The Future of Music is in the Zone

Guest post by Chris Kulis, Open Music High School Intern

This summer, as we received your feedback and updated the bylaws and other governance documents, Berklee and MIT Connection Science jointly accelerated the development of technical prototypes by working with a grassroots collective of artists, students, grad fellows, technologists and industry veterans. Chris Kulis is a high school senior who we originally met in 2017 in our Berklee/Brown High School Summer Program. He visited our Open Music Summer Lab through a design thinking workshop at IDEO, with Caribbean artists participating via our partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank. Chris continued to follow Open Music, and reached out this summer with an interest in interning. He now participates in weekly team calls, providing valuable input from his perspective as a young artist, producer and manager, and learning about music rights, blockchain and open source development. As we prepare for our November member meeting, we are thrilled to share Chris’s reflections on Open Music. Stay tuned as we unveil more in the coming weeks on the Berklee/MIT tech prototype, to be demo-ed at the November 13 meeting, and share more perspectives from the team.

Author Chris Kulis participates in a design thinking workshop at IDEO alongside other high school students and reggae artist Chino McGregor in the 2017 Open Music Summer Lab.

Author Chris Kulis participates in a design thinking workshop at IDEO alongside other high school students and reggae artist Chino McGregor in the 2017 Open Music Summer Lab.

The Zone: There’s an art to finding the zone and there’s art in the zone. In the zone, I have felt my actions become effortless with creativity conduits naturally channeling into complex projects, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I have a passion for music, and my passions have evolved from playing instruments such as guitar, piano and even banjo, to recording and producing full compositions. When inspiration and aptitude align in my moment of creation, I have felt my thoughts flow across my senses into my instruments. My product is my own. In my collaboration with other artists, I can recognize the isolated imprint of my contributions and appreciate the collective concordance of our work. The product of our time in the zone is personal, shared and permanent.

Throughout my high school experience, I have sought to understand the process of writing, recording, distributing and marketing music. I want to produce music; however, equally or even more important, I want to produce a career that will build on my passion for music. In today’s industry, I believe the market is plagued with unnecessary intermediaries who get in the way of accurate compensation to artists. I spend the majority of my available time producing music and marketing artists from around the world. From this experience, I recognize that few projects present the promise of innovation, hope and sustainability as that presented by the Open Music Initiative.

Author Chris Kulis performing live with artist bbno$ at the House of Blues Houston

Author Chris Kulis performing live with artist bbno$ at the House of Blues Houston

I first learned of the Open Music Initiative in the summer of 2017 after my freshman year of high school when I participated in the Berklee/Brown Creative Entrepreneurship Summer Program administered by Berklee College of Music and Brown University. Through this amazing experience I met Panos Panay, Senior Vice President of Global Strategy and Innovation at the Berklee College of Music and Co-Founder of the Open Music Initiative, and Nicole d’Avis, Senior Director of the Berklee Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship and Open Music. I was excited to learn about a new, promising technology called “blockchain,” and how its application in the music industry could revolutionize the way musicians, platforms and record companies interact.

Blockchain is a revolutionary digital technology with transformational potential across the music industry. At its most basic, blockchain technology digitizes and enables trust through the use of distributed networks to create transparency. Who has contributed to produce a musical piece? How many times has the piece been streamed online? Near real-time data availability and transparency enabled by blockchain technology can now virtually eliminate the need for middlemen to handle transactions (at hefty prices). These distributed networks enable peers in the network to agree upon updated information ensuring data integrity and ownership rights. Beyond that, blockchain provides for unparalleled security and automation to prevent unwanted data tampering while enhancing the ability to share information quickly and selectively. Blockchain enables a legacy of the personal, shared, and the permanent.

Open Music strives to promote interoperability within the music industry, advocating for the proper compensation of all creators, performers and rights holders. Through the use of open-source protocols, Open Music will ensure that royalties be directly administered to music rights holders, creators and artists. Open Music itself is not a database, nor is it a standalone application. It aims to establish an open-source set of protocols that allows for third party integration and widespread malleability. This allows for developers to create OMI-compliant applications and programs, streamlining their own digital value chains.

I am currently working alongside Open Music partners from Berklee, MIT Connection Science, and many more to bring the concept of the democratization of music to life by developing a comprehensive, seamless metadata tracking mechanism and sensible methods for payment allocation for all artists, signed and independent. Through our close relationship with Berklee, we will be able to hit the ground running with a pre-established user base. Additionally, Open Music already has developed a strong foundation with backing from institutions such as YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud, Sony, TuneCore, and many others. With support from some of the largest names in the industry, the Open Music Initiative has enormous potential to revolutionize music distribution. The world of Open Music is a zone of respect for and commitment to artists — a place where independent musicians and major producers are on equal footing.

I am feeling hope for the music industry. As I continue to produce music and to pursue my creative passions, I am hopeful for the realized promise that Open Music represents. To me, music is a universal language, yet represents a uniquely personal key to unlock profound emotions, thoughts and memories. Open Music bridges the gap between artist and listener, sifting through and minimizing intermediaries while streamlining artists’ access to listeners and the financial recognition artists so richly deserve. I am hopeful for a career empowered by hardwired recognition and the permanence of my artistic contributions, and I am also hopeful for a successful, sustainable career. The aspirational and practical work of the Open Music is bringing artists’ hopes to reality, and it’s all happening in the zone.

Check out Chris’s music, and see more from Chris here.

Chris Kulis