The Open Music Initiative’s New Toys

Amidst the making of an open architecture for music rights, three Caribbean artists got to test out a new set of blockchain applications designed to spark innovation in music…

By Roger Santodomingo

“Once upon a time people got together to produce and record music,” says Panos Panay Managing Director of the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship and co-founder of the Open Music Initiative(OMI). “They used to play instruments, and don’t take me wrong, many people still do, but today you can make music without playing an instrument –you don’t need to be a musician or even a human.” Indeed, if you listen to the “Not easy” song by award-winning producer Alex Da Kid and based on Watson Beats and other IBM’s Artificial Intelligence applications, you could find it hard to believe that it was created or even inspired by a machine.

 IBM’s Watson

Before Watson and the eruption of AI, new digital technologies and notably the Internet’s open architecture had already led to an explosion of innovation.

“No doubt the way we create music has changed in the digital era,” asserts Panay. “Now we have surprising ways of listening to our favorite songs from almost everywhere through means unimaginable a few years ago, like our phones or even our watches. Everything has changed, right? All except the concepts and constructs the music industry uses to collect and distribute revenues which have been following the same logic since the creation of the old player piano.”

Panos Panay, Managing Director of the Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship and founder of the OMI  (Picture courtesy of OMI)

The player piano, or pianola, as Panay puts it, was “the 19th century iPhone.” For the first time, it became possible to record and reproduce music to an audience without the artists being present or the public attending a theater or music hall. “A Taylor Swift song has a thousand ways of making money today,” Panay explains, “but she doesn’t collect all, much is lost in an intricate chain of intermediaries.”

ARTIST WITH VR SET: Chino with Virtual Reality Set (Photo Courtesy of OMI)
ARTIST WITH VR SET: Chino with Virtual Reality Set (Photo Courtesy of OMI)

To help fix those payment leaks, the Inter-American Development Bank(IDB) partnered with the OMI. “One would expect that the digital revolution created great opportunities, and it’s true that it has sparked creativity, but the rising digital economy brought unexpected imbalances that rapidly became a headache for artistic producers in the music industry,” says Ignacio de Leon, IDB’s former Team Leader in this project. He explains a headache that sounds more like a heartbreak. Revenues for musicians and labels plummeted and were never fully compensated by the new online economy. While many got used to enjoying music for free, others work almost for nothing.

It is a global pain that no sweet melody has soothed, and it has disproportionately affected developing countries. This is the case for many Caribbean nations where cultural industries and music, in particular, are potentially catalytic and represent the bread and butter to many artists.

“In response to a strong desire for utilizing new developments in the digital economy for supporting improvement in the revenue generated by Caribbean artists in the creative industries, the IDB sponsored the participation of three Caribbean artists in the OMI’s 2017 Summer Lab,” Kayla Grant, IDB’s Development Operations Consultant on the project tells us: “At the Lab, 20 fellows from all over the world developed functional prototypes based on utilizing blockchain technology and data from the OMI’s application programming interface (API). Blockchain’s decentralized nature among other key features could bring about greater transparency when identifying and compensating for musical rights, thus potentially leading to a complete re-structuring of the business of music.”

In its search for the tools to build an open architecture for music rights —Grant explained at a conference at the IDB– the OMI is also creating a new foundation for innovation in music. Three competitively selected Caribbean artists and music producers: Daniel “Chino” McGregor and Shawn Kalieba from Jamaica, and Johann Chuckaree from Trinidad & Tobago went to the Summer Lab. They had the opportunity to get trained and experience some of the first application prototypes created from the Summer Lab. The following are some of their reactions after testing a sample of the OMI’s new toys: Fiber, Echowe, and LÜM.

Fiber, a media player that tells the holistic story of a song by bringing it to life in virtual reality

The designers of Fiber saw an opportunity to repackage music “and change the way people experience it.” They created a media player with the goal of bringing humanity back to music through a virtual experience generated from data captured by the OMI’s API.

“Wearing VR goggles you can sort of fly through the story of a song and connect with sources of inspiration, lyrics and the stories of real people behind a composition. Sometimes it gets completely nuts and is a lot of fun. It works sort of like a video game for each song. And I can see fans, depending on their moods, playing with their favorite songs and connecting at an intense, soul level, with the artists. Which is totally cool.”, says Chino McGregor.

Picture of three Caribbean musicians together with LÜM team (courtesy of the OMI)

LÜM, a new service that allows for unique emotional moments in a live performance that can be captured and analyzed for artists and businesses involved in the music industry.

The idea behind LÜM is to take maximum advantage of a live music experience and the interaction between the performer and the audience.

According to Shawn Kalieba, “Musicians are constantly performing live. Shows and tours are our way of living now, and I think LÜM has immediate applications. Actually, we could start using it right now if it were available. During a concert, everyone could have their app open on their smartphones, and while the event develops, it registers all of the user’s body reactions at every second. It displays some awesome graphics from every person that you may use as part of a spectacle. But the cool part is that you have a connection in real time with each one of the individuals in the audience, and you can learn and react immediately. I mean the connection between a musicians or DJs with the public is key to their success and here it is possible thanks to the technology. Besides you keeping that connection with your audience after the event, the data can be used to create more interesting music.”

Shawn Kalieba, photo by Tiffany Knight, courtesy of the OMI

Echowe, a sample marketplace where copyright holders can set the intention of their music, so it can act on its own as if it was alive.

 “If you have the chance to hear my most recent production, Love is All Riddim, you could notice that I used the same sample, the musical base for five different artists and songs. What Echowe gives us is the opportunity to do more of that, because you can create more, publish different compositions for everybody to use openly and at the end, you know that you will get your money because the blockchain keeps track of how everyone uses your music.”,says Shawn Kalieba.

“It is like a dream come true yo…[adds Chino McGregor]…Like an internet of sounds. You can go there and get the music you need for a song that you have in your mind, or you could put your music there for another artist or producer to use. People are not stealing from each other but composing together and everybody gets paid. Not bad.”

Now available to download: “The Impact of Digital Innovation and Blockchain on the Music Industry, by Ignacio De León and Ravi Gupta.


About the author

Roger Santodomingo is a writer, journalist, film and television producer with vast international experience. He is a consultant for the IDB and at George Washington University he is dedicated to exploring new technologies and their applications to communication and democracy.


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