Music Tech Summit Wrap-Up: How Technology is Changing the Future of Music

Here’s what went down at the Music Tech Summit this May 4th 2017 in Sydney…

The Music Tech Summit at Universal Music Australia’s office in Sydney

Imagine the epic housewarming party when Elon Musk conquers Mars?! We could all be raving next to aliens with VR in our own living rooms. Well kids, the future of music & technology is here and we’re only getting started.

On Thursday May 4th (aka Star Wars Day), the Music Tech Summit explored how technology is changing the future of music. Held at Universal Music’s office in Sydney, the event was made possible thanks to our awesome partners Universal Music Australia and Eventbrite.

Besides a sea full of creatives, musos and eclectic suits, the event brought together an influential panel.

Alice Kimberly, Strategy & Insights at Vice Media aka Chief Nerd
Danny Rogers, Co-founder of Laneway Festival and Lunatic Entertainment (Managing Chvrches, Temper Trap, Goyte and Mansionair)
Joel Connolly, Blackbird Ventures (a $200m venture capital fund based in Sydney)
Georgie Powell, Music Partnerships at Google/YouTube.

And moderated by none other than Tim Duggan, Co-founder of Junkee Media.

Check out the wrap-up video here, or read on to get the rundown of what happened on the night…

(Want to watch the entire event? View the full panel discussion here.)

Well first up, Alice’s pants. They practically won the night.

Red Lycra FTW

Ok, now that you’ve ordered some red lycra pants, let’s talk insights.

Technology continues to innovate every facet of the music ecosystem.

But at the core of the lively discussion, four key themes emerged:

#1 Could Artificial Intelligence Eclipse Human Creativity?

#2 Value vs Hype: When Does Tech Improve the Music Experience?

#3 Tech Destroying the Mega Artist (And the Effects of This).

#4 Startups and Artists. The Unlikely Parallel.


#1 COULD ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE ECLIPSE HUMAN CREATIVITY?

With projects like IBM Watson Beat, Google Magenta and startups like PopGun.ai, is it only a matter of time before AI produces the next number 1 hit?

According to our panel, this is happening, whether you like it or not!

“AI will absolutely write a pop hit!” — Joel Connolly

“AI will absolutely write a pop hit!” says Joel Connolly. “But I only say that because I don’t have a high respect for pop hits” he jokes. “But seriously you can create an algorithm, analyse all the pop hits of the last 20 years and repeat that to create the next pop hit.”

And this is already happening! Grammy award winning producer, Alex Da Kid, collaborated with AI platform, IBM Watson Beat back in 2016.

Watson used AI to analyse five years of cultural data (everything from news headlines, internet searches to movie synopses), and identified the human emotions surrounding these trends.

Watson then looked at the lyrics and composition of the last 26,000 most popular songs to identify common song structure patterns.

Modern Day Duo: Alex Da Kid & IBM Watson (Image: Rolling Stone)

Together, the modern-day duo wrote and produced ‘Not Easy.’ Check out the beautiful emotional wreck of a tune here.

AI is also being used as a tool to predict and create chart-topping hits. The latest Aussie start up, PopGun.ai, aims to identify popular songs through predictive modelling. Co-founder Stephen Phillips (and Co-founder of WeAreHunted and one of our awesome speakers at last year’s Music Tech Summit) believes that if they can produce a Top 40 hit, PopGun.ai will have solved music.

But could an algorithm create or predict ground-breaking gems like Goyte or Lorde?

Alice Kimberley says absolutely not:

“An algorithm can’t predict what comes next because what comes next sounds vastly different to anything we’ve heard before.”

And Danny Rogers came out and supported this statement with the mention of Benny Blanco. The room went absolutely quiet.

Like as if we’ve all had an epiphany brain fart. Blanco is literally a creative unicorn!

In case you don’t know him, he is the secret sauce behind multiple number ones and Grammy recognised hits (Teenage Dream and California Gurls by Katy Perry, Pay Phone by Maroon 5, TiK Tok by Ke$sha just to name a few).

I mean just watch the dude:

According to Blanco, “when you’re a producer it’s probably 20, 30 percent musical talent. Besides that, you’re a therapist, that’s your job… You gotta massage the situation. The artist is like ‘I don’t feel like doing anything,’ or they’ll be like ‘I love this part,’ but you might think ‘Shit, that part’s no good.’ But you can’t tell them no ’cause it’s gonna throw them out of their vibe.”

That’s something machines don’t have on us. Emotional intelligence and worldly experiences. Traits that help artists define their story and craft their art. Just think of how differently ‘Black Skinhead’ would sound if Kanye was a shy 14-year-old surfer from Malibu? Stories create songs and songs need stories to survive.

As technology continues to outsmart humans, will creativity become a commodity? Well, you only have to watch Benny Blanco in action to know magicians like that can’t be cloned.

But can a machine produce a Top-40 hit? For-shizzle. Will it feel raw and completely twist your insides as you drive down the highway? We’ll have to get back to you on that.


#2 VALUE VS HYPE: WHEN DOES INNOVATION & TECH IMPROVE THE MUSIC EXPERIENCE?

What does Bella Hadid and Tony Abbott have in common? Absolutely nothing… and that’s what Fyre Festival attendees experienced last month. Often the message of a song, or purpose of an event, is completely obliterated in the pursuit to innovate. With technology at our fingertips, how can we integrate innovative meaningful experiences?

“Forget the novelty… what the f%ck do our audiences want?” — Alice Kimberley

Alice challenged us to think about the audience first. “Forget the novelty” she says, “What the f%ck do our audiences want? Why are they here? Why are they coming to us and how can we use tech to provide that?”

For the last couple of years, we’ve all been guilty of being blinded by the infinite possibilities of technology. Sometimes artists completely f%ck it up and sometimes they just get it right.

Lessons from Tidal: Don’t Forget the Consumer

Jay Z finally got his 100th problem.

With Tidal, Jay-Z wanted to give artists more control over music distribution. Tidal is a streaming service by artists, for artists. But that was the problem, it was a consumer product we didn’t want to pay for. We didn’t care that Kanye, Madonna, Rihanna and Alicia Keys were stakeholders. We just didn’t want to pay double our Spotify membership for a service that wasn’t any different. Sure, there was promise for ‘exclusive’ content and concerts, but Tidal couldn’t even get basic UX and search functionally right. It failed because it was completely one sided.

Not all hope is lost though, earlier this year Sprint invested $200m into Tidal. We may just see an ‘encore, do we want more’ of Jay Z’s tech baby.

Getting the Message Right: Hill Top Hoods Interactive Film

An example of getting it right is award winning hip hop group Hilltop Hoods. They partnered with Google to bring to life ‘Through the Dark.’ The track is about the journey and relationship between MC Pressure and his son who was diagnosed with leukaemia. The interactive film traces a father and son’s travels through two 3D-animated worlds. Dark, representing fear; and Light, representing hope.

“The track itself is already powerful, but moving in between the tension of how they must be feeling all the time, just makes it even more powerful” Georgie says.

With every listen of Hilltop Hood’s album on Google Play, for a specified period, $1 was donated to CanTeen on their behalf –a youth cancer organisation and raised $35k during the campaign. The digital translation of the song, is a beautiful reminder of how technology and music work together to elevate a social cause.

Go Rogue With Virtual Reality

From an experience point of view, Danny Rogers, believes live streaming has the ability to provide true value to home viewers:

“You could just take some acid and be there (Coachella)” — Danny Rogers
“I watched a bit of the Coachella live stream and I was like ‘f%ck’, you’re actually there. You could just take some acid and be there.”’

With live streaming or VR, festivals provide access to those who physically can’t attend or afford a ticket.

But how do we ensure we’re adding actual value, not just integrating shiny tech for the sake of it? For event organisers, how can they ensure tech investments pay off?

Let’s look at Coachella’s efforts. In 2012, 2pac resurrected from the ashes. The hype was real and it broke the internet. For about 15 minutes. We all thought holograms were the next ‘florals for spring’ — ground breaking. But we never saw a memorable hologram again. This year, Coachella absolutely nailed it with Chrysalis, a VR psychedelic dome (without a headset!).

Both experiences used technology to enhance Coachella. But why did Chrysalis add more value than the 2pac hologram? Because it was true to the Coachella brand. A euphoric experience in the wilderness.

The panel kept coming back to the notion of respecting the artist, their craft and an authentic customer experience. To avoid unnecessary over engineering. To keep it true to either the song’s message, or purpose of the event. Call it trial by Fyre, but it’s safe to say Ja Rule learned his lesson this year.


#3 TECH DESTROYING THE MEGA ARTIST (AND THE EFFECTS OF THIS)

Today, many of us have a promiscuous relationship with music. Think about the last time you listened to a full album? Mega artists like Beyoncé, Adele or Drake are becoming increasingly rare. In today’s streaming economy, consumers rarely devote their time to one artist.

“One of the most profound changes we’ve seen is the death of the uber fan. 78% of young people can’t be defined by the one genre they listen to.” — Alice Kimberley

Think about how your music listening habits have been affected by platforms like Spotify, Pandora and SoundCloud.

We’ve shifted from listening to an artist’s album in its entirety, to playlists made up of individual tracks. Now it seems like we’re all about the long-tail of artists, as opposed to the mega artist.

The Proliferation of Content from Artists

From Georgie’s experience at YouTube, the best artists “are looking at the year holistically, they’re thinking about what content they can create throughout the entire year.”

And given we live in an era of instant gratification and short attention, with this comes the pressure for artists to maintain top of mind.

“The artists who are doing well are thinking about what content they can create throughout the entire year.” — Georgie Powell

This has led to the proliferation of content. Artists like Drake and The Weeknd are constantly pumping out new tunes and have a team of writers and producers working around the clock. Then there is all the supporting content including music videos, articles, tweets, snaps, Instagram posts/stories, Facebook videos and websites.

“Artists are way more accessible now” says Joel. “Reading their twitter feed feels like they are directly speaking to you, but I also think it has something to do with attention span. If you go out of cycle for too long you lose your audience because there’s someone else who will easily take your place.”

Whether an artist is producing new music or making headlines, it’s no illusion that content surrounding the song or artist themselves is dictating who we listen to.

The Shift from ‘Music Criticism’ to ‘Music Journalism’

Once upon a time, music critics would review a new album in its entirety, from start to finish.

But in the age of clickbait headlines & page-view hungry publishers, we’ve seen this completely change.

Alice spoke of this shift: We’ve seen the move from ‘music criticism’ to ‘music journalism’” she says.

“News outlets have to align their music stories to a controversy, social cause or movement to grab attention. A simple album review is not a PR-able story anymore.”

Social media and the streaming economy forces artists to stay relevant, or find comfort in being forgotten.

The Rise of the Genre-less Fan

Festival goers rarely know the words to more than one song of an artist’s set.

We’re also seeing the effect of ‘genre-less’ fans in the live space. Festival goers rarely know the words to more than one song of an artist’s set. We go to one stage to listen to that ‘one hit’ from the rapper of the moment. Then piss off to the next stage and sing along with our favourite token indie band.

From a booking point of view, it makes it challenging for festival directors to select talent.

It becomes a social game, who can pull the numbers and who is built to perform? Who are the acts that can transcend a connection to the audience, from the live stage to digital channels?

In today’s fickle climate, festivals are becoming more and more genre agnostic. What this means, is that fans are spending more on diverse music experiences. Festival ticket sales are increasing around the world; with Live Nation experiencing a sixth consecutive year of growth –a cool 15% increase of $8.4 billion in 2016. We may be shifting into genre-less fans, but the overall music economy is going from strength to strength.


#4 STARTUPS AND ARTISTS. THE UNLIKELY PARALLEL.

As the internet continues to democratise stardom, artists and musicians are acting more like start-ups.

Music is a business. There’s passion, but passion needs to convert to income. Just like the thousands of Silicon Valley start-ups, there’s a barrage of acts all wanting to change the game.

Georgie says that at YouTube, they look at artists and creators on their platform as startups, “they have passion but haven’t necessarily got the full resources to build a business. We’ve got a number of programs which help creators and musicians build a full suite of capabilities, like business bootcamps, production spaces, and Fanfest.”

Like a startup accelerator, YouTube NextUp is a coaching program for emerging content creators. To qualify, the YouTube channel must have 10,000 to 100,000 subscribers.

During the week long camp, the chosen few learn best practice techniques from industry leaders, corporates and graduates. Check out last year’s NextUp in London:

Like startups, the role of data shouldn’t be overlooked. “The easiest and most accessible way an artist can get their edge, is using data to really understand who your fans are, there’s so much you can understand now about the people who like you, who want to go to your shows, buy your music” says Joel.

Data is also being used as a sales metric. “ARIA is now including streaming data,” says Alice. This opened up a discussion of whether or not artists should adapt their musical direction based on data. Madonna has been doing this for decades — without any complex data visualisation tools. As startups respond to market trends, should artists learn to be more agile for the ‘genre-less’ fan?


By 2020, Elon Musk will have made his mark on Mars. By then, the psychedelic VR dream at Coachella could become a reality! What’s exciting about technology, across any industry, is its infinite possibilities.

From AI enhancing human creativity, VR transporting us across the world, streaming giving way to the genre-less fan and artists being built like Silicon Valley start-ups, technology is changing the way we create and experience music. And what’s exciting… is that this is just the beginning.

We’re creating the tools, but with the tools, we’re composing masterpieces.

So, do you think the music sounds better with technology? Let us know your comments below.


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