If you’re working in music and you’re struggling to understand blockchain technology and its myriad applications, you’re not alone. But there’s help at hand.

A new not-for-profit trade body, the Australasian Blockchain Music Association, was formally established in December 2017 with a mission to spread the word and clear up some misunderstanding (and, yes, there’s a lot of it). In February of this year, the association appointed its first director, Rico Soto, to guide its activities.

Blockchain technology has benefited from a decade of investment and some high-profile exponents, including Bjork and Imogen Heap. Outside of workshops at music conversations and some excitement in the press, there remains a lot of head scratching about how these new technologies can serve the industry. It’s a mystery to many and a bore to some.  “I’m here to bridge the gap between the tech-heads and the musicians,” explains Soto, a veteran music industry executive who founded Fire Entertainment and other entertainment-based businesses and has experience shaping projects across Australia and South America.

Rico Soto, Director at ABMA

At its heart, the ABMA pledges to provide a forum for musicians and professionals across all creative industries, government bodies, peak associations and other relevant groups “from across the region to discuss, debate and further the adoption of blockchain technology within the industry for the benefit of all.”Soto, who is based in Sydney, brings to this new role a big bag of skills from across the creative and talent industries and, of course, tech. TIO chatted with Soto as he beat the ABMA drum on a trip to Europe.

You have a lot of experience in artist management. What advantage does a background in talent give you in this new role?

Management was the starting point in the music business for me. When you get involved in music there’s always a point of departure, or contagion. There’s a bug that gets you, and then you start getting involved in the music business somewhere. A few years in, you get projects that merge music with technology. Blockchain is a perfect example of that, streaming and social media is another. If you’re in the music business and you don’t have a solid understanding of social media platforms or internet platforms and online businesses, there’s a real gap. I’ve been heavily involved in IT and tech programs in recent years that involve music. As the years progress and we become a more technological society, it’s integral (to understand tech).

Why do we need this association?

Because of a lack of information about what these technologies could bring to the table in terms of redeveloping or maybe expanding the music business.

One of the biggest problems we have in the market is ticket scalping and it’s very hard to keep track and to know who’s breaking the law and keep tabs on who’s purchasing the ticket and reselling. Blockchain would be an easy way of solving that problem, because of the way the technology keeps track of every interaction. That could be fantastic for the music industry as a whole, and for music fans as well.

Another application could be touring or keeping track of royalties. Blockchain could create market places where this tracking could be almost automatic and you could pay everyone at the click of a button rather than having to wait for 50 accountants to get their reports and analyse them and distribute those funds.

This technology could bring lots of opportunities. The founders of the association thought we need to create this to a) protect and encourage the development of this technology and b) to really bring the musicians on board. The association was founded on that principle, and it is mainly focused on informing, educating, connecting and representing the interest of musicians based on the future development of blockchain applications for the music industry.

So, how will you go about that?

The first six months in the agenda of the association is to create an event to bring musicians together and inform them of what blockchain can do beyond this idea of just cryptocurrency. Many people immediately associate it with cryptocurrencies, which because of their volatility in the last few months, they think it’s just a fad. Blockchain can do far more as a technology. The second thing is, we really want blockchain technology to be fairly represented when it comes to regulation. Take Uber, which in some countries you can’t use or they’re partially banned. With blockchain it could be the same, because the technology could make certain entities that are quite powerful at the moment non-existent or redundant.

Cashflow problems are small-business killers.

As a manager, this is where my experience helps a little bit. If you don’t see each individual artists as a small business then you don’t have the right approach to build a career. If you don’t have that cashflow it becomes a major impediment to building that business. We can have platforms that allow us to get the money faster and more efficiently and keep track without that trust element that whoever is on the other side of the email is doing that report properly. Then it could change the whole game. And this is what musicians don’t understand. If you have a new technology that can allow you to track these things faster and more efficiently and automatically, it could really bring an influx of money that you didn’t see before.

Has the industry been receptive to the new association?

Absolutely. I’ve had a meeting with APRA AMCOS about the implementation of this technology and where they’re at, how they’re doing this. We shared some ideas about PROs internationally that are trying to implement this technology in their platforms. I’ve had a couple of chats with other peer managers, record labels, indie labels. I’m hoping to meet with Spotify. The idea is to bring together industry, business professionals, management and publishing companies, record labels, marketplaces and musicians. And also the fans and tech developers.

Spotify already bought into blockchain with the startup MediaChain.

Spotify is obviously interested because they put their money where their mouth is. The question is, how are they implementing it. And how fair is it for musicians. Obviously you can implement this technology internally and it doesn’t make any difference, if the transparency of these transactions is to some extent not able to be accessed by the creator. This is something we lobby for, this is part of our agenda. To make sure that the representation of the musician is heard and that when legislation comes or private implementations of technology are brought to the table, the musicians are sufficiently informed about where is benefit, where is the advantage of blockchain implementation is and not be gypped or misinformed.

Are there other blockchain associations you hope to link up with?

Yes, I’ve been in touch with a few in Singapore and we’ve in early talks with some Korean blockchain-related associations. We’re trying to bridge that gap (and tap into these) resources or tools or opportunities that might help musicians.

Setting-up a trade body is challenging and expensive. How are you funding it at this stage?

It’s early days for us. Part of my role is to bring in funding. My role is to bring the best interest of musicians first. That’s why we make the association for individual members 100% free. At the moment everything is pro bono.  Certainly my work is, which I’m quite happy to do. There will be costs in putting together these educational events for the general public, for the industry, so we’re hoping that some of these things can be done through donations or grants or sponsorships from companies interested in the development of these new technologies.  I’m super stoked to be part of this new movement.

For more information visit abma.asn.au