One of the most important discussions since the dawn of the technology age is how artists will get paid. Starting from Napster in late 1990s to all the way to streaming and Spotify today, artists’ rights and royalties have been always a hot topic. Here’s what we know for sure: The laws for recorded music are outdated and they not only do not support the music technology of our day but also do not necessarily protect the rights of artists, writers and anyone else who might be involved in the creation of a song.
The traditional anti-piracy argument goes like this: it is simply too easy for someone to copy recording into an MP3 format and pirate it online, which is the reason musicians don’t get paid enough. However, for the last couple of years, the issue took on a new form with the rise of streaming. Today, streaming services pay artists absurd fees such as .000437 of a dollar per stream. In both of these cases artists get the unfair end of the deal (if there is one) because of the gaps in our laws. And by saying “our laws” I am not pointing the finger to any specific country, because today all countries’ laws about streaming are morbidly lagging behind the modern times.
In the future we might see the pay rates for streaming getting improved, yet there will still be another big issue that will be lingering, which is: How do you keep track of the people who created a song when you want to calculate royalties? When you make an MP3 for instance, the composer name is just an optional metadata. Sometimes you would barely have any information except the title and the artist, let alone the name of the arranger and bass player. These gaps of information surely creates an unfair system where the writers, arranger, producer etc of a song are stripped away from their rights and and the current metadata systems are inadequate to fulfill this need.
I can hear you nodding but also saying “Yeah, but how is that possible?”: Through blockchain. Blockchain is basically a space where whenever you make a digital transaction, it’s recorded chronologically and publicly. The transaction can be made in any cryptocurrency, including the infamous Bitcoin. Since there is no middleman adding service fees, bitcoin is increasingly popular in many digital platforms to purchase music. One of the best reasons why blockchain could be great idea is because it’s extremely secure. To give you perspective, one needs about 525 times the entire computing power available to Google to successfully hack a Bitcoin blockchain. Another advantage of the blockchain model is that it allows the artist to set the terms they want in order to license a track. This would lower the business paperwork costs and make the music industry overall much more efficient.
However, not everyone is persuaded about blockchain yet. One of the biggest obstacles to switch music industry to blockchain is the vast metadata that has to be gathered for every single song – in 2013, there were 35 million songs on just iTunes. That’s a lot of metadata and data to enter in blockchains. As a result, most proponents of blockchain technology think that it would be more efficient to apply it going forward, rather than re-creating rights in music that’s already published.
It seems to me that it is a herculean task for one company to go back to catalogues and get the rights information on blockchains, but if international organizations, governments, labels and publishers can be on board with this new model, we can adapt quicker and easier than we thought. Remember, if we were able to digitalize centuries of analog recordings in a few years, this is also very much possible. Moreover, I do think that blockchain model can be used for other disciplines such as photography, video, contemporary art, design and many other to make sure those who are involved in the creative process of a piece of art get their fair share.
Are you on board or sceptical when it comes to blockchains? How do you think artists can utilize it further? Feel free to comment below!
Alper Tuzcu is a Berklee College of Music and Denison University alumni, and a Boston based guitarist, songwriter and producer. His debut eclectic album ‘Between 12 Waters’ featuring 8 different vocalists is available on Spotify, and you can follow him on Instagram or Twitter @alpertuzcu, or visit his website http://www.alpertuzcu.com