Now, we’re learning that it will enrich the culture too.