The future of contract law and music

Ever since technology disrupted the distribution business that the music industry had become many have wondered what the future of music looks like.

Among the good changes is that many musicians can use social media to engage and represent themselves much more directly. On the other hand while that direct “reach” is a great thing- getting paid for that music on an equitable basis is much harder to achieve as the “food chain” is much more complex.

What this could mean for music is that the transactional part of their work can also be scaled dramatically. As with any business getting paid is the thing and to do that you need a contract but not necessarily a lawyer.

Musicians will be able to be artisanal workers with giant technology reach that allows them to get paid for their music on terms and conditions that are most fair and favourable to them.

In my view this is a huge paradigm change in any business and in the case of music it could mean that Apple, Spotify and the others who add little value to the music web will be removed from the equation.


Imogen Heap in the UK is looking to change the music business model back in favour of the creator / musicians. In a recent Guardian article Jamie Bartlett* explores Imogen Heap: saviour of the music industry?

“Spurred on by the technology originally designed by libertarians to create the crypto-currency bitcoin, she’s releasing her next song, Tiny Human, as an event and an experiment. What she hopes to emerge is the core of a revolutionary system she refers to as Mycelia. It could completely transform the music industry.”…


“Following the release of last year’s album, Sparks, Heap began mulling over some ideas on releasing future music. She wanted to be able to simply upload a single authenticated version of a song or album that everyone could draw from in one place, instead of supplying her song to multiple services and locations. She also felt there was more than just the music to share: cover art, credit information, brands of instruments used, licensing information. She got chatting with a musician friend, Zoë Keating, who was similarly frustrated, and Keating mentioned blockchain technology. “I started researching the tech,” says Heap, “as I realised that the building blocks for a sustainable, useful ecosystem for music was coming into view. So I decided to release my new song in the way I think things should go, and help build the place I want my music to be a part of.
Hardly anyone outside a smallish group of programmers and tech geeks has heard of blockchain, but those who have are unusually excited about it. “

Ethereum is building an open source distributed network that is encrypted and uncontrolled or censored by anyone. It also:

“allows people to create immutable, public transaction records. The problem with digital records is that they can be copied and so are not really owned by anyone. Borrowing the idea from the digital currency bitcoin, Ethereum records information on a public database in a chronological way that prevents copying, tampering, fraud or deletion. It’s a new anonymous, decentralised, uncensored internet, and a new way of controlling and storing digital information.”
“a new blockchain model, which she called Mycelia, might work for music. Gupta, a tech scene veteran who’s hard to impress, told me her ideas were “as impressive a piece of engineering imagination as I’ve seen from anybody in years”.
Because Heap now produces her own music independently she’s not contracted to release her song via the usual route. Instead, she will be placing the studio-recorded song, video, live performance and all Tiny Human-related data as files on her website, open to those developing new tech for the blockchain.”…..
“Crucially, she’ll also include simple contracts, revealing under what terms the music would (ideally, as this is an experiment) be downloaded or used by third parties, such as advertisers, and how any money earned will be divided up among the creatives involved. All payment received – using crypto-currencies – will be routed to the recipients, as set out in the contract, within seconds. (It typically takes between weeks and months for royalty payments to work their way through the chain at the moment.)
Taken together, this means transparency and clarity can be introduced into the music industry; a decentralised registry will make it easier to locate the owners of the song to obtain a legal licence to use it; money can be quickly sent where it needs to go with far fewer intermediaries; and there will be a far richer ecosystem of data and information around each song.”

Think of Mycelia as a technology platform that allows unlimited micro transactions at scale while at the same time recording all of those transactions for the music rights owner who will most likely be the individual musician themselves.
For more detail on the Imogen Heap inspired project go here (including comparisons to a fair trade model) Imogen Heap Gets Specific About Mycelia: A Fair Trade Music Business Inspired By Blockchain

“On Mycelia, everyone is both a maker and a player. Therefore, Mycelia is not limited to music. It’s all creative media, and not restricted to professional music makers/songwriters.”

For more directly from Imogen try Mycelia Musings

*For more on the Dark web watch Jamie Bartlett: How the mysterious dark net is going mainstream.