Blockchain technology, which underpins the cryptocurrency bitcoin, may be revolutionising the fintech sector, but one Grammy award-winning artist hopes it can also disrupt the music industry.
The British singer, songwriter and producer Imogen Heap, who has collaborated with Taylor Swift and Deadmau5, is looking to blockchain to help bring about a "fair trade" industry that would give artists more rights over their music.
A keynote speaker at the Oslo Innovation Week festival in Norway, Heap said blockchain technology could "help breathe new life into an industry struggling with low revenues and intellectual property minefields".
The move to embrace blockchain is part of a wider plan by the artist to create a music-technology ecosystem known as Mycelia. Heap believes this could lead to the development of a new way to distribute and monetise music and associated content.
Heap said Mycelia is intended to connect the technological dots for those seeking to shift away from outdated music industry models.
"There are a lot of issues and inefficiencies across the industry that mean artists don't get paid on time. Blockchain and a linked global-based database could help resolve the problems," she told The Irish Times.
“The new platform would basically allow artists to be a beacon for their own skill set, encouraging them to promote their talents using data,” she added.
Heap said blockchain technology would enable more direct contact with fans, thereby democratising the creative process and opening up new commercial opportunities as well as providing listeners with additional content such as artwork, song lyrics and so on.
“At the moment it takes up to two years for me to receive my money. In this day and age when we make millions of transactions a second, how can it take so long for artists to get paid?” she said.
“Smart contracts [a key component of blockchain] would enable fans to pay artists instantly. In everything we currently do there has to be an intermediary who typically handles the ‘trust’ element, but this doesn’t need to happen with blockchain, as trust is built into the algorithms, so we can then deal peer-to-peer and a fan can interact with a song with no intermediaries.”
Heap said she believed that associated metadata linked to recordings – such as what instruments were used on particular tracks, where they were created and how someone could licence the music – would also be made more easily available to end users. Such metadata could also potentially be helpful in creating entirely new commercial opportunities.
Blockchain is essentially a ledger of transactions arranged in data batches or “blocks” that use a cryptographic signature to link them. The musician said that while blockchain may not mean much to the music industry at present, she could foresee its impact being similar to the introduction of MP3s.
Heap, a recording artist for more than 20 years, recently wrote the soundtrack for the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is currently running in London. A technophile who is the only female artist to have received a Grammy award for engineering, she has also developed cutting-edge musical gloves that allow her to create an elaborate array of sounds by waving her hands around.
Earlier this week, Heap released a new single, which was created in collaboration with psychologists at Goldsmiths University in London, and with input from thousands of parents in the UK.
The Happy Song, which has been designed to encourage happiness and laughter in babies aged six-24 months, was specifically constructed using sounds that youngsters like such as laughter, animal noises and sneezing.