Meet Membran Entertainment, a Canadian branch of the Hamburg, Germany-based Membran Entertainment Group. The parent company started in 1969 and provides services to labels and musicians, working with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, Joss Stone, Gregory Porter, Grammy winner Jacob Collier and all artists on Steel Wool Records.
The company’s overall goal is to have flexible, adaptable agreements in place that gets the artist the best possible deal on an a la carte menu of options for their work, including physical and digital distribution of their music, release coordination, press and marketing work and other services, according to Dino Celotti, president of Membran Entertainment Canada Ltd.
Celotti opened the Canadian office of Membran Entertainment in 2016 as a way to help promote Canadian artists who he felt were being “underserved and under recognized on the international scale” and he wanted to provide a more direct way to distribute and share their music internationally. Additionally, he wanted to access the creative minds already involved in music and technology in Canada and see how they can all work together to use blockchain and smart contracts to try and solve some of the industry’s notable problems while also putting more money directly into the artists’ hands.
For the unfamiliar: Blockchains are the big buzz in the cryptocurrency (think bitcoin) and security world these days. It’s a fully digital, irrefutable, incorruptible (so they say) way, in the case of musicians, to track all royalties, copyright ownership, writing credits, rights and other details directly and without having to go through loops and losing track of information as a band or artist shifts labels throughout their career, or as members join and leave groups. Blockchains have also been floated as a way to allow musicians to distribute their music directly to fans, instantly, while getting a better sense of where their fans are, which will enable better tour mapping and could open the doors to more direct interaction with fans.
Perhaps most importantly to fans, it’s also been suggested that blockchain technology can be used to stop those damned bots from getting all our concert tickets the nanosecond they go on sale. More about that in a moment.
Blockchain is a relatively new concept, Celotti stressed. We couldn’t know that the onset of the internet would bring us Amazon, for example, and in many ways there’s no telling what and how blockchain can and will be used going forward. But there’s great potential in the technology and the very concept to revamp what most believe are flawed systems, both ticketing and the music industry’s distribution models as they currently stand.
“And that’s what is interesting,” he said. “There are so many new possibilities afforded by the blockchain that it feels like a melting pot of ideas and opportunities. So many industries that we take as ‘normal’ today will be disrupted by this technology, anywhere that assets or information are transferred can be reinvented in better, cheaper, safer ways thanks to current innovations being built on top of blockchain technologies.”
Currently, fans perch above their keyboards, ready to click on a button the moment a concert goes on sale. The bots swoop in and take a big chunk of the tickets before the human’s eye can register that the time has come and move to click their mouse. There are provisions against bots in the US and Ontario’s unrolling a series of protections against bots in that province, but bots are still clearly a source of anger and many four-letter words for concertgoers.
The system Membran Entertainment has in mind would move away from the centralized server arrangement and shift to a “more efficient dAPP (decentralized app) blockchain model,” Celotti explained. “While the consumer would not require a change to their mental model of how to buy and use tickets, they would simply get a faster and less expensive solution.” It would also give promoters and organizers a boost, providing for “far more granular control for the creator over when, who and to whom the tickets are sold, including how potential ‘bad actors’ can use the tickets.”
The Membran platform is still in development and is being built on the Ethereum network, one of several blockchain foundations in use. It would no longer require a corporation to manage the ticket selling and buying process as it would be handled seamlessly on a blockchain using smart contracts. Membran Live, as the platform is known internally, would also support promoters like LiveNation, distributors like Ticketmaster and fans, giving users a smoother and headache-free experience “while all the blockchain magic happens in the background,” he said.
It would also give promoters, primary sellers and artists the option to adopt safeguards to ward off those who would take advantage of the system, like bot users, by putting certain stipulations in place. For example, it would be possible to prohibit the resale of any tickets more than two weeks before an event, thereby taking some of the wind out of a bot user’s sails and eliminating some of the incentive to buy a stack of tickets the person couldn’t immediately flip for a bigger profit. The blockchain designed by Membran could also give primary sellers and artists’ managers the option of setting limits on the resale price of a ticket and to redirect a portion of the resale price to the original seller, in addition to limiting who can sell tickets and how many can be purchased at a time.
Things are still in the early stages and Membran is working toward setting up a beta test to find and fix bugs in the system before adding features, Celotti said. There haven’t been formal, official discussions with the big industry organizations yet but that’s on the horizon. Membran’s platform isn’t the competition but rather a tool to be utilized. His company intends to provide a solution that can be used to improve operations, reducing costs while providing a better service to customers and artists alike. Fans, after all, might see ticket fees decreasing as “middle men” are eliminated from the equation and operations costs fall thanks to the automated system.
But why should fans care? Right now they’re mad about ticket bots and many are resigned to paying more on the secondary market to see the shows they want, or giving up altogether and no longer going to as many shows. Celotti acknowledged this frustration and doesn’t blame fans for it; instead, he said Membran wants to do all it can to put more fans in more seats more often.
Some of the safeguards used by venues and primary sells end up being more of a hassle, like requiring attendees to bring the same credit card used to purchase the ticket to the venue (a problem if the tickets were purchased as a gift). He pointed to U2’s recent headache in Vancouver, where fans were waiting in line for so long to get in and have their tickets verified that the band delayed their performance until everyone was admitted.
“With Membran Live, a lot of these issues can be solved or improved,” he vowed. “The second benefit of the blockchain is identity management. It would be possible for a fan to be authenticated through their account without actually having to reveal their private information to a central authority or anyone else.”