Blockchain Music – Marcus O’Dair Interview

Marcus O'Dair

Marcus O’Dair is a Senior Lecturer at Middlesex University in London and convenor of its Blockchain for Creative Industries cluster.

What was it that first got you interested in exploring blockchain technology – was it sparked by your musical career, academic interest or a combination of the two?

I hadn’t paid much attention to bitcoin, to be honest, but in 2015 I began to understand that blockchain technology could be applied much more broadly. I became interested in the possible impact on business models in the creative industries, particularly music. So I suppose that initial interest was sparked by my background in music but I also realised that it would make an interesting area of academic research.

As a lecturer in popular music, what kinds of questions do your students ask about blockchain and do you see an increase in knowledge and interest in the technology among young people?

A lot of my teaching has nothing to do with blockchain technology, but I do talk about it on some modules. We’ve also run a couple of projects in which we’ve done things like show students how to register their songs on Ascribe. I’ve definitely noticed an increase in interest. When I was first doing workshops on blockchain technology, I spent most of my time explaining what it was (and wasn’t). Now, I have students who have interviewed representatives of some of the most prominent music blockchain start-ups, and have quite an advanced understanding of the space. The main questions are: what does this mean for me as a musician? Does this mark the end of record labels and/or collection societies? And, finally, when is blockchain going to go mainstream?

If you were starting out in your musical career now, would you put your music on the blockchain and, if so, can you explain how that process would work?

Honestly, for artists, I think it’s too early for the really transformative use cases, as I’d still want to go the traditional route of signing to a label and a publisher. If you look at what Blokur are doing with music publishing data, or what Jaak are doing with licensing, it’s bigger than individual artists. That said, Imogen Heap did the Tiny Human proof-of-concept back in 2015, and a singer-songwriter called Tatiana Moroz has had her own coin for quite a while. Artists including Bjork (with Blockpool), Gramatik (with Singular DTV) and RAC (with Ujo Music) are also now active in this space. The momentum is definitely picking up, even at the artist level.

What types of blockchain research projects are you involved in outside of teaching commitments?

I’m convenor of the Blockchain for Creative Industries cluster at Middlesex, and we published a report last year called Music on the Blockchain. I’m currently researcher in residence at Digital Catapult, carrying out research on the impact of blockchain technology on business models in the creative industries.

In what ways do blockchain and related technologies like smart contracts have the capacity to transform the creative industries more broadly?

I think they could be transformative, but different start-ups are deploying the technology in different ways. For some, this is about complete disintermediation and a new, direct relationship between artist and fan. For others, it’s about working with incumbents, rather than cutting them out, for instance to work towards a comprehensive, universal music copyright database. Then you’ve got licensing on top, via so-called smart contracts. A whole other aspect is the potential to raise finance through token sales (a form of crowdfunding which raises money by selling digital tokens issued on a blockchain) but, although there are some really interesting token economy applications, it also seems to me that many ventures funded via token sale will disappear when the current investment bubble pops. Finally, several start-ups are looking at this for ticketing.

Are there specific real-world implementations of blockchain in creative industries happening now that are disrupting the way the industry works?

I think the first real-world implementation of the technology in the creative industries was Ascribe, who were mainly geared towards images although they could deal with all kinds of cultural goods. They still exist, although they have pivoted towards BigchainDB and other exciting projects like Ocean. There was also Tiny Human, Imogen Heap’s Blockchain music proof-of-concept, with Ujo (although Phil Barry, who was at Ujo at the time, is now doing his own thing with Blokur). The film BRAID raised $1.7 million and was the first major feature film to be funded through a token sale (a form of crowdfunding using digital tokens issued on a blockchain). Provenance are also doing work on supply chain transparency in fashion. There’s some interesting work on gaming too. The ticketing space is also vibrant: Aventus, for instance, just raised $20 million or so via a token sale and it will be very interesting to see how that develops.

Intellectual property protection is a key challenge for content creators – be they musicians, filmmakers, or journalists and writers – does blockchain technology have a role to play in supporting the creators of music?

Quite possibly. There is still the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ issue of how to ensure the quality of data, but the idea of a secure link between a creative work and its associated metadata is a powerful one in the digital era, in which attribution is so easily lost. The extent to which this benefits creators varies to some extent between organisations, but Mycelia, the project spearheaded by Imogen Heap, is probably the most artist-centred approach out there.

There is both growing interest in blockchain for music but also perhaps growing scepticism about real-world implementation – where do you see progress is likely to happen in applying blockchain over the next 5 years?

In terms of what we know about, I think it’s most likely the ‘long tail’ cases – creators selling directly to fans without the involvement of any intermediaries. As I say, I don’t think these are the most interesting use cases. I think we can assume that there are pilots going on at incumbents too, but they are hidden behind NDAs – and I’m not sure how much we’ll see changing, at least from a consumer perspective, in the next five years. But who knows?

You can follow Marcus on Twitter or find out more about his work at his website. And we look forward to hearing more about his research at our Creatives Unblocked event, coming up in 2018.


"Very well organised and provided our team with a great opportunity to make many useful connections"

Startup Showcase winner

"Unblocked Events designed and delivered a 4-week virtual hackathon for us. It’s not over yet, but we are already planning another & will definitely use Helen and her team. Unblocked delivered everything, holding our hand 7-days a week and delivering not just the developers that we needed but also high profile government support, celebrity endorsements, judges, mentors, specifications… and a whole host of other crucial elements that we would have been likely to overlook."

Richard Hallewell - CPRAS

"a pioneer in Blockchain and emerging technologies and a champion for women in blockchain. She is an accomplished policy analyst and writer and is a leader in the London Blockchain ecosystem, especially exploring industry verticals like health."

Dr Jane Thomason - Fintech Worldwide

"It has been wonderful working with Unblocked. Helen Disney is an expert in the blockchain and distributed ledger space, having been an early proponent of the technology. I've learned so much from her, and she has provided valuable consulting services to us"

Christian Hasker, CMO - Hedera

"An excellent event in all ways"

CEO - Proxime Solutions

"Attracted a high quality of delegate and speaker that led to some genuinely unique and interesting conversations."

Programme Manager, Health and Social Care - techUK

"Superb content and speakers"

NHS Consultant

"It was a great experience! We listened to amazing, influential presentations and acquired important networks. Loved it!"

CEO, PCL Health

"Great events with great participants, discussions and topics. A must-attend every year!"

CEO - Autolomous

"a cut above the rest - a unique smart agenda designed to unwrap pertinent topics wrapped up in a naturally cosy atmosphere where you can really connect with people. If impersonal blockbuster events leave you cold, reconnect with Unblocked Events."

Jenny Creed Geraghty - Clinical Genetic Scientist

"As informative and insightful as it was entertaining, with the distinguished panel offering diverse opinions on blockchain's manifold applications. Networking opportunities were ample and the good food a real bonus."

James McKay - McKay Research

"Unblocked's events are always highlights in the calendar - interesting, informative and inspiring in equal measure"

Frontier Technologies Association

"Unblocked continues to curate exceptional events on how industries and processes can be enhanced with the introduction of Distributed Ledger Technologies"

Start up Founder

"A truly worthwhile event"

Bridget Greenwood - The Bigger Pie

"I had the pleasure of meeting Helen Disney last year when she organised what I would have said was the premier event in Blockchain."

Genevieve Leveille - Founder, 0tentic8

"One of the best curated series in London - or globally. A great opportunity to learn new things and going ons in the space."

Blockchain startup founder

"An extremely high quality, cutting edge event with expert speakers and well informed audience - thoroughly enjoyable and excellent learnings"

Dr Jane Thomason - CEO, Fintech Worldwide

"a rich, intelligently designed agenda and a chance to network with go getters"

Healthcare Unblocked 2018 attendee

"a seminal event"

Chair, Frontier Technologies Association

"A really great and informative session with a lot of impressive speakers"

Big Innovation Centre

"World-class events"

Founder - Braxxis Partners

"Healthcare Unblocked was the first healthtech event we’ve attended that truly covered new ground, spoke in line with the sector, and exhibited extremely well-informed speakers and audience."

Imogen Bunyard - Co-Founder and COO, Qadre

"One of the best conferences ever with a level of relevant and real-world examples that are not always found"

Conference Speaker, Healthcare Unblocked

"I was most impressed by the quality of speakers and delegates. We are at the challenging phase of moving from theory to practice for many of the potential users of blockchain. Your events are certainly helping to bridge the gap!"

Conference delegate, Healthcare Unblocked

"Your healthcare event was brilliant. Glad to see that London still leads the way in terms of international innovation."

Matthew Gardiner - Catch London

"The most succinct explanation of what Blockchain could do for our sector to date"


"Very interesting and a proper glimpse into the not-too-distant future. The talks felt particularly relevant to my area of work so I'll be investigating further."

MS Society


We are always delighted to hear from you about Blockchain events, information and news – whether you are a newcomer or an expert, get in touch and let us know your comments and questions.