The age of MusicTech is just getting started

Music is as much a part of human identity as our own fingerprint. It has evolved and formed with us in the course of time – now entering the digital age. Thinking back, firstly, the ancient Egyptians created the first stringed instruments around 2700 BC until whole orchestras harmonised together. Finally, in the 20th century, electronic instruments were invented – and now we live in the age of large distribution platforms and artificial intelligence. 

Thanks to technology, artists nowadays can support their fans musically even in times of crises – as we are experiencing currently in the Covid-19 pandemic, where live concerts are restricted by law through the implementation of measures like social distancing. This once again shows how important streaming services are today in order to stay connected with their community. 

At the same time, the competition in the music industry is increasingly high, while similarly the battle for visibility has to be fought on various platforms. Instead of spending time in rehearsal rooms or on stages, musicians are currently making marketing plans to interact with their fans in order to stay relevant. The fragmentation of content across different platforms, the various ways of user engagement, the idiosyncrasies of the respective algorithms and the endless possibilities of content creation are causing music creators to sweat. Will things get even more complicated? What can artists expect from 2021? Felix Willikonsky, Executive Director für digitale Strategien bei PIABO, berät seit vielen Jahren Marken, Musikkünstler und Labels in ihren Marketingaktivitäten und schaut für uns in die Music-Tech-Glaskugel.

Wie Musikkünstler die Vorzüge des World Wide Web zu schätzen lernten

Das 21. Jahrhundert war noch sehr jung als die Internetwelt regierte. Nutzer konnten ausgewählte Musik auf ihren Seiten teilen, Bands konnten sich erstmalig im großen Stile über eine reine Social-Media-Plattform der digitalen Öffentlichkeit präsentieren. Die Plattform wurde so zur Anlaufstelle für neue, aufstrebende Bands und verhalf Acts wie Arctic Monkeys, Kate Nash oder Owl City zu internationalen Welt-Karrieren. Künstler wurden nahbarer, der Schaffensprozess transparenter, Fans durften hinter die Kulissen blicken und auf YouTube entstanden parallel nutzergenerierte Konzertvideos und kollaborative Content-Initiativen. Lag die Kommunikationshoheit damals noch beim Künstler, verschob sich das Kräfteverhältnis zwischen Prosumer (Kofferwort aus Produzent und Konsument), Plattform und Künstlern spätestens als Facebook den damaligen Platzhirschen Myspace überholte. Es folgten Paid Advertisements, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Linkedin, Last.Fm, WhatsApp, Soundcloud, Spotify, Deezer, Pandora und zuletzt der raketenhafte Aufstieg von TikTok.

Livestreaming boomt in Zeiten der Pandemie

Während Musikkünstler derzeit größtenteils noch den richtigen Umgang mit TikTok suchen, sorgt die Corona-Pandemie für einen Boom von Livestreaming auf Plattformen wie Facebook, Instagram, Twitch und YouTube. Dazu drängen plötzlich auch Plattformen wie Peloton auf den Markt, die, obwohl Musik hier eine Nebensache ist und der Fokus auf der sportlichen Aktivität liegt, Musikkonsum noch mehr fragmentieren. Anbieter buhlen um Aufmerksamkeit und wollen die neuesten viralen Hits durch künstliche Intelligenz und Algorithmen schmackhaft machen. Während früher eine Künstlerin wie Lady Gaga auf allen Kanälen stattfand, sind heute Nummer 1 Hits oftmals für viele Zielgruppensegmente kaum erreichbar. Radioprogramme koppeln sich parallel von Internettrends ab. In dieser sehr diffusen Phase der Musikindustrie müssen sich die Musiker entweder stark abheben und aus dem Markt herausstechen oder sich auf ein Nischenpublikum konzentrieren. 

Permanent change for the live music market

For communications expert Robert Helbig, CEO of Firefinch PR, the Covid 19 pandemic will make the topic of live streaming even more prominent in 2021: “In 2021, we have to expect major upheavals and innovations, especially in the live music market. The pandemic is changing the music market massively and digitisation processes are being accelerated enormously. At the same time, organisations like Music Declares Emergency are calling on the music industry to be sustainable. That’s why streaming concerts will become more and more important and better. Even if arguments are often used to say that streaming concerts are not comparable to “real” concerts, for example in terms of quality experience, they present many opportunities, such as opening up new target groups – e.g. in countries where an artist would otherwise not tour. Or former buyers of live DVDs, who are not necessarily typical concertgoers. Moreover, there are now additional possibilities of a community feeling, for example through the implementation of live chats. Here, technology creates an important bridge and connects like-minded people with each other. In my perspective, there will be no either streaming or “real” concerts in the future – but a blending of both. Quality, creativity and innovation will prevail. Even with dwindling venues, event companies and concert bookers, the live business could suffer badly in the future. Especially since travel regulations remain unclear and international tours will be logistically more difficult to manage. In general, many developments also depend on future legal regulations.”

When art meets technology

Tatsache ist: die Gesetze und rechtliche Grundlagen hinken der technologischen Entwicklung hinterher. Von den Gesetzgebern werden weltweit Rechtsgrundlagen und Anpassungen für das Verlagswesen und Urheberrecht eingefordert, die bisher nur für die klassischen Distributionskanäle wie TV und das Radio gelten. Für Constantin Hochwald Brain’n’Dead steht insbesondere der Umgang mit ungewünschten Inhalten, Zensur und der Kuratierung von Inhalten im Zentrum der Entwicklung: “Music Tech wird in diesem Jahr die Aufgabe bekommen, Re-Uploads zu erkennen und gegebenenfalls sogar über diverse Text-Mining-Features, wie z.B. Sentiment Analysen, „bedenkliche“ Inhalte aufzuspüren und automatisiert zu sperren oder zu löschen.”

And this is where we enter the slippery slope of the eternal discussion about what art is allowed to do. In the coming months, MusicTech will have to answer what is meant ironically in certain contexts, whether certain parts of German rap are “too misogynistic” and how far artistic freedom reaches, both in music and of course in podcasts. MusicTech must be able to recognise and understand the level of human communication in music. And, if necessary, decide for itself how and where to locate it morally.

The deletion of former US President Donald Trump’s accounts could also have an impact on technological developments in the music industry. Constantin Hochwald, CEO of Brain’n’Dead, adds: “Twitter and Facebook blocked the former US president from their platforms. And others followed suit. That would actually have been unthinkable previously. Conspiracy theorist groups were removed, as were individuals. The app “Parler”, to which various people, including Trump supporters, had been switching for some time, was first removed from Apple’s App Store and then also from Google’s Play Store. The reason given was a lack of a content moderation concept and thus a lack of an approach to preventing hate speech and the like on this platform.”

Artists also think in terms of channel strategies

At the same time, more and more artists are also striving to build their own channels that are supposed to function independently of the big gatekeepers. The band Culcha Candela, for example, markets exclusive content only via Getnext instead of using Facebook and Co. This increases direct revenues and intensifies the exchange with fans.

While Netflix now uses artificial intelligence to play out personalised trailers to its audience, singer-songwriter Andrew Paley has immediately developed a program that learns to generate video images to go with his sounds. The result is a symbiosis of music and technology that he can use not only for official YouTube videos but also for teaser formats on all social media platforms and within streaming providers. Most recently, Spotify created the advertising medium “Canvas”, which also positions the music service in the area of video. The provider MixCloud, on the other hand, takes the opposite approach and strengthens the power of its curators. Similar to the old Mixtape, users can build their own communities here and share their personal tastes. Whether this corresponds to the zeitgeist remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that recipients and artists are dealing with technological issues more than ever.

Felix Willikonsky is Executive Director of Digital Strategy at PIABO. Previously, he was Head of Social Media at DAZN for four years and also worked for Red Bull in Vienna. After completing school, he has toured with efriendly music bands such as MxPx, The Static Age and The New Division through over 30 different countries and most states in the USA.