The Music Tech Trends Defining 2018
From VR festival livestreams to DIY synths and decentralized distribution, these are the inventions, apps, and technologies creators are using this year.
As we roll into the Summer of 2018, it’s becoming more clear what will become the defining features of a year that finds the music industry in flux as a number of trends continue their growth. The infrastructure of the legacy music industry continues to fade, while a mix of streaming platforms, live events, social media, and easy and available production tools have replaced much of the role of the lumbering major label and distribution models of yesteryear.
From the musician’s perspective, it has never been simpler to get involved creatively with music, as digital audio workstations and music production apps bring high-powered tools into people’s pockets, while distribution via streaming platforms is easier than ever. Elsewhere, while attendance at festivals has appeared to have plateaued, new developments in streaming and VR have taken strides to bring the festival to the people, rather than the other way around. Most exciting of all, though, is the application of blockchain technology and decentralization to the music industry, which has enabled a number of novel approaches with massive potential to change the ways that creators interact with the business of music.
Here are the music tech trends that are defining 2018, and the companies, brands, platforms, and creators bringing them all to life…
Late Period of the Streaming Wars
Spotify’s continued and remarkable growth over the past two years — not to mention its blockbuster IPO last month — suggests that the tectonic plates of the music streaming landscape are beginning to shift and consolidate under one banner. Spotify now boasts twice as many users as the next streaming platform, Apple Music, and revenues are projected to top $5 billion this year, while competitors like SoundCloud who have failed to find a way to appropriately monetize, are beginning to fade away. Now that it looks like there will be one platform to rule them all, it might be time to start looking at what the next innovation in streaming will be, and there are quite literally hundreds of streaming apps vying to be the next challenger, each with their own twist on the model.
You may not be familiar with the term RFID — an acronym for Radio Frequency Identification Device — but if you’ve gone to a festival or major event recently, you’ve most likely worn one on your wrist.
RFID Wristband technology as popularized by companies like like Intellitix has unlocked cashless payment on-site and eliminated the paper trail. Perhaps even more importantly, though, locational tracking of RFID wristbands allows events to gather incredible levels of data on the movement, choices, and preferences of customers. This kind of information is useful in everything from pricing to site planning to booking, and is changing the ways festivals are produced.
Synthesizer Clones and Kits
As patents for many classic synth designs expire, major players in the music tech game like Behringer are releasing low-cost clones of classics like the Minimoog and ARP 2600, to both fanfare and controversy. Acquiring the hardware behind iconic sounds from over the long history of electronic music used to require a collector’s budget, but cloned classics have increased access to great tools.
Down on the other end of the industry, one grassroots movement that has music tech nerds all over excited is DIY synth-making. Homebrew analog synth kits allow more technically minded musicians to create signature sounds, and upstart projects like Teenage Engineering are making lightweight, quirky synth tools, contributing to a growing indie market for analog synth weirdness.
Think all pop music sounds the same these days? Wait until it’s all written by computers! A slew of AI-based apps are claiming their platforms can write music that is indistinguishable from that by the human hand. For example, Amper Music creates music for video games and marketing endeavors that’s created by AI that has been trained respond to the user’s preferences in mood, length, and genre, and spit back affordably licensable music in a matter of seconds like a music vending machine. Startup AI Music has created an app that collaborates with users, responding to input and offering help with melodies or structure.
Blockchain-based apps replacing aspects of the music industry are beginning to take shape and approach the inefficiencies of the industry from every angle, from distribution channels to fundraising platforms and rights management tools. Led by projects like SingularDTV and its decentralized entertainment economy, blockchain approaches to music remove intermediaries in the music industry, allowing creators and fans to connect directly in the fundraising, production, and distribution of creative works.
Don’t have room for a drumkit in your studio apartment? AeroDrums enables drummers to play without a kit, and it actually sounds pretty awesome. Yes, it’s true, air drumming is actually a thing. More recently, projects like AeroDrums have also integrated a VR element that thrusts a full kit in front of players in a virtual world, but it’s unclear if they plan to create a mode where you can join in famous jam sessions from rock history (that would be awesome). Even crazier, Enhancia has released a ring players wear on their finger that allows them to play music with gestures with their fingers, and the world of VR music apps is growing every day.
Immersive Festival Experiences
Didn’t make it to Coachella? Don’t worry, watching the livestream from the comfort of your couch is almost as much fun, without the hassle of the crowds, the heat, and the thousands of dollars required to schlepp out to the desert. Sure, the Instagram selfies may not be as glamorous, but festival live streams have improved so much over the past couple of years that having the party in your own house is a real option now, and over 41 million people watched Coachella’s live stream this year.
VR livestreams have also begun popping up, but the tech hasn’t quite matured enough yet to offer a real immersive experience worth more than spending a few minutes in, although this year’s festival season may be prove to be the season that tech-enabled immersive experiences really step up to the plate.