A quick look at our research findings

One of the main activities we’ve been engaged in since receiving our grant from the Australia Council is in-depth research to metadata processes for independent labels and publishers of all sizes, as well as managers and individual artists.

A big part of this research process has been assisted by Ellie Rennie, a Professor at RMIT University, Melbourne and expert in blockchain-based governance models.

Here are four insightful takeaways that Ellie highlights in a recent blog post:

  1. Metadata is jointly produced and changes over time.
  2. Even for those actors with good intentions (including independent record labels), multiple points of failure are occurring.
  3. The systems used to store metadata don’t talk to each other.
  4. Knowledge of how metadata should best be handled resides with labels, technology companies, DSPs etc. and not with artists. This creates opportunities for exploitation.

While many points were somewhat obvious to us before beginning this phase of our research, the width and depth of the issues was revealed during our extensive interviews. Conducted as academic ethnographic research, our hours-long interviews are transcribed, recorded and synthesised from many different perspectives. These ideas and innovations are mapped as commonalities without losing the delicacy and insight of individual experience, often leading to innovative new approaches to system design, governance and more. To quote Ellie:

Knowledge about why metadata matters does not reach artists, and often neither does the metadata itself, which results in financial dis-empowerment. The conversations between Merida and artists typically ended up with her answering questions as they began to grasp the importance of metadata and how little they knew.

Ellie explores how these issues with metadata management could be solved by innovative governance models occurring in the emerging web3 space:

Envoke’s discovery process has led them away from seeing blockchain as “eliminating the intermediaries” to creating new tools for overcoming coordination problems. The major labels have found ways to extract value from system failures (intentional or otherwise) which make it hard for musicians and smaller players to get metadata right. Once we diagnose the problem as a metadata and system coordination failure that is exploitable with enough capital and power, then creating blockchain platforms that favour new forms of capital and power is not the path forward. The correct response is governance.

We are currently exploring potential governance models with a number of technology partners and look forward to sharing our findings in the near future. Learn more about Ellie’s conclusions in her Medium blog.

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Exploring our research process

Here’s a brief progress report on various initiatives we’ve been engaged with the last few months:

  • researching record label, publishers, managers and artists’ metadata creation and management processes
  • blockchain systems analysis
  • metadata schemas

Our on-going structured interviews with our independent label, publishers and manager partners has been continuing at a steady pace and is unearthing a number of interesting gems. We’ve found that no two organisations manage metadata in quite the same way, varying from managing locally or cloud-base spreadsheets to some highly unique database tools that a few people have developed on their own.

With our blockchain systems review, we’re exploring the potentials for different chains, as they all come with a unique set of advantages and disadvantages. While most of the world’s developer community is based on Ethereum, this Layer One blockchain still suffers from scalability issues, which has led to the creation of a number of interesting workarounds. Ethereum also depends on Proof of Work which is highly secure, but also requires much more energy (through the mining process) to process transaction. While newer blockchains already employ Proof of Stake for processing transactions, these communities are not as highly developed, which means significantly less developer activity. We’re also exploring the Cosmos ecosystem for their unique approach to data sovereignty, which includes the ability to run your own independent chain. (A very interesting option for ensuring data security when privacy is needed for certain data subsets.)

On the metadata front, our collaboration with Kendraio shifted away from focusing directly on the importer to dealing with the complexity of different datasets. As we’re also still in the process of determining our long-term database format (i.e. which blockchain) it makes sense to work more precisely on the data interoperability at the schema level.

Looking forward to sharing further updates as things evolve!

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Envoke begins collaboration with Kendraio

Envoke has just made a developer contribution to Kendraio, thanks to our recent grant from the Australia Council.

Our first step in the collaboration is to begin working on a data ingestion tool, working with the sample metadata sets we’ve received from dozens of independent labels, publishers, managers and artists across the world.

The design concept of the tool is to easily match columns across data sets, as this is one of the frequently raised issues across databases, as we’ve seen a very wide range of datasets from the labels who have joined Envoke.

While some basic standards exist (for obvious fields like “title”) there is often much that is highly unique across these individual databases that labels maintain. Simple variations like “artist” and “artist name” means matching breaks down; this gets highly complex with more unique fields.

Envoke CSO Peter Harris first met Kendraio founder Daniel Harris (no relation) in London in 2016 at Imogen Heap’s first Mycelia hackathon weekend. Their collective vision for interoperable tools, collaborative work processes, open source software and data sovereignty is in complete alignment with Envoke’s vision for solving the music industry’s metadata crisis.

From the Kendraio website:

Kendraio is a nonprofit interoperability advocacy initiative. Our mission is to empower individuals through the benefits that come from increased interoperability and a culture of data-sharing.

Our current focus is on the creative industries, specifically the music industry, but the benefits and transformative attributes of interoperability apply to all areas of public and personal life. Access to large amounts of high-quality data empowers individuals, businesses and governments to make better decisions more quickly and more efficiently. This creates better legislation, products, as well as a more informed population and these things, in turn, lead to healthier economies and better quality of life.


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Envoke receives Australian grant

Envoke founders Merida Sussex and Peter Harris are excited to announce that Envoke was a recipient of the Reimagine Sector Recovery Grant from The Australia Council, the Australian Government’s principal arts investment, development and advisory body.

While the amount certainly won’t cover all development for a project of this scope, this grant marks a turning point, as the initial funds will enable us to engage with developers to start building a solid foundation for the future.

Our initial plan is to collaborate with Kendraio, an open-source nonprofit interoperability advocacy initiative. Their mission is to “empower individuals through the benefits that come from increased interoperability and a culture of data-sharing.”

We will also begin setting up a collaboration forum which will serve as the foundation for the development of a DAO – a decentralized accountable organization. DAOs are usually known as “autonomous” when taking a “code is law” approach that seeks to programmatically govern communities. Given the essential nature of music as art and culture, we believe that relying solely on smart contracts for governance would never succeed given the need for direct, legal accountability among all participants in the industry.

Check back soon for further announcements about on-going developments.

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