Decentralization: Why Does it Matter?

Decentralization: Why Does it Matter?

5 min
Considerations for why decentralized & democratized control of music matters in 2023.

On the subject of the invention of the internet:

“The spirit there was very decentralized. The individual was incredibly empowered. It was all based on there being no central authority that you had to go to to ask permission. That feeling of individual control, that empowerment, is something we’ve lost.”
Tim Berners-Lee, Vanity Fair 2018

We lost it with Music too. Audius is on a mission to fix it.

What is Audius?

Audius is not an app or a Digital Service Provider (DSP). Audius is a foundational protocol for building a decentralized internet music ecosystem. One that aims to redefine what it means to share and spread music, unlocking an openness and unprecedented level of “direct to consumer” for the music industry. Decentralization presents a paradigm shift and new trade-offs: it forks over unified control for egalitarianism, it relinquishes black-boxes for clarity, and brings opportunity & freedom for a user to own their data and control how it reaches others.

The Audius model is radically different.

A Difficult Engineering Problem, Now Worthy of Undertaking

Imagine a world where music is not provided by a single company, but instead by a community and co-operative effort. In this world, a consortium of individuals and groups who earn the right to share that responsibility, get rewarded for doing so. Imagine that when more creators want to publish, and more ears want to tune in, more people are incentivized to support artists, rights-owners, and fans. Imagine it so in-touch that as an artist, you can share music to and talk directly to your fans without any authority telling you how. Imagine having the power to control everything about your music — like how it gets priced, where and when it gets streamed, and be able to take your data with you wherever you go.

Recent developments in computer science and software make it possible for internet users to transact with each other directly without needing to depend on a single company. Utilizing this new tech, it is possible for us to start to imagine this world. We can build systems and applications with the implication that their overall success doesn’t benefit a company, but instead, benefits the contributors. Thanks to AI, excellent education tools, and powerful home computers and DAWs, the barrier to entry for musicians and software developers alike to self-produce and self-create is dramatically decreasing. A marriage between this emergent tech and the growing middle class of super-creative, super-enabled users and creators is only natural.

Building a music ecosystem like this is technically challenging, but with the new tools of Web3.0, it can be done. Two concepts, Blockchains and Smart Contracts, allow for software systems to be designed in a way to economically align incentives of totally independent parties on the internet — all building towards the greater good. It’s how we can free music and get back to Tim Berners-Lee’s original internet.

A Brief History of Digital Music Consumption

To understand the reasons for decentralization and democratization of music, it’s helpful to take a brief historical tour of how we got where we are today.

Between the Stone Age and the modern era, music was shared, not controlled. It was universal. It was free flowing, played aloud in drum circles and in dances, and it had power to unite cultures and maintain identity. Music began decentralized, as a fundamental function of the human experience, and it was humanity as a whole that benefitted.

In the 1900s, we began to seriously record music and centralize distribution of those recordings (vinyl, tape, CD, etc.). We further optimized in the 2000s with the creation of the MP3 and the internet. The cost to reproduce songs became zero. The speed to deliver music increased to the point where a song could be across the world in milliseconds. Humanity should have rejoiced in this new creative freedom. But something broke along the way. Armed with these superpowers, the collective interest of music ceded control and ownership to centralized powers and corporations.

Now, in 2023, while the creator community is growing faster than ever before, they are being left out by the large transactional DSPs. “Making it” has become a dream you can only hope to achieve by gaming someone else’s pre-defined algorithm, and capturing sustainable fandom is fleeting.

Audius is investing in a long term mission to restore music to its roots.

How A Decentralized Music Ecosystem Works

Audius’ decentralized protocol is comprised of 3 main components: A blockchain ledger (much like a digital record book), open source software for finding and sharing (Discovery & Content Nodes), and cryptoeconomic incentivization structure to encourage participation.

Blockchains are the bedrock of interoperability in an ownerless internet. They make internet information public, decentralized, and secure — much like a tamper-proof public bulletin board. Anyone can post, but the rules for posting are democratically controlled by all participants. Blockchains let you build software like this using something called Smart Contracts that dictate how users interact. In the case of Audius, blockchains help document and move music freely while being governed by the collective interest. If you prefer a more modern metaphor — imagine a huge, public Google Sheet with the history of all music that everyone helps take care of.

Utilizing blockchains, users can specify publicly: what servers on the internet their songs are stored, who can use them and how, and metadata associated with them like genre, collaborators, and payout structure. Others can go read and interact with the information, but they cannot tamper with it. This way, the whole organized transactional history of music can serve as the basis for a protocol, just like something as foundational as HTTP or E-Mail. Simple rules exist to manage these records of information and they exist in perpetuity for anyone to utilize and interact with.

Simple? Music is anything but simple. We’ve grown accustomed to fancy user interfaces, instant gratification, AI-generated playlists, powerful search features by genre, mood, etc. Performing these non-trivial actions on blockchains is hard. (Think about all those rows in the spreadsheet!) Discovery Nodes and Content Nodes are two Open-Source software programs that can run on almost any computer and crunch the numbers on the blockchain to make serving complex demands possible. In order to provide incentive for internet users and developers to operate such software, Audius has created a cryptoeconomic incentive: $AUDIO.

The $AUDIO token brings independent parties together into a collective. It is a critical piece of missing infrastructure in today’s world of digital music. It enables anyone to own a part of the Audius ecosystem, partake in the network's growth, and help make the rules for the system. If you want to operate a Discovery Node or a Content Node, you must deposit a certain number of $AUDIO tokens (set by vote). This deposit not only entitles you to potential rewards as the network grows but also acts as a safety measure. If you tried to unfairly push a song to the top of the charts, the community of $AUDIO token holders can vote to take back the deposit, maintaining the integrity of the network and keeping it fair for all participants.

These complex systems yield a simple outcome. We all control the music. Together, if we steward this technology, the way music is shared and spread itself can be a common good and utility.

Looking Toward Tomorrow

We’re reinventing the way artists and their teams connect to their fans by giving them a platform they control, govern, build, and bootstrap themselves. And in that there are limitless possibilities: Want to create a radically new feature to uniquely connect with your hardest core fans? Absolutely. Do you want to be able to sell your new single for $100 with a limited release deluxe digital bundle and stream it for free at 8:45pm? No one is stopping you. Want to give out everything for free, but let your true fans chat directly with you and earn extras? Of course. Hate the other interfaces and integrations with DAWs? No problem — the code is open source, you can modify it as you see fit: Want to join a collective of artists, rights-owners, fans, and developers where everyone benefits as the network grows? Hell yeah!

The good news is that we’ve proven that this ecosystem can be built, and it does a lot of fantastic things today:

  • 60+ node operators across the globe run Discovery and Content nodes that power Audius
  • 70+ different apps drive users to music in the catalog
  • 100,000+ years of music streamed
  • 17,000+ tips to creators sent

Where Audius goes next is in all of our hands.

Join the change: (and