While the ideological tug-of-war trudges on between hardline anti-piracy crusaders and digital rights freedom fighters, music tech innovators are focused on the future.
This dynamic was on sharp display during the Streaming Music Business" panel at the recently held California Lawyers for the Arts Music Business Conference. Bookending the panel was former Dead Kennedy guitarist Ray Pepperell and Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Julie Samuels. Sandwiched in between was music tech entrepreneur and industry executive Jason Keck.
Channeling the indignant outrage of his anti-piracy forebears (think Lars Ulrich circa 2000), Pepperell immediately launched into a full throated criticism of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF) opposition to SOPA. Samuels countered with an articulate defense of the EFF's critique of the proposed legislation and further explained that advocating for a free and open Internet was not tantamount to being pro-piracy." Pepperell balked at Samuels' defense, and the debate went on, and on and on. When the hour was up much had been said anecdotally about the (im)morality of copyright infringement and very little about services that are actually shaping 21st century music consumption.
The banality of the panel discussion was only exacerbated by the fact that Jason Keck - a former Head of Business Development for Shazam Entertainment - was cut out of the conversation altogether. This was unfortunate since Keck is exactly the type of music tech entrepreneur that is working to harness and shape trending consumption patterns.
Case in point is Keck's current venture, Stereotypes." Stereotypes," explains Keck, is a group messaging app optimized for sharing music." Available as of February 14th, 2013, through the iTunes App Store, this free app allows users to curate, share and comment on playlists using individual tracks selected from third-party music services. While the current iteration of Stereotypes allows users to cull tracks solely from YouTube, the app plans to build out its functionality so that users can create playlists comprised of tracks from various sources including, but not limited to, YouTube, iTunes, Rdio, Spotify and SoundCloud.
With $230k raised so far - including a $150,000 angel round that closed in January - Stereotypes is working hard to prepare for theDreamIt Austin Winter 2013 Demo Day, taking place this week at SXSW. Already winner of the September 2012 Ultra Light Start Ups Pitch Contest, and a Participant of the DreamIt 2013 Winter Accelerator Program, Stereotypes is poised to make some noise in 2013.
At first blush Stereotypes' concept may seem unremarkable, after all, some combination of playlist curation and social sharing is already an integral part of many music services including Spotify, Rhapsody, Last.fm and Rdio. Upon closer inspection, however, Stereotypes may be on to something.
Stereotypes' potential for successful scaling lies in its founders' clear understanding of Millennial and Gen Z - for lack of a better term - consumption patterns.
No mode of consumption will ever dominate the market the way that CD retail once did. Music consumption will continue to take place across a spectrum of services, with users constantly toggling between YouTube streaming, select digital retail purchases, traditional terrestrial radio, curated digital radio and on-demand streaming. Instead of trying to drive consumption in a particular direction, Stereotypes hopes to turn the habit of cross-channel consumption to its advantage by allowing its users pull tracks from various services in order share and create unique playlists.
The current obsession over human versus algorithmic curation is overwrought. Mere intelligent" curation is not an answer to the question of filtered music discovery in an era of infinite choice. Curation by so-called connoisseurs can prove just as shallow and unimpressive as bad algorithmic curation. What matters is that the consumer trust the given curation mechanism. Stereotypes is betting that the most trusted curation filter for their target demographic will be the users' own circle of friends and select trusted influencers.
Even when listening alone, music is about social and emotional connection. At its core, Stereotypes aspires to provide a user-friendly platform that allows friends to communicate through sharing music. With its emphasis on friendship and lived emotional experience, Stereotypes is approaching the online social realm as a real sphere of influence where friendships can be fostered and lived experiences revived. Keck believes that Stereotypes' approach to social is unique in that it reflects the way people naturally share music."
Stereotypes beta tested as a website, but has since shuttered its web application to focus solely on a mobile offering. This indicates an ability to pivot and think strategically about how its target market actually consumes music.
Of course, as with all apps, Stereotypes will be judged largely by how well it executes its game plan. Simplicity in concept and design, followed by a consistently easy-to-use platform are the necessary characteristics for any successful music app. As millennial software engineer and music tech innovator Max Weisel stated while on a panel at last week's SF Music Tech Conference, the best experience is the one with the least resistance."
Much has been written about the music industry's" conspicuous failure to embrace emerging technologies and to recognize the impact that said technologies have on music consumption. There is no need to repeat the litany of recriminations here, suffice to say that while the music industry establishment continues to re-litigate the past, they may be missing out on the future. The reality is that Millennial and Gen Z customers" are no longer the passive discretionary spenders that they were in the 20th century; instead they are active creators that are reimagining and building the modes of consumption themselves. Stereotypes is but one example of a small idea that could have a big impact.