Benji Rogers, is a British, musician, founder of PledgeMusic and most recently CEO for and co-founder of – and furthermore he is also on the board of the Music Of Future coalition, and teaches digital trends and strategies at Berklee College of Music in the US. At SPOT+, however, Benji Rogers is there to talk about – a blockchain music company with a decentralized database of music rights and a new file format that the music industry can basically use to distribute its digital works in a way that would get everybody a fair pay and create transparency.

By Henrik Friis, SPOT+

We have talked with Benji Rogers about Blockchainmusic before SPOT: Is it for both superstars and upcoming acts? Indie companies as well as majors? What will be the costs? And what about the ambition about transparency versus the need for security? Etc.

Hello Benji, we’re looking forward to presenting you and at SPOT+ – can you please tell us the basic idea of this blockchain music company and its advantages?

– Basically today, whenever a music file is created, any information added to that file can be deleted or changed or altered by anyone who has the file. There is no protection. And the music industry has no centralized or decentralized databases of music rights – and those that they do have, don’t speak to each other. So the thing about blockchains is that a blockchain shared by a number of people, will share all the information exactly as its first expressed into the blockchain. So it is basically a way of everybody having the same information at the same time.

Think of the way Google Docs work – shared with millions of people. The bitcoin-blockchain is the largest applyment of the blockchain so far and carries a 20 billion dollar market cap with basically people transacting in a virtual currency.

We will apply that same logic. What most people know is: songs have two parts. They have a publishers part, i.e. the person that wrote the song, and a performers part, the person who’s performing it. And if you don’t have the two of those written into the file itself – the actual music file – how do you find out who wrote the song? Because those people who wrote the song need to be payed. And that case could be 5-10 – in the case of certain modern popsongs it could be 15 or 20 writers. So all of them are due money by the platforms that distribute the music, but the platforms simply do not know who to pay, because there is no database architectural system that does it.

So you take the problem of: A) any file that you do create can be overwritten, rewritten, uploaded to the internet regardless. B) If you want to look up who wrote the song based on the song’s title or what it sounded like, how would you know to get the correct information? There is no official ressource or place. And then you have got between 180 official and 5000 unofficial databases all of which have differing information…

But if you lock the publishing and performance information into a ”wrapper” around the music, and you make it so the music is unplayable in the absense of that data, then you have actually created a decentralized system in which the music file continouisly updates from the blockchain, and creates an unbreakable bond between those who created the work to those who performed the work and those who are listening to it. So it’s not a consumer facing application – it’s a BtoB facing application.

For more information on dotblockchain musics Concentric Architecture, watch this preview.

Why is this attractive to both the big artist and the major company with a well running business as well as the artist or start-up emerging right now?

The biggest key here is that a huge amount of our digital wealth is basically build on sand.

It was build with the sound recordings in mind, but not the ones who performed them, so in America for example you have got hundreds of millions of dollars worth of lawsuits, because the publishers – the people that wrote the songs – are not getting paid fairly or correctly. So they are suing the big digital service providers, which is really frustrating.

Now, the system that we have architectured is build, so the smallest new singer-songwriter artist or DJ can create a work for free entry into the system and it will basically place their identities into their digital code into their works and therefore if there’s disagreements or arguments over it – as there are today, all the time – they can be solved in one place and then broadcast to all participants.

A writer today will only know something’s gone wrong with their information if they suddenly don’t get payed. So think about it: You’re sitting there saying, ”now I was getting 300 Euros a month for a song and this month I didn’t get anything, and I’ll call up and I’ll find out that some one else has been claiming their ownership.

And then that forces companies – take the large ones – to pay out a mass amount to the majors. They spread out 85 % to the majors and 15 % to the indies, but they don’t dispose how they do that. So what happens is …if your music is getting played a huge amount in one place, that won’t reflect in your balance, because they are not gonna know who you are in that big bulk settlement that they do once a quarter.

So we have to solve a problem, because there are companies like Spotify for example, where the majority of publishing information is completely unknown to them, and they have to hire other companies to help find it for them, who also can’t do the job as well: because that is an impossible task.

So if we fix the format, we can fix the data, and then we can build the registry owned by the public, owned by all, that can speak to the copyright of the work itself and make it part of the genetic code of the song. And if you remove the publishing information, the bass player information, the engineer information, the DJ’s information from the work, it just wont work. And that is something I think we move towards very quickly.

Your idea is much in favour of transparency, but what about the parties in an agreement who doesn’t want details in the agreement to be seen – how do you deal with that?

There is the difference between a public blockchain, and a permission blockchain. A permission blockchain basically has the characteristic that you can only share within certain parties – so if you think about the Google Doc-analogy or the Microsoft work document, I may say with my Microsoft document, that I will share it with these five people, but not these four people. Or in the Google Docs you can say it tracks every change, which is the key to have a chains-lock. And then if I share it with somebody, I can share it with them –with edit-capability or “read only”.

We are going to do the same thing with the file format, so there will be a public layer to the Blockchain, which everyone can read, which will basically say this is who owns the song, and this is how to contact them if want to make commerce with them. And then there’s a private layer, which is for the PROs, labels, publishers, music industry professionals to work with each other on deals splits, on deal terms and that kind of stuff and that is NOT public.

The blockchain community has done – I would say – a poor job of explaining, that not everything on a blockchain has to be public. You can have shared entities within the structures that allow people to do commerce with each other. Make deal terms. If you cut in public or private layers, the blockchains power becomes that all that the public can see, is who owns it. And the private layers are those who work together.

So you don’t see any problems with spying into agreements, stealing of info or whatever?

The blockchains were devolped by a group called ’Cypher Punks’ – and these were the ones who basically invented and worked on Cryptography from the beginning, so … the bit-coin-blockchain has never been hacked. The blockchain wallets and outside layers has been hacked, as companies get hacked. But the system would be of such size and scale, that it would be very hard to overwhelm it. And on the other side: if you were to steal something from an artist or find something out, it would be shown to everybody that you’ve done so, because the blockchain is a public place in one sense a private place in another.

So If I would try to come in and say I am Beyoncé, I would have to prove who I am in relationship to piers on the blockchain, saying: Hey, it’s me Beyoncé, tag my label and have them reciprocate that, tag my publishing and have them reciprocate that, tag my management, all of my team – you see its very hard to do if I’m not Beyoncé. So we have developed what we call a trustscore, it works like a credit rating into the system. We want a trustscore of 80 out of a hundred in order to distribute this track. That means that an X number of VNC criteria have been met. It’s a way of keeping everybody honest between themselves, because they set the rules for how they are gonna work together, we are just providing the inter probable way between it.

How far is this project – have you made any beta versions or agreements?

Phase 1 was put into GitHub september last year, we are working on phase 2 right now – of 3 phases. We have done partnerships with So Can, Medianets, SongTrust, Fuger, CDBaby – so we have access between those partners for roughly 65 million songs. And 4.1 million rights holder records. And that grows by about 500.000 a month…so its a big growing database of works, so we are anticipating putting phase 2 into GitHub in the next month (April. Ed.) or so depending on how fast we can onboard the partners. And then we have got a sign-up que of problaly 110-115 other partners, who want to come in for a sponsored development to help get this done. So it’s been a big project, it’s a public benefit cooperation versus a traditional for-profit-company, privately funded. I anticipate me working towards a fully scaleable version to be ready by the end of the year, if not before.

It is a lot of work, but what I say is that in my first company (PledgeMusic, ed.) I wanted to get artist payed as quickly as possible. And I kept seeing inefficiencies in that system. With that second company ( I think it’s a much bigger idea, but at the same time it just evolves on a very simple concept:
If you know who owns something, you can pay them. And the music industry has no effectively tradeable asset because the ownership of it is unclear a lot of the time, and the reason that I’m so aggressive on the timeline, is because I think that this year is going to be an absolutely critical and pivotal year for the business, because of the mass – the size and scale of the platforms and the financial cloud that they have in relation to the size of the music industry has never been further apart. So we have to get this right. Otherwise I believe that a lot of the companies will turn to alternative ways for getting the music, and they are gonna be less than safer (let’s put it that way)…

How much would it cost for an artist or a company to get involved with Blockchain?

It will be free to use for artists and songwriters in an individual level, and will be paid tiers of it for larger companies. So basically each publishing company, each PRO, each label will require it’s own kind of dashboard or way-in. Now, because it’s an open source project, we can build them, they can build them themselves, or they can hire someone to build them. So we are not dictating how it should work. We are gonna stand up as best we can, an artist and some kind of songwriter version of it, that they can use anyway. But then companies like Auddly or Songspace and other private companies can offer solutions to the market. So we don’t want to be the only game in town. Ever. We want it to be a really vibrant market place for competition.

We want to build basically the email protocol for music. So you email me maybe an Outlook, and I respond to you on Gmail etc. So we don’t dictate what goes through the pipe. We just dictate how the pipes work. So if a company from Denmark decides to build an amazing new search interface for songwriters and charge 5 euros a month for it – amazing ! They can stand it up on their system because it’s going to be an open source code base. In the same way that email, Imap and pop3 work for email. That’s our overall goal.

We will probably start a larger round afterwards. Start-up’s require fuel to keep them going, and the CEOs job is to keep them in fuel. But in the next few months we are going to be basically building out phase 2 a and b of the system, and if you look at the website you can see the video – there’s a technical demonstration and a non-technical one. And we should have a really decent second phase working prototype to show of at SPOT – to show people.

Watch a Dotblockchain Music webinar by Benji Rogers.