Analysis

Pacemaker wants to create a platform for legal DJ mixes – or ‘metamixes’


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You may know Swedish startup Pacemaker best for its excellent DJ app, which launched in early 2014 as a way to use Spotify’s catalogue as a source for your mixes.

Since then, it has made some interesting moves into artificial intelligence, with a built-in AI DJ called ‘Mållgan’ that helps music fans choose and mix tracks.

Nominated for a Music Ally Digital Music Award last year, Pacemaker has since become part of the first cohort of the Techstars Music accelerator. But earlier this month, it launched what might be its most ambitious feature yet.

You might not realise why at first. Pacemaker+ is a new mode within the Pacemaker app that, once you’ve created a mix, extracts the metadata on the tracks AND how they are mixed together, and makes it shareable.

That means other people can access it, and play your mix, pulling the actual music from their own Spotify accounts, generating streams (and thus royalties) for the rightsholders of that source material.

But as it turns out when Music Ally interviews Pacemaker CEO Jonas Norberg, this is just one step towards his company’s much bigger plans.

“We’ve always known that the kind of freedom users want to have is at this level. We want to help people engage with the music they love, but in a way that benefits artists and rightsholders,” he says.

“When people create those mixtapes in Pacemaker, we are only saving this ‘metamix’. And with all the tracks in the air around us, you only need that metamix to put the mixtape back together. It makes mixes and remixes a natural part of premium streaming.”

There are already ways for DJs to share mixes online. They can upload them to SoundCloud or YouTube and hope they’re not hit by a copyright takedown, although as Norberg points out, even if not, there’s an issue around how royalties flow back to the original tracks’ creators.

Streaming service Mixcloud also supports DJ mixes, but operates under a radio-style licence. That means some restrictions on those mixes, but at least royalties are being paid via public-performance collecting societies.

Meanwhile, startups like Dubset and MetaPop – the latter recently acquired by DJ tech firm Native Instruments – have been tackling the problem of individual remixes and mash-ups, trying to secure licences and then make them available on premium streaming services.

All this is the backdrop for Pacemaker’s new moves, which go beyond simply making its ‘metamixes’ available within its own app, which is how it currently works.

“We want to take that type of content to the streaming services. Currently, Pacemaker the app is the only place you can create, share and consume a metamix, but our technology scales into the streaming services,” says Norberg.

“We have a metamix SDK – you can almost see it as a self-playing piano – that we want to put into the Apple Music and Spotify core experience. Then metamixes created in Pacemaker will be able to be discovered and listened to in those services.”

Jonas Norberg of Pacemaker

That is, of course, if those companies are willing to make such an integration, which remains to be seen. Pacemaker at least has a good relationship with Spotify, having collaborated closely with the company on its original iPad app’s launch.

Norberg is also looking further afield for potential integrations. “Our technology also scales to any creation tool. In time, we could port it to Ableton, Pioneer, Native Instruments and more,” he says.

“The professional DJ creation tools are disconnected from streaming. They use downloads and save mixes as files to upload to YouTube, SoundCloud or Mixcloud. But at some point the pro DJs will also connect themselves with streaming, and start DJing with content from Spotify and Apple Music.”

“When they do, they’ll no longer be able to save their creations as files: they will have to save them as metadata, otherwise they will be pulling content out of the streaming services. So they can have the metamix, create based on content from Spotify and Apple, and share their mixes into the streaming services and also into Pacemaker.”

If this strategy comes off, Pacemaker becomes much more than an app: it becomes a platform for legal sharing of DJ mixes, extending into pro DJ tools and premium streaming services alike. “This has always been the end game for Pacemaker,” says Norberg. “You can see the app almost as a tech demo.”

There are some headaches to solve with this approach. For example, if someone in Sweden creates a metamix in Pacemaker then shares it with a friend in the UK, what happens if a track or two in the mix are only available in Sweden? This is where Mållgan steps in to stitch the songs either side of the missing track together.

How have rightsholders reacted to all this? Norberg says that being part of Techstars Music has been a big help in getting his pitch across.

“The rights owners buy into it, and they’re supportive. They actually invested in Techstars Music, so they are frequently at our office and we get access to the decision-makers. That has really propelled things: they believe in the metamix future!” he says.

“The labels are much more tech-savvy than they used to be, and they are open for innovation. The industry has gone from losses to profits: they make money now, and that’s when you will see people interested in change that can grow things even more.”

pacemaker

Pacemaker is also hoping that metamixes could be of use to artists and labels in a promotional sense: artists and DJs creating mixtapes when they have a new release out, including a few of its tracks, which then generate premium streams and royalties, rather than just online buzz.

“Today, the mixtape is part of the electronic music culture, so when you promote new tracks you do a mixtape and upload it on SoundCloud or YouTube. You get hype, momentum, online articles, but then you burn your hype on low-paying platforms because nothing happens in the Apple Music / Spotify ecosystem,” says Norberg.

“With the metamix, you could share your mixtape and then generate streams in the premium streaming services. It’s a real promotion tool, but also you get paid all along the way. And what blows artists away is that because of the way metamixes work, fans can also engage with that mixtape: they can go on Pacemaker and change it in their own style.”

Pacemaker is already thinking about how artists might like to share their metamixes outside its app, and even outside the streaming services. For example, a metamix creator might want to post it on Twitter and Facebook in a way that lets people listen there and then, rather than having to click or tap through to another app.

“The next step for us is to have a web player, so you can consume it in the tweet. It’s kinda close: we have already done the test with the technology,” says Norberg.

This is one example of the more work to be done by Pacemaker, with its new feature having only just launched. Another aspect is what it will mean for the company’s business model. One strand is the $6.99-a-month in-app subscription for Pacemaker+ to create the metamixes.

Norberg sees other opportunities too, on the industry-facing side of Pacemaker’s business. “If we can prove that we generate incremental value, I think we can get a cut from that value,” he says.

“We have to prove ourselves, but I believe that the demand for this type of content is high. If you put that kind of content behind the paywall on the streaming services, you will increase the number of premium subscribers.”

Finally, Norberg talks about the wider trend fuelling Pacemaker’s evolution: the emergence of Apple Music and Spotify as large-scale music platforms for external developers to build apps and experiences on top of.

With 70 million paying subscribers between them – and that’s based on official figures that are already out of date – there’s a big opportunity here. Albeit with the perennial caveat about the risks of building on top of a platform that could at any moment change its terms and conditions, or copy your startup’s main feature.

Norberg is well aware of the latter dynamic, but prefers to talk optimistically about the potential of music’s new multi-platforms era.

“The consumers will win. You will have thousands of wonderful experiences on top of music. And I think there’s another disruption right around the corner because of blockchain,” he says.

How? Norberg suggests that the future for global, large-scale streaming may come down to four or five companies: Spotify, Apple, Google, Amazon and perhaps Pandora.

“The barrier to entry to do your own music-streaming service will be super-high because licensing costs so much, and labels don’t have the bandwidth to license little guys like us,” he says.

One of the theories around blockchain technology is that it could help to solve this problem via the use of ‘smart contracts’, where licensing permissions and payment splits are integrated into recordings: in effect making possible a self-service licensing system.

“There will be a licence for companies to do just that, and then all of these third-party apps can be their own streaming services,” says Norberg.

“That could be a logical move for the labels: they will have thousands of outlets instead of just five, which is good for them. This is only my analysis, but I think it looks like music will become a platform. It’s a utility: food, sex, sleep… music! And the infrastructure is in place.”

Stuart Dredge

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