In Boston, a single mile and 17 years separate two technology initiatives with the power to reshape the music industry. The first led the business to the brink of collapse, and the more recent could prove to be its deliverer.
In June 1999, on the Northeastern University campus along Huntington Avenue, Shawn Fanning released Napster, a peer-to-peer file sharing service that mushroomed around the world and gave the music business a digital body blow from which it has never fully recovered.
And in June 2016, a short walk away at Berklee College of Music, the Open Music Initiative announced its goal to solve the challenges facing today’s post-Napster music industry. OMI aims to establish a global, open source platform, providing technology for a shared ledger of music creators and rights owners.
“From the beginning, we set down the path of getting all the different players involved in this [musical] ecosystem to come together, and whereas they’re not going to agree on everything, at least [they can] agree on this one thing—creating a uniform way that the industry uses to identify who owns what and who’s owed,” explains Panos Panay, an OMI co-founder and founding managing director of Berklee’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE).
In addition to many of the leading record labels, the OMI coalition includes academic institutions such as the MIT Media Lab, NYU, and Northeastern.
“You may say, ‘Well, gee, what does academia have to do with this?‘ We felt that when you look at innovation that happens in any market, you really need both industry and academic participants, as well as government and policy participants to come together to really advance a particular cause. This has happened time and again in a number of situations,” Panay tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally.
“For any number of reasons, the music industry, even though it’s been dramatically disrupted, hasn’t really looked at academic institutions as a way to access a pooled R&D – a way to tap into academic minds who tend to see things from a fresh and different perspective.”
As the founder of Sonicbids, Panay created the leading platform for bands to book gigs and market themselves online, building a subscriber network of 550,000 bands and 35,000 promoters from more than 100 countries. He led the company as CEO for 13 years, from its inception until after its successful acquisition. Panos Panay also writes about startups and entrepreneurship for blogs and publications such as Huffington Post, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company, and he has been named to Inc. magazine’s “Inc. 500,” and Fast Company‘s “Fast 50.” His TedX talk How My Guitar Taught Me Entrepreneurship was recorded in Valencia.
Open Music Initiative (OMI) is a non-profit collective of musicians, entrepreneurs, industry professionals, academics, technologists and policy experts who love and value music. Its mission is to promote and advance the development of open source standards and innovation related to music rights and all their associated uses.