There were various articles last summer predicting doom and gloom for Soundcloud before they were rescued. That triggered some research into what alternatives there are, which has resulted in my writing a series of blog posts aimed at musicians and music geeks to share what I found out. This one deals with the Musicoin.org site, one of the first block-chain enabled sites for music.
Musicoin is a site started in early 2017 for musicians to post their original tracks for streaming. Unlike Soundcloud, it is a blockchain powered site, and musicians are paid every time a track is played, in the cryptocurrency Musicoin ($MUSIC). The amount paid is set to vary depending on the token’s value against the US dollar, but whilst 1 Musicoin is worth less than $0.10 USD, the website will pay musicians 1 $MUSIC per play of a track. This is initially stored in the artist’s online account, and must be transferred to a desktop wallet before being exchanged for ‘real money’. There is a mysterious process in the background, whereby ‘miners’ generate the $MUSIC which pays both them and the artists and listeners get to stream for free.
To find new tracks, the curious can follow up on activity in their personalised news feed or search on genres, but music discovery on Musicoin is currently mainly through the ‘new releases’ and ‘new artists’ lists, or looking at tracks in the ‘top tipped’ or ‘top played’ lists. This biases music discovery towards the better known acts on the site and to those who release new music more often.
The idea of musicians benefitting directly, rather than via an intermediary such as a distributor like Distrokid or CDBaby is pretty revolutionary, but it’s early days. The site is struggling to cope with demand and lacks more advanced features such as playlisting, or showing albums as such rather than as individual tracks, finding similar artists to what you tend to listen to, and so on. Spotify is very good at this and is the one they will have to beat.
It’s really hard to break through to make a living from music if you’re an unknown independent, so many artists have been excited about the possibilities of a site like Musicoin using the blockchain to pay musicians directly and immediately. To put it in context, some distributors don’t pass on streaming royalties to artists for 3 months or even 6 months after activity has taken place; it’s no wonder a lot of artists describe themselves as ‘starving’! Even though tokens transfer as soon as a track is played, I haven’t got touched my $MUSIC so far, because you need to exchange it for either ‘real money’ or Bitcoin to be able to do anything useful with it (like buying food), and you need to be exchanging enough for the value not to be wiped out by exchange fees. There always seems to be a middle-man taking a cut one way or another!
It’s worth noting that the Musicoin token has been subject to wild fluctuations in value along with other better known cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and the application to blockchain technology to music distribution is new, so it’s quite an experimental place for musicians to be at present. To give you an idea of the currency’s volatility, when I signed up with Musicoin in January, a token was worth around $0.05, quickly rising to $0.11 within a few short weeks, before plummeting to around $0.02 as at mid February. It’s difficult to know where it is going to land, assuming it will eventually reach a more stable value. So far it is beating Spotify’s rates, but where it lands will depend on factors such as global governmental regulation of cryptocurrency, the security of currency exchanges against hackers, and how well the site’s developers manage to keep up with demand and bring improvements to the site’s functionality.
The musicoin site allows anyone to listen free of charge to all the verified musicians on the site. (A verified musician has a green tick next to their name). There is no advertising to distract listeners from the music.
There is a social aspect to the site – you can follow artists and comment on their tracks, like you can on Soundcloud. You have a personalised feed showing the most recent activity by artists you follow.
Tracks shared to Twitter and Facebook can play ’embedded’ which makes sharing easy.
Musicians can earn more per play than with other streaming services like Spotify (exchange rate permitting) and it happens straight away. There is also the opportunity to tip music you particularly like, from your own supply of Musicoins.
The site is currently dominated by indie musicians. Artists are visible to other users for a short time when they release new material, and their comments on and tipping of others’ tracks can be seen. The artist of the week feature is not currently beyond the reach of a little-known artist – there seems to be an element of randomness in the selection process.
The Musicoin site is still in Beta at the time of writing and can be quite slow loading tracks when it is busy, and it sometimes crashes. It needs more features before it will be a serious contender for consumer music streaming.
Artists and other users are unable to make playlists or group album tracks together as playlists within the site at present. (There is a workaround though, by Rapoet/Self Suffice, if your artist website allows you to reuse his code to playlist your chosen tracks).
You can’t currently review a list of who you are following, or see a list of who is following you like you can on Soundcloud, or directly contact followers when you release new material. You have to rely on users seeing this in their feed.
The music discovery features help the better known artists on the site much more than new artists.
The Musicoin desk-top wallet uses a lot of computer memory in order to store the blockchain data. (I’m told there are other options, but it is more complex to set up.)
Artists need to have other active social media, such as Twitter and/or Bandcamp or Soundcloud in order to get verified. Without verification, artists cannot add more than one track and listeners have to pay per track played. You might need to get established on some other sites first if you’re just starting out.
Blockchain is still like the Wild West! Not many people understand it all that well except for the serious computer geeks, and there is a learning curve to conquer in order to use it correctly. There is also potential to lose your tokens – e.g. if an exchange is hacked, you lose your password or you make a mistake entering a wallet address during a transfer. No banks are involved until you have exchanged your tokens for real money. This means that you are solely responsible for any losses.
Musicians who get onto a new platform early tend to be the ones who reap the biggest benefits from it. Musicoin might not ultimately be the platform that becomes the go-to blockchain platform for music, but it has that potential as one of the earliest applications of the technology to music.
In my opinion it’s worth artists being present on this site, collecting Musicoin and seeing where it goes as it develops. It should be part of a much broader distribution strategy for your music, however, and to make a success of being a Musicoin artist, you will need to promote your Musicoin tracks outside of the platform, as music discovery within the site caters to the better known artists with the most followers.
(PS: If you’d like to check out my tunes on the site, here’s the link.)