Midem wrap panel: blockchain, AI, streaming and more (#midem)


As Midem moves towards its closing day tomorrow, a wrap panel this afternoon discussed some of the trends that have emerged over the course of this week’s conference.

Moderated by Reed Midem’s James Martin, the panel included Warp Records’ Grant Bussinger; Unicum Music’s Emily Gonneau; Hospital Records’ Romy Harber; and Whitesmith Entertainment’s Emily White.

“If you take out the obvious hashtags like #midem and #cannes, the biggest hashtag this conference is #MusicIsGREAT, which is for the British presence at Midem,” said Martin, by way of introduction. “#musicmoveseurope is the next biggest hashtag, related to the European Commission’s presence at Midem.” #midemlab and #valuegap also scored highly.

Gonneau talked about the latter. “YouTube has been the actor that most creators have been pounding, because they epitomise the whole thing about the revenue share. But it’s more about a discussion that reflects the way the discussion and debate is going on at a European level,” she said.

“I think there’s intense lobbying, and the French Minister for Culture, who’s just come on board since the election, is very much into that… So I think it will have an impact, definitely.”

White talked about the theme of streaming. “It is now the format in our industry, finally. There’s still a lot of infighting, a lot of complaints. But there’s also competition! We have Spotify, we have Apple Music, we have Deezer, we have Tidal,” she said. “It’s a really exciting opportunity to really expand artists into all these new markets… And something like Amazon Music is really focusing on streaming, and think of the wealth of customers they have who are not hardcore music fans.”

White said fewer artists are grumbling about streaming. “It’s really about owning and controlling your rights, and having partners who are transparent… Hang on to your rights, understand your rights. But we’re all for streaming: we want music to be in as many places as possible.”

“It can be difficult for new artists,” added Harber, but he added that streaming provides steady income over time, especially as artists start to build a back catalogue of tracks and albums. Bussinger said support from the services is important: playlisting and other programs can help artists to see the value.

Gonneau: “We have this data, which is up to date all the time, so the context for which people are actually listening to the music is paramount now. For developing a career it’s probably harder. It’s probably not so much about a particular artist. It’s more about a mood,” she said.

“And that adds an extra layer into the mix in terms of how you use streaming, as a strategy. Thinking about what this music is and how this music is going to be felt, and what context it’s going to be associated to for the listeners.”

This may lead more artists to release their music track-by-track, so it can go into different playlists, rather than in lump form as an album, she suggested.

White talked about discovering that one artist’s top country was Peru, and another’s was Indonesia. In the latter case, investigating further “came back with a slew of six-figure touring offers”, even though that country had not been a priority for marketing or touring until then.

The conversation turned to playlists, and getting artists’ tracks onto the right ones. “We have a team that definitely does that,” said Bussinger. “They’ve had success with this context-aware situation: is this a good driving song, or is this a good workout song? We find those placements work so much better.”

Warp is trying to dig in to its streaming data to understand listener behaviour. “Sometimes it’s a bit ‘throw it against the wall and see what sticks’. We’re trying to be quite smart about where we put something, using analytics.”

Bussinger cited another theme of Midem 2017: blockchain. “It’s always been a stitch in my side. The industry’s been talking about blockchain for years now, and nobody’s pulled the trigger,” he said. “PROs and publishing companies are using blockchain technology to solve some of the issues they have with matching and splits… Am I convinced? We’ll see!”

Gonneau said she’s also interested in the potential for blockchain, and is following the debate about whether these networks should be public or private. She also warned that there are underlying issues to solve: it’s not just about the technology, it’s about the industry culture and processes. “It’s also linked to willpower: do we actually want to make this work?”

“I think it’s really exciting,” said White, while warning “It’s going to be a big leap to get everyone on board, if that’s the decision we decide we want to go in… “If we can do it, I am all for it!”

It’s been talked about for the past two years, but no one really understood it,” said Harber, suggesting that once more people within the music industry DO understand blockchain technology, they may be in a better position to drive it forward.

The next theme was artificial intelligence (AI), chosen by Gonneau. “We’ve been talking about it a lot in terms of music curation for playlists,” she said. “There’s a bit of a debate here about whether it’s going to be robots or humans that win this. But for me, the second stage is where the potential challenge is: the way we use AI for co-creation, and also creation. The question is why do we need AI to create music?.. What are we trying to achieve here?”

White chimed in: AI could be providing instrumental tracks for TV, online videos, games and other content: sync deals that have been generating decent revenue for human artists. “If you’re a human and you’re negotiating against an AI, you can get AI for a fraction of the price!” she said.

Bussinger: “Our artists have been using AI and making AI music for decades! Brian Eno, Squarepusher, Autechre: all of them have experimented with it, they love it, they think it’s an amazingly enabling technology to express themselves,” he said. “An algorithm is still art.” But White stressed that “we’re talking about displacement, not collaboration” when worrying about AI.

“What is the added value of a human, that by definition is fallible, predictable, flawed?” said Gonneau. But maybe those flaws are what we want from music, rather than algorithmic perfection.

White and Harber talked about messaging bots. “You’ve got to be careful. We’ve had great results with it, but we’re also careful to not pretend it’s a person. I think people can see through that. It’s easy to catch a bot out if they’re trying to seem like an artist or the label,” said Harber.

“Being transparent on communication is very important,” said White, who said that bots are an extension of the practice on Twitter of making it clear if an artist’s team are tweeting from their account, rather than the artist themselves.

As a way of just getting information out, it cuts through all the noise on Facebook, which you have to pay to get through at the moment. With the bot, it just pops up on their iPhone. That’s a great way of reaching people, and instantly as well,” said Harber. “In a certain way, you can use it as an extension of a newsletter. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a two-way conversation.”

Harber also said live-streaming is going to be very powerful for the music industry. “On platforms like Twitch, they’ve been absolutely flying for years. Huge, huge numbers of streams,” he said.

It’s a very strange sort of world: people watching other people playing games, and they get hundreds of millions of views! People are earning a living from this. And I just think it’s something the music community should embrace a little bit more.”

Harber said that using technology like Facebook Live has been good for Hospital artists, even those streaming from their studio or bedroom: attracting decent audiences, who can then be retargeted later with (for example) marketing for an album or tour. “Quite a lot of people are fake live-streaming at the moment too! Premiering their videos… it’s gaming the algorithm, but it works!”

Bussinger did a 12-hour live-stream with Autechre, and streamed Aphex Twin’s set from Field Day. “We’ve always found it really successful,” he said. For now, Warp is focusing on YouTube for most of this activity. “One platform that we can then come back and own it… And Facebook doesn’t pay!”

“We’ll do the live stream on Facebook then download the video and put it on our YouTube channel,” said Harber.

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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