Midem 2018 Review Part 4: Where Innovation Inspires [Video]

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      This is the fourth and the last in a series of in-depth posts, by Music Ally’s Stuart Dredge, giving you the full low-down on Midem 2018’s biggest highlights and industry trends. Digital music innovation is a core part of Midem every year, and...

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This is the fourth and the last in a series of in-depth posts, by Music Ally’s Stuart Dredge, giving you the full low-down on Midem 2018’s biggest highlights and industry trends.

Digital music innovation is a core part of Midem every year, and 2018 was no different. For example, there was the now-familiar day of pitch sessions for this year’s Midemlab startups contest, with 20 early-stage companies pitching their products and services, spread across four categories.

Midemlab 2018

The Music Creation and Education category was won by British startup Lirica which has developed an app to teach foreign languages through the use of music. “Music is a great tool for memory retention: the fact that you have lyrics stuck in your head for days isn’t accidental… neuroscientists have proved that words heard to a melody are more easily remembered than words spoken,” said Founder and CEO Paul Custance in his pitch. The company has a strategic investment from Sony Music, giving it access to music by artists including Shakira. Other participants in this category’s pitching were Voice Magix, Aiva, Skoove and MXX. You can watch the Creation and Education pitch session on YouTube. 

The Music Discovery and Distribution category was won by American startup Laylo, whose app aims to gamify music discovery by getting friends to compete to spot hot new songs. “If your best friend’s on Spotify and you’re on Apple Music, you can send them that music and talk about it.. and you don’t have to worry that you’re on different platforms. And anywhere you can spread a link, you can share this music,” said CEO Alec Ellin during the pitch session. Laylo prevailed in a category that also included Listen!, Lickd, Boreas and Louise. You can watch the Discovery and Distribution pitch session on YouTube. 

The Marketing and Data / Analytics category was won by another US startup, Seated, which has created software to help artists take control of their ticketing experience. “They’re still driving their fans to countdown clocks before tickets are available, to confusing pre-sales once tickets are released,” said CEO & Co-Founder David McKay in his pitch. “The industry needs better tools, and that’s why we built Seated… In less than a year, we’ve already sold more than $2m of tickets.” Artists including Robert Plant, Leon Bridges and Lindsey Stirling are among its first testers. Other finalists in this category included Muso.AI, NumberEight, Gigz and Asaii. You can watch the Marketing and Data / Analytics pitch session on YouTube.

Finally, the Experiential Technologies category – which covered tech from VR and AR to hi-res music, Internet of Things and other hardware – was won by French startup Enhancia. Its main product so far is Neova, a finger-worn MIDI ring controller, which can be used by musicians to control sounds and effects. “The real value of the product is in the gesture recognition,” said CEO Damien le Boulaire in his pitch. “There are rings already existing, but we are the only one that has this real-time gesture recognition.” Stevie Wonder tried it and bought two of them recently. Enhancia beat fellow startups WowTune, Landmrk, Jooki and Flexound to the prize. You can watch the Experiential Technologies pitch session on YouTube. 

Innovation was also up for discussion on the first day of Midem 2018, during the conference’s Streaming Summit track. The day kicked off with Zach Fuller, analyst at Midia Research, outlining his company’s latest figures on the streaming-fuelled comeback for the recorded-music industry.

“The recorded music business is locked firmly in growth mode,” said Fuller. “Streaming has unsurprisingly been the main driver of this growth. It was up 39% last year. Streaming revenue on its own was up $2.1bn on 2016, and that represented 151% of total market growth. I say 151% because that reflects the fact that legacy formats declined, so actually dragged down the overall market growth.”

Fuller noted that “Amazon had 22 million subscribers at the end of 2017, Apple music had 40 million subscribers by March this year, and Spotify, the leader of the pack, had 75 million subscribers in the same period. So these, of course, have been the main market movers.” You can watch Fuller’s full session via the YouTube video above.

The growth for Amazon’s music-streaming services has been driven by sales of its Echo smart speakers, but with Google Home and Apple HomePod also now available – with Chinese tech firms preparing their own voice-controlled devices – the market for this product continues to cause plenty of excitement within the music industry. Midem’s Are Smart Speakers Simply New Gadgets? session explored some of the opportunities – but also the challenges. For example, Amazon Music‘s director of content acquisition Rishi Mirchandani said that inaccurate metadata supplied by labels is a headache for voice-controlled streaming services.

“When people ask for music through a voice interface they will often just search for a song or an artist, but they may ask for music by genre, or they may say ‘play the latest single by Taylor Swift’,” he explained. “Each of these requests, in a voice interface, you only have one chance to get the music right. You’ve got to make sure the metadata is correct, so the first thing we need to clean up is genre. We get a lot of genres from the record labels. We need to make sure they’re consistent, they fit with our definitions, and that’s something that we do through manual editors and also through machine learning… Similarly with things like release dates, again, that metadata often isn’t correct that we get from our partners, so we go through and we need to make sure it is correct, and we audit it.”

The panel were optimistic about the future evolution of smart speakers and the voice assistants (Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri for example) that power them. “The adoption curve is amazingly strong, especially in the US. and in a world where we have five billion devices with digital assistants, our behaviours will all be changed,” said Vincent Favrat, CEO of startup Musimap. “I have big hopes that in the very next months and years, the device will adapt to us and become smarter and smarter, thanks to AI and the latest deep-learning technologies.”

Benoit Rébus, head of global hardware partnerships at streaming service Qobuz, agreed that “voice is the new UI [user interface]for sure” but struck a cautionary note: that the makers of smart speakers must be open to partnerships with the streaming services that don’t make their own devices. “The issue that we see is to make sure that those tech giants remain agnostic regarding third-party partners. I’m glad that both Amazon and Google are very open to us: to collaborate with smaller companies, European companies, French companies,” he said. “As opposed to Apple, obviously… Apple has a very strange approach regarding Siri and the HomePod currently.” You can watch the full smart-speakers session via the YouTube video above.

Mirchandani‘s points about metadata became a running theme for the Streaming Summit, including an entire session devoted to the question of how more-accurate metadata can benefit artists in the modern streaming economy.

“Be in charge of your own metadata. It’s very important that control lies with you and that you license it out perhaps to other parties, but you always have control and visibility over your own data. So if you’re looking for a partner, that’s I think a very important prerequisite,” said Pieter Van Rijn, CEO of FUGA. “You need a point of truth, that’s basically what you need. And you need that point of truth to be able to interact with other platforms seamlessly… An aggregator or distributor should never threaten that they are not able to send your data along. It’s something you actually have to contractually manage.

Kristin Graziani, director of artist and label relations at Stem, which helps artists track their income from streaming services among other features, agreed. “We actually advise our artists to be in control of the metadata. More often than not we see artists moving a lot within the [United] States between different labels, and they’re sometimes leveraging more than one label. They’ll ask us to take down a track or move a catalogue, and we’ll say ‘What distributor did you leverage to initially release that?’ and they don’t know! Which causes a lot of complexity,” she said. “So advice to the artist is know where your metadata is, know where the master versions of all of your sound recordings live, where all of the artwork lives. Because during the transfer process, everything has to line up in order for it to happen effectively.” Watch the full metadata session via the YouTube video above.

The Streaming Summit also focused on how artists can improve their chances of getting discovered on streaming services. In the (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right To Be Visible session, SoundCloud‘s director of content partnerships Raoul Chatterjee said that artists must be willing to put the work in outside the streaming platforms.

“There’s certain things that we offer… certain programmes and marketing campaigns and cooperations that you can do. But the first thing to do is to really start with your own brand, and represent yourself in the best possible way, and be thoughtful and strategic about it,” he said. “Then come to talk to your other collaborators with stories that you can use as examples of how you have won over an audience or built an audience, or collaborated to extend your audience. Then that will allow services like SoundCloud to then, where there are opportunities to get involved with more bespoke campaigns, to collaborate, to take it to the next level and to maybe put some marketing money behind it. Or to include you in curated playlists or curated programmes of activity.” Watch the full session on YouTube.

The rise of French artist Petit Biscuit was highlighted as a case study worth following in another session involving manager David Weiszfeld as well as distributor Believe Digital, booking agency 3Pom Prod/Astérios Spectacles and satellite-radio firm Sirius XM.

“Overall, since the launch we are over 850 million streams of all the tracks,” said Believe’s president Denis Ladegaillerie, before outlining the four key things it takes to break an artist in the streaming era: talent; strategy and a good team around them; investment and resources; and time. “Between the very beginning and the time when the track starts exploding, it takes 24 months,” he said, of Petit Biscuit’s path. “This is one of the great learnings of streaming, which is [that]the record label model as we know it is essentially a broken model. The model where you go up with a new artist you invest, maximise your investment, It doesn’t work this way. It takes a lot of time to build up.” Watch the full Petit Biscuit session via the YouTube video above.

Midem 2018’s Streaming Summit also explored one of the most exciting emerging music markets in the world: or rather, the collection of markets that is Africa. Tencent Africa‘s chief commercial officer for music, Thabiet Allie, explained how the Chinese technology giant is operating in Africa with its Joox music service.

We don’t want to be the ones leading anything or trying to be bigger than the artists. It’s about supporting the artists,” he said, adding that Tencent thinks Joox can carve out a niche for itself even with competition from the big, global music-streaming services.

“We’re not trying to fight for the small space where people are already spending money: we’re not trying to get people to move from Spotify or Deezer or Apple to us. The intention is to build a new space with a new audience,” said Allie, who said that the young populations in many African countries are excited about streaming. “Streaming services tend to be something accessed by a younger audience on a mobile phone that’s capable of streaming, and by someone who is comfortable using data,” he said. Watch the Tencent Africa session on YouTube.

The Streaming Summit finished off with two thought-provoking sessions exploring the potential of streaming services to become ‘the new A&Rs’ in terms of developing new talent, and then the opportunities for local streaming services to compete with the biggest global players.

In the first session, Thaddeus Rudd, co-president of independent label Mom + Pop Music, expressed concern about a concentration of curation power within those big services. “In the last several years, the consolidation of the major editorial playlist curators for Spotify, Apple, Amazon and a couple of others in North America has been astounding,” he said. “There are 12 people who control the playlists that have global impact, and which have the most impact on new music being streamed on these services. I could name them!”

Pete Downton, deputy CEO at 7digital, noted that the streaming playlists aren’t the only form of discovery. “Just the reality of a handful of people having to exert editorial control means the human component is much smaller than it was in the old radio world… About 40% of consumption on streaming services is from curator playlists, but streaming is still a relatively small portion of all music consumption,” he said. “The challenge is how do you make sure there’s enough human input, and enough local input into how those editorial choices are made.” Watch the full session on YouTube.

The following session, All Eyez on Stream, explored the streaming environment outside the big players. “Smartphone penetration is a real key to us growing our business, and it’s happening,” said Tom Silverman, CEO of Tommy Boy. “There are a lot of countries that have 20 to 30 percent smartphone penetration, but they’re growing really quickly. Countries in Africa like Nigeria… So first we need smartphones and reasonably-priced broad bandwidth connections. This is why we see Brazil and Mexico in the top five of Spotify when they weren’t ever in the top 25 of the music industry in terms of revenues ever before.”

Scott Cohen, VP international at distributor The Orchard, said local streaming services play an important role. “You could be in the Middle East and have Anghami, which is really important, because unless you’re putting all your metadata in Arabic, you’re going to have a hard time penetrating the market,” he said. “Or you go to Russia and you have Yandex and VK. It’s really important right now to have local players in those markets, and they’re actually outperforming the big ones… We don’t want to allow the major players in each market to shrink down to just one or two.” Watch the full session on YouTube. 

Streaming was also represented by Napster CEO Bill Patrizio in a keynote interview at Midem. You can read some of his comments in the third Midem 2018 review post but he also addressed the potential for new kinds of streaming service, for example those that super-serve niche markets or genres, in the next few years.

“Higher premium products will come to market, that will be relevant to segments of the market… but in the maturing of this industry, which is really only now in its infancy. 175 million [subscribers]is only in its infancy… and like any other consumer good, it will evolve and segment,” he said. “Pricing is one lever to pull, but there are other levers to pull… We know there are very passionate, discrete groups of listeners who feel under-served… And the labels are concerned about the monetisation of their back catalogues, because the streaming services skew very heavily to pop and hip-hop… The catalogue is dwindling in its ability to be monetised, and that creates opportunities.” Watch the full Napster keynote on YouTube.

Talking of innovation, Snap Inc‘s keynote – also previously featured in the third Midem 2018 review post – talked about how social app Snapchat is using augmented-reality (AR) technology to promote music through its ‘lenses’ – filters that people can use to customise their videos and photos. “I’m really trying to get in front of what that space is going to look like, and what it’s going to be for my artists… the lens, and how they’re able to play with that toy, which is such a fun thing that they don’t think much about, but is so powerful… That is everything to me,” said Geffen Records president Neil Jacobson during the session.

Snap’s VP of partnerships Ben Schwerin talked enthusiastically about the potential of lenses too. “If we can highlight a couple of songs every week, and make them available to all of our users around the world, we can really make a big impact,” he said. “A third of our community uses lenses every day… People talk about augmented reality a lot, and sometimes it sounds like a tech demo in search of a use case. But we’ve said we’re going to use augmented reality because it’s emotional, it’s fun, it puts a smile on your face, and that’s what you want to share with your friends.

A number of French music/tech startups were part of this year’s Midemlab contest, but there was also a dedicated showcase for the latest innovations from Midem’s home country, courtesy of Cap Digital. This was the fifth year for its French Tech by Cap Digital initiative, in partnership with IRMA, and 18 startups showed off their wares in its dedicated pavilion in Cannes. The startups included:

  • Arenametrix by Tech4Team – a marketing platform offering analytics and customer segmentation, including for ticketing.
  • Artist.Live – a booking platform for independent artists, to help them connect with promoters.
  • Bass Me by Studio Duroy – a company working on headphones that will enable music fans to truly feel the bass in their favourite songs.
  • Cizoo – a social app that helps people film and share their singing, including automatically keeping their vocals in tune.
  • Funky Sound by Studio Debussy – a hardware startup working on “the first smart autonomous luxury headphone”.
  • Gigz – this Midemlab 2018 finalist wants to help fans discover music concerts, while providing better analytics back to artists and the industry.
  • High Lab Mastering and Groov Lab’s Mastering by High Lab – a startup working on a high-quality audio-mastering technologies.
  • Le Pavé Parisien by The Concrete Family – a Bluetooth-enabled portable speaker… made from concrete.
  • Playzer by Mobile Media Com – a French streaming service focusing on music videos, and aimed at a youthful audience of millennials.
  • Ora-X by Optinvent (pictured above) – another startup working on smart headphones: running the Android operating system, and with a retractable augmented-reality display to support video as well as audio.
  • Revive by Yes It Is – an app hoping to bring some digital smarts to vinyl records, with people able to scan records to listen digitally, as well as browsing more information about their collections.
  • Scènso.tv by Polkatulk – a video-on-demand subscription service with a catalogue of live experiences to watch, from music to dance, theatre and circus.
  • Simbals – a startup focusing on the ‘big data’ around music, promising tech to power better recommendations, as well as identification of songs.
  • Soonvibes – a talent-spotting platform focusing on artists and DJs, where they can upload their tracks to get feedback – and hopefully business opportunities.
  • Sweesp – an app that turns a smartphone into an audio and video recording studio, complete with automated audio mixing and mastering, and video editing.
  • TradeSpotting – a digital agency that works with clients in music, as well as culture, sport and film.
  • Wyker – another app, but this time one that recommends concerts and festivals to music fans based on their location and their musical tastes.
  • 3D Individuel Audio System by 3DIAS – high-fidelity audio technology to help people listen to music in 3D.

Another startup with a presence at Midem 2018 was German firm Alissia, which was showing off its ‘music network 2.0’ for the first time, with a stand at the Midem Beach venue (pictured above). The company is developing an app that promises to “pick songs for you”, responding to people’s moods by using artificial intelligence technology to catalogue thousands of songs, then build playlists to suit.

Alissia is also one of the growing number of music/tech startups exploring the potential of blockchain technology. In its case, this is being used to ensure it keeps every user’s personal data encrypted and secure. CEO Bosco Bellinghausen also entertained and informed Midem attendees with his Blockchain + AI = Bullshit Bingo or the Last Opportunity for the Music Biz? session at the beach.

In an interview for the Midem News Magazine 2018, Bellinghausen outlined his ambitions. “We want to be an alternative to existing streaming-music services,” he said, before praising the potential of blockchain technology. “In an industry where different rights owners are constantly doing deals with each other, its strength is that it can handle smart contracts – agreements that do not need third parties.” Alissia is intending to launch in Germany this November, so watch this space.

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