George Howard: Okay today I have the pleasure of talking with David Andrew Weibe. David, why don’t you introduce yourself before we dive into our conversation today.
David Andrew Wiebe: My name is David Andrew Wiebe and I’m the founder of music entrepreneur HQ.com. I’m a musician myself. I’ve taught music and I’ve been involved in the production side music, basically pretty much anything you can think of, investing, freelancing…I’ve done a ton of work in the music industry.
GAH: It’s great for you to take the time to talk about Music2020. You’re a friend of Music2020 and I know you’ve been helping us spread the word. We’re trying to get to a place where there are more winners and less losers in the music industry. One of the things that is at the core of Music2020’s mission is this technology called blockchain technology. And it’s something my partner Scott and I are just deeply optimistic about. I’ve been working in that field and writing about it, going on about three years now. It’s still a new technology, a lot of people don’t know what it is, some people associate it purely with bitcoin. But, for those of us who do, we think it could really address a bunch of key issues around the music industry. So I’d just like to have a conversation with you mainly about what’s exciting you about it. Obviously we’re excited about it because we believe it’s central to our mission. So, tell me what’s making you interested in blockchain tech?
DAW: Well, honestly what you guys are doing kind of put me in a place where i’m much more interested in learning about the blockchain than before. There’s a lot of terminology, it’s pretty confusing actually for a lot of people. So, I think first of all for anybody to get excited about it, they have to learn about it and find out what it is, at least until we can get an easier way describing it in common language. But, you can’t help but feel that there’s something special about this technology; that it does have the potential to cut out intermediaries, or shall I say labels, tech companies, or anybody else who’s taking a cut of the bigger pie of musicians pay scale and be able to reward artists more fairly for their work. And probably even instantaneously. Whereas right now, it takes so long to even see when a transaction has taken place.
GAH: Yes, that’s right. Let’s roll it back a little bit. This is the problem when somebody goes deep into a technology they understand it and then articulating it back to people is kind of tricky. So, let me give a whack at it. Obviously, as you said, and that’s kind of you to say, that means the world to Scott and to me, to feel like people are using the site to learn about these technologies. I’m glad that it has had an impact on you. So, blockchain tech originally emerged as the registry to keep track of Bitcoin transactions. The issue there was Bitcoin was a currency but it is software, and if you had something that somebody tried to duplicate, or resell a Bitcoin, the whole idea would fail. So a lot of interesting technologies emerged out of that and the central one, as you alluded to, is this decentralized mechanism, a distributed ledger. Please chime in here if you want to take a whack at that. I certainly have my rap down. Maybe you can do it differently or better than I can. When you try to explain to someone what a distributed ledger means, do you have any good mechanisms for doing that? I have one up my sleeve, but I’m curious to hear what you say about that.
DAW: I recently read Blockchain Revolution: [How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World] by Don and Alex Tapscott, which is an amazing book. I think the illustration they gave about paying for a coffee at Starbucks…most of us assume when you pay Starbucks for that coffee with your debit card that transaction is instantaneous; they get that money right then and there. It’s not true. Actually, it take about 5 business days, or something like that, for that money to even hit their bank account. By that time it’s gone through to certain intermediaries, where they’ve taken a cut. I think most people can kind of relate to the example of PayPal, whereby, yes, when you get paid, you get most of that money but you don’t get all of it, PayPal takes a cut. And then you transfer to your bank and then your bank takes a cut too. It takes several days to get to your bank account, but it’s not instantaneous. I think that’s what Blockchain proposes to solve and the process of decentralization.
GH: Well, yeah, to be clear, the decentralized, or the distributed element, basically means that the database itself (the ledger) is not owned by any one person, or one entity. You mentioned a “PayPal” or whatever, they have a proprietary database and it is very much owned by PayPal. They will let other databases talk to theirs. But the problem with that, particularly when you align it with the music business, is that databases from record labels or ASCAP or Harry Fox or any of these institutionalized databases, they don’t interoperate, they don’t talk to other players. So, therefore, it makes it very hard to transact, and, as you say, puts these middle people in. So, the analogy that I use (and I think it’s relevant to young people more than to older people) if you think about torrent sites…so if you decide that you are going to download a movie or a TV show from a torrent site, what happens is that you have a client and that client will go out and search for all the people that might have that torrent on their computers. Those are all nodes you start downloading it and you become a seeder and you also become a node too. So, it’s distributed, it’s spread out amongst lots of people, much like the internet itself. The advantages of that are (a) nobody owns it (b) it’s very hard, if not impossible, to hack. Now, to be very clear, Ethereom was arguably hacked, Ethereom wasn’t hacked. There was an error in the code. So, that doesn’t mean the fundamental basis was wrong. The code did exactly what it was meant to do. Someone just exploited that. So that distributed nature is really important, because it allows us to get out of this modality of one centralized owner of content distributed out and profiting and benefitting from it. So, we at Music2020, are very interested in spreading that out, as someone both Scott and I admire, Andy Weissman, a venture capitalist who has invested in Blockchain companies, says it shouldn’t be one or four streaming services it should be four thousand of them. In order for that to happen we all have to be nodes on this chain. You mentioned the disintermediation elements, the lack of people in between buyers and sellers, and I think that’s a good point. Have you thought of other features of blockchain tech, like Smart Contracts or things that also come into play as we move out into this space?
DAW: Well, obviously I’ve read a lot about them (Smart Contracts), but I think it’s still one of the parts that’s really hard to understand.
GH Well, I think I can take a whack at it. A Creative Commons license is something that a songwriter or rightsholder can say, “I, rightsholder, have these rights to my work, however, I’m willing to allow other people do things with that work.” They could remix it, they could sample it, etc. if that other party gives me attribution, for instance. And it’s a beautiful idea. Lawrence Lessig and the Creative Commons organization have really done a great service by introducing that. The problem with Creative Commons licenses is that they’re not machine readable. So if you write a song and you say, “I will only allow people to use this song if they pay me $50 and if they don’t use it for political campaigns,” you could ascribe that up there via some sort of license, Creative Commons or otherwise. The problem is they have to find you, right? What Smart Contracts do is allow you to ascribe right on the content itself, a set of rules that when met they self-actualize, and we’re actually seeing it. There was news the other day about a shipping company that was using Block Chain and smart contracts to transact, I want to think it was oil, but some kind of commodity. It wasn’t a huge scale exploitation but it did give us a real big sense that this stuff can actually work out in the marketplace. That takes me to another point about how we can use Block Chain to help artists to empower their fans to share. I know you’re a social media guru guy, so you have a line of sight how that could happen around block chain?
DAW: How the Block Chain and the social media would interact with eachother ?
GH: Well we talk a lot about it on the site. Scott and I talk about it. Artists like Imogene Heap, who, as you know, is deep into this. She uses Block Chain as a way to reward fans for sharing, not necessarily financially, but because of the smart contract and because it’s trackable you could actually see what your fans are doing and then give them a benefit. I think that social media is something that might play into that, as well.
DAW: Yeah, that totally clears it up for me. I think that is something that I think Imogene Heap talks about a lot, giving fans access to all her files to do with them as they please; whether it’s a remix or a reinterpretation of the same song, etc. So, I think the potential there is probably pretty massive in terms of micro transactions. Where fans are rewarded in more ways, more often, which is something we all want. We want to keep a bigger percentage of what we create. I remember Imogen mentioning she keeps something like 18% of her total sum is what she keeps as an artist. Something like this would enable her to keep more.
GH: Imogen is responsible for one of the biggest means out there, the hide and seek mean, where a piece of her song was used and resampled and, I don’t want overstate it, it’s either hundreds of millions and billions of usages, right? And as you say, she’s not getting either credit or financial recognition and if you think of the block chain as a series of blocks when an Artist like Imogen Heap creates a work and registers that work on the blockchain nobody can take it down because nobody owns it. It’s on there, it’s immutable, which means it can’t be pulled down. Then, as other people use it other blocks are connected to it, but the artist has visibility on how that’s being used. So, somebody breaks off a piece, converts it, reuploads it and makes that into a mean. Artists can see that, and as far as your point, as far as smart contracts or otherwise, you can say great go ahead and do that. I just want you to redirect back to my website if you do that or get some value, let alone I might like you to pay me for that. I think that’s fundamentally how we get to the fair market. So many of the institutionalized systems that we have in place the PRO’s etc. were there as clearinghouse agencies because it was hugely inefficient for artists to say, “I’m going to license one at a time to radio stations or venues etc.” No more! Now that we’re in an era where we’ve moved from modeling or guessing about usage to measuring – we know what’s used – the way for artists to succeed is to have it so that they can see when those transactions are taking place and charge what they want. We don’t know what the fair market is. I don’t know what artists should be paid. That’s because the labels and the government etc, arguably have colluded to set prices that we can’t work with. You can’t price your music for radio, that’s set by government. You can’t price your music for a controlled composition for a compulsory license. So these type of things allow artists to have a lot more control and that’s key to both of us, I assume.
DAW: That’s exactly right. I think copyright law is now finally adjusting to the internet now, which is really strange to see, but it now means that you own that blog post that you create. Nobody else can distribute it or use it without your permission. Yet again, I think it’s another opportunity where we have a lot of musicians blogging about their careers and sharing with their fans for micro transactions to take place. Exactly what you said, it could be as small as visiting their website and actually interacting with the content that’s there and possibly this could actually lead to some financial incentives, as well.
GH : That’s a great point. I think things like attribution is so central here. It reminds me about the time I was blogging or writing about blockchain. People were taking my work and reposting it as their work, not giving me credit. As I said, it’s true irony because I’m talking about transparency, I’m talking about ledgers, I’m talking about being able to have a line of sight about how your work is being used. So it goes back to that idea. And candidly, I would be totally fine, I’m happy for people to take my writing and spread it out there. All I want, and this isn’t ego, is that we have to build some sort of authority, we have to build a way of trust, right? We are in a trust society where if George writes something that might carry more weight than somebody who hasn’t written as much as I have written. So I’m building my trust that way. So if you want to take it and use it go on ahead, but it is going redirect back to that source article. One of the challenges of blockchain, as I was referencing, if somebody takes the data or takes a file and re-uploads it etc., you can break the chain, right? There are companies out there, MediaChain (http://www.mediachain.io/) is a great example, is using software and algorithms to put the chain back together in the same way that Facebook or YouTube uses content ID. So, that’s gonna be huge, where you write something like a piece of work, an article, or a song or whatever. Somebody downloads and then re-uploads it…it no longer has to necessarily break that chain. It now comes back together and you can trace it. So, it’s very exciting the way it’s going.
DAW: Yeah, I think it’s a really unique opportunity. So, people so often talk about monetization or how to make money from their craft or their artistic endeavors, a blog, or whatever else. Well, this is one of those ways and we can hope to see more tangible rewards being distributed out to people who are putting hard work every single day into things they enjoy and like doing.
GH: I love it. Any guidance for people, aside from Music2020.org, where people can learn more about Blockchain? Are you writing about it? You mentioned one book. Any other sort of ideas you want to fill us in on to spread the word?
DAW: I recorded a podcast, a review about Don Tapscott’s book, entitled Blockchain Revolution. I think that’s a great book. I’m not too familiar with any other resources that are out there. I’m always open and ready to check them out. And, of course you guys at Music2020.org, you guys are very relevant to the music industry, so I think that’s a really great place to go.
GH: Well, I think it’s great to talk to you. Thanks so much for taking the time. I loved the conversation. I feel like I talked too much. Any points you wanted to make that I sort of talked over?
DAW: I don’t think there’s too much else. Like anything else, I’m cautiously optimistic. Tools come and go, technology comes and goes, and technology doesn’t necessarily make our lives better. We have the opportunity now, to take this technology and actually make the music industry better. I’m just as cautious as I am optimistic about that. But I do believe that if we have people like you spreading the message about the possibilities and the potential and getting behind that, than it has a better chance about bringing about something positive for our future.
GH: You are kind to say that. I agree, I’m a true believer, and I believe we need true believers around us. Maybe I’m wrong, but one of the things that I wrote a little while ago (because there are a lot of people who kind of Poo Poo this and they Poo Poo any kind of new technology and that’s cool) I say OK, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Blockchain goes they way of the VCR. However, its ethos and what it has brought forward; from distributed ledgers, from Smart Contracts, from all of these elements that it’s put forward, you can’t put that genie back in the bottle. Every day I’m reading more about companies, I mentioned the shipping company, we’re seeing this more and more, a lot of financial companies. Technology is funny that way. It goes slow, slow, slow, slow… fast!!! And I feel like we’re getting close to that acceleration curve. So, the more we can do to bring this in front of people, if they chose to avail themselves of it, if they chose to understand it, that’s great. So, as I ask everybody, if you know smart people that are working in this realm and you think Music2020.org should be talking to them, please send them our way. We’re on a mission here, we’re gonna get this word out. I appreciate you taking the time today to talk to us.
DAW: Exactly. It’s been really great talking to you George.
GH: Always, take care. Thank you.