DotBlockchain: The Fight for Fair Trade Music And What It Means For Indies

by | May 9, 2016 | Music Licensing, Music Promotion

Fair Trade Music and the Dot Blockchain Music Project: Building the Future Music Industry (Pt1)

Put on your thinking caps, we’re going to delve into this whole “blockchain” thing you’ve been hearing about in music industry news circles.

If you haven’t heard the term blockchain yet, go read about its genesis here: and how the idea has progressed into the DotBlockchain project here:

Conceived and spearheaded by Benji Rogers (founder of PledgeMusic), the goal of this initiative is to radically shift power back to music rights holders while also addressing the licensing and revenue collection complexities of music distribution and usage.

Obviously, this is very technical stuff and the details are still being ironed out right now, so I’m going to attempt to simplify it as best I can, and also show you exactly how it works, over the next few articles.

Here is an oversimplified crash course, as told to us by Rogers…

What is the DotBlockchain Music Format Project? 

An initiative to streamline licensing and capture lost revenue by creating a new file format called “.bc” which would be the new music file standard, distributed and maintained on the blockchain, much like Bitcoin.

Why a file format?

Think of .bc like a .zip file. It’s a wrapper folder that contains multiple files. This addresses the long-standing problem of making certain that information associated with a song is accurate and editable. For instance, “SONGNAME.bc” would include multiple song mixes and masters in .mp3, .wav, FLAC, stems, all ownership information (writers, performers, PRO, publisher, label, date recorded, etc.), and metadata (ISRC, UPC, lyrics, artwork, BPM, etc.).

What is meant by “fair-trade” music?

By using the .bc format with Minimum Viable Data (MVD) attached, the industry agrees to a baseline of what information must be connected to every audio file in order to be deployed on a music platform such as YouTube, Spotify, etc. Any platform that would not choose to use .bc files as their standard would be signaling that they are purposefully not identifying or paying the correct parties and against being transparent in their reporting of plays, sales, and spins.

What’s transpired since you launched the idea?

Basically, I had to get organized by bringing other people into the fray, because the inbound pressure was too much. You know, it is amazing how ideas spread. Writing a blog post that gets that kind of attention and leads to speaking at dozens of copyright conferences, meetings with lawyers, PROs, tech people, publishers, and basically every digital service provider out there. I’m wonderfully surprised at so much positive feedback, but it just shows that the entire industry knows we have a problem and is looking for a solution, especially those who deal with recordings and licensing.

Where is the initiative as we speak today, and what are the next steps? 

First of all, there is no outside investment involved; it’s important for musicians to know that we are not aligned with any given ISP or label, etc. This is meant to be a transparent project, so we are making sure the process of building it is, too.

We have a solid initial team put together and we are setting up the public benefit corporation to house the idea. In the next few weeks to months we have two major priorities: 1. Deciding the MVD parameters, and 2. Starting to write the initial code in open source with the goal of getting some live testing in 8-10 weeks. Here’s the thing – if nothing changes with the systems we have in place, by 2017 the casualties are going to start to mount. So, we’re determined to get this stable, and then up and running very quickly.

[Note: Officially, as of April 6th, Dominic Pandiscia took over day-to-day operations as CEO of PledgeMusic; Benji Rogers will stay on as Chief Strategy Officer.] 

Why do you think this is gaining so much attention?

Ultimately, it’s become extremely painful now to so many of the stakeholders to take such a pittance of what’s above the table. It’s like holding a penny above the table and looking at a million dollars under the table. It hurts. We’re scaling the music business to untold heights – billions of people using it – and the money is going down?  That’s not right and everyone knows it.  And yet, the bullshit arguments about streaming vs. sales and higher royalty rates are just a distraction.

The “middle class” of musicians is not going to get paid radically more to bartender less under the current model. Currently, I send my .mp3s here and .wavs there, and yet no one knows who or where exactly to pay, and it’s not transparent. The system is not built for the art that stands above it. We need better rails for the trains to run on. So, by having better usage of the raw materials of music, at the file level, organized in a public and transparent database, we will begin to solve this for the future. Otherwise, this is just going to get worse.

I cover music tech in this space often; how can this project help drive innovation and address some of the barriers that exist today? 

Yes, one of the other ideas that I really want to get through is that this initiative would also encourage overall music industry growth. What if some gal is developing the “Facebook of Music” in her college dorm right now?  In order for her to use music at all in the app to explore if the idea can work, she has to go license music from 7 Digital or another provider for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, and it’s just not affordable.

In my opinion, because of these licensing complications, we are holding back opportunities for ourselves that we may not even know exist, or don’t exist yet. With .bc the power to determine how and for what price the music may be used is controlled by the rights holder. So, in this case, you could set a play threshold, such that any app or developer could use it for trial technologies. Say, 10 or 20,000 gratis plays, and then you would qualify for a licensing tier. With digital rights expression built in, you can set those permissions in a variety of ways. We hope to build a framework of the parameters we suggest each .bc should allow. Ultimately, the permissions will be controlled by the rights holders, and not the platforms.


Here is the main page for the project, currently:

Most importantly, in order to develop the initial code for testing and deployment, your input is needed in determining the industry standard parameters for minimum viable data (MVD). Please go here and fill in the quick survey with your thoughts and opinions.:

Read on for part two in our series on dot blockchain, in which we tackle VR, AI, music security, and talk to Benji about the latest updates on the project.


Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.