As cryptocurrency continues its gradual rise into the upper ranks of the mainstream, many players are hoping to get in on the action. Though interest in Bitcoin has skyrocketed in the last few months—Google searches for “buy bitcoin” eclipsed searches for “buy gold” in November—the practice of buying and trading cryptocurrency is still largely relegated to the outer reaches of the internet’s wild west.
Still, that’s not stopping some from seizing the moment. All eyes are on cryptocurrency as an industry-specific disrupter, but even creatives in fields like music are getting in on the action. Collective-turned-producer RAC released his last album using noted blockchain Ethereum. Slovenian producer Gramatik went one step further, creating his own cryptocurrency and branding it accordingly: GRMTK. And in an interview with Billboard, English trance DJ, Gareth Emery, proclaimed his desire to disrupt the music industry with a new distribution platform: Choon.
It might seem like Emery is hopping on the speculation train, but according to the DJ, he’s been a long-time player in the cryptocurrency game, having first encountered and invested in Bitcoin in 2013. Now Emery is relocating his energy and intention with Choon, which is set to launch in early 2018. The platform was designed by friends and blockchain aficionados John Watkinson and Matt Hall, and has been dreamed up in an effort to give musicians more autonomy in the industry.
All’s Fair in Love and Cryptocurrency
Since the internet became its own broad disrupter, bands have managed to circumvent the problematic industries’ bylaws that often cheat artists out of their fair share of profits. The results of experimentation can be rather illuminating. In 2007, English band Radiohead released their seventh studio album, In Rainbows, as a free mp3 download, a defiant proclamation against the music industry as well as a prophetic power move. The album download was accompanied by a “pay-what-you-want” purchase model, allowing fans to assign worth themselves. The result was that, well, most fans didn’t pay anything, choosing instead to download for free (again, prophetic).
Yet in spite of this, the band still made more money from In Rainbows than from any of the other traditionally sold albums in their catalogue. Choon is a company born out of the aftershocks of that kind of experimentation, and it places cryptocurrency in the foreground.
Endangered or Exaggerated?
No industry has had to play catch-up faster than the music industry. While tales of financial woes have been greatly exaggerated, there is no denying that music (and by virtue, the artists) were the most immediately hit when peer-to-peer file sharing (not to mention the deterioration of the attention span) became part of the cultural lexicon. As a result, it begs the question of whether the industry and the artists themselves will learn from their mistakes and heed the call of a brave new era, much like Radiohead did ten years ago. Cryptocurrency may be the first step in reclaiming some autonomy, a new chapter in the narrative of the internet and music.
Services like Choon are already heeding the call, giving fans the ability to purchase music using Notes, the cryptocurrency specific to the site. The value will remain fluid, contingent on the demand for the product, and creating a more democratic approach to buying and selling. Notes will be available for five cents each, and users will have the ability to acquire Notes by creating popular playlists, listening to music promoted by the sites, and participating in community feedback. Innovators would be wise to look forward and innovate now. In the process, cryptocurrency might give music a much needed new definition of “underground”.