20 music/tech startups made it to the final of this year’s Midemlab startups contest, with the companies in the music creation and education category the first to pitch today in Cannes.
Representatives from HumOn, Roadie 2, Studytracks, Uberchord and Skoog presented to a panel of judges including Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda; Sony Music’s Andre Stapleton; The Next Web’s Cecil Kleine; and Emilien Moyon, director of Berklee Music Business in Spain. Bluenove’s Martin Duval was the session host.
Uberchord COO Simon Barkow-Oesterreicher talked about his company’s music education play. “We think music education is broken,” he said. Uberchord wants to provide an alternative to human teachers or YouTube videos. “85% of learners give up in their very first year,” he said, pitching Uberchord as an instrument-learning equivalent to Duolingo, the language-learning app.
“We have a great song catalogue recently launched with blanket licensing from Universal Music Publishing and Sony/ATV,” said Barkow-Oesterreicher, before talking up Uberchord’s proprietary chord-recognition technology: its app listens to a user’s guitar-playing, detecting their mistakes. The app offers adaptive lessons, with gamified features to keep users motivated.
“Music learning is a $12bn market and it still has enormous growth potential,” he said. “If we reduce this abandonment rate by just 10%, we will double the market.” For now, Uberchord’s business model is in-app subscriptions, with premium users paying $20 a month or $120 a year. The app has been downloaded 450k times, with 40,000 monthly active users, with a smaller but growing conversion rate. Uberchord has raised €2m of funding so far.
Uberchord is currently working on a user-generated platform for chord notation: its users will contribute to its database of guitar tabs and rhythm information. The judges wondered how Uberchord compares to bigger rival Yousician. “We have better technology that actually understands the mistakes… we can say we know what is going wrong, and then personalise the exercises to the user,” said Barkow-Oesterreicher.
Studytracks CEO George Hammond-Hagan outlined his company’s plan, based on a hack he created for his son’s exam revision. “What if the music you were listening to could actually help you? I took a physics book he was using and a Fat Joe instrumental and mashed them together…” Studytracks’ app puts together the elements of an educational curriculum, and works in music.
“Your learning environment is wherever you are,” he said. “Kids have gone nuts for it… But the thing that got us really excited is how much teachers love it. They were as excited as the students were, because they found it as a new way to engage kids.” He played a rap track explaining the plot to Romeo and Juliet as an example.
Studytracks writes and records its tracks in-house. “We’ve added 600 tracks in less than a year to the app. The model is very simple: we’ve got it on the app store, had 150,000 kids download it. It’s a freemium model. They get a number of tracks for free, and if they want more they pay for those. We’ve got about a 12% to 15% conversion rate,” he said. But schools can also sign up for subscriptions covering their pupils.
“Our goal is simple: We want to help as many kids as possible around the world study and do better in their exams… We now have 150,000 kids using it. Our next goal is one million kids…” And Studytracks is currently doing some research with the University of Barcelona to understand how music affects not just people’s ability to learn, but their mood. And more research is underway to understand the specific impact Studytracks has on learning.
Will it focus on hip-hop or will other genres play a role? “The delivery works best when it has a spoken-metered flow about it. However, kids aren’t all into hip-hop. EDM, guitar rock and all that. What we’d love to do eventually is be able to offer it with the content independent of the music, so the kid can go ‘I’d like to listen to physics with dance music’. We’ve started building the tech for that,” said Hammond-Hagan.
Roadie 2 CEO Hassane Slaibi talked about his company’s automatic guitar tuner: a gadget that people place on the guitar, pluck a string and then watch it tune. The company raised more than $500k in a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first run of devices. “The most-funded music accessory in crowdfunding history,” as he says.
The device uses patented vibration-detection technology. “Roadie is a confidence-builder,” he said. Users can set up their custom tunings, change their reference pitch, track the quality of their strings, and other features. The battery on the device lasts for more than a month on a single charge, even if used daily: good for touring bands. “It’s like having a guitar tech in your pocket,” he said.
The device is aimed at all skill levels, and works with ukuleles, mandolins and banjos as well as guitar. “it’s going to help you tune less and play more,” said Slaibi. “We are targeting all stringed-instrumentalists… The way we like to say it to bands is ‘we tune, you rock!’.”
The device will retail for $129, and is currently available as a discounted $99 pre-order on the company’s website. One unit costs around $30 to produce, plus shipping. And yes, Roadie 2 is a second-generation product: the startup has learned from the feedback from its first version. “We are predicting over 20,000 units of sales in the first year on the market,” said Slaibi.
What about competition from guitar manufacturers: Gibson has tried something similar for example? Or are there partnerships possible here? “We are always open to some kinds of partnership,” said Slaibi, noting that Gibson “shied away” from its experiment with auto-tuning guitars in 2016. “It would be a wonderful bundle for someone just starting to play music,” said Slaibi, of the potential to team up with a guitar maker.
Skoog creative director Benjaman Schogler talked about his company’s desire to help children make music, and “play with the music that they love… For many children the main barrier to making music can be the instruments themselves.”
The company started by working with children with disabilities, creating an instrument called Skoog 1.0. “It turns out that the barriers those kids face in using instruments are the barriers we all face,” he said: the skills and knowledge required to play an instrument. Hence Skoog 2.0, designed for a wider audience.
It’s a Bluetooth MIDI device that connects wirelessly to an iPad, and is compatible with apps like GarageBand. People play music on it simply by touching it. “We have integration with iTunes and Spotify. It can automatically tune to the track that you play… anyone can play with the music they love, and improvise and jam along,” said Schogler.
“The market for us is truly global. We’re already retailing online and in retail stores,” he said. Skoog has also teamed up with Apple to create a platform to teach coding using music. “In every Apple Store in the world, there are two Skoogs there, and you can go in and use them,” he said. “We’re trying to deal with scale, and that’s where the challenge lies for us at the moment.”
Skoog has sold 2,500 units since it launched last year at €279, but it wants to expand the product family now, and is looking for investment to help scale the business. “It’s not quite an impulse purchase yet, but we’re working to get the costs down,” said Schogler. “We’ve identified the partners off-shore to do this with, so it’s just a question of scale… We don’t just want to help children. It’s the kid in everyone!”
HumOn CEO David Choi rounded out the session. “Sometimes we find ourselves humming to ourselves!” he said. Everyone has an inner musician, in other words. HumOn wants to help those people compose “a beautiful piece of music” that they can share online.
“HumOn recognises your voice in real-time and transcribes it in a musical-notation score,” he said. Users can then choose a genre to auto-complete the accompaniment, before sharing the results on social media. The app has been in beta-testing for a year on Google Play, with 300k downloads so far “without any marketing activities”.
Future features include the ability to enter your own lyrics and record your actual voice, as well as the ability to publish tracks on streaming services. “They can also purchase the copyright on a track made by HumOn so they can use them commercially for background music on a video or a game,” said Choi.
HumOn spun off from Samsung Electronics last November, with Samsung also an investor in the startup. “We target everyone who can hum!” he said of the target audience for the app. “A month ago we did a special music class for elementary school. They loved it. The teachers said it’s a really efficient way to teach music… it’s early days, but we can expand our business to every segment. Every human can hum!” HumOn is also mulling potential collaborations with K-Pop musicians.
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.