I take delight anytime I’m at a tech gathering and no one brings up blockchain or bitcoin. It’s a buzz word and very few actually know what it means or what it entails. Blockchain is very fetch in that it’s not going to happen, at least not anytime soon. Mean girls reference aside, many critics are hyping blockchain up to be this magic bullet that can fix the music industry, bring us world peace, and make everyone and their mom happy. But just like using a unicorn to commute to work, it’s a nice thought but not actually feasible, and I’d like to break down why.
It's Not All That It Seems
Metadata across the industry is disorganized at best and a heaping trash fire at worst. Metadata is what will make blockchain effective in that there is transparency across all parties involved. As someone who looks at data for the better part of every day the idea of everyone having consistent data currently is a distant pipe dream. Also, there is no outside governing entity to set standards of what data we should have and how it should be structured. So good luck to the music industry to divining the best practices out of the ether.
We want it touch everything, meaning that we envision it being all encompassing in every process of music. Implementing a system of that scale is a ridiculous undertaking. Let’s look at the last time the music industry tried something new, for instance streaming. It took nearly two decades for us to figure out digital music and be able to make a profit from it. As a micro-process, it may be more feasible to use it for contracts, but for the payment of royalties, it gets real unwieldy real fast.
Additionally, why it wouldn’t be good for royalties (currently), everyone gets a different amount. Not even just different percentages of the same rate. We still have the Pre-1972 mandate for what the government has established in terms of royalties for artists and writers before this seemingly arbitrary point in time. They are regulated by the states. So there are different rates for different states, then the splits for all the parties involved and we hope to whatever celestial being that we got it right because we trust the data we have…. just kidding, I trust no data that I don’t know where it came from, and even then, I’m extremely skeptical.
We Need Solutions
Never to be one to point out a problem without a possible solution, some suggestions on how to expedite this, mostly so I don’t appear to be bashing everyone’s favorite new toy.
First, let’s get the Classics Act passed that benefits the creators whose works we exploit, regardless of time it was composed. People in their prime in the 70s still aren’t eligible for retirement, so let’s make sure they get paid commiserate to contemporary artists.
Second, we need a cross functional task force to establish metadata standards that will be reflected in the industry. This team will also have to educate and enforce these new standards. A team that has enforcing power will either have to be part of the government or have huge lobbying power with the government.
Third, just better data practices overall. I’ve gone through probably 11 catalog audits with third-parties this week, and no two are alike in terms of the data they actually keep. While it has been a face-palm situation, it highlights the need for data literacy across all parts of this industry.
Luck is opportunity + preparation as the old saying goes, and we didn’t prepare for this opportunity. We have yet to establish a firm data foundation to build all of these things on, but I’m hopeful that we can get there. We just need to address our data mismanagement as an issue and not an afterthought. As we move toward an ever increasing digital industry, good data will help us capitalize on opportunities much faster and efficiently. And it will also allow us to use blockchain, so there’s that.
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