This year’s Midem conference has brought another crop of startups pitching their wares in the MidemLab contest. Today’s first pitching session focused on the music discovery, recommendation and creation services category.
Each presented their business to a panel of judges: Elisabeth Barges, senior public policy manager at Google; Michael Herring, CFO of Pandora; Hugh McIntyre, Forbes contributor; and Molly Neuman, head of music at Kickstarter. Martin Duval of MidemLab partner Bluenove hosted the session.
First to pitch was Arshia Cont, CEO of Antescofo. Its technology helps musicians play along at home with orchestras, with the latter’s music synchronised to the musician’s playing. “It enables musical intelligence for any machine that has a microphone and speakers,” he said.
There are already 5,000 musicians using Antescofo around the world. The company is working on two public products: one for anyone who wants to practise music, competing with platforms like Cadenza and Smartmusic, and another more consumer-focused app for anyone to sing along with famous songs, competing with companies like Smule.
“None provide the customisation features that we can provide,” said Cont. The product will be cross-platform, including mobile devices, and Antescofo is already thinking about versions for virtual reality: “Imagine playing from inside the orchestra,” said Cont, who delivered a bullish pitch. “We will democratise musical interpretation for everyone,” he said.
Over to the jury: Herring asked about how licensing will work on Antescofo. “We have partnerships with people who have huge catalogues of karaoke. We also have a technology that allows you to separate the voice and sing on the songs you have already purchased. We are studying the legal issues for this,” said Cont.
What will the business model be? A subscription model initially, but the company is also exploring the idea of users paying for access to specific catalogues. Neuman asked how big the catalogue will be at launch. For cover songs, Antescofo already has a catalogue of 40,000 songs.
“We are not selling it as a learning product. We believe teachers are better at teaching than us,” said Cont. “We are pitching it as a playful product.” McIntyre asked about the drop-off rate of this genre of apps. Cont admitted that engagement will be key. “Kids who come and sing Adele’s Hello with our product, they want to come back: they record themselves and see that they can improve,” he said. Those users will be able to record the audio and video of themselves singing, then upload the performances to YouTube too.
Tracklib is a new music marketplace where people discover, buy and license stems from original tracks. CEO Pär Almqvist presented its technology. “We’ve sampled since the 1970s, but getting access to separate stems is almost possible, and buying a commercial licence is very complicated and expensive,” he said.
“So DJs and producers turn to piracy… Talented producers are stuck with generic sounds, and sound designers are kinda stuck in the elevator with catalogue music.” Tracklib thinks the potential market for these “music building blocks” is enormous.
Almqvist noted that the stems for many songs still exist: they’re just locked away. “We provide access to new types of content – which is separate tracks – combine it with simplified licensing, thereby generating completely new revenues.” Everything in its catalogue is pre-cleared for use in a song or a sync.
The company is targeting hobbyists as well as pros. “The addressable market: anyone playing an instrument all the way to professionally making music is 700 million people,” he said. And Tracklib wants to become a hub for other music-creation startups, from Maschine and Ableton to games and karaoke. It’s currently in private beta.
Jury questions: how much does a stem cost? Around $2 to buy and try in music, then the next step is finding out how much the licence will cost for more advanced use. He admitted that there are companies coming up to clear mixes and usage, but that Tracklib is focused on building a marketplace that can work with all of them.
Neuman asked about the attitude of licensors. “Really well. We need to find new revenues within the industry… We’re not a disruptive music startup that tries to change entirely the rules of the game,” said Almqvist. The team is a mixture of music and tech/telecoms industry veterans.
SoundGrabber was born from the realisation that streaming was becoming mainstream, while vinyl was growing again. “Vinyl makes up for what streaming lacks: it’s called digging. Trekking across the city to find a particular gem in a record shop,” said CEO Harry Knowlman. Hence the company’s service, which tries to blend the convenience of streaming with the digging and community of vinyl.
The idea: music fans can discover what others around are listening to on their phones, chat with them, and perhaps even meet up in the real world. Artists, promoters, clubs and brands can also be involved as local curators. The company has a native, geo-localised advertising platform. “We want to make the most of knowing who is listening to what, and where, and when,” said Knowlman, who hopes brands will see this information as worth paying for.
The app natively integrates the various streaming services, and has technology to track what people are listening to on those services, as well as the tracks they have stored on their phones. The app has been downloaded more than 5,000 times so far, with 230,000 tracks played in the app. “Our aim is to reach 300,000 users by the end of the year,” he said, finishing off by pitching SoundGrabber as a blend of Snapchat and Shazam.
Knowlman added that SoundGrabber aims to break down the barriers between people listening to different streaming services, as well as making the most of their geographical proximity to encourage meetups.
“Why do I care what people are listening to around me?” wondered McIntyre. “People are still the best way to discover music. Adding this geographical factor does connect it to your reality,” said Knowlman. “Music is a really strong social link, it brings people together, and there are a lot of people who are interested in discovering and meeting new people through music.”
Who is the app aimed at? Currently, the average age is between 18 and 28, largely in urban areas.
Trackd CEO Russell Sheffield talked about his British startup’s ambitions to become “the world’s biggest generator of music content”. It started as a beta web demo in 2013. “Technology has revolutionised music consumption, but creators are hungry for a revolution of their own,” said Sheffield.
The app is an eight-track studio on a phone: people can record a section of a song then invite friends (or strangers) to contribute their own elements. Sheffield showed an example of someone in New York laying down some drums, then someone in LA adding some guitar chords and vocals, then someone in Alabama adding more vocals.
Apple featured Trackd as one of its best new iOS apps, and the app has been downloaded 60,000 times since last August. 226,000 minutes of audio have so far been recorded, with an average of 2.1 projects per user. And it’s making money: $0.9 per user so far. The app is freemium: people pay for it via in-app purchases – £1.79 to upgrade from four to eight tracks, for example, with audio filters soon to be added for around £0.79.
Competitors include online collaboration platforms like Splice, although Sheffield said Trackd is aiming for a different audience. “You have to have more of an engineer’s mindset to use that, whereas we’re aimed at artists,” said Sheffield. “It’s really about songs starting in track. We’re not saying you’re going to end up with a mastered piece of music… you can then take it out to the studio, and that’s part of our next goal, to work on that side.”
Flat is a web-based music-score editor, which people can use to collaborate with other composers – a bit like a Google Docs for scores. The startup hopes it will be used in classrooms as well as at home: it’s a Google for Education partner already “with a common goal: to revolutionise music education around the world”.
“The more we improve the tool, the more people are using it,” said Pierre Rannou, who outlined Flat’s ambitions to expand into a more professional market. The company is also planning to develop mobile apps, as well as using its technology to create a new experience for viewing scores when users are playing their compositions.
“People don’t only want to compose. They want to learn, they want to perform, and they want to compose with their friends,” he said. Flat is looking for a $3m investment to double its team, and work on all these new opportunities.
Rannou said that teachers love the ease-of-use of Flat, and said that the company has focused on being a tool, leaving the teachers to do the teaching. There are competitors, but Flat is focusing on being more affordable, and easier to use than those rivals. “There are thousands of people who want to compose, and they are ready to pay for a great tool,” said Rannou.
More than 100,000 teachers and students are on the platform already, he added.
Mimi Hearing Technologies
Mimi’s technology isn’t about discovering music: it’s about how we hear music, and how we perceive it. “Everyone has a different ear-print,” said business development exec Bernd Kopin, noting that most people have some kind of quality loss in their hearing, even if they are not officially hearing-impaired. We miss certain frequencies, and thus certain elements of music.
Kopin said that the music industry puts a lot of effort into recording music, and people buy expensive headphones or speakers, but “we are not really in control of how we perceive the music”. Mimi’s app aims to solve that: it gives its user a personalised hearing test to understand which frequencies they’re missing, then tunes their music to their “hearing profile”.
“More people tell us that their shitty headphones suddenly sound good, and even more expensive headphones get a big quality update,” said Kopin. Mimi works with services like Spotify already, and is looking for more partnerships with streaming services, suggesting that incorporating Mimi’s technology could help those companies sign up more paying subscribers.
Version 3.0 of the app will launch for iOS on 16 June, with its first Android version debuting the same day. The company is working on business models for in-app purchases and subscriptions, but is currently “pre-revenue”. Kopin warned that Mimi “isn’t throwing out the doctor” – it advises people to go to their physician for any kind of treatment for hearing loss, rather than relying on Mimi’s diagnosis alone.
“Once you’ve tried it, you will never go back because it sounds so much better,” he said. “We get requests from people saying ‘where can I donate?’ because it’s so amazing.”
And that was a wrap. The winner of this and the other MidemLab categories will be announced tomorrow (Saturday 4 June).