Here's how it worked2:
- You pay money to the artist (Bowie)
- Artist uses that money to buy the rights to their back catalogue
- Every time one of the songs from that catalogue is sold, or played on the radio, the artist gets paid
- Investors receive a share of that payment
It's a primitive "smart" contract3. Money flows back to the individual investors.
Imagine if you could do this today. Let's say you want to invest in The Rolling Stones. You can't.
You can invest in Warner Music Group. Which is the corporation which owns the label which controls the rights to the music of the Rolling Stones4. But that means you'd also be investing in bands that you don't like - or may even hate.
Imagine a future where a fan could directly invest the The Rolling Stones. Not just by buying records, concert tickets, or merchandising. But literally buying a percentage of the Stones. When their music gets played, you get money. If their latest record fails to sell, you lose money. You could trade your shares in them just like any other share.
What perverse incentives might this produce?
- Obnoxious Evangelist. You know those dudebros who derail every online conversation with how great Tesla is? Now imagine them at every gig. Ew!
- Pump and Dump. Hack a load of Spotify accounts, set them all to play Sympathy for The Devil on non-stop repeat. Cash out.
- Activist Shareholder. At the shareholder meeting, agitate to replace Keith Richards with Justin Bieber - that'll produce a short term price bump. Albeit at the cost of artistic freedom.
Let's go a step further. What if you could directly invest in the artist themselves? Buy a share of Mick Jagger.
Mick releases a viral video on TikTok? Your shares go up! Revelations about some dodgy behaviour in the 1970s? Your shares go down. Just like Celebdaq!
Cool! But, again, what emergent behaviour might that encourage?
- Abuse. If your share price goes down, will rabid fans start harassing the artist?
- Shorting. Could you intentionally reduce the share price in an artist by smearing them with malicious falsehoods?
- Share washing. Jagger knows a lot of millionaires. Could he get his friends to artificially inflate his share price in order to defraud unwary investors?
Finally, what is guaranteed to send an artist to the top of the charts?
If you knew exactly when an artist would die - how much money could you make from that?
This is, sadly, the logical end-case for the NFT craze.
Someone who is emotionally invested in an artist - to the point of obsession - is a common trope. Stalker fans are an unfortunate reality for some popular artists. Now mix that with financial investment. Imagine a fan, distraught that their favourite band has broken up and financially destitute because the share price has cratered.
What might that drive them to?
Or, perhaps a syndicate of wealthy investors realise that the cost of engaging the service of an assassin is a low price to pay for a guaranteed Return On Investment. Even if one - or all - of them are caught, the smart contracts can't be rescinded. Code Is Law. As the songs climb the charts and the memorial concert is sold out, all those micro-cents will flow through a tangled network and automatically land somewhere untraceable.
The future is going to get even weirder than we can imagine.