Decentralization of the music industry through the use of Blockchain technologies is already underway. This is the beginning of a revolution with broad implications, one that will likely be as significant as the development of the internet itself.
Bitcoin and value
But do you know the mechanics of what makes crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin valuable?
Bitcoin is a digital asset unlike any other. Consider for a moment your favourite internet meme - infinitely replicable. At any one time there could exist innumerable copies of it across computers all around the world.
Figure 1. Prototypical Meme
Bitcoin is different.
The reason Bitcoins are valuable is that they are unique digital assets. There’s no one who can ‘Ctrl-c + Ctrl-v’ a Bitcoin into existence, as I did when I copied the meme from Figure 1 into this article. Blockchain is the technology that enforces the distinctive (one of a kind) property of each Bitcoin.
The ability to create and send a unique digital asset represents something extraordinarily meaningful in virtual reality. We could go so far as to consider it a technological paradigm shift. As this technology becomes more widespread, it will transform the way we interact with each other on the internet.
For example, consider the arts.
Figure 2. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”
— Walter Benjamin (1892–1940)
Some 100 years ago, the German cultural critic Walter Benjamin published a treatise called ‘Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit’ or ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. The focal point of the essay describes the capacity to clone an entity ad infinitum which has a negative impact on its value.
The opening salvo of the song “Sell Out” by Reel Big Fish, downloaded illegally as an MP3 on Napster, was one of the major musical memories of my childhood. The song decried the business model of the major record labels in the ‘90’s.
Figure 3. Reel Big Fish (1996)
The fact that I could download and share the song with impunity had little regard for the artists performing it who I so respected and admired.
Ineffective Digital Rights Management
Though Napster was eventually shuttered, new services took its place. It seemed there was no solution to protecting intellectual property rights in the digital age.
Various access control technologies under the banner of Digital Rights Management (DRM) have attempted to solve this problem. The main mechanism has been to restrict users’ access to digital content available for purchase, through services such as iTunes. Though arguably well intentioned, this technology is largely ineffective. Examples include Apple Music enforcing DRM on music not purchased through iTunes, in some cases preventing musicians from accessing their own original content!
As an alternative to present regimes, imagine a world in which each instance of a song exists distinctly as an individual unit associated with a semantic Blockchain-based record, a unique digital snowflake.
Such a system might constitute a way for musicians to support themselves and distribute music with independence, transparency and accountability.
Decentralization of the music industry through the use of Blockchain technologies is already underway. The `ascribe GmbH` platform gives creators the ability to stake a claim to the fruits of their labours by encoding it on top of the semantic Blockchain.
Figure 4. Artwork on the ascribe GmbH platform
English singer-songwriter and composer Imogen Heap (Hide and Seek) is a prominent example of passionate technologists working to disseminate music in a manner that creates a unique digital footprint.
This is the beginning of a revolution with broad implications, one that will likely be as significant as the development of the internet itself.