Analysis

Finnish collecting society Teosto aims for innovation with Futures Lab


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Collecting societies have often made easy targets in arguments about the music industry’s attitude towards technological change. Yet in 2017, the dinosaur stereotypes are crumbling – for some collective management organisations (CMOs) at least.

From licensing hubs like ICE and Armonia, to SOCAN buying tech firms MediaNet and Audiam, to PRS for Music hosting a debate about blockchain technology, CMOs are trying to get to grips with digital disruption just like other rightsholders.

Another example is Teosto in Finland, with its Futures Lab initiative taking in hack days, research partnerships, open APIs and even investing in one music/tech startup.

Ano Sirppiniemi, Teosto’s head of R&D, and Turo Pekari, its senior advisor on innovation and discovery, talked to Music Ally about what the society is up to, as well as how it views new developments like artificial intelligence.

Sirppiniemi explains that the Futures Lab formalises some of the partnerships and research that Teosto has been doing with startups and universities for the last five years: its equivalent to the innovation labs that sit within big companies.

We are looking at the future of data, the future of CMOs, and the future of music and the music business,” he says.

“It’s about where things are going. We are in the same position as all CMOs at the moment: we are facing a lot of competition, and we need to move faster and be more efficient. To do that, we need a better understanding of where things are going.”

Pekari adds that the Futures Lab has board-level backing at Teosto, with a brief to spread its net wide to find projects and partners that can help the society navigate the shifting landscape of pan-European licensing hubs; the EC’s drive for a digital single market; and challenges posed by companies like Kobalt, who are set on disrupting the royalty-collecting sector.

Teosto’s response includes opening up its data. It’s part of the Open Music Initiative, which was founded in 2016, and has also launched its own Teosto Open API, making all its live-music data from 2014 and 2015 available to developers.

That means data on venues, artists, setlists of performed songs and (importantly) the writers and publishers of those songs for more than 50k gigs a year. Arctic Sounds and Keikkahistoria are two websites that have already taken advantage of the data.

Arctic Sounds

“It’s the direction we need to take: of course there is some data that is more core to our business that we cannot give out. But we should give data out if we can, and the live music data was the start of testing for us,” says Sirppiniemi.

Teosto’s involvement in hackathons also led to its first investment in a startup in August 2016. Fellow Finns Artist Exchange run a platform to help people book artists for concerts, complete with a calendar to check their availability before making contact.

We don’t have huge funds to invest, it is more about finding small ways to keep the whole ecosystem more healthy,” says Sirppiniemi. “We don’t have millions to throw around and invest in risky propositions, but this was a good example of what we can do. And hopefully in the future we’ll be able to do more of that.”

Teosto is also involved in some interesting research projects, including its focus on “emotion-aware” technologies, working with academic researchers to understand the crossover between music, personal tracking and wellbeing.

The society was a main partner in a 2016 event called Emotion Hack Day, for example, with 150 developers and researchers taking part in Helsinki and Montreal. More will follow in 2017.

“People are just starting to realise the possibilities of what you can do with all the biosensors and wearables, detecting more and more data from our bodies and our emotions,” says Pekari.

Teosto is also part of a team that won a €250k research grant from the University of Helsinki for the Nemo Project, a study that aims to develop “empathy-enabled” technologies through a mixture of research, tech pilots and hack days.

“We are creating a community around this topic,” says Pekari. Teosto has the same goal for another area: music education, and the use of technology to help people learn to compose and play.

One example: the society is working with Universidad Pompeu Fabra, University of the Arts Helsinki and Sacem on a project called Future Songwriting to test new interactive learning methods and environments with schools in Finland and France.

If you look at the startup scene in Finland, many of the most interesting companies are in some way focusing on education or training,” says Pekari. “We have a lot of small, education-focused startups. So we are now developing this concept for a global education export around the use of technology in music education.”

Teosto is also thinking hard – as a growing number of people in the music industry are – about the potential impact of artificial intelligence technology.

There are three angles of interest. First, how AI can be used in music-streaming and recommendations; and second, how AI might help a society like Teosto process data more efficiently. But third, there is the question of AI music composition.

I don’t think it will be just a story of human authors versus non-human authors. It will be as much about human composers working with AI technologies, and creating something that’s a combination of human and machine,” says Sirppiniemi.

“Yes, there will be applications of music and AI that will take over, for example, background music in stores. Music in TV shows may be another area where AI applications in music could have some role in the future.”

“I don’t see this as a big threat to human composers, though. I see it more as a lot of possibilities for building new things. A combination of technology, and then adding a layer of human creativity.”

Pekari and Sirppiniemi hope that keeping an open mind will help Teosto stay nimble and smart in the years ahead, although both stress that they are anchored by practical considerations too.

“We have to explain how everything comes back to getting more value for authors and publishers. But if we want to stay relevant for the next 10 or 20 or 30 years, we don’t really know what’s going to come, so that’s the idea behind doing a lot of small-scale pilots in many areas,” says Sirppiniemi.

“We hope it will put us in a pretty good position. If you look at other societies, some are doing R&D work that is more focused on basically how to save their business, rather than looking so much and so widely into new possibilities,” agrees Pekari.

“We are small, so some of the changes in the environment may hit us even harder than they do the big societies. But we need to try to be smarter and faster. We have more to lose, but more freedom of movement to innovate,” concludes Sirppiniemi.

Stuart Dredge

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