The first day of The Great Escape 2016 started with a focus on digital, from blockchain (again) to YouTube (again). The Transparency! Data! Blockchain! Let’s Make Buzzwords Happen! conference strand was a fairly realistic look at whether certain trending topics are the saviours of the music industry that they have occasionally been claimed to be – with even PledgeMusic’s Benji Rogers, who has been a vocal supporter of the new technology, calling himself a “blockchain realist”.
“I spent a lot of time looking at Bitcoin and blockchain, because it's the most production-hardened, battle-testing engine we have in this new internet of value,” he said. “We've had cypher-punks, cryptologists trying to break it themselves, then external hackers trying to break it to win some of that $7 million. Thus far, it's managed to sit there and keep churning out blocks of information, every 10 minutes, which are validated across the system. It's an extraordinary invention in and of itself, let alone how we can apply it to something as politically charged as the music industry.
“Ultimately, I refer to myself as a blockchain realist; what we want this thing to do today and what it can do are two separate things. There will be multiple solutions, but the challenge for anyone starting a business is that first of all, you have to get a minimum viable product out: something that works. Better to test it on something a bit battle-hardened than create a brand new one from scratch. It's fundamental to understand that the mass size of this is what makes it strong. Every time a node of this system is switched on, it makes it stronger.”
Rogers wants to use the rise of VR as a trojan horse to introduce a new music format - .bc. And he’s hopeful that the industry won’t drag its heels on blockchain. He added: "In the race to adopt new technologies, the music industry historically has finished just ahead of the Amish. The legendary Stan Cornyn wrote this, and four months ago, I was convinced this was true.
“What I'll say is that the leaders at the performing rights organisations, and the labels, and the publishers, have certainly approached me and others. They're starting to take this more seriously. They haven't adopted yet because there's not much to adopt, but they're going down the rabbit hole. So while this has traditionally been true, I think we're going to break the back of this statement and it will seem like a piece of history as we move forward.”
The first day wrapped up with Reality Check – Who Needs To Play Ball, And Why Would They? with a range of panellists, including IP consultant Amanda Harcourt, Cooking Vinyl’s Martin Goldschmidt, PPL’s Mark Douglas, Music Managers’ Forum’s Annabella Coldrick and Believe Digital’s Stephen King.
Discussing data – and the problems that come with it – the panellists were sympathetic to companies like Spotify, which has faced lawsuits as a result of incomplete data. Goldschmidt said: “It's a big industry issue. David Lowery's really kicked the tyres well. I feel sorry for Spotify because it's not really a problem they've created.
“If you look at the David Lowery/Spotify issue, in every other country in the world there's a collection society and at least there are adequate databases to make sure most of the publishers and songwriters get paid accurately most of the time. In the US, you've got Harry Fox, which has allegedly 70% of the rights, the other 30% of publishers and songwriters won't engage with Harry Fox, so Harry Fox doesn't have a complete dataset. No-one does. In my humble opinion, Harry Fox is run dreadfully.”
King added: “You can't blame it all on Spotify. If you look at the data provided to Spotify by distribution companies, by everyone, it's absolutely appalling. It's shocking. We deliver 12 million tracks worldwide, and we have 37 people whose only job is to clean our data for clients. That's all they do, all day long, in every language.”
In terms of when the data should be created, many agreed that in the studio – at source – was the best solution. But that doesn’t help old catalogue. Douglas noted: “There are two parts to the problem. There's stuff we create from this point forward, where when a studio engineer or producer creates that final mix, they should be putting an ISWC on it. That is the place it belongs; get that attached at birth.
“But we've also got the last 50 years to deal with. One of the problems there is that we've had some very poor behaviours around core parts of the data. Tracks are issued again and again with new ISRCs. Every time it goes on a new product, it gets a new ISRC. I had my guys run an exercise to find a poor example of a recording, where there are lots of ISRCs. Another One Bites The Dust by Queen: 59 versions. Guess what? They were only in the studio once.”