These days, there are few topics so widely discussed, misunderstood, and controversial as blockchain and cryptocurrency. Some of the world's smartest – and richest – people are torn on the issues. Meanwhile, America's foremost bankers and financial regulators have sounded caution on cryptocurrencies as a whole.
I think some of the reasons why such confusion and controversy exists is that enthusiasts of the technology have promised a revolution, of sorts, that is yet to materialize. At the same time, opponents of the technology seem to lack understanding – or an outright ignorance – of just how efficacious this technology could be in making the world a fairer, more equitable place.
As a fierce proponent of blockchain, I think it is up to us supporters to give concrete examples of how this technology can serve as a game-changer. Grandiose promises of crypto replacing the global financial system overnight while blockchain brings about rapid social and economic restructure are unhelpful. Instead, I have a grounded, easy-to-understand example of how blockchain can justly shake up an industry that I love dearly.
In the world of music, listeners are as disconnected from music creators as ever. Ironically, as music streaming services have made more music available to more people than ever before, the relationship between fans and artists has, in many cases, become more strained. In today's music world, the product – music – is more valuable the more times it's played. Streaming implicitly encourages music to become a mere background to our lives rather than a focal point. Streaming has turned music into a consumable product more akin to junk food than to the cherishable art it's meant to be.
In the days of records and CD's, listeners lined up for blocks to buy new releases. They studied the cover art, listened to albums on repeat to learn every word by heart, and had to consciously think about what album to play before they sat down to listen. Then, iPods came along and transformed the listening experience. Not only could you listen on the go, but you could curate the perfect playlist for any moment. The catch was that iPods had limited space, so you had to carefully choose what tracks you put on them, and buying a single album from the iTunes store cost roughly the same amount as a monthly Apple Music subscription costs today. Being a true fan necessitated a close relationship to the musical artist, their music, their lyrics, and even the cover art.
Streaming has disrupted this relationship, and in many ways we're better for it. Music can now more easily be shared, it's easier for smaller and independent artists to publish their music, and there are cool, data-driven features like Spotify Wrapped. But the artist-fan relationship is fundamentally broken. How do we repair that relationship? I, for one, do not think we move forward by taking a step back. Streaming is here to stay, so we must work within this new paradigm rather than reconstruct the past.
Enter blockchain. Blockchain can completely reshape the direction of travel of the artist-listener relationship. Blockchain and cryptocurrency can be used to reward listeners and encourage fan engagement with music. By harnessing new technology and listening methods to recreate old bonds, listeners can reconnect with artists more personally and meaningfully.
But, before understanding how this will work, it's crucial to understand how blockchains and cryptocurrencies work.
In a nutshell, the blockchain is a distributed database that securely records and stores information. A blockchain server – for example, a music library that runs on blockchain technology - can be encoded to distribute "loyalty points" to regular users. These points are called crypto tokens. For example, the code can give one token to a user for every 10 hours spent on the blockchain music server. The token can be used to buy songs, tip your favorite artists, or you can cash it out. Other aspects of the blockchain, such as security, its decentralized nature, and data transparency, make it attractive, but those are issues for another article.
Following the example above, users could also receive tokens for sharing music or creating public playlists that blow up amongst other users. For the first time ever, fans can be systematically rewarded for engaging with their favorite artist's music. This level of fan-band relationship was simply not feasible until now, and it could drive music engagement to new highs.
And this isn't some futuristic, Jetson's-like fantasy; it's happening right now. My company, Tunedly, rewards listeners if a song they've scouted gets signed to a publishing contract. All users have to do is listen to great music, "upvote" songs they believe in, and reap the benefits. Other platforms are also getting into this space and redefining music fandom along the way.
But, as with anything, patience is key. There are entrenched players that benefit from the status quo. And listen, I know that change can be scary and, at first uncomfortable. However, I also know that people love music at a much deeper level than is currently being shown. Music is so much more than background distraction. At its best, music encapsulates the very essence of what it means to be alive; the good, the bad, and the ugly. By reigniting and expanding the relationship between fans and musical artists, I believe both sides will be better off. The music that artists make will be better, and in turn, fans will love it even more (and be financially compensated for rabid listening and sharing).
Technology was the driver that led us to the current situation, where a wide gulf separates musicians and listeners. And it's going to be technology – more specifically, blockchain and cryptocurrencies – that narrows this gap. Music has always been about pushing the boundaries, so it's only natural for music to embrace blockchain and reconceive the notion of what the creator-listener relationship can be.