Blockchain and Björk: a crypto primer

By Laura Beeston, Senior Writer

Icelandic musical goddess Björk helped bring blockchain to the mainstream this week when she announced that her forthcoming album, Utopia, may be purchased with cryptocurrencies when it’s released on Nov. 24.

Upon checkout at the Björk store, audiences can also claim a “crypto reward.” That is, they will be given 100 AudioCoin – a two-year-old cryptocurrency from the British startup Blockpool. Going forward, fans will have the chance to earn even more crypto rewards by interacting with Björk online and attending her concerts in real life.

Blockpool explains: “In this first iteration, users can select rewards from brands, create wallets for Blockpool (BPL) coins along with Bitcoin, Litecoin, Audiocoin and Dash. They can move coins around, engage with the geolocation app to earn mobile rewards and engage with crypto in an easy to use none [sic] technical way.”

Following this news, Forbes called the arrival of blockchain in the music industry via Björk a potential “watershed moment.”

The disruptive goal, they reported, is to decentralize music currency and reward fans and artists simultaneously by moving past the centralized streaming model embodied by services like Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music.”

Since decentralization is a key element of blockchain, it makes perfect sense for artists and musicians to take it on.

As Forbes contributor Jesse Damiani writes, blockchain “completely flips the existing model, where streaming companies charge fans a flat rate for participation with no incentive for their engagement, while simultaneously retaining a lion’s share of the profits driven by the artists’ work.”

If this is true, the industry could be about to brace itself for a seismic technological shift – again.

Boning up on blockchain

You could be forgiven – although probably not for much longer – for not fully understanding this whole blockchain thing and where it’s going.

Popularized by cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (and people like Björk), blockchain is a way to collectively and securely record transactions, digital currency and information through a mechanism of mutual consent and communication. 

Think of it as a tremendous, open-source document that needs at least two parties to confirm a transaction before it’s added to an online ledger.

The best part of this “trustless” system is that it doesn’t require a third party (like, say, a bank) to verify transactions, thereby allowing users to build transactions between themselves as independent actors.

Blockchain has evolved over the past decade as a response to an increasingly centralized web. Giant players like PayPal, eBay or Google are involved in nearly every transaction and interaction that happens online, which is problematic as it makes the internet less generative, competitive and increasingly difficult for small startups to navigate.

The solution? Encrypted distributed ledgers… or blockchain.

Real-world blockchain applications

At C2 Montréal 2017, “geek diplomat” Brian Behlendorf, who is the Executive Director of Hyperledger, spoke about the importance of blockchain.

“Blockchain,” he told us, “is the answer not so much to a hard technology problem, but to a trust problem, to a policy problem, to a social problem.”

For Brian, this rise in blockchain popularity hearkens back to the early days of the internet – it’s a huge opportunity to put trust back in a decentralized system, and he’s a fierce believer in the importance of accessibility.

Another application Brian is excited about is using blockchain to allow refugees in camps to open businesses, keep track of health records and confirm an open-source, paperless identity.

“I do subscribe to the notion that what the internet was to information, blockchain technology can be to transactions,” he recently told the Global Trade Review. “While many of the earliest applications of blockchain have been in payments… I think it’s these industrial applications that will carry it forward.”

Björk, it seems, would agree. But only time will tell if the music industry at large will follow.

Parts of this article were excerpted from the C2 Montréal 2017 Minutes, which you can read in their entirety here.