“So, tell me,” I ask. “What’s wrong with the music industry today?”
On the other end of my video call, Tommy Danvers, aka TommyD, is sitting in his home in the English countryside. Having worked as a musician, DJ, songwriter, and producer for over 30 years, including with the likes of Kanye West, Beyoncé, Adele, Noel Gallagher, and Kylie Minogue, he’s the right man to ask.
“That’s a really great question,” he answers. “Have you got five hours?”
“Can you give it to me in a nutshell?”
“Well, in a nutshell - what you’ve got is an extremely complex economic and legal framework built on an archaic distribution system.”
“Music needs to travel. To travel, it needs recording equipment. [In the past], you needed to invest half a million dollars just to set up a simple studio. Someone had to pay for that.”
“Then, it needed to go into a physical format - vinyl, cassette, CD, whatever - all of which cost money to make and manufacture. Someone had to pay for that.”
“At the same time, there needed to be ways of monitoring and collecting the revenue. There needed to be payment systems.”
“Artists don’t want to have to deal with any of that. Most artists haven’t got the money to set up a studio. So, what do you do? You get labels, publishers, collection agencies - all built up based on the technology of the time.”
“The music industry we have at the moment is based on technology from 500 years ago - sheet music. Then, we sort of bolted on vinyl and bolted on CD and, now, bolted on streaming.”
“Streaming is bolted onto the concepts of A) radio and B) physical copies. There are a number of royalties that are generated from each. The system has been built to collect on the usage. As you can imagine, people have taken advantage of this.”
“When I first got into the industry, the only way you could do [be successful] was to find a manager, get a publishing deal, sign to a label. Managers had the power because they knew someone who knew someone. You had to sign away everything that you did, forever.”
“You’ve got a situation whereby 12% of the money is going to the artists that make the music, and 88% is going to the people that deliver it.”
“Fast forward to the present day. Arguably, there is a much more vibrant independent sector. You don’t need a label. You can make music on your phone, upload it to Spotify, promote your gigs and sell merch through Bandcamp.”
“You can get your music out there and, yes, potentially build a fan base through social media. But have you tried wading through the 60,000 songs that are uploaded every day to Spotify? Have you tried getting yourself noticed?”
“If you look at the bigger picture, nine out of ten artists in the last fifteen years that have been in global top 20s have been on major labels. So nothing’s changed in that respect. The system is still heavily weighted on those that control the copyright [and] these five or six streaming platforms. The control of music is in the hands of very few people.”
“That’s the problem with the system in a nutshell.”
And what’s his solution to the problem? No less than “building a whole new music business. Starting from scratch and wiping the slate clean.”
Having contributed in some way to music that has sold over 70 million records and been streamed 5 billion times, Danvers’ latest project - called TokenTraxx – is an effort to provide a blockchain-powered alternative to the traditional music industry.
That means, “going back to the fundamentals of how people interact around music, and then finding ways to do it in a more efficient and rewarding way.”
“At Traxx Studio, we’ve built an entirely decentralized marketplace service which you as the artist own. You own the smart contracts, you own your community, you have the right to trade directly with your fans.”
Artists can take deploy their marketplace, which is powered by Venly’s Marketplace and Wallet APIs, across their platforms as they see fit, giving them direct control over the means of the music distribution.
As an example of what can be done with the service, TokenTraxx have set up their own music marketplace which is, according to Danvers, “a bit of a sandpit. It’s about working with creative people who come up with different concepts, anyone whose been [investigating] interesting or novel methods of [fan] interaction or engagement. Everything that we’ve done with token contracts has had a different angle to it.”
“I was always really excited about the idea that artists and creatives would lead this tech revolution.”
Not just a bigger slice, a bigger pie
TokenTraxx is not just looking to use blockchain technology to reshape the economic relations in the industry. They are also working to increase its overall revenue.
“If you look at the breakdown of an artist’s income, 60% is generated by just 10% of their fans. I believe, with web3, we can double that [10%]. If we can double that, then we're doubling 60% of an artist's income.”
“The things that fans love doing with artists - buying their merch, coming to their gigs, getting closer to them, meeting them backstage to sign an autograph or whatever - all of these things can be brought up to date with web3 technology.”
What makes all this even more compelling is the fact that, in web3, it becomes easier than ever for fans to exercise their ownership over digital memorabilia> the records of all these interactions are saved as NFTs, and can be re-used throughout the metaverse, or else onsold to other fans - with artists even able to retain a percentage of the sale.
And with the ‘sandpit’ of the marketplace, backed by the Traxx Protocol and advisory service, TokenTraxx is already seeing the first movements in what might be a symphony of innovation.
“We’re launching our first web3 label with UK based artist Sound Of Fractures and Water and Musics Maarten Walraven. We’ve got a tokenized mentoring program with UK music producer Kwame - the more tokens you own, the more chances you have of getting to work with him on your project.”
“We have an ‘artist passport’ concept. You get the passport and every time you do something [on the marketplace related to that artist] you get a stamp in your passport. That passport is giving out bonuses and rewards.”
“There’s a lot of great [web3] artists out there. People like Violetta Zironi, Sammy Arriaga, Josh Savage, Daniel Allen, Fifi Rong, Nifty Sax. [Some of them] have been doing this for nearly two years, they’ve done a whole bunch of [NFT] drops - different things on different platforms.”
“A lot of them are coming to TokenTraxx and saying ‘we’re done with other platforms, we’d like our own now, that we can control.”
Dawn of the NFT music era
Tommy also has some perspective to offer for those still skeptical about NFT music.
“20 years ago, I said to everybody ‘Get on MySpace because it’s a great way of engaging with your fans.’ They all said they were too busy touring. Now I tell everybody, ‘Get into web3 because it’s a great way to engage and connect with your fans. They say, ‘I’m too busy making TikToks.’”
“That’s where we’re at. It feels very much like the dawn of social media. The technology feels very much like the dawn of the internet.”
Asked about the relationship with Venly, Tommy had this to say:
“It's been fantastic working with Venly. I believe that digital wallets are at the heart of the web3 revolution. We both believe in the ability of this technology to transform people's lives. We want to get this out to as many people as possible.”
“The challenge is to mask the technology in much the same way that all the early internet technology is now masked. We don't know about HTTP or all of that kind of stuff. We don’t care how an iPhone works. We just use it.”
“We [need to] make [blockchain] as silent and seamless and invisible an experience as possible. That's really important. We want people to be using our services and not even realize they're using [blockchain]. Venly is absolutely at the forefront of [that].