Rethinking Music in the Age of Blockchain: A New Tune for the Industry

Having dedicated two decades to shaping digital music platforms, including Beats Music and Apple Music, and collaborating with companies like Yahoo!, Winamp, Topspin, and Beastie Boys, I now find myself advocating for the potential of cryptocurrency at Ledger. This shift often leads to the question, “What about music on the blockchain?” My response? “Meh.”

I fail to see the innovation or consumer demand in selling digital music as NFTs akin to CDs or integrating digital ownership into streaming services already competing with Spotify. The internet has already solved the music listening problem without blockchain intervention. Just ask Siri to play The Beatles, and you’ll realize how far we’ve come since Napster.

The music rights business is an oligopoly controlled by three major labels and four digital music services, with no interest in open standards. However, Bandcamp, a two-sided marketplace, offers a glimpse of how blockchains can enhance the artist-fan relationship over the next fifteen years.

For niche music genres like heavy metal and contemporary jazz, Bandcamp is a cherished platform. Launched in 2008, it has nurtured a passionate community of music enthusiasts. Bandcamp’s model is simple: stream for free, purchase digital albums for around $10, and even buy vinyl, merchandise, and physical collectibles. Artists receive an impressive 82% of every sale, and Bandcamp has paid out approximately $1 billion to artists and labels since its inception.

However, in March 2022, Bandcamp was acquired by Epic Games, raising questions about its future. The subsequent unionization in March 2023 and layoffs by Epic Games led to concerns within the Bandcamp community.

This situation reminds us that investments in centralized internet platforms are temporary and not owned by users. The digital albums and artist-consumer relationships belong to the platform, not the users. With decentralized ownership, this could change.

I propose modifying Bandcamp to create on-chain masters for artists, ensuring the longevity of their work. When users buy an album, they would receive provable ownership of a digital copy linked to a decentralized file server like IPFS. This ownership could come with privileges, such as early concert ticket access or private artist interactions. This model maintains security while abstracting the item away from Bandcamp onto the blockchain.

Additionally, Bandcamp could introduce digital collectibles, expanding the concept of patronage and collecting beyond physical merchandise. This shift could reshape the digital vs. vinyl collecting dynamic.

While the possibilities are vast, the transition to digital ownership should be gradual and non-disruptive for both artists and fans. The music industry may be evolving, but it’s essential to consider the problems digital ownership solves and its realistic timeline for mainstream adoption.

Ian Rogers Chief Experience Officer at Ledger