I’m Imogen Heap. And This Is Why I’m Releasing My Music on Blockchain

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Blockchain technology allows for instant, private, and totally transparent transmission of artist royalties, including realtime distributions to co-writers, producers, technology partners, publishers, and even labels.  In a presentation at Guardian Live, Imogen Heap explained why she’s releasing her latest song, “Tiny Human,” via the Bitcoin delivery platform.  

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I’ve been in the music industry for 20 years.

Officially I got signed when I was 17, and I’ve seen it change quite a lot over the years.  To the point where I’m now out of a record label, out of management, out of a publishing company, and for the first time in my life I’m actually free, completely.  So I’m in a way in the place where a new artist might be if they were about to release a song, except I’ve got twenty years of experience, and twenty years of people who know who I am (or not).

So now I just thought, imagine if I was a new artist, what would I do?  Where would I go?  How would I think about making money as a new artist, without all the back catalog and the people and the contacts that I know?  And I just thought, it’s really, really, really hard.  It’s really hard to know where to go, who to ask, when you hear all these conflicting stories about the terrible state of the music industry, and all this stuff, and that people are ripping you off, and it just kind of ensues fear into something you so love.

How do you begin?

So I just thought, okay, I’m going to put myself in that position, I’m going to imagine what would I really love to happen if there wasn’t this complex place to start with.  How would I reimagine it, if I could start from scratch?

And so I began to think about that, and thought that I’d like to release my new song, “Tiny Human,” which is about my little daughter Scout.  I thought, because it’s about the birth of a little baby, the birth of maybe the new music industry, potentially, these beginnings that we’re all finding ourselves in.

So, yeah, a song that’s very dear to me, I didn’t want to add to the problems of the very complex industry that we’re in now, where it stems from a paper industry of old statements from one hundred years ago, like sheet music.  These kind of structures are very much still in place, that we’ve just tried to shoehorn in new technology, to the point now that it’s very, very complex and there are so many people in the chain.

“And I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if I could decide what I wanted to do with my music, who I wanted to have it for free, or not have it for free?”

So why is it that I make a piece of music, and then someone listens to it, and then one day maybe in a couple years time, I receive some money for that music?  Instead, what could be the simplest way to put a piece of music online, in one place, where I could pop it up there, and then all the other services could say, ‘okay, new Imogen Heap music, okay, we’ll take that,’ instead of me having to service it to Spotify, service it to iTunes, service it to YouTube, blah blah blah blah blah, read all the small print, all these different things, everyone’s got different ratios of things that they give you, or don’t give you.

from our partners…

And I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if I could decide what I wanted to do with my music, who I wanted to have it for free, or not have it for free?  Maybe I’d like people under 18 to have it for free, or people over 60 should have it for free.  Or I might decide, today’s my birthday, I’m going to give all of my music to everyone for free today.  And at the moment, I can’t do that.  Because it’s out there, and once it’s out there, I don’t really have a say in it anymore.

And I just thought, wouldn’t it be amazing to feel the presence of the artist, that if they make that decision about their music, it’s really felt in a real physical sense.  That, ‘oh, Imogen Heap has just suddenly taken all of her music offline, I wonder what’s happened, is she alright?’  Or, ‘oh, Imogen has just made all of her music free, isn’t that great, I’ll send it to all these people now.’

“But now, you get a download, but often it’s not connected to the artist in any way.”

And, so I just thought, wouldn’t that be nice, to just have a place, a kind of portal, within which I could share everything?  Which was much easier back in the day, when I was 17-18, you had your liner notes, and everybody would buy the CD and they would sit and read the liner notes, or in my perfect dream they did.  And they would sit and listen in these lovely headphones, of course that’s not the reality.  But I would also take the time to look through, and I would see all the musicians, and say ‘that musician was in that album, or that producer did that thing,’ la la la, and look at all the pictures.

But now, you get a download, but often it’s not connected to the artist in any way.  Sometimes it’s called something completely different, because it’s trying to avoid the fact that people have downloaded it, maybe.  Or it may not have the photo connected to the artwork, or it might not have the lyrics, and people constantly are getting my lyrics wrong because they never read the liner notes.  And none of the musicians that are involved, I can’t celebrate them, I can’t share who these people are.

So I just thought, wouldn’t it be great to be able to put a release online, with all the musicians, all the data connected, everything as far as the brand of microphone I use?  So that one day maybe Sennheiser could get in contact with me, which actually they did because I wrote this song as a campaign song for them.  So, brands could reverse-search me, and find out who likes Sennheiser, or who likes Sonos, and we could make that connection instead of a very convoluted way at the moment (you have to find a manager, blah blah blah).

“…it’s the official, verified thing.”

So, basically, I just thought, one space where the DNA of my music and all my tastes and all the things that went into this song, go onto this place, and it’s the official verified thing.  And then from there, everything stems, all the services stem from this bed of music, of all the music that ever lived.  Ya know, one day.

And then, when you’re listening to something on the radio, or you’re listening to something on your system, your music system, you might see a little light that comes on, and you go, ‘oh, that’s good, this piece of music is being streamed from whatever place this is called,’ or, you understand that it’s Fair Trade Music.  So you realize that when I listen to this song it goes straight to the artist, no middlemen, no all these different people.

It might go to a label, because I might be signed to a label, I might give them 5% [audience laughs], at the moment they take quite a lot more than that.  Or, I might decide that I want to give the money to a charity, or I might decide that I want to give money to my video choreographer.  Blah, blah, blah.  So instead of paying them in advance, you pay them as part of your music.  So, a very long version of that, sorry.

“And so when somebody listens to a track — the technology is very close to being there — it immediately recompenses me…”

So when I met Zoë [Keating, seated next to Imogen], about five months ago, six months ago, it’s all happened very quickly.  She mentioned that she’d been at this event, and heard about Blockchain technology, and I realized there is actually a way that you can connect a file with its payment attached into a digital wallet.  And so when somebody listens to a track — the technology is very close to being there — it immediately recompenses me, and then I can split it off to my choreographer, to Zoë for thanking her, to whatever, it can immediately go into their bank accounts.  Instead of having to wait two years, sometimes, even more, for money to come back to me, it can be instant.

“And then it all started blossoming…”

And that’s so exciting, and I got so excited, that I read loads and loads online, and I’ve just constantly talked about it to everyone, and blah blah blah.  And eventually, people just started to hear about it, and then they got in contact with me, and a lot of it was thanks to the Observer piece, and to Jamie, for connecting me up to Vinay as well.  And then it all started blossoming, and then I met all of these people who’ve got these amazing platforms that they’re already building with similar models.

And I’m was just like, ‘why didn’t we hear about this before?’  But now they’re all here all of a sudden.  And so I just wanted to bring this event to light, so that we could all talk about it.  Rather than kind of be like, ‘we’re going to do our thing over here, and we’re going to do our thing over here, and we’re not going to invite any artists until we need them.’  And actually go, no, we want to help, we want to be part of this change and tell you what would be useful to us.

And that’s why I wanted to release “Tiny Human” this way.  Yeah.

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33 Responses

  1. steveh

    Doesn’t Blockchain require Bitcoin or the like as its currency?

    How many of Imogen Heap’s fans have Bitcoin accounts?

    • Robster

      No, Steve. Blockchain is the technology that drives the Bitcoin concept, but it is by no means restricted to Bitcoin only.

      • Jorj X McKie

        In these recent days folks are saying ‘blockchain’ because they are uncomfortable saying ‘Bitcoin’ or ‘cyrptocurrency’. But the two are interwoven like DNA strands, and the currency bitcoin (little b) is what makes the ‘Blockchain’ secure and decentralized. That is the whole point of this new *invention* which is completely unprecedented in modern history. Without those little bitcoins funding that ‘blockchain’, you would just have a database run by JP Morgan or some other scamster–and you known how that plays out. Of course, you can create non-Bitcoin based blockchains but unless you are willing to fund a truly epic amount of computer power at securing it, you got nothing. The Bitcoin Blockchain *has that* already and playing catch-up isn’t likely to work. Bitcoin (money, permanent ledger, and IT platform) for social + financial development needs to be understood as a novel and positive agent in human history, rather than feared as a bearer of chaos. Hell, maybe we need some chaos in this over-manipulated so-called civilization!

    • beebox

      There is no such thing as a bitcoin account.

      Also, Bitcoin is not a company or organization, it’s a programmable value protocol, think of it more like TCP/IP for the internet. It’s not controlled by companies, governments, or even a few people. No personal information is tied to a bitcoin or bitcoins directly, so there’s no way to have an account. You can create a bitcoin wallet using apps, websites, or software. Some of those sites require creating a user account, but that’s not tied to your actual bitcoins.

      It’s extremely easy to purchase bitcoins, and takes a few minutes from well respected companies like Circle.com or Coinbase.com, etc.

      • Ugh....

        Not for nothing but, this is the typical coder jargon that makes normal people like, not want to have sex with coders.

        “There is no such thing as a bitcoin “account.”

        But to use bitcoin, you must have a bitcoin address and “wallet.”

        For normal people, the bitcoin address and corresponding “wallet” is just the bitcoin version of an “account.”

        It has all the same properties as any “account.” It is what is used to identify you in the system, it is unique to you, you use it to engage in transactions in the system, it stores some information re: your transactions, it can and should be password protected by you, the owner, etc. etc.

        Relax, Francis. Its a freaking “account.”

        Just calling it something else doesn’t actually mean they invented a brand new concept.

        • joe

          Once you understand Bitcoin better you realise that there are significant differences.

          An “account” cannot be copied, backed up or held in privacy as there is always some organisation you have the account with. Actually the term “wallet” is not really perfect either (a keyring would be a better metaphor as a “wallet” is a collection of cryptographic keys that allow access to certain corresponding values on the Bitcoin network) but then that is the problem with things that are so innovative that we actually have no words ready for them.

    • Rohanna Irene

      Two years ago how many did? Now how many do they have? It’s growing. Bring on the Blockchain Revolution 🙂

  2. There is something...

    Or… you could just sell music on your own website or on Bandcamp and also keep 100% control of the money.
    Don’t understand all this hype, so few things made sense that at first I thought it was an Ari post 😉

    And what proof do we have your money will not go the MtGox way ? Sorry, but that’s the first thing that comes to my mind when I read “bitcoin” somewhere…

    • Meber1

      That’s a completely different issue – trusting others to control your keys / money. This is about controlling the keys to the money yourself. Mt. Gox was an onramp into bitcoin (USD to Bitcoin), and was a centralized entity. Bitcoin and Ethereum are all about creating a decentralized world.

      Look up private keys and bitcoin, and multi signature technology

    • Remi Swierczek

      I agree, I will read it one more time to see any merit.
      It is so fascinating you might never see me again!
      Wow! This one is a new one, still there is $100B Radio and streaming out there if someone has any interest in music money!

  3. Phantom X

    Good luck with that . I was born and raised inside the digital music industry when Apple itunes was just 6 months old and Facebook had not even made it to the cradle yet , and I know a dead end street way before I turn that corner :: LX

  4. James Cull

    Sounds exactly what we need and why we are creating chateaudherouville.com

    • Anonymous

      Awesome…. but I strongly recommend a different name. chateaudherouville.com is just atrocious for marketing (and for your consumers).

    • Solutionsmith

      At first James I thought you were trolling for lulz.

      Great idea …. probably even justifiable as a platform for other studio’s to build on but the name is absolutely atrocious esp. as a web address. chateaudherouville.com I understand that there’s a vast history behind it but its impossible to relay this info to someone verbally (much less type it into a browser)

      ??? and why are there competing domains? <a href="http://honkychateau.fr/&quot; title="go to Honky Chateau .fr <<<http://honkychateau.fr and multiple names?

      Atleast buy honkychateau.com (The owner of the domain you are researching has it listed for sale at $2,795)

      Btw I think adding in smart contracts or ip creation for your artists into the blockchain through Honky Chateau would be ground breaking. As it stands in its current form though honkychateau is basically Youtube Spaces or Periscope in a snazzy recording studio in the french countryside that has an immense history dating back to Chopin.

      But in all seriousness I think if you piped into the blockchain through Ujo Music/. it would add immense value for both sides….

  5. RockNRoll Buddha

    OK. So after that LONG-WINDED and rambling speech – does anyone know anything more about Blockchain than they did before?

    At the very end, she says she’s excited about Blockchain – but I don’t see ANY description of it here. So what was the point of this?

    If this was the verbal portion of her presentation to the Guardian – should the accompanying slides or graphs be with this?

    Kinda pointless.

    • DavidB

      It was part of a panel discussion in which other people said more about the technicalities. Paul gives a link to the panel discussion.

      Personally, I am skeptical about the whole approach, because I don’t see what does that can’t be done more simply in other ways. (I notice that Imogen Heap has uploaded her video for the song to YouTube in the conventional way, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the song appears on Spotify, iTunes, etc, in a week or two just like anything else.) But it is described as an experiment, and experiments should be welcomed. Even if it only speeds up the payment of royalties, and gets them to the right place, that would be a significant benefit. At present it can take literally years for royalties to filter through the system, and after all the middlemen have taken a cut there may not be much left.

    • Melbs

      To be fair, the article was not about What is Blockchain, but Why this artist is releasing on it. Says so right in the title.

    • impartial observer

      Yes, If you are a ‘somebody’, you can get away with a lot of waffle and wooly thinking, and no one’s going to pull you up on it. In fact, she is not really helping the cause much at all.

    • Esol Esek

      I agree. WHat a boring, rambling writing style. Someone else must be paying the bills…

  6. And, so, I just thought

    And, so, after reading all that, I just thought, wouldn’t it be great if musicians and music business folks, who don’t know a single thing about technology, would like, stop thinking that they, like, every few years, have found some way to control the digital distribution of their works?

    • Melbs

      It was an interview in front of an audience. Not an article.

      • Melbs

        And after I realised that, it made it easier to read. Sadly, could not edit an other comments.

  7. Melbs

    Really would have liked a link to Blockchain at the end of the article, to follow up on it, perhaps buy the track.

  8. Anonymous

    People reading this article need to realize this technology is going to revolutionize the music industry, but NOT NOW. Various parts of the music industry will be revolutionized at different times. It could take several years, just like how the internet took several years to make music / streaming work (roughly 1989 – 2005, that’s 16 years)

  9. dave manning

    Shes not the first musician to be involved in bitcoin or blockchain tech, The Singing Pictures musician Shem Booth-Spain was!!

  10. Nelson Jacobsen

    So it’s a bit more complicated than just releasing it on the blockchain. since if we’ve learned one thing technology done by yourself without distribution is not scalable. So! yes, music does need to be tied to the blockchain something we’ve talked about since April of 2014 http://prlog.org/12319898 However before that happens the Metadata that is supplied collected and transmitted needs to include a PairKey and that has to be part of an standard that is already driving the majority of the content and the DataofMusic.com

    PS we’ve submitted the Altavozcoin.com to the upcoming Random Hacks of Kindness as a challenge to Hack the Blockchain for Entertainment http://www.RHoKDC.com to signup

  11. bolgwrad

    …and then I thought, so I thought, then I thought, and then I thought, and I thought, so basically I thought, and then I thought, so I thought, and so, I thought.

  12. David Gerard

    It’s worth a followup article covering the success of this initiative and how it all turned out. I think the music industry really needs to follow up on this one!

    … oh, total sales of “Tiny Human” on the Ethereum blockchain were $133.20.

    (not $133,200. One hundred and thirty-three dollars and twenty cents.)

    Here’s my followup: http://davidgerard.co.uk/blockchain/imogen-heap-tiny-human-total-sales-133-20.html

    Really, there’s gotta be a moment where you just say “bugger it” and put it up on Bandcamp.