OnTheBlock recently sat down with Blockchain Live speaker and Senior Lecturer in Popular Music at Middlesex University, Marcus O’Dair, to talk about the wealth of potential blockchain represents for the creative industries.
Marcus O’Dair is a man of many talents. A senior lecturer in popular music at Middlesex University (London), he co-leads the Creative Entrepreneurship MA and Popular Music BA. Marcus also works as a journalist, broadcaster, biographer and musician.
Academically, he specialises in the social, political, economic and technological context in which popular music is made and consumed, and the effect of digital disruption on business models in the creative economy. As convenor of the Blockchain for Creative Industries research cluster at Middlesex, Marcus was the lead author of the 2016 Music on the Blockchain report. The report, which had a foreword from a member of rock supergroup Pink Floyd, received widespread media and industry interest upon its publication
A Creative Solution for Creative People
Although Marcus hasn’t yet engaged with blockchain as a practitioner, he is currently involved in multiple blockchain and DLT projects and has a keen awareness of how blockchain might help to solve some of the persistent challenges facing creative industries.
“One of the greatest problems for creative industries in today’s digital world is that files can be copied and disseminated so easily,” said Marcus. “This is why blockchain piqued my interest in cryptic technology and why it is something attracting the attention of many others in my sector.
“Blockchain technology offers huge potential to preserve and protect creative content. Which is why I find sites like Ascribe, which allows creators to easily prove authorship and gain visibility of where their work spreads, of interest and I know many of my students do too.”
“With blockchain a major focus has been placed publically on areas like financial services and we are also seeing some fascinating case studies emerging in fields like healthcare and land rights. But people are surprised to hear how much is already going on in the music industry.”
To illustrate his point, Marcus points out there are already around 20 blockchain start-ups operating within the music space. One of the most high-profile examples of blockchain making waves in music is Spotify’s recent acquisition of blockchain start-up Mediachain.
“There are more and more major organisation in music getting involved,” said Marcus. “The PRS for Music, an organisation which collects songwriting and composition royalties, has revealed it’s part of blockchain project with other global collection societies.
“Another major example is the Dot Blockchain Music initiative. This project is reportedly working on registering 65 million songs on a blockchain through partnerships with SOCAN, the Canadian performance rights organisation.”
Crucially, it isn’t just major organisations using blockchain, record labels, individual producers and artists are also at the forefront of the movement.
Marcus gives the example of ‘Tiny Human’ by songwriter and producer Imogen Heap. Utilising the Ujo Music blockchain initiative, Imogen used the Ethereum Blockchain to enable the purchasing of licenses for the streaming, downloading and remixing of the song. All payments made were automatically split via the blockchain and distributed directly to Imogen’s fellow artists and collaborators – thereby removing the traditional music middleman.
Such was the success of the initiative, Imogen is already working on the follow up Mycelia. Marcus is keen to stress, however, that this ability to use blockchain won’t necessarily mean the end of the middleman in music and other creative fields.
“Much of the excitement around blockchain and distributed ledger technologies relates to its potential for disintermediation,” said Marcus. “However, its potential can be overplayed. If middlemen and women add value commercially in other ways, then I’m not sure they will disappear.
“In fact, those intermediaries might use the same technology to become more efficient at what they do. If we are to look at what’s happened with financial services, the original idea of bitcoin was that you’d cut out banks, yet what has actually emerged is that banks have invested in similar technology to reach different objectives. So the potential exists in all sorts of ways.
“Companies like Jaak offer huge possibilities and there are also a number of ventures that are looking at using blockchain for ticketing.”
A Chain to the Future
So where will blockchain lead the creative industries in the next five years? What will be the scale of the disruption of the sector?
“It’s very difficult to gaze into crystal balls,” admits Marcus. “Not everyone foresaw the dramatic rise of the smartphone in the last decade or so. But it is worth noting that the World Economic Forum has predicted that 10% of Global GDP will be stored on blockchains by 2025, suggesting that this is not just ‘a flash in the pan’.
“It’s worth considering Bill Gates’ timeless quote that we tend to ‘overestimate the effect of technological change over the next two years and underestimate it over the next ten’.”
Many in the creative industries are particularly excited by what blockchain offers as they operate in a less stringently regulated market than those in the financial sector, for instance.
“While the opportunity is huge, it must be remembered that the creative industries can’t compete with the staggering investment power wielded by financial organisations,” said Marcus. “It’s more than possible though that the creative industries will establish a greater number and variety of use cases.”
Marcus O’Dair will be speaking at Blockchain Live. Marcus’s talk, “Redefining the Creative Economy with Blockchain”, is part of Blockchain Live’s Enterprise Application channel and you can see the full agenda here.
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