20 music/tech startups are finalists in this year’s Midemlab contest at the Midem conference in Cannes. This afternoon’s second session saw the marketing and data/analytics startups pitching their wares.
The judging panel included Eleonore Oudea, venture capital associate at Kima Ventures; Kate Russell, technology journalist from the BBC; David Weiszfeld, CEO of Soundcharts; and Music Ally CEO Paul Brindley.
Muso.AI from the US was pitched by founder Kyran de Keijzer (pictured), who talked about estimates that voice will become a huge interface for music search by 2020. “What if as an audiophile I wanted to play songs in a certain key, with a certain instrument… what if I wanted to know who played guitar on a song, and which guitar was used?” he said. “There’s something holding us back from this end state: incomplete, inaccurate and most importantly unverified music metadata.”
So Muso.AI is a tool that can respond to voice queries – “play me songs in the key of G Minor’ and construct playlists accordingly, for example, or answer questions like ‘what was the most-streamed song released in 2017, what label released it, and who is their A&R?’. In the latter case, a “connect me with him” command takes you to his profile to see what he’s worked on and who he’s worked with, and to message him.
“For years, metadata capturing has been done at the time of distribution… Muso.AI is a patent-pending product that captures all the metadata while the song is being made,” explained de Keijzer. And it can also provide analytics for music professionals, pulling in data from the streaming services. “Muso.AI is the verified source of truth. We have 5.2m profiles ready to be claimed in our system,” he said. Verification takes place for artists through their social channels, and through industry professionals, by scanning their passport.
“We don’t see any direct competitors. We see people like Genius doing song credits, they could be a competitor with some features we have. Splice has a really big producer community that could possibly be a competitor for some features… But a direct competitor for being the LinkedIn for music? We don’t see any,” he said. It’s in private beta now, with an open beta planned for the summer, then a public launch in the autumn.
NumberEight from the UK was pitched by CEO Abhishek Sen, an ex-Apple engineer with a number of patents to his name. His company is hoping to increase audio-advertising revenues, while also delivering context-based playlists. “By 2020 we’ll have about 3bn smartphones in circulation,” he said, noting that smart speakers and other internet-of-things gadgets can be added on to that.
NumberEight’s technology uses the various sensors in a smartphone to understand what someone is doing at a given moment in time – “such as standing in a crowded bus while going from work to the gym: that’s a specific context statement,” he explained – and then applying that to music. “Music is one of those few medias that holds the key to understanding user context, because it is used throughout the day,” he explained.
For paying music users, NumberEight will try to help services deliver context-based playlists, with a licensing model for customers, and for ad-supported music listeners, it will try to increase advertising revenues through behavioural targeting. NumberEight has just raised more than £500k of seed funding, and Sen suggested that the timing is perfect, given the growth in streaming revenues.
“We’re not building the tracks: we’re building the technology that will enable the delivery of context-based playlists,” he stressed. So NumberEight won’t build playlists: it will simply supply the tech that a streaming service could use to make its playlists context-based. “We are already engaging with partners, not just with streaming companies, but distribution partners for the tier two and tier three [mobile] operators,” he said.
Are streaming services already building technology like this internally? “On-device personalisation is a very challenging problem,” said Sen. So an Apple, Google or Samsung might build it, but he doesn’t think the streaming services will.
Gigz from France was pitched by Abdoulaye Sambe. “Gigz aims to being the best of digital experience into our everyday lives,” he said. “People in the general public are missing events that might interest them, and event producers are still struggling to sell all their tickets.”
It has a Gigz App which recommends concerts to fans, after getting them to link in their music-streaming sources. They can check upcoming gigs, follow their favourite artists’ profiles, and buy tickets. But its main product is Gigz Pro, an “intelligence marketing platform” that can be used by streaming and ticketing companies; festivals; labels and major event producers.
Competitors include Bandsintown and Songkick, but Gigz hopes that it is delivering better analytics and data-mining features for the industry, helping it to make money. Gigz Pro will be licensed from €2k a year for festivals, and €3k a year for events producers. It’s trying to raise €500k in funding, and it already has more than 10 customers, and 50k users of its website and mobile app. In the next six months, it wants to reach 200,000 users.
“We built the product, we measured the interactions, and we learned from it… We’re going to hire data-science people, and we’re going to hire business-development people to facilitate our growth,” he said. Gigz has three deals with music festivals already, to help it build out its database.
Asaii from the US was pitched by CEO Sony Theakanath, whose company bills itself as the A&R and analytics platform for music. “Our vision is to capture, contextualise and connect all music data on the internet. We think there’s too much data and too little context,” he said.
This can then be used to power recommendation engines, help human A&Rs find new talent, and give digital marketers more information to help plan their campaigns. It has a tech called Asaii Brain, which he suggested is the “Google PageRank of the music industry” or even an “Echo Nest 2.0”. It focuses on rich data: photos and comments, rather than just playcounts, streams and skips.
Its Asaii Terminal is an “automated A&R web platform” aimed at labels, managers and promoters, and Asaii Recommend, which is a recommendation engine aimed at tech companies and other big firms. Asaii Terminal can “identify up and coming artists 10 weeks before they hit the charts” according to Theakanath – it ranks hot tracks on platforms including Spotify and SoundCloud.
However, he described Asaii Recommend as the more exciting product: it can algorithmically create playlists based on up-and-coming artists in the San Francisco area; it can feed in Twitter data to algorithmically deliver ‘Music Moments’ cards; or it can automatically recommend songs and playlists to users based on their listening habits, on platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud.
Asaii Terminal costs $2k per month per seat on a yearly contract, while Asaii Recommend costs from between $100k to $1m a year for Fortune 500 companies, radio stations, digital music services and other large companies – it has five clients on annual contracts, currently. Asked about the hit-and-miss rate in predicting artists who’ll break through, Theakanath says it’s about 70% hits and 30% misses. “A hit is considered someone you can sign and make a profit out of in some way, or they jump onto a major playlist in some way,” he said.
Seated from the US was pitched by CEO David McKay. “Artists still have no control over their ticketing experience. They’re still driving their fans to countdown clocks before tickets are available, to confusing pre-sales once tickets are released,” he said. “And at the end of it all, often a sold-out message.” So artists drive significant traffic to ticketing websites, but then lose control of the experience for their fans.
“The industry needs better tools, and that’s why we built Seated,” he said. The company is working directly with artists, who he said trust it to drive fans to the right place, via links on their websites and social profiles, powered by the Seated platform. It also reminds fans as tickets go on sale, or can take their information and credit-card details and automatically buy the tickets for them.
“In less than a year, we’ve already sold more than $2m of tickets,” he said. It has more than 67,000 registered fans in its private beta. The company collects data on behalf of artists, which integrates with their existing marketing tools like MailChimp. Robert Plant, Leon Bridges, Jason Mraz and Lindsey Stirling are among its first artist clients. Merch upsells, a resale marketplace and subscriptions are among possibilities for the future.
Seated is taking careful notice of privacy rules with the data that it collects, and for now it’s working with a carefully-selected group of artists. “In 10 weeks we’re launching a fully self-serve open-to-the-public product,” he said. “Every artist in the world should be using Seated to announce their tours and capture data on their fans to generate revenue!”
The company was founded in February 2017, and launched its first test event that May. “My personal focus right now is fundraising,” he said, as well as hiring. “From a product standpoint our focus is making things more automated and more self-serve for the artists and their teams.”
Read our other Midemlab 2018 pitch-session reports
Music creation and education: Aiva, MXX, Skoove, Taplyrica and Voice Magix
Music discovery and distribution: Laylo, Listen!, Lickd, Boreas and Louise
Experiential technologies: Enhancia, WowTune, Landmrk, Jooki and Flexound