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Musical Space

Heap Fixes the Music Business


Singer/songwriter Imogen Heap is always up to something, like engineering her own albums and inventing musical gloves that allow her to perform using only body gestures. And now she’s taken it upon herself to fix the entire music industry.

In this age of digital streaming, selling music should be easy, but there are so many middlemen in the business that it is nearly impossible for an artist to get money for their songs. What’s needed is a micropayment system that would allow an artist to sell music directly to the listener on a pay-as-you-play basis.

This idea has been around since Napster, but Heap’s idea is to use a technology called Blockchain, the same thing used to protect cyber money like Bitcoin. Blockchain makes it possible for an artist to track downloads for fair billing. At the same time, it is completely decentralized, so that no one distributor is in control. Just as what is now done illegally, music would be shared peer-to-peer, except everything would be transparent and above-board. There would be no need for ads or subscriptions fees. The transaction would be completely between the listener and the artist.

Imogen Heap calls her system “Mycelia,” and, as a proof-of-concept experiment, put out her last release, Tiny Human, via a blockchain distribution to see what happens.

I think her idea could turn everything upside-down. Creators would be paid fairly while maintaining complete artistic control. Digital music curators like Spotify and YouTube would be paid by the artist for directing business to them, rather than the other way around. Spotify only pays the artist a fraction of a penny per play; YouTube is no better. I’d gladly pay ten times that to legally listen to something I want to hear. Let’s hope Imogen’s idea comes to pass.