FEATURE: Kaneda Crypto Stream #1- My Inspiration | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Friday 5th April welcomes a free to view trial blockchain ticketed live-stream, organised as part of ongoing research into how cryptocurrency and the blockchain may benefit independent musicians. There’s more information in the event here, and before all of that we found out a little bit more about what inspired the project from electronic musician and producer Simeon Soden.

I am a musician (ako, Badger and Mausoleums), record label founder (Kaneda Records) and promoter (Northern Electric Festival, among others) with over 10 years experience. I am currently a PhD student at the University of Sunderland researching blockchain applications for DIY musicians and larger music Organisations as part of an NPIF/AHRC funded PhD in partnership with the Sage, Gateshead. 

The inspiration behind this project comes from a few different directions; firstly it’s the opportunity to take new technology and apply it to try and solve an existing problem, namely the often lamented revenue streams in music especially for independent musicians and music organisations. Secondly, from the technology itself: It offers an unprecedented opportunity for middleman-less digital financial system of self governing peer-to-peer commerce, existing completely outside of current restrictions. Also due to its’ opensource nature, it can by appropriated and used by anyone making it truly democratic. However as the technology begins to gain more widespread recognition there is a rush to build commercially driven structures and with that comes a lot of misleading rhetoric. So it’s also inspired by a reaction to those that seek to act recentralising forces (or middlemen) as this is antithetical to the benefits of the blockchain. It’s about showing DIY artists that they can, quite literally do it themselves, and this revolution does not need to be parcelled up into neat corporate packages and spoon fed to us by platforms as is sadly the case with the internet now.

To understand how blockchain could improve things, we need to consider the existing music industry and commerce structure. I’m of the opinion that the root cause in declining music revenue is not primarily infrastructural obsolescence or failures by Performing Rights Organisations or greedy record labels and publishers as posited often by the music blockchain start ups. But a much broader collection of issues relating to spending habits of listeners and the cultural devaluation of recorded music. This is due largely to the proliferation of digital files (and their sharing) and a move away from ownership to access culture (i.e. streaming — Berklee College of Music, 2015) causing a subsequent value shift away from recorded music and towards live music ( David, 2010, p7 Peer to Peer and the Music Industry); set amongst generally more uncertain or changing economies. The infrastructural inequalities and failings often cited by the start-ups merely compound the issue and supplanting a blockchain on top of the whole thing and starting again will not automatically yield huge net gains for artists, it will likely perpetuate the existing problems in a new medium. This is in no small part because the blockchain itself is still just as fallible as existing systems for intellectual property management at the points where it inevitably has to interface with the ‘real world’ and then has to rely on human actions. In short it’s no silver bullet or mystic panacea for an ailing creative industry. 

However if applied to right areas, chiefly in my opinion payment methods, in a fashion complimentary to established practices it can yield some major benefits by reducing costs and increasing efficiency, offering improvement for well established and effective methods.

The best way to look at it is like PayPal, but faster, and with (generally) much much lower transaction fees (also paid for by the purchaser not the seller) and with the capability of managing money automatically. Music commerce, at all levels, is now built on micro-transactions (Berklee College of Music, 2015), but is reliant on 3rd party card payment processors and platforms that all take a slice of the (already meagre) pie thus reducing the artists share, and this especially affects DIY artists who earn less revenue and don’t have investment backing from larger record labels. Anybody familiar with using PayPal to receive micro-payments will be familiar with how costly it can be. Not to mention the lengthy accounting processes that dealing with so many tiny payments necessitates within music organisations and for practitioners themselves. This is where blockchain could offer a meaningful solution: firstly due to those lower fees and the much quicker payment processing times. Secondly automation in form of smart contracts means that payments received can be automatically apportioned and paid out to relevant collaborators (particularly useful in the example of a record label accounting for and dividing up lots of small royalty payments to different members of a band, which is incredibly time consuming). Thirdly, and most interesting to me is in its’ decentralised and opensource nature: i.e. anyone, with a bit of research and some knowledge of webdesign, can set up their own payment platform and receive payments securely for almost no additional cost from their website. This also offers a route around the fees of distributors when compared to using digital stores (Spotify, Itunes etc) or existing direct-to-fan platforms such as Bandcamp, which when combined with payment processing fees usually equates to just under 20% of the total payment. 

For me, this represents true decentralisation, and we should view blockchain as an opensource way for artists to sell direct to fans — I’ve taken to thinking of it as ‘PayPal for punks’. It is an unprecedented opportunity for music makers to seize the means of commerce from the mechanisms of capitalism and an opportunity for true decentralisation of music commerce. For an example of this in action visit the record label I co run Kaneda Records where I set up a MetaMask based Ethereum cryptocurrency music download store and our new cryptocurrency sub-label Linebreak Records. If you’d like to know how to begin setting something like this up, check out this video on how to integrate MetaMask in your website.

After setting up the download stores, I began asking the question what other ways can we use this to sell music? What about live streaming of performance? As I mentioned before there is definite trend towards valuing live music more as recorded music decreases in value, in both economic and cultural contexts. After organising some successful free access live streamed virtual club nights last year with Kaneda Records (and finding it a surprisingly good way to reach new people) we wanted to test a system of paying to view live streamed performance using cryptocurrencies direct to artists and organisers. So we’ve organised a free to view trial blockchain ticketed live stream in association with The Potted Wolf featuring performances from  Badger, Bert Verso and Squarms to test this idea out before we go ahead with actual ‘paid for’ streams later in the year. This works by using free to obtain cryptocurrency ‘tokens’ in place of payment. The blockchain records the ticket purchasers, allowing them access to stream and divides the tokens between accounts representing the artists and hosts immediately at the time of sale. This project hopes to demonstrate that DIY artists can set up your own blockchain payment methods, truly achieving economic decentralisation.

You can find more useful information at the links below.

Kaneda Records:

Potted Wolf:

Linebreak Records.

Stream page and ticket link for the stream can be found here.

Performers:

Badger, Bert Verso and Squarms all are part of this event, which you can find out more about here.

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