We all know that the growth of music distribution is moving fast from transaction to streaming subscriptions. The music value chain is adapting. With millions of songs streamed trillions of times, advanced technologies are necessary for consumers to find and discover their favorite songs and for music artists to find their fans and interact with them. Will the music industry be able to leverage digital technologies to adapt and be profitable?
We can get some serious tips from Techstars, an accelerator with a current portfolio of about 7.8 billion. On May 18, its new program, Techstars Music, partnered with major players including labels Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, to demo its darling music startups at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles. This was the first Techstars event solely dedicated to the music industry.
The event was a microcosm of the digital transformation the music industry is going through. It included technologies to support both digital and physical music experiences. Out of the 11 tech startups featured at the event, two support live music events. One of them is Hurdl, which captures cell numbers of 60-80% of the people in a venue to communicate with them during and after the event, and uses LED wearables to turn people into lights. The second one is Robin, a personal tech concierge that helps reserve and secure tickets to live events while providing real-time demand data to event organizers.
The main feature of Techstars Music 2017 was how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is starting to power the digital music value chain to enhance creation and monetization. There just doesn’t seem to be any other way to intelligently manage trillions of nano-transactions, where creators make music to be streamed worldwide, and artists and advertisers do their best to monetize these nano-transactions by tracking song usage and enabling micropayments to rights holders.
Out of the 11 startups, 8 of them either have an AI component or have plans to incorporate it to support their business model. Robin is working on deep learning techniques to forecast live event demand and predict prices based on the willingness-to-pay reported by customers. The other seven are addressing music creation and monetization as follows:
AI-enabled Music Creation
Four fascinating startups are upping the ante of digital music creation.
- Popgun claims to have the first superhuman AI-powered musician, which learns from human musicians and complements or augments music compositions.
- Amper is an AI-enabled music composer, performer, and producer; it actually creates music from scratch!
- Pacemaker is an AI DJ that creates digi-mixes and re-mixes from streams, not from digital files. The technology allows mix creation within streaming platforms like Spotify. The company has developed a metamix, which can be used to replay these digitally-created mixes.
- Weav conceives a song not as the final product, but as a recipe for variations of itself along dimensions like tempo, energy, and mood, depending on the listener’s state. For example, joggers can adapt the tempo in real-time based on their jogging speed.
AI-enabled Music Monetization
- Jaak uses blockchain technology to identify the usage and rights to song streams. It enables apps and platforms to identify who is streaming a song and when identifying the multiple rights holders and assigning corresponding payments. It is planning to use AI to provide usage analytics to its customers.
- Syncspot is an automated platform for cross-promotions, where two brands join forces. Syncspot uses AI to match brands and develop brand promotion strategies. Examples of brands that have leveraged the platform are Coachella, Heineken, and Unilever.
- Pippa developed a technology that allows podcasters to insert personalized ads to a podcast. It is planning to use AI to perform deep audio search and personalized ads based on a podcast’s content. With a new avenue for monetization of podcasts, this technology could boost podcasting and make it much more profitable.
While not AI-enabled, the other two start-ups featured at the event touch on the important topics of promotion and distribution. Shimmur is a social media platform where influencers post about an artist and their followers upvote the post so the artist can see through trolling clutter and nasty posts to find their true fans and communicate with them. Finally, Superpowered optimizes code for music distribution to reduce computing load and latency. It powers 3,000 apps that have been downloaded a billion times.
The trend is clear. AI will power the digital music value chain of the near-future, from production to search, to delivery and monetization. While some argue that with streaming the music industry is putting itself out of business, I bet advanced technologies like the ones demoed at Techstars Music 2017 will enhance digital music creation, distribution, and monetization, to eventually bring back the profits the industry enjoyed in the era of physical distribution.