Marcus O’Dair (Middlesex)


Music on the blockchain: evaluating claims for the transformative potential of blockchain technology in the music industries


Bold claims have been made for the blockchain, or distributed ledger, technology that underpins digital currencies such as Bitcoin and Ether (Swan 2015, Naughton 2016, Mougayar 2016, Tapscott and Tapscott 2016). Some of these claims can be dismissed as hype, or at the very least premature. Yet, drawing on the work of Rethink Music (2015), Silver (2016) and O’Dair et al (2016), this paper will outline four ways in which blockchain technology really could be transformative in the music industries, particularly in relation to recorded music. It will also briefly outline emerging use cases: Mycelia, Dot Blockchain Music, Open Music Initiative, Blokur, Ujo, Peertracks, Bittunes, Resonate, Tao and Revelator. The paper will go on to address other claims for the technology that could be considered less convincing, as well as the significant barriers to adoption and even potential downsides and dangers (Wright and De Filippi 2015).


Addressing conference sub-themes of ‘precariousness and professionalism’ and the role of public and private investment in the development of new knowledge creation, the paper makes the case for blockchain as a technology with transformative potential. The technology has already moved far beyond the ‘peer-to-peer electronic cash system’ envisaged by the mysterious, and probably pseudonymous, Satoshi Nakamoto (2008), for instance through ‘smart contracts’ – a kind of programmable transaction. With the World Economic Forum (2006)  estimating that 10% of global GDP will be stored on blockchains by 2015, it is looking increasingly possible that blockchain technology could bring about ‘major changes in the way in which the economy and society itself is organised and governed’ (Godsiff 2016).  Although the paper will focus on the music industries, a case will also be made for the broader relevance of blockchain technology, from fashion to film via gaming and fine art.