Been Working on the Blockchain Gang, Huh!

By Art Podell

coinchainI was invited to a party last weekend. Lots of lovers of traditional music – the early incarnations of traditional music ferried here in centuries past from the British Isles and rooted in the Appalachian, Ozark and other rural communities of the south. Songs that required few chords. Songs that spoke of love, murder, faith, dalliance and history. Simple music – three or four chords, sometimes more but the music always circled back to the familiar beginning and the tune began again. Sometimes one tune lasted for fifteen minutes, circling back on itself while each player took his or her turn reinventing the melody. Those who knew the words sang them. Round and round as several circles of friends passed the melody around like a platter of food, there for the tasting and taking. Some knew the songs better than others, but each song lived a full life so long as there was another soul in their circle willing to pick up the thread and continue it. Long into the night, several magical circles, each with its own flavor, spinning variations while some sat silently and played along, and others sang - some sought to add a twist or two when their turn came.

The magic, I thought, was that no matter who played at their appointed time, no matter how good, bad or average, each group responded in like politeness and strength. Strong solos were met with welcoming support, weak ones met with comforting support. Nothing went unsupported or unnoticed by the company of participants, each reaching to support in their way whatever happened. The result – purely music.

As I watched the circle of musicians interacting directly with each other, I suddenly flashed on dinner a week or so ago with some friends and my son David, who is far smarter and far more current than I. David was explaining the phenomenon of ‘Blockchain Technology – Crypto Currency’ and the world that is being created by the young Turks of these confusing and daunting concepts. Oddly, it all became clear as I sat and watched this bunch of old, young, and middle-aged people with their banjos, mandolins, guitars, spoons, washtub basses, and fiddles, go around and around perfecting their tunes with each rotation.

All in together – each circle hearing what everyone else was playing at the same time, enabling them to change, offer, contribute, modify, play what they felt was needed to perfect the tune. Each circle complete unto itself, needing nothing but each other.

Now, translate that to a community of people with the ability to access a platform – multiple jam sessions of ideas, proposals, requests. Yet each block in the chain providing privacy and individuality when necessary. And for those connected to each other, security. Voila – Blockchain understood! The crypto currency element is easier to explain once we’re further along in our understanding of the blockchain. But if there is a simple direct way for music and ideas to be transferred, then count me in on the game. Did I mention crypto currency? How about moving that idea into royalties being transferred from listener to creator securely and seamlessly but let’s leave that for next semester lest a cloud of lawyers descend with wagging fingers and pinched nostrils. Next semester.

So, what are we left with? The ability to market our music and just possibly untangle the web of compensation in today’s confusing music scene that consists of so many extraneous participants and connect artists and listeners directly without intermediaries. And perhaps with this new technology, dare I suggest that rightful music royalties may be paid from listener to artist/composer with a keystroke or automatically if we can all connect directly with each other? Instantly with no filters, person to person?

If you are confused, think of what Airbnb did for travel, and what Uber did for transportation. Perhaps that will coax your understanding of future communication and artistic interaction.

I’m sure it is more complicated than I’ve implied so I’ll leave off here for the reader to continue to be curious about the future and what it holds for music and the people who make it from the heart and who have put the profit motive somewhere between the front row and the back of the bus. The potential that new technology holds in the creative fields is yet untapped and it would be wise for we ‘traditional artists’ to embrace and explore them.

It’s a brave new world and I’m convinced there’s some good to come for all.

[Ed. Note: Art wrote this article after attending the annual FolkWorks party for members and friends. It was first published in Bill Berry’s Songwriter's Square Newsletter - February 2018]

Art Podell was one half of the iconic Greenwich Village duo Art and Paul before moving to L.A. in 1961. An original member of the New Christy Minstrels, Art wrote songs for many of the artists of the day. He continues to perform and write and he rotates as a host of KPFK’s Roots Music and Beyond.