Today was massive. Lots of little Eureka moments. Some context: Mycelia is Imogen Heap’s ambitious vision for a better music industry future. It incorporates a few different approaches and concepts. The most talked about of these is the use of blockchain technology. Blockchain acts as a kind of ledger system, preserving unique transactions, and decentralising that data. From Wikipedia:

A blockchain,[1][2][3] originally block chain,[4][5] is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography.[1][6] Each block typically contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block,[6] a timestamp and transaction data.[7] By design, a blockchain is inherently resistant to modification of the data. It is “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way”.[8] For use as a distributed ledger, a blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires collusion of the network majority.

Like almost everyone I speak to, I’m still trying to wrap my head around what blockchain technology actually means in this context. I’ve found it useful to think in terms of use cases and specific problems:

    Getting Paid: Getting royalty payments for music usage actually into your bank account can take months, even years. The process of managing this through collection agencies feels very old fashioned, blockchain would allow almost instantaneous transactions.
    Smart Contracts: My understanding of Smart Contracts came into focus when I envisaged them in the context of how I make a living. A Smart Contract has software capabilities to carry out financial instructions. A common reality for me as a live performer is unfortunately having to chase venues and promoters for fees. There’s no real safety net, the whole thing relies on trust, which leaves things wide open to error, delays and even complete disregard. A Smart Contract could escrow any performance fees, meaning that if both parties agree that the contract was fulfilled (I turned up, I played the show) the funds are released via the blockchain.
    Managing Data: One of the most exciting concepts for me is Imogen’s vision for all the data that surrounds songs and artists. There is a huge wealth of potentially useful information that surrounds everything we do, and most of it never materialises in a useful. Imogen has a bold ambition for this, which today’s workshop is all about: the Creative Passport.

There’s a huge wealth of information that surrounds a song. Some examples:

  • – The location of the recording session(s).
  • – Personnel beyond the artist themselves (engineers/producers/video directors).
  • – Equipment used in the making of the song.
  • – New technologies embraced through the release of the song.
  • …I could think of many more, you get the idea. This data seems pretty obviously useful in a business-to-business context. I have good relationships with various technology brands who have supported my work to better understand a new context for their products. Those relationships make a difference; imagine if a brand could see centralised data relating to their product’s usage, and actually connect the dots to the artists? Imagine if someone could quickly hire a mastering engineer based on something they heard and connected to? Data could be used to quickly open up and democratise sync opportunities, with agencies able to navigate through ‘spores’ of data relating to genre,tempo or other musical qualities.

    Imogen has a devised a robust concept to put all this in, and she calls it the Creative Passport. This would be a verified, secure collection of all your data as an artist, allowing for lateral navigation of aspects of your work and career that are usually lost. A parallel has been drawn with the historical concept of liner notes, although I think that’s an over simplification. Imogen’s concept opens up into areas of data that could levy meaningful relationships and transactions in directions google alone cannot take us easily. It also opens up to add weight and credibility to an artist’s digital presence. I’ve done some pretty bucket-list-cool-shit in my career, but those events aren’t robustly centralised in a way that can assist potential partnerships. It’s worth noting; this is not lavish editorial, filtered through hyperbole to ‘sell’ the artist: this is about robust, credible (and where necessary unbiased) data. Just like a real passport, parents could initiate the start of their child’s creative passport, recording their earliest steps into music making.

    A small thing, but I propose another ‘spore’ of data, that I’m (for now) calling Emotional Currency. I’ve made a life’s work of tackling issues that could be regarded as complex. By way of example: perhaps my best known song, Hand At Emotion, deals very directly with domestic violence. In the world of Mycelia, that too is important data. Songs are routinely organised by things like genre, tempo, even key signature, but rarely by what they actually say. There is enormous B2B opportunity here. Imagine a charity, looking for an on-point song for a campaign. Or a sync opportunity in today’s climate of cutting edge, hard hitting TV drama. Beyond that, there is potential to bring hope to every potential fan: the listener has an opportunity to explore their own life experience through music that reflects their circumstance. Artists as varied as R.E.M., Linkin Park and Tori Amos (to name a handful from hundreds) have moved and reframed my thinking on the big issues in my life, by creating emotional thinking tools in the form of emotionally realised songs. This data concept, to me, feels very Mycelia-like: a portal to an emotional journey through one of the most powerful emotive artforms, in a way that can be anonymous and decentralised. It feels like a very living concept within this technology.

    Returning to Imogen’s vision, there’s one area that people have understandable got a bit stuck on: managing exhaustive back catalogue in this new system. How do we get all of Tom Waits’ decades of data in? Imogen’s vision shifts this perspective with a very neat point: this is about a better music business future. As I scribbled in my notes: this is not legacy. This will from many perspectives represent a Year Zero. Legacy artists need not be excluded, but serving the pre-Mycelia history of Coldplay is not a problem that explicitly needs tackling. This is about a robust future, in a way that’s akin to the promises of cryptocurrency. In my biggest ambitions for this, this presents a before-and-after ecosystem, that will feel like a shift we haven’t experience since the earliest rumblings of the digital age.

    I’ve kept up with Mycelia from the earliest opportunity essentially for the simple reason that it’s lead by one of my favourite artists, whom I trust to envisage something genuinely groundbreaking and forward-thinking. That’s not to say I got it from the beginning. It has come slowly into focus through several workshops over the last year. Today was very much the day when that view became clear for me; it’s a beautiful, living, breathing concept, and one that I’m sure is going to bring a smarter, fairer and more engaging future to the music industry.