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For almost as long as anyone can remember, the music industry (particularly in the United States) has been steeped in star-making mythology. It's an industry that would have you believe that anyone with sufficient talent and desire can make it all the way to the top, cementing their place in the pantheon of world-renowned musicians.
Of course, anyone who's paid attention to the inner workings of the industry knows that none of that's really true. The real story is one of a regimented star-making system, some of which was built on the backs of African-American musicians who never got their fair share, con artists who churned out carbon-copy boy band clones one after another, and massive corporate interests that pocket the lion's share of the proceeds that spring from the artists' work.
Now, however, blockchain technology is providing a ray of hope that many of the music industry's inequities might finally be put to rest for good.
From cutting out the industry middleman to connecting talented newcomers with industry professionals that want to help them hone their craft, blockchain may finally be the answer musicians around the globe are waiting for. To elaborate, here's a look at two blockchain startups who are aiming to eliminate some of those pain points and change the music industry forever.
Any way you look at the situation, the biggest problem with the status quo in the music industry is that there are several layers of people between artists and the fans that buy their music.
That also means everyone involved gets a cut of the proceeds, often without having any direct effect on the sale in the first place. That's a charitable way of describing the fact that companies like Apple pocket between 30% and 40% of every album sale, and industry intermediaries carve up the rest, leaving the artists themselves to walk away with pocket change.
Now, a blockchain startup called Ujo Music aims to change that with a recently-launched music sales portal that eliminates the middlemen and lets fans buy music straight from the artists that create it.
The system is based on the Ethereum blockchain, allowing for automated revenue splits (like between band members and staff) and zero administrative fees.
That means artists on the platform keep 100% of their sales revenue, unlike through traditional sales channels. Fans can also purchase digital collectibles and patronage tokens, the proceeds of which also go straight to the artists themselves.
Photo: Nomad_Soul / Adobe Stock
Over the course of the last several years, there's been some progress in how the music industry sources and develops new talent. The most visible example, of course, is Justin Bieber rocketing to fame after getting discovered via his YouTube channel. Before that, though, the industry had also started to embrace ideas like fan selection, via television vehicles like American Idol and The Voice. The problem is, however, that such efforts are perennially plagued by accusations of vote-rigging, and are, at their core, designed to drive television ratings – not launch real music careers (with all due respect to Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson).
To tackle those issues, a real, full-fledged talent development company known as ISINA is launching a new blockchain platform that aims to democratize the star-making process. The idea is brilliant in its simplicity: artists can upload a demo track to the platform, where it gets straight into the hands of professional musicians that rate it for uniqueness, potential, and artistry. The blockchain (which is Ethereum-based) forms the backbone of the system, in the form of an on-platform currency known as ISINA tokens, as well as ISINA Vote tokens, which platform users can use to have their say in the talent competition.
To put the specter of vote-rigging to rest, each voter must establish biometric identification in the form of 3D face recognition to use their ISINA Vote token to support an artist. That guarantees that the results of each round of the competition will be based on actual user sentiment – and are transparent for all to see. The idea has even gained enough traction to gather support from established musicians like Kenny G., Paul Oakenfold, and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, who currently serve as some of the mentors that hopeful musicians will gain access to through the platform.
Photo: verve / Adobe Stock
Although we're still a long way off from seeing a true democratization of the music industry star-making process and a day when the artists themselves reap the full rewards of their craft, the two blockchain projects above show enough promise to warrant some serious attention from music lovers and musicians alike. The only way they'll succeed in their missions to break the stranglehold that the incumbent music industry powers have on the process, though, is for the public to get behind them and help to prove them a viable alternative to the status quo. If they succeed, it could completely revolutionize the music business – putting it right into the hands of the artists themselves and the fans that love and enjoy their work, with nobody else to call the shots.