The Future of Music

Photo by Vincent Chan on Unsplash

The history of music has always been one of innovation and flux. Music and technology have always been close companions on the frontier of human progress. But the rapid expansion of the digital age had left many feeling that music had been stretched beyond repair. The music industry wasn’t able to cope with the swift growth of digital technology and the internet. However, it is more resilient than we think. For humanity’s love of music, despite all of the changes, has not diminished.

Working with MOBGEN:Lab I had the opportunity to attend two music technology conferences in this past year. Dublin Tech Summit in April and Sonar Barcelona in June. It is clear from these conferences that music is not dead. Quite the opposite is true. The music industry has now become a model for how industries can adapt to new disruptive technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and AR/VR.

Blockchain: The Perfect Tool for Rights Management?

Blockchain seems like a tool perfectly suited for the music industry. A system which allows artists and labels keep track of their digital rights. The current system relies on a great deal of paper work and black box style transactions. A blockchain system promises to allow the use of a piece of music to be tracked across all media, allowing the composer and musicians to receive clear and concise royalty payments.

The Dublin Tech Summit had representatives from musician’s Imogen Heap’s ‘Mycelia’ team. Her ‘Mycelia’ projects aim to arm musicians with a blockchain tool which will allow musicians and composers themselves to track how their intellectual property is being used. Ken Umezaki, a successful Wall Street trader turned music business investor, gave a interesting keynote presentation on his work at Dot Blockchain Media. The aim of this company is to provide a new ‘.bc’ file type which can be used online to represent music. The file not only contains the audio data but also a layer of musical DNA, which ties the music and its use to a blockchain.


However, not everyone is so positive about such changes. In a talk entitled, “The New Internet” in Sonar Barcelona, the NYU researcher Mat Dryhurst argued against such a system. He questions if such an idea will guarantee a transparent and fair system that it promises. One possible outcome from a transition to blockchain would be to further cement the major label’s power in the business, by utilising private and centralised blockchains that only they control over. Ultimately, he argues, the success of such a system depends on it being decentralised.

Artificial Intelligence: A Musical Aid or Replacement?

It was clear from both conferences that Artificial Intelligence is making significant inroads in the music business. We heard the point of view of Marco Selvi from Jukedeck. Jukedeck are a company who are bringing state of the art machine learning techniques to music composition and production. They train deep neural networks to understand music composition at a granular level, so that they can build tools to aid creativity. The question was raised if this would not replace composers entirely from the process. It possibly will, but mostly for the type of clients who need a large amount of somewhat boring music. Their aims are also to build a composer’s aid, which could help a composer speed up their composition process.

The Dublin Tech Summit had representatives from Abbey Road Studio’s startup incubator ‘Red’. The current batch of startups had a strong focus on applying AI to music creation. Vochlea are a hardware company who are using AI to develop a smart microphone which can be used as a complete musical instrument. The founder George Wright’s motivation is that we all possess an innate musical instrument in our voice and his aim is open the world of music software up to voice control. So for example by making the sound of a trumpet with your lips the microphone generates the sound of an actual trumpet.

It is clear that AI has a lot of potential. The fears of it replacing human composers are valid but it has the potential to aid composers rather than replacing them and perhaps opening up the field even more to people interested in making music. After all, a world full of music is a better world.

AR/VR: Augmenting The Music Experience

There was also a lot of focus on using AR/VR as a new creative output. The current experimentation and tinkering resembles the work of the early pioneers of cinema exploring the frontiers of a new medium. As one of the speakers commented, ‘If Michelangelo were alive now, he would for sure not be working with paint.’

Both conferences had some influential people in the field speaking about their craft. In Sonar Barcelona we had Paul Raphael from Felix & Paul studios speaking about his work in immersive storytelling in VR. Paul and his creative partner Felix Lajeunesse have collaborated with people such as Barack Obama, Wes Anderson, Circue De Soleil, Jurassic World, Funny Or Die and Jeff Goldblum on projects. The main question of the talk was how VR cinema is evolving and whether is will reach the commercial level of cinema. It’s potential is clear, the medium has the possibility for complete immersion in a story. Taking a viewer on a journey through a story. And of course music has a strong role to play in this and the tools are changing to reflect the demand. A company named Sfear were demoing at Sonar. Their tools provide musicians and sound engineers to mix audio in 3d for such applications. It is clear that VR is providing new creative opportunities for musicians and filmmakers alike.

Musicians are also turning to AR as a tool for their music and brand. One such example is the AR app to promote Gorillaz 2016 album “Humanz” . Davor Krvavac from B-Reel studios spoke at Dublin Tech Summit about the project. The aim of the app was to bring the world of Gorillaz into the real world via objects placed in the room. Certain locations in the world also had unique objects which let fans pre stream the album before release. The most interesting aspect of the talk was Davor’s opinion on AR as a tool for defining space. The app both colours the space with its content. But also how the location of the user when using the app also can define the app experience. The result of the pre streaming experiment was that fans gathered together in locations across the world to share the experience of listening to the album.

Its clear from the industry that AR/VR is providing artists and musicians with a new medium to explore their art. The technology is enabling artists to create new cross media experiences and allowing artists to build new worlds for people to explore.

The Future of Music

The content of these two conferences can give us a reason to be optimistic about the future of the music industry. Twenty years ago the industry was slow to react to disruptive change. But it seems to have learnt its lesson. It is embracing new technology to augment the music listener’s and the composer’s experience. The speed and exploration that businesses and startups are exploring the space can be an inspiration other industries on how to adapt to technological advances.

Music has returned to its tradition of being an innovator and explorer of new mediums and technologies. As a musicians, artists, designers and creators ourselves at MOBGEN:Lab its exciting to see the changes that are occurring in the industry. Music is not dead, it never was, so long as we continue to value and appreciate the great minds and technologies that drive it forward.