Björk To The Future - Utopia Awaits
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Björk May Start Trend By Melding Music With Cryptocurrency
Never one to shy away from innovation, Icelandic Love-Her-Or-Hate-Her artist Björk has announced that each person who buys her upcoming album, Utopia, will receive a bonus in the form of 100 Audiocoins[i]. Fans can also earn more Audiocoins by interacting with Björk online and attending concerts.
Cryptocurrencies For Music
Audiocoin[ii] is a minor altcoin that was created to support the music industry and that has a market cap of $2,366,490 as of November 3, 2017[iii]. Holders of this coin may welcome the publicity that Björk brings to the table – but perhaps more important than the distribution of coins is the fiercely-independent Icelander’s message to independent musicians.
Blockchain insiders have long-proposed the creation of platforms that could reduce the worst abuses of large music companies and protect artists’ rights without sacrificing artists’ ability to be discovered by their target audiences.[iv] Some blockchain-based platforms, such as the Ethereum-based UjoMusic[v], have already gone live. This type of platform is designed to reduce current inefficiencies in the music publication and distribution process and increase artists’ actual earnings by eliminating middlemen and giving artists the chance to directly reach their audiences.
Independent artists will also like platforms that give them a chance to get exposure to an audience without having to sign a limiting contract. Since the Music Genome Project, developers have been creating algorithms that suggest artists that are “sort of like” the music you, the user, wants to hear; but such algorithms, many artists argue, have simply recentralized (Spotify, Pandora, iTunes) rather than decentralized.
With blockchain technology, artists will usually still have to do their share of the leg work to promote their work, but at least they won’t be at a disadvantage because they aren’t being backed by major publishers with a lot of money.
Most importantly, artists will be able to keep 100% of the rights and more of the profits when they can publish their work on a blockchain-based platform. The blockchain has built-in defenses against piracy, can manage licensing and rights, and removes superfluous intermediaries who sit between artists and their audiences purely so that they can take a cut of the earnings.
The question is whether these platforms stand a chance of going mainstream. Many of them will fall victim to the “chicken and egg” problem in which artists won’t want to publish their work with a platform that doesn’t have an audience, and music lovers won’t want to use a platform that doesn’t have music that they like. This problem could theoretically be solved with lots of “public domain” music, an ICO, and a promotions blitz.
But the creators of blockchain music platforms should still be wary because investors will use the fact that they put their money on the line as an excuse to demand greater control over the platform. That kind of investor attitude will inevitably spook independent artists who have their pride and want to prioritize the creation of quality music rather than chase the latest fads for the sake of making a buck. (Well, some of them.)
Large publishers also won’t want to give up their stranglehold on the music distribution process because they make their money by perpetuating the notion that artists have to go with an established centralized publisher if they want their careers to go anywhere at all.
So where is this utopian vision leading? It feels like stalemate.
What if the popularity of a platform could become a function of the cumulative effects of the artists who are willing to publish their work on the platform and promote it?
What if musical artists committed, in great enough numbers, to a blockchain platform, that the fans’ desire for algorithmically-derived playlists, popular acts, and new discoveries could be satisfied? And if every artist had an equal opportunity to enrich themselves – if not through the quality or popularity of their music, then at least through the same potential access as Taylor Swift? You choose to play Mongolian mouth flute to the background of a 1960’s horror movie? Fine – you have the same access as anyone else, even if the actual number of dollars you might earn is… negligible.
If enough bands did this, eventually audiences will start to notice that it’s easy to buy music with this funny niche token called Audiocoin. Or even Vezt, which proposes actually selling ‘shares’ of artists’ songs to their audiences!
Not Everyone’s A Fan…ye
Björk is getting on board with Audiocoin, but those who have followed altcoins for a while may remember the Coinye West case[vi]. This cryptocurrency was a Bitcoin clone that was originally inspired by artist Kanye West, and which then changed its name to Coinye when he sent his legal team after them. Unlike its namesake, Coinye never recovered and is now on the list of defunct coins.
It’s fair to say that Kanye West missed an opportunity to become the cryptocurrency trendsetter that Björk is now aiming to be. He could have simply seen Coinye as being the work of fans who got a little too enthusiastic, and perhaps could have worked with them to integrate this cryptocurrency with his artistic vision: fans have could used to buy his music, and what a great brand extension that would have been.
The silver lining is that Kanye West’s tactical mistake opens the door for Audiocoin and accompanying blockchain apps to expand into the role of providing a common standard for buying and selling digital music. The blockchain doesn’t care whether you are Björk or a member of The Blue Merles[vii].
DISCLAIMER: The author of this article holds a small amount of I Heart My Brother Coin; as a professional violinist, he once toured with The Blue Merles.