Viewpoint: Sammy Andrews on Blockchain

Viewpoint: Sammy Andrews on Blockchain

In her latest no-holds-barred digital column for Music Week, Deviate Digital CEO Sammy Andrews puts her head on the blockchain – and explains why the much-touted technology could finally be ready to live up to all the hype…

I’m wary some of you might switch off at the mere mention of blockchain. But, while I’m the first to admit it’s been hyped beyond belief, you’re unlikely to go a day without hearing about it for a reason. So let’s cut to the chase.

What blockchain is not: an instantly actionable Holy Grail that answers every music industry problem. What it is: a completely viable long-term solution to several issues facing the music industry and beyond.

Whatever your take on it, blockchain (or distributed ledger technology), has been around for nearly a decade now and it’s already being used and tested for all manner of things. Ticketmaster is the latest in a long line of companies to delve into this world with the purchase of Upgraded, a software company which has built a smartphone app that authenticates tickets using Ethereum.

In basic terms, Ethereum is a software platform based on blockchain technology, allowing people to build apps and services. Upgraded is using a mix of smart contracts and dynamic barcodes that both fans and venues can scan to be sure they’re not fake. Ticketmaster and Live Nation have both hinted publicly several times that paperless ticketing is a priority for them. And, from a consumer perspective, it’s ludicrous that you can board a flight or the tube with your phone, yet you still need to root around for a piece of paper for gigs.

The anti-blockchain massive that blew up on Twitter about the Upgraded purchase demonstrates that many folks didn’t bother to look into why Ticketmaster bought the company. Indeed, a lot of folks still don’t actually understand what blockchain is, or what it’s not. Blockchain has a huge variety of potential applications for our industry – it’s not just capable of one thing. There are many pilot projects in place with publishers and labels (some of which I hear have already been successful) as well as other developments, including the recent announcement of a platform called Fanbase whose advisors include The Orchard founder Scott Cohen.

Equally though, there are things it’s not good for in its current state. It is not a magic cure-all that can be integrated easily into existing tool sets and, due to its peer-to-peer nature, it uses a lot of power. For some things it’s slow – really slow – and its scalability in its current incarnation is questionable. But I’m one of the firm believers that all of this will change. And I’m not alone, everyone from the finance industry and the government to retailers agrees, while the music industry’s curiosity is growing by the day.

What many people seem to miss when they glaze over with at the mere mention of the word ‘blockchain’ is the sheer amount of potential applications. Most large companies in our business are experimenting in some way, either by buying companies outright, building in-house solutions or running internal research groups.

That’s something that’s evident in some of the public confirmations of pilots and patents in our own industry and beyond. They include: Spotify (music attribution), Microsoft (ID confirmation), Apple (time stamp verification), Ujo (rights management and distribution) and Sony (rights management). Meanwhile, PRS For Music, SACEM and ASCAP are working on a JV to “see if the music industry could create and adopt a shared, decentralised database of musical work metadata with real-time update and tracking capabilities”. Spoiler: it can!

I have been speaking on panels about blockchain tech for many years, so I get pitched by at least 10 solutions every month. True, some are absolute bollocks, but there are some people doing truly amazing things in the space – a few I really rate include Dot Blockchain, Blockpool, Jaak, MyCelia, Ujo, Lucid Tunes and Beatchain. Bad news for the blockchain haters, but they are truly the tip of the iceberg.

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