Starter Pack: New tech, old rights

To kick off the new year, we’re thrilled to launch W&M STARTER PACKS — a new series unpacking essential foundational concepts for navigating music and tech.

Every two weeks, we’ll highlight a timely topic in the music/tech news, and ground it in evergreen findings from our community-driven research projects. Hopefully, this format will give you more context on everything we’re doing as a community, and serve as a jumping-off point for further analysis as we collectively navigate the rapidly shifting music industry.

If you have any feedback or suggestions on this new format, please reach out to us at — we’d love to hear from you.

Music and tech have had a dynamic, complex, and often fraught relationship throughout history.

On the one hand, music consumption, discovery, and fandom have been early use cases for virtually every consumer tech trend in the last few decades — from the first Internet forums and streaming services, to smart speakers, VR headsets, and the blockchain. The ubiquity and accessibility of music as a cultural art form make it particularly well-suited for scrappy experimentation with new technologies.

On the other hand, music rights are frequently positioned as major barriers to innovation. Every year, music-industry trade groups pursue nine-figure litigations against tech companies like Roblox or Peloton that build lucrative businesses off the backs of music catalogs without rights holders’ permission. The music startup graveyard is littered with countless examples of ventures that wanted to deliver on a delightful music fan experience, but ultimately burned most of their funding on content licensing fees. Music royalty collection also remains incredibly opaque and complicated to outsiders, adding a persistent layer of legal ambiguity on top of licensing costs that can be challenging for founders to navigate.

This tension will take center stage in 2023 as music-related use cases in Web3, generative AI, and the metaverse continue to gain steam. In all of these cases, developers are seeking open, accessible data — which doesn’t fit well with the permissioned, ringfenced approach that traditional music companies have taken to enforcing music copyrights online. At the same time, copyright is arguably the bedrock of how creators have been able to build brands and businesses off of their creative work, so the solution is not as simple as doing away with existing legal frameworks altogether.

In our research, we’ve delved deep into this turbulent relationship between music rights and new tech — outlining not only the key challenges that all stakeholders face (especially artists), but also some potential paths forward for solutions that effectively balance these competing interests involved.

The complex music royalty value chain

Before even introducing new tech into the picture, the music royalty value chain is incredibly convoluted and prone to errors.

There are two main reasons why paying artists and songwriters accurately and on time is still so hard:

Read more on the challenges with publishing royalties

Music rights and generative AI

The generative AI landscape is moving incredibly fast. In the last six months, AI tools like Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and ChatGPT have collectively raked up millions of users and hundreds of millions of dollars in VC funding.

As music AI gains steam, we’ll have to revisit our entrenched notions of creativity, originality — and, by extension, copyright ownership. For the music industry navigating this new AI landscape, there are three main obstacles that lay ahead:

Read more on the state of creative AI tools for musicians

Music rights and Web3

Across NFTs, social tokens, and DAOs, Web3 in all its forms has ushered a new wave of experimentation in the music industry, rethinking traditional approaches to music monetization and fan engagement.

According to our research, artists and music brands have generated over $200 million in primary sales from music NFTs in the last two years. This growth has also led to a string of lawsuits from both independent artists and major labels inevitably who are demanding their fair share.

That said, marrying copyright law to the blockchain is far from straightforward, for the following reasons:

Learn more with our music NFT legal contract template

Music rights in the metaverse

The metaverse can be understood not as a singular thing, but rather as a series of desired states for how we interact online and offline — particularly facilitating more interactive social experiences, as well as more fluid movement and expression of individual identity. Several different technologies, including but not limited to 3D design, virtual and augmented reality, gaming, avatars, and livestreaming, can work together to make this vision come to life.

This presents an exciting playground for artists looking to build new immersive experiences around their music, foster closer relationships with superfans, and expand revenue opportunities for their work (especially outside of streaming and touring).

That said, several challenges persist in scaling music metaverse experiences in a way that brings all rights holders along for the ride:

Read more on how to bring your music into the metaverse