Midemlab 2017 pitches: experiential technologies (#midem)


The final companies to pitch in this year’s Midemlab startups contest in Cannes were the ‘experiential technology’ firms – a category that includes virtual and augmented reality, hi-res audio and hardware.

ORB, TheWaveVR, Pacemaker, SYOS and Vinci Smart Headphones were the five finalists, pitching to judges including Universal Music’s Ty Roberts; Stockholm Music City’s Björn Lindborg; Google’s Christian Behrendt; and France 24’s Marjorie Paillon. Music Ally’s Paul Brindley hosted.

Vinci US business director Cathy Cao kicked off to talk about her company’s ‘smart headphones with AI’. “We created a new music listening experience… a completely standalone device, and a music player you can just put on your head… you can say ‘play Lady Gaga’ or ‘play Bruno Mars’ and it’ll give you a playlist of whatever you want,” she said.

The headphones track a wearer’s running speed and heart rate, which Vinci intends to use as data to customise the music it plays – for example to accompany a workout. Cao said that Vinci is an attempt to bring the kind of voice/AI interface seen in Amazon’s Echo and Alexa in the home, out and about with headphones.

The company was founded in 2014 and launched its first product in October 2015, before taking it overseas in November 2016 with a Kickstarter that raised nearly $1m. “We’re really looking to focus in creating a strong brand and brand awareness,” she said. “And also creating a strong social connection.” Vinci is hoping to open its platform up in the next three years, and ultimately reach 10 million monthly active users.

There’s a pro version of the headphones with active noise cancellation, which costs $299 rather than the basic model’s $199. “We’re very heavily-focused on the music AI category,” added Cao. Currently it works with Spotify, SoundCloud and Amazon Prime Music. “We’re looking to add more services as well: Pandora, Deezer, as many as we can.”

SYOS CEO Pauline Eveno was next to pitch, brandishing a blue saxophone mouthpiece made by her company using 3D printing technology. “For ages, musicians had to adapt to their instruments. Now we are offering them freedom with a mouthpiece that adapts to them,” she said. “This little mouthpiece is responsible for 80% of the sound… We shape the geometry, and it shapes the song.”

The device costs €299, and is aimed at professional saxophone players and amateurs alike. The company has customers in 12 countries across Europe and North America from its first year. “What works for the saxophone will also work for other wind instruments: clarinet, trumpet, trombones,” said Eveno. But stringed instruments and drums are also on the company’s future agenda.

“We are really a B2C company, we directly sell to our customers. And we really have a lot of different customers from the amateurs to the great artists,” said Eveno. “We are working on making it easier to use… now we will talk to them by phone, and they will give examples of artists they like to give a sense of the sound they are looking for.”

Pacemaker CEO Jonas Norberg was third to pitch, talking about the problems of monetising DJ mixes and remixes, which are still created and uploaded as files to platforms like SoundCloud and Mixcloud. “We estimate that DJ mixes alone account for 112bn streams a year alone on these services,” he said.

Pacemaker’s app has been downloaded more than 4m times already, helping people “create mixes with streams not files”, with a built-in artificial-intelligence DJ to help those mixes sound smooth. “Even my half-blind mother can create an awesome, seamless, pro-level mix… and she can use Spotify’s catalogue while she creates it.”

Isn’t this a licensing nightmare? No, said Norberg. What is shared is only “how a mix is done, not the file: we call it a metamix”. So the instructions for how the tracks are mixed together are shared, and then used on the recipient’s device to reconstruct the mix from Spotify’s catalogue – thus generating royalties for every song played.

What’s the business model? The app makes money from in-app purchases of premium features, but Pacemaker is hoping for a cut of any incremental value generated from DJ mixes created using the metamix system. Norberg added that pro producers and DJs are starting to drop mixtapes created using Pacemaker: with the benefit being that those metamixes can generate Spotify royalties for the artists featured.

TheWaveVR CEO Adam Arrigo talked about his company’s live, virtual-reality music platform, with 3D interfaces for artists to control the visuals in virtual venue and clubs, with fans gathering (remotely) to watch the performances.

“The things in virtual reality that are most compelling for people are actually the things that are most different from reality,” he said. “We came up with this mantra: don’t recreate reality: amplify it.” For example, turning performers into 3D holograms that are “ten times the size of the audience… something you couldn’t experience in real life unless you were on a ton of LSD!

“Reality is constrained, and we need to create this new type of content that is specifically built for the medium of virtual reality,” he continued. “The business model? We’re honestly still figuring that out. We’re in R&D!” But selling virtual tickets may be one way forward. TheWaveVR says it’s the highest-rated VR app on digital store Steam, since releasing its beta there.

For now, TheWaveVR works on high-end VR headsets: the HTC Vive. It does work on Oculus Rift, albeit not officially yet. “We are cross-platform: it’s built to support PS VR [too],” said Arrigo. “We think of TheWave as this underground club within the larger ecosystem… We think that we’re going to keep our experience extremely stylised and specific as we expand.”

For now, TheWaveVR is putting on one virtual show a week with local bands. Is there really an audience for it, wondered Paillon. “I think VR social is the killer app for VR, and the audience we’re optimised for right now is the EDM crowd. There’s a high crossover with gamers,” he said.

ORB CEO Bill Schacht was last to pitch, explaining his “Orb immersive format”. So it’s a new music format that will play on TVs, PCs, tablets and mobiles, but also virtual reality and augmented reality headsets. “There’s a billion screens out there ready for this product, and a billion screens coming,” he said.

He demonstrated the technology: a 360-degree environment built for The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, swooping around the artwork, triggering animation, music, video clips and other information. 360-degree visualizers are also included.

How will the artists create all this content? “It’s not about what I think, it’s actually about what the artist thinks,” said Schacht. So his aim is to sit down with those artists and find out what elements they want, then help them to build them. “You experience the artwork in different ways in different experiences,” he said. “On TV, it’s a social experience… but in VR, it’s like taking a digital drug trip.”

How much will this cost the fan. “It’s going to cost you exactly what the artist or the label thinks it should cost you,” said Schacht.”If it’s Michael Jackson, you’re going to pay 20 bucks. If it’s an unknown artist, you’re going to get in there for free.” ORB will take a licensing fee for the code, with artists (or labels) taking around 90% of the revenues.

This year’s Midemlab winners will be announced later today.

Music Ally’s Midem 2017 coverage is supported this year by Music is GREAT, the British government’s campaign to promote UK music exports.

The UK and British Music are represented through the British Music at Midem stand, with the Department for International Trade joining forces with music industry associations AIM (Association of Independent Music), BPI (British Phonographic Industry), MPA (Music Publishers Association), PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited) and PRS for Music.

Together, they will support over 150 UK music businesses and member delegates as they seek to pick up on the latest trends, connect with international companies, sign deals and develop trading and export opportunities.

Stuart Dredge

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