Imogen Heap


Imogen Heap

What if the key to making a social impact was about learning to break down the walls that stifle innovation in your industry and building real connections, no matter what?

Imogen Heap always wanted to find ways to use technology and make music without sitting behind a laptop. She wanted to humanise technology, bring it closer to her. As a connector, philanthropist and system thinker, an old dysfunctional industry was not going to stop her.

Classically trained in piano, cello and clarinet at a young age, Imogen Heap has grown her career as a singer, songwriter, record producer and audio engineer. She won two Grammy Awards and one Ivor Novello Award and has become an inspiration to new generations of singers, and multidisciplinary artists.

In her previous artistic life, her career hit obstacles that many artists have sadly faced: her record label was sold to Universal and its artists moved to other labels or released, some of which with no contract.

What’s the problem? The music industry has multiple of layers in licensing, publishing, let alone creative parts. There are problems around value chain transparency. Innovation is stifled because of some of the industry’s stakeholders’ self-interest. Artists are not always retributed fairly. Doesn't it sound familiar?

Imogen Heap - Artist - Performer - Creator MiMu Gloves - Mycelia - image Jeremy Cowart

Breaking down constraints, looking for freedom

As I watch her on the FutureFest Stage in a heated Tobacco Dock, Heap demonstrates the connected MiMu Gloves she designed and developed with a team of collaborators. The gloves recognise her postures. She can activate loops and insert drum beats mixing desk features, pinch, sliders, reverbs, delays, push or mellow volume…

The gloves enable her to be less restricted physically than if she had to use a keyboard, a laptop and other gears on stage. It truly looks liberating for the artist herself.

I wasn’t looking for control, I was looking for freedom. Imogen Heap

The interface (Gloves, Software, Cubase) still needs to be enhanced and Imogen still has to develop more moves, but she hopes that in the short term, software providers will start to think in terms of gestures rather than just be confined in terms of keyboard or mixing desks.

Heap is developing the DIY gloves for more people to be able to play with them. Children can even develop their own gloves, without coding skills in just a few hours.

It strikes me that pushing boundaries, thinking that nothing should be impossible is what fuels Imogen, and she knows how to connect people, contexts, structures to make things happen. The key is to not be submitted to control, but looking for freedom.

The beauty of a connected system

The music industry is a mesh of impossibilities and unverifiable data.

As she progressed through her career, Heap wanted to break the industry’s impossibilities, and give birth to a way for artists to share their music, as well as enforce smart contracts, dismantling a plethora of unnecessary layers, and digital theft.

But she didn’t stop there. She also wanted to share data of people, information about instruments, gears and software used to produce her music, as well as lyrics, among others.

She also wanted to share sources of inspiration, moods, related videos, extraordinary audio loops, video credits, names of the team involved in all this production, words of thanks.

Then she started asking more questions:

  • How do you stuff all this on a CD sleeve? And when there are no longer any CD sleeves, how do you do that?
  • What if someone want to use licensing rights, and by extension how could people use the music and pay the original artists and authors? 
  • How to set up digital wallets, how to recoup royalties in the UK and beyond, where systems differ from country to country...
  • How could tour dates be released,
  • How could one champion the music?

In 2015, Heap released titles via the concept of Mycelia, a way for artists to share their music as well as enforce smart contracts via blockchain-based technology like Ethereum.

Heap thought, we need to be able to “contact the song”, and the song with tell the stories, no wastage. "There won’t be manky databases with incorrect data anymore."

At 40, Heap put a party together and came up with Creative Passport. She didn’t want it to be a threat but a mean to connect the dot and fill the missing gap.

The Creative Passport is not just a website. It is not meant to be a Artist to Fan platform, it is more a B2B live directory, enabling cross pollination of involved stakeholders, not just the artists but also the sponsors, the technological supports, etc.

As she describes it, the “Mycelia Creative Passport is a peer-to-peer verified digital identity standard which holds verified profile information, IDs, acknowledgements, works, business partners and payment mechanisms, sharing skills and projects to find our champions, fans and collaborators”.

Imogen Heap - Mycelia Creative Passport physical example

Blockchain for philanthropy

Heap was diagnosed with osteomyelitis and underwent life-saving surgery as a little girl. She is an active donor to the Great Ormond Street Hospital and leads other philanthropic campaigns.

At some point, she asked herself, how could a song have the power to distribute money to causes?

She knew that Mycelia could be key for this too, as turning to majors to ask them to systematically release song’s royalties to causes, was a dead end.

Now Heap is touring around the world to get global artists to put themselves on the Mycelia and Creative Passport map, and verify each other, with the hope to get paid fairly and contribute to more transparency in the industry. A huge number of artists came up so far - the creative Passport is free for them. Companies came up and started to pay to provide services to this peer-to-peer platform, a business model that one can find in the open source economy.

The passport operates under this very open source principle and has an open governance management.

Heap is also collaborating with other providers, such as streaming, organising, and project management technologies, to name just a few, that are shaping the new face of the music industry.

mycelia creative passport ecosystem example

mycelia creative passport - Physical representation content

As one can imagine, the initial reaction of the big majors, managers and agents was not “great” at the beginning. There are legacy artists. But it is in everybody’s interest to appreciate how these new distribution ways can help majors save them lots of money. They can go back to being supportive music makers, instead of spending an awful amount of time on accounting, licensing, lawyers etc… The pay-out side also needs innovation.

The bottom line is that it is transformative, and everybody can find a benefit in this.

Imogen doesn’t have to do all that admin anymore as it is handled through the blockchain technology automatically. She has much more time on her hand and can enjoy seeing her 4-year-old daughter grow, and produce more art.

Her next step is to raise £ 2 million to scale the project, get music makers together to produce but also raise awareness on Mycelia and Creative Passport.

Catch Imogen on the Mycelia World tour in 2018 and 2019 (New dates added).

Read more about Mycelia here.

Imogen Heap - Servane Mouazan - FutureFest 2018

Piece produced by Servane Mouazan for Ogunte. 
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