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Blockchain for Beginners

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While blockchain technology was first discussed globally in 1991, followed by sufficient dialogue on it being utilised across industries since the 2010s, the music business appeared to be a slow learner.

No more, as we move into the new fiscal of 2020, the recording industry moves into top gear, ready and willing to make up for lost ears takes a deep dive into the technology behind blockchain in the first of a two-part series, before focusing on the introduction of blockchain within the Indian recording industry in its concluding part, and the benefits it will reap across all stakeholders.

Chain sang iconic rock band, Fleetwood Mac on their classic 1977 album Rumours, keep us together…

Even all those decades ago, the quintet might well have been soothsayers of the technology behind blockchain which

“[i]s a set of authoritative databases called a distribution ledger,” explains Rajat Kakar, Managing Director & CEO, Phonographic Performance Limited [PPL] India, “providing a secure manner to store and manage data that is shared across a network and, all those who are part of the network, owning an identical copy of it.”

Blockchain is a continuously growing list of accounts or archives, called “blocks,” which are linked in a manner wherein each block is connected with the one prior to it. Members can have access to anyone or more blocks or to the entire blockchain. Effectively, what that means is that if anyone has access to this data changes it, the “change” is immediately known to all the stakeholders almost simultaneously. This serves an additional purpose that, if anyone makes an unauthorized change or tampers with the data, all the members of the blockchain are aware of it.

The necessity of blockchain technology arose with the shift in music consumption from analogue to digital–although, vinyl has made a comeback and how, but more of that is another article–as anyone who has access to a computer loaded with relevant software is now a composer and a potential hit-maker. Hence, digitisation has led to a cluttered market with thousands of songs being uploaded daily as even more individuals hope to shift their interests from being merely individual creators to international ones.

With clutter arrives competition and, with each creator attempting to showcase their creative talents over others, has often led to another “c” word–collaboration. Take, for instance, ‘Despacito,’ originally sung by Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi, or Boy with Luv, recorded by South Korean boy band BTS, and featuring American singer Halsey. Both the songs have one thing in common, five or more writers composed it. Now, for each of these songwriters–spread across cities and/or continents–to be made aware of what their rightful royalties are, it becomes nothing short of a nightmare for them to monitor.

But this too has a common and effective resolution: blockchain. After all, it is a database that is decentralized, overcoming the paradox of the music business moving online yet with an inherent inability to obtain access to data across multiple digital platforms and, even if such data is obtained, the failure to receive information on revenues in real-time remains a downside. And, surprisingly, that it is the least of all worries as the division of income usually remains in the hands of a few to borrow an appropriate line from the Harry Potter books, “who must not be named,” who suddenly find that opaqueness has now given required transparency, wherein songwriters no longer need to wait forever to learn what is rightfully theirs, but their earnings are now accounted for at the point of every sale.

With it, the often complicated process of rights–and royalty–management stands eased for processing and understanding as composers, producers, publishers, and rights societies all find themselves on a level playing musical field. While people still find themselves struggling to differentiate between bitcoin and blockchain, dual Grammy-winner, British singer-songwriter/record producer/audio engineer Imogen Heap first introduced Mycelia, in 2015, her blockchain-based service and that gives artists more control over how their songs and associated data circulate among fans and other musicians, as well as supporting the enforcement of smarter contracts via blockchain-based technology like ‘Ethereum.’ Heap’s intent can be mapped against the upsides of blockchain which include, but are not restricted to, a platform for placement of metadata containing artist songs, which can be conveniently accessed with details of those listening to the songs, on which platform, as well as providing answers to: when and where?

Other artistes who have provided support to blockchain include Icelandic singer-songwriter Bjork, and Grammy-winning, Portland-based Portuguese-American musician and record producer André Allen Anjos, more popularly known as DJ RAC.

In 2017, IBM partnered with ASCAP [American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; a non-profit performance-rights organisation that protects its members; musical copyrights by monitoring public performances of their music], and with PRS for Music [formerly MCPS-PRS Alliance Limited, UK’s leading collection society, which amalgamated the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) with the Performing Right Society (PRS)], for adopting blockchain technology in music distribution. Also, the Japan Music Copyright Association (JASRAC) has showed blockchain for music copyright management from February 13 until March 13, 2020.

As mentioned earlier, India is not too far behind in introducing blockchain technology, simplifying the management of rights and royalties, regardless of territories, and saving the industry from lost revenues, delayed payments, and unnecessary legal costs. Despite piracy continuing to prove itself as bad company, with an introduction of blockchain technology, the Indian music industry has begun running with the pack!

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Parag Kamani
Parag Kamani

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