The ethereum network has been getting a lot of hype lately, which is mostly due to the nearly 4,000 percent increase in the price of ether, its native cryptocurrency, since the beginning of the year. At the time of writing, the ethereum network, which is a distributed computing platform that uses blockchain technology to host decentralized applications, is worth nearly $30 billion.
This is partly due to a recent wave of initial coin offerings (ICOs), which are essentially crowd-funding campaigns for ethereum startups, have demonstrated that there is no shortage of ideas for how the ethereum network will be put to use. This has turned some developers into instant millionaires, but André Allen Anjos, a Grammy-winning DJ better known by his stage name RAC, is pursuing a more creative use for the ethereum blockchain.
On July 14, RAC will be releasing his latest album, EGO. Although this is RAC's fifth LP, it is still a notable first for the 32-year-old DJ since it will be the only full-length record that has been distributed on the ethereum blockchain. According to RAC, after he finished recording the album in November he began spending his free time learning about cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum. After learning more about how the blockchain worked, it dawned on him that it could be used as a platform to release his new album and so RAC set about putting this plan into motion.
"When the price of ether started to go up I looked more into it," RAC told me over the phone. "That's when the lightbulbs went off and I was like, 'oh wow, this is legit.'"
To release EGO, RAC partnered with Ujo Music, a platform owned by Consensys, the largest ethereum development company.Ujo made headlines in 2015 for partnering with Imogen Heap for a single that was distributed on the platform and paid for using the ethereum blockchain.
Other musicians have expressed their interest in the blockchain previously—Pitbull is a big fan of Bitcoin—but RAC is the first to use the network for a full album. He'll also be bringing a number of other big names featured on the record along for the ride, including Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, as well as the indie darlings Joywave and the South African electropopstar St. Lucia.
I caught up with RAC during a break in his hectic touring schedule to talk to him about his new album and what ethereum can do for musicians.
Motherboard: What made you want to release your album on the ethereum network?
RAC: It's very interesting what they're trying to do, this whole idea of a world computer. Once I got into that I went down the YouTube rabbit hole and watched every Vitalik Buterin [the creator of ethereum] interview. That's when I had this idea: Since I have an album coming out anyway, why not try to do something with somebody in that world. It was the perfect opportunity. I ended up posting on a small ethereum subreddit for trading called ethtrader, just kind of reaching out to the community to see how I could get involved with music in that space. I ended up getting hooked up with this group called Ujo Music.
When you talk to other musicians about ethereum, do they have any idea what you're talking about?
I've learned very quickly that as soon as I start talking about this stuff, you kind of lose some people right away. That's really been the struggle with all this: how we do we simplify the concept because it is so new and so different? The thing that gets people's attention is when you tell them how you're essentially cutting out middlemen. For a lot of people that's exciting because they're maybe tired of the 30 percent Apple takes [from musicians]. Even Bandcamp and PayPal take a percentage. There's all these people in the way. I don't think this is going to replace Spotify or iTunes, but being able to support the artist directly is pretty important. I think when you approach people that way, they kind of get it, even if they don't care about the decentralization and all the really interesting tech stuff behind it.
This album won't actually be hosted on the blockchain, right?
That's where we started and we've been going down this path for at least a month now. The album isn't going to be hosted on the blockchain, the files are hosted on the interplanetary file system [a decentralized file storage protocol]. But you pay for it with ether sent through a smart contract. Imogen Heap had done this in 2015 with just one song and they were playing around with this idea of attribution, like immediately sending writers of the song their share.
In 2015, Imogen Heap released "Tiny Human" using Ujo Music. The point was to allow the artistic collaborators on that single to be automatically paid their royalties by cutting out the middlemen with blockchain-based smart contracts. Will this automatic royalty payment scheme also be used for your album?
The album comes out July 14 so unfortunately no. By the time we go involved with this, it was a little too late. The infrastructure for that isn't there yet. Ujo is building it, and that's the goal, but this is really early. I see it as a proof of concept.
How would someone actually go about buying your album using ether when it's released?
We're trying to make it as seamless as possible. Buying ethereum is still something of a bottleneck, but you're going to have to buy ether. I'd recommend going to Coinbase or something like that to buy some. The album will be on a website and will work with a lot of built-in ethereum wallets, like MetaMask or Parity. All you need to have is the chrome browser with the ether account already attached to it. There's a little bit of a learning curve but it's not too bad.
Ethereum evangelists tout the network's inherent decentralization as one of its selling points since being decentralized makes the network more immune to failure and manipulation. Unlike a normal computer that exists in a single discrete location at any given time, the ethereum network exists across tens of thousands of nodes around the world. Is the decentralization of the ethereum network an important technical feature to you?
I've been interested in decentralization for a really long time. I'm not even politically a libertarian, I just like the idea of that kind of freedom. So like I would release stuff back in the day on BitTorrent for peer-to-peer transactions. That's the side of it I really like, where two different computers can send money, files, anything. Once ethereum is developed I think we can even share computing power. That's what excites me and I think this is applicable to so many different industries. The music side applies to me directly right now, but I can see this being applied to everything. Even though in its current state the network is pretty slow and bogged down, the potential is really exciting.