Recently, I had the chance to watch a great mini-series chronicling the lives and careers of the members of the music group New Edition. It was a harsh reality about how the music business operated at the time. What hasn’t changed from then to today is many artists remain at the peril of executives, managers, accountants, and lawyers. Although the vast majority of these non-artist professionals in the music industry adhere to a high standard of ethics, there is a select few that have taken advantage of their clients’ trust. Recently, Alanis Morissette’s manager, Jonathan Schwartz, admitted to embezzling $4.8 million from her and an additional $2 million from his other artists. Over the years, we have heard the similar stories from artists and music groups like Aerosmith, Billy Joel, N.W.A., and Elvis Presley.
This kind of behavior from artist management in addition to current music industry practices is beginning to have a chilling effect on how artists handle their dealings. It is no wonder why so many artists have shied away from signing with a major label and remained independent. Last year, Chance the Rapper made the difficult decision of turning down a recording deal extended to him by Kanye West. When asked for his reason, Chance was quoted by ABC stating, “I wanted to give the idea of freedom back to artists, and one of the biggest things is control over how you release your music.” He went on to say, “So streaming and free releases, I figured that that would be a good beacon to have people at least pick up on what I was doing as an independent artist.” Chance is just one of a growing number of artists who prefer to remain independent in order to keep control of the business decisions affecting their career.
What’s missing is a tool that will allow independent artists to protect their intellectual property, understand how their music is being accessed across the Internet, and be able to track how their music is generating revenue and who has access to that income all in real time. Blockchain technology has the ability to offer artists just such a tool. The blockchain is publically accessible digital ledger that accounts for transactions that take place on Bitcoin and other digital currencies. Currently, there are a number of companies that have worked on the concept of implementing a blockchain for handling music rights for royalties. A blockchain solution can also allow an artist the ability to set the price of their music at a price point that avoids the need for free releases, while simultaneously being able to analyze that sales data to assess the value of their work for future music offerings.
This apparatus can ultimately allow artists to do these things themselves or have a manager take care of them. However, if at anytime there is a suspicion of impropriety on the part of the manager or others handling the artists’ rights, the blockchain can be independently audited by an external party as a means of verifiable oversight to protect against fraud.
This is just a few ways in which a blockchain can make musicians lives easier while protecting them from being taken advantage of and granting them more autonomy within their careers.