What future for the music industry in this digital age?

Pascal Malotti
Global Retail Strategy Lead & Strategy Director at Valtech France

maio 19, 2016

The Digital Tree of Music: The Many Paths of a Journey Through Sound

Our habits in terms of musical experience change sporadically. Some time after MP3s killed the CD star, even the most diehard music lovers have turned to streaming, which is gradually becoming the standard model for musical consumption: audio streaming shows an 83 % increase from 2014 to 2015 (Nielsen survey, USA). Today, paying to access an online encyclopaedia, a service available at our fingertips in just a few seconds, on any channel and in a way that adapts to our desires, is considered normal. These desires stem from inspirations to which individuals can identify. This is how the synergy-inducing music industry has reinvented itself using digital.

Music is the language of emotions (Kant). The sound produced by our headphones has become a mechanism that caresses the limits of physiology. As a usual and ubiquitous part of our daily lives, music wraps around our emotions and contributes to our well-being. Exploiting this, the Nervana startup has created a device that can induce the emotions felt by users as they listen to their favourite songs. The device triggers the release of pleasure hormones through electrical stimuli produced by headphones and synchronizes these stimuli to the music that is being played.

Technology allows us to extend the listening experience. Art has the power to create a visual representation of the emotions induced by music. The OX collaborative project, created by artist Romain Tardy and The Absolut Company Creation (a company sponsoring innovation and creation in the field of electronic music) illustrates this by using artificial intelligence. The OX installation interprets the harmony, intensity and emotions (joy, sadness, energy, etc.) of music as light effects and offers the audience a new sensory experience. In a more personal context, it is sometimes difficult to put words on our feelings. As a result, an app named Cove has been providing users with a space where their moods can be translated into sounds. Users can also store their current musical mood in a journal.

Individuals are now used to get everything instantly and are expecting services and brands to provide a certain adaptation capacity to their current tastes and aspirations. Prizm, a French startup which was recently rewarded by the CES Innovation Awards in the Smart Home category, amps up the notion of personalization with a view to reinvent the way we consume music. When plugged to speakers, the Prizm player can detect how many persons are in the room using sensors and an integrated microphone, and offers a personalized musical selection. Without having to turn on the device, Smartphones are automatically detected (via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi) and connect to streaming platforms. The algorithm then makes adjustments depending on each person’s tastes. Over time, Prizm learns the listening practices and habits of its user.

More popular and now widespread, swiping has not spared the musical field. This quick and instinctive browsing mechanism promoted by Tinder has boosted the personalization of mobile app services. The App called The Best Song creates playlists that can be exported and personalized depending on the swiping motion, giving users the opportunity to discover new artists.

Both personal and collective music evolve through increasingly digitalized models. Why, then, shouldn’t we give music lovers communities the opportunity to access songs that are being listened to by one person? The Louise app connects to our favourite streaming account and offers its users the possibility to broadcast the song they are listening to in real time via geo-location. The app aims at encouraging interaction and discovery, breaking the chain of more artificial algorithmic suggestions.

“Playlists are like mix tapes in the age of streaming” (Josquin Farge, cofounder of the Soundsgood platform).

Soundsgood is a music curation social network that is based on the cross-platform sharing of influencers’ playlists. Via streaming platforms (Deezer, Youtube, SoundCloud and Spotify) communities of music influencers like Radio Nova, Time Out and BETCPop can share their recommendations with communities of listeners. The background music, which then defines the ambiance of a particular place, fills the space to bring life to a brands’ personality, character and/or music identity. This is what Starbucks has been experimented – since several months – in conjunction with Spotify, by integrating the streaming service to its App. This initiative directly involves customers into the choosing of music played, recognizing the role they play in defining the brand’s universe.

Since music brings harmony to our life moments, brands have chosen it as a source of inspiration and have been building tailored services. To promote the sense of belonging, many services offer to set the pace of our lifestyles using technology. How better to boost motivation than to play a tune synchronized with our movements during a body sculpting session? The Spring App offers to monitor our activity during a sport session (counting the number of steps per minute) and play a song that has a synchronized rhythm to our movements and exercises. The French website Concert en appart’ (Appartment concert) brings an artist to your living room just for an evening. Beyond the privilege of the show, this service opens a space for discussion and sharing between the artist and its audience and promotes the discovery of independent artists.

At the borderline between Unicorns and startups, these innovations contribute to create a new musical ecosystem which incorporates the need to stimulate emotions, practices in terms of instant personalization, social music or life moments inspired by services. By this means, audio streaming has become a dogma preparing us for a change in our thinking pattern. Mobile users form community groups, brought together by context and affect. Through the glass of technology and service innovations, the possibilities of community-scaled personalization seem limitless, if not for the limits of individuality.