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Confirmed: Apple has bought music analytics startup Asaii


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Music-analytics startup Asaii is shutting down this month because it has been acquired by Apple. The deal has been confirmed to Music Ally by the company’s first investor.

“As the first investors in Asaii, we are incredibly excited by their recent acquisition by Apple where they will have the opportunity to dramatically scale their impact and continue building out their vision for the future of the music industry,” Cameron Baradar, founder of The House, told Music Ally.

The House is a startup fund and accelerator focused on companies emerging from the University of California, Berkeley, and was an early investor in Asaii.

Asaii CEO Sony Theakanath’s LinkedIn profile has been changed to show him working for Apple Music as of this month, as has co-founder Austin Chen’s.

The startup announced last month that it was shutting down its service, which included a dashboard for labels and musicians to track their streaming analytics, as well as tools to help labels spot breaking acts; and technology to power music recommendations.

The San Francisco-based company described itself as an ‘automated A&R and music analytics platform’, and was a finalist in the Midemlab startups contest earlier this year.

Apple declined to comment when Music Ally contacted it about the acquisition after tip-offs last month.

Why would Apple buy Asaii? The obvious reason is analytics. The startup’s team and technology could be useful for Apple’s continued development of its Apple Music for Artists dashboard, for example.

The company previously bought British startup Semetric for its Musicmetric analytics platform – a story Music Ally broke in 2015 – although Apple Music for Artists did not launch in beta until earlier this year.

Asaii could play a role in future improvements to the tool, and that’s important for Apple Music, since its main rival Spotify is investing heavily in its own analytics and marketing tools for artists. Apple’s acquisition of Shazam, which closed last month, can also be viewed through this context.

An Apple acquisition of Asaii is about more than artist analytics, however. At Midemlab, Theakanath talked about a product called Asaii Recommend, which could create algorithmic, personalised playlists as well as recommend songs and playlists to people based on their listening habits.

That could be useful as Apple continues to improve the ‘For You’ section of Apple Music, with its personalised recommendations and algo-playlists like New Music Mix, Favourites Mix, Chill Mix and Friends Mix. Again, this is an area of intense competition with rivals such as Spotify and YouTube Music.

Finally, and most intriguingly, Asaii had another product that Theakanath talked about during his Midemlab pitch in June: a tool he described as an “automated A&R web platform” aimed at labels, managers and promoters trying to identify breaking artists as early as possible.

Theakanath claimed that it could “identify up and coming artists 10 weeks before they hit the charts” by analysing the data from streaming services including Spotify and SoundCloud, with around a 70-30 rate of hits to misses – i.e. it predicted hits 70% of the time.

“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 then.

An in-house tool for Apple to spot hot tracks and emerging artists faster? That could be extremely useful, and not just to help Apple Music decide which new artists to give playlist and co-marketing support to.

Earlier this year, it emerged that Spotify was signing direct licensing deals with some independent artists, with advances on offer in the “several hundred thousand dollar” ballpark. In June, Billboard suggested that Apple was exploring similar deals. Spotify has also since announced tests of a tool for independent artists to upload their music directly to its platform.

Such direct licensing arrangements do not mean Spotify or Apple are ‘signing’ artists as a label would, but there is nevertheless an A&R aspect to them, in terms of spotting which artists are worth direct deals. That’s where Asaii’s A&R tool could come in handy for Apple.

Baradar told Music Ally that he has high hopes for the startup’s team within Apple. “It’s a very exciting time for Asaii, and their opportunities to make an impact on the music industry,” he said.

The House has backed more than 50 startups so far, with other acquisitions including Distributed Systems (which was bought by cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase in August) and social app tbh (which was bought by Facebook in October 2017).

“Historically there’s been so much under-served talent at Berkeley,” said Baradar. “We’ve seen a string of early acquisitions, and this [Apple / Asaii] is one that we’re incredibly excited about.”

Stuart Dredge

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