Tag Archives: Eurosonic

Looking back at January – a month full of festivals and parties

“Time flies when you’re having fun”. Or so they say. Well, maybe it does, and maybe it doesn’t. It certainly feels like ages ago: our birthday, Eurosonic Noorderslag, Jamuary, the annual Gado Gado Party and Electrosonic. That’s why, one last time, we’re looking back at January—a  month full of partying.

Five years of Chordify. Are we really that old? Yup. Did we celebrate our birthday? Of course we did! During the whole month of January we partied hard and did whatever we could to share our success with our followers.

Electrosonic: Chordify Birthday Bash

Together with our friends Peripheral and DATmag we threw a birthday bash in the Music & Tech Hideout during Eurosonic Noorderslag. We dubbed it Electrosonic, because what else would you call an event that consists only of electronic live acts?

With FENN, Stahlr and FLCTS on-stage the party was a big success. Video artist HACHE walked around and captured the atmosphere on his VHS camera. Check his after movie above.

Eurosonic Noorderslag Panel and Gado Gado Party

During the conference of Eurosonic Noorderslag (the annual showcase festival of the European music industry) Chordify hosted a panel discussion on Computers vs. People in Music Creation. Can artificial intelligence replace a human producer? Colin Benders, Matt McVicar and Tjeerd Bomhof debated this theme with our CEO Bas de Haas as moderator.

Of course, the showcase festival closed with our annual Gado Gado Party. Together with our friends from Buma Music Meets Tech we invited the acts Ohslo, Broken Brass Ensemble, San Dollar and Black Dynamite Soundsystem. This resulted in a lovely evening of food, drinks and dancing. Check out the after movie made by Natalia Sliwowska.

Jamuary Contest

In addition to all the festival noise, the entire month of January was marked by Jamuary. A contest where you could win great prices; ranging from Chordify Premium annual subscriptions, to a NEXI Rockstarter pedal board.

We would like to thank everyone who has participated. Super cool that you retweeted our messages and shared our posts on Facebook. And for those who sent in a video: we enjoyed it very much! We will contact the winners soon.

Could artificial intelligence disrupt the music industry?

At Chordify we love two things: music and technology. Luckily, one does not exclude the other. But, becoming more and more pressing nowadays is the question: will we, humans, become orphaned in the marriage between music and technology?

During the Eurosonic Noorderslag conference we presented this question to a panel of experts: Tjeerd Bomhof (lead singer of Voicst and his solo project Dazzled Kid), Colin Benders (from Kyteman), and Matt McVicar (from the British music and artificial intelligence company Jukedeck). The panel is hosted by our own music and technology expert, CEO of Chordify, Bas de Haas.

Man vs. Machine

“Now, the question is: was this piece of music composed by an algorithm, or is this production manmade?” Bas de Haas looks at the audience with a challenging smile. Voicst frontman Tjeerd Bomhof touches his lips, while his eyes light up in thoughtful amazement. Matt McVicar, representative of Jukedeck, straightens his glasses and grins, “Wow!”

In room R6, somewhere in the Oosterpoort, spectators are holding up two-sided flyers. One side of the glossy flyer paper shows a robotic hand—all artificial fingers are clenched except two, the index and pink: rock ‘n roll! The other side of the flyer shows a somewhat similar picture, only this time a human hand is giving us the rock sign.

While outside heavy storms are blowing the roofs of houses, some forty people are trying to hear the difference between real music and compositions made by artificial intelligence.

They can vote by holding up their flyer. The robot hand stands for artificial intelligence and the human hand, well… you get it. At the moment it looks like the majority of the voters has a hard time differentiating between man and machine.

Calm before the storm 

“That’s kind of bizarre”, says Tjeerd Bomhof. The musician has just been listening to a sample of his own music. Half the people in the room seem to think that the track is produced by an algorithm. Admittedly, the vocal lines have been slightly altered with digital effects, but still. “I am very amazed”, says the producer.

Bas de Haas nods, “As am I. One thinks that the vocals in the song would reveal its humanity.” He turns to Matt McVicar, “Matt, can you produce vocal lines with your algorithms at Jukedeck?” McVicar slowly shakes his head, “No, we’re not that far yet.”

Jukedeck 

The audience is somewhat confused. For those who don’t know what Jukedeck is, McVicar explains it: “We work with an algorithm that creates music by learning from existing compositions and patterns that occur therein. We can do a lot, but simulating human vocals…” He pauses, then chuckles and says, “We’re not that far.”

Jukedeck’s compositions can mainly be heard on YouTube—the company lets its users use certain tracks for free, on the condition that they mention their name. While it’s unlikely that the algorithm will produce a plausible human vocal line, other facets of its competencies remain quite baffling.

McVicar gives an example, “You can time a crescendo with great precision.” Bomhof shakes his head, “So I can say: ‘give me an epic eruption on the thirty second mark—because that’s the climax of my blogpost—and then the algorithm builds a composition around that?’” McVicar nods, “Indeed!”

This is the end… 

Bomhof—who’s income depends partly on selling compositions to companies and advertising agencies—takes a moment to gather his thoughts. Then he states: “As we’ve seen, people can hardly tell the difference between your algorithm and my music,”—McVicar nods—”at this moment we can hear Jukedeck mainly on YouTube, but how long will it take for big companies to use it, making producers of advertising music obsolete?”

De Haas looks at the members of the panel, “That’s already the case right Matt? I can recall that Coca Cola used a track for an advertising campaign.” McVicar takes a sip of his water, “Yes, that’s correct. In South America a song made by our algorithm has been used for an advertisement.”

He looks at Bomhof, “The goal of Jukedeck is not to replace humans. It’s meant as a tool to help musicians. For instance, to get over a writer’s block, or as an inspirational tool.” He falls silent for a moment, “Would you use Jukedeck as a tool for your compositions?” Bomhof laughs, “For my commercial assignments? Definitely! If this will save me time, so I can reserve more space for my own work, then I wouldn’t say no to that.”

Legal issues 

De Haas looks at the audience. There seem to be more than enough questions at the end of the discussion. A woman takes up the microphone, “Matt, you said people can buy compositions from Jukedeck. That means you can completely own the rights to the song. Isn’t it weird that someone can buy a piece of music from you, register it at Buma [ed: Dutch interest group for musicians, warranting copyright law] and subsequently make money off it?”

McVicar clears his throat and repeats the question, to be sure he understood, “You mean that someone registers a song made by Jukedeck as if it was his own?”—the woman nods—”That sounds like a shady enterprise, but to be honest, I’m not informed enough to answer that question.”

McVicar explains to the audience that he doesn’t know enough about the legal details to react to questions concerning music copyright law and ownership issues. “What I can say, is that we can’t request how many people are using our music from YouTube for example, while a real producer can. So, we’re in a grey area.”

Evolution

The hour reserved for the discussion is almost over. Bas de Haas is about to state his closing remarks, when Colin Benders walks into the auditorium. Benders was considerably delayed because of the storms, just like fourth panel member François Pachet (director of Spotify Research Lab). De Haas welcomes Benders, “Very good that you can still join us Colin!” Benders sits down between McVicar and Bomhof.

Dazzled Kid jumps to the occasion and asks Benders, “Can a machine put us out of a job? Benders smiles and answers hesitantly, “No…?” With a faint grin he adds, “It depends. If an algorithm learns from humans and gets better through that, shouldn’t we have to change the whole concept of how we look at music? Apparently, we’re very predictable.”

Emotion

McVicar agrees and adds, “And then there’s the role of emotions, which is significant. That’s something we’re struggling with at Jukedeck. Because; what are emotions and how do we translate them into programming language?” Benders runs his hand through his curls, “In the end it’s all about the story behind the music. People are always curious about the origins of something, the human aspect. If that disappears, the magic disappears with it.”

Bomhof looks at Bas de Haas. Yes, he’s allowed one more question. “I totally agree with you Collin. But, that’s about art. Does that also go for production work; music made for commercial purposes?” Benders shrugs, “Honestly? I don’t know man. You should ask the companies.”

Check out the blog post our friends at Jukedeck wrote about the panel at Eurosonic

Photos by Annemarie de Zwaan

How can blockchain technology help the artist?

A little over a year ago, Dutch DJ Hardwell announced he would use blockchain technology to sell his own songs via his own website, and manage the rights at the same time. That is, for just one song. The last edition of the Eurosonic Noorderslag conference featured multiple sessions dedicated to blockchain technology.

But what is it, blockchain technology? And how can it help artists?

Blockchain technology in short

The blockchain is commonly referred to as “the technology behind bitcoin” and that is about right. Even shorter: the blockchain is the protocol that enables you to trust bitcoin.

An important role in that protocol is played by the miners. Miners collect bitcoin transactions, combine them into blocks and attempt to link that block to the existing blockchain. The way they do that is by calculating a so-called hash for that block. That is a cryptographic puzzle that can only be solved by trial and error (if you’re interested: read more about the technicalities here). The hash of the last block in the chain is an input for the next block, hence the chain. When a block is successfully mined and connected to the chain, all other miners stop their efforts and start working on a new block.

Block. Chain. Chain. Of. Blocks.

For bitcoin, it takes ten minutes on average to mine a block. (If that time span shortens, for instance because more powerful computers have entered the network, the difficulty of the puzzle is automatically adjusted upwards.) If someone wanted to change something in the second before last block, she would not only have to re-calculate that block, but the following two blocks as well. If she has as much processing power as the entire bitcoin network, that would take her 40 minutes.

But in those 40 minutes, four new blocks would have been mined by the network, so she would experience an ever-increasing backlog.This inefficiency is what creates the trustworthiness of the blockchain. Spread across the world, thousands of computers are working to solve the puzzle that only one can win, once every ten minutes. All the other computers have spent their energy in vain. That is why it is unfeasible to tamper with the blockchain, and that makes it trustworthy.

The best part of this technology? No company owns the blockchain, it is open source. As long as the internet keeps working, bitcoin will continue to work, worldwide. In effect, no one can turn bitcoin off, but everyone can use it and trust that their bitcoin transactions are handled correctly by the network.

Smart contracts could very well be…very smart

Once your money has become digital, you can easily program it. That is what people try to do with smart contracts. Smart contracts are scripts or (tiny) programs, that define the conditions of a (set of) transaction(s). Like the contract you might have with your publisher, but then in the form of software. Super easy. Alternatives to bitcoin, like ethereum, have specialized in blockchains that support those kinds of smart contracts worldwide.

What are the benefits of  blockchain technology?

How would an artist benefit from blockchain technology? For one: it would be very welcome to have a way to uniformly register rights. It is beneficial when rights are properly documented—many legal battles have been fought (in the past, and present) about music rights. The blockchain could be the ideal notary: extremely trustworthy, transparent and not bound by country borders or jurisdiction.

Get rid of all the complicated constructions

Due to its digital form and connection with the internet, the smart contract could solve a lot of challenges regarding online plays. This could help the artist to get rid of all the work associated with negotiating national and international contracts. On the whole this new technology might simplify certain services or even make them superfluous.

Imogen Heap used a smart contract for “Tiny Human”. Due to the transparent nature of the contract, you could actually see everybody’s contribution to the song; production, recording et cetera, et cetera. All revenues from streams and downloads were automatically distributed by the smart contract among the participants.

By using blockchain technology Imogen Heap was able to cut out the middleman, which provided her and her crew with the true proceeds of the song. No transaction fees, no additional payments for download services and streaming platforms, and no publishers taking a piece of the cake.

The Ujomusic website shows us how the proceeds of “Tiny Human” are distributed among the people who participated in the making of the song.”

More freedom, more control?

Some ten years ago, the introduction of Creative Commons licenses made artists realize they had more choices than the all-or-nothing model that most CMO’s offered them. The advent of blockchain technology has once again triggered artists to reconsider their place in the music industry’s food chain. These developments challenge the established methods of the industry where third parties—like rights organisations and publishers—interfere with the artist’s rights and music.

DJ Hardwell demonstrated this with his track “Thinking about you – feat. Jay Sean”. He deliberately circumvented the rules of Dutch music rights organization BUMA/STEMRA by taking matters in his own hand. That sounds attractive, of course. Even though many artists do not really enjoy the business side of their life, they do appreciate getting paid what they have earned.

Can we use it already?

It depends. DJ Hardwell integrated his blockchain solution with existing and regular payment methods. Apart from having to register on his site, not a lot of technical expertise was required.

For Imogen Heap’s “Tiny Human”, things were a lot more complicated. In order to buy her song, you first needed to buy ethereum. Purchasing this cryptocurrency still takes a lot of effort and skills, as was detailed in this article.

If you think Imogen Heap is taking it too far, you’ve seen nothing yet. American singer Tatiana Moroz created her very own cryptocurrency, the tatianacoin, that can be used to buy her music, as well as tickets for her shows. You first have to buy tatianacoin, however, with… bitcoin, via an online exchange. This, of course, takes a lot of effort which most music fans find daunting and off-putting.

Promises, promises, promises, however…

The idea of having total control over your own product by using blockchain technology, which obviously cuts out the interference of a traditional middleman, is very promising indeed. But blockchain is far from user friendly, and not all of the bits and pieces actually work as expected. A lot more work has to be done before you and your fans will use it easily and happily.

And besides: to make a smart contract work (“if this song is played, every eligible party receives their rightful share immediately”) requires a few more steps:

  • A trigger is needed. “If this, then that…”. What constitutes the right to payment? If the song is sold or played, of course.
  • But that is not sufficient to trigger the contract. The music right must also result in an actual payment, otherwise there is nothing to distribute to the eligible parties. That is exactly why, in the examples mentioned before, the artists take care of their own sales. But if you are the only one selling your music, you don’t really need a blockchain now, do you?
  • If you also want to be able to capture sales and plays from third parties in your system, you still have to sign contracts with those parties that transform a download or play into an actual payment. Those kinds of contracts are better negotiated by a lot of artists together, than each artist for herself. That is why CMO’s like BUMA were initially created.

And there’s the rub: it is unlikely that traditional parties will voluntarily step aside and let you take matters into your own hands. Their income depends on their control over your access to these kinds of mechanisms. So, if you are already signed up to a CMO, it is yet to be seen how much room they will give you to work with these kinds of new technologies. It would be interesting to hear how DJ Hardwell has experienced this. Did BUMA/STEMRA come knocking on his door?

To summarize: a lot still needs to be done before your music and your rights are easily taken care of online, without causing a headache for you and/or your fans. But it is very likely you will read and hear more about it in the coming years, and I would not be surprised if you are actually considering using some of these new technologies within the next three years.

Where is the action?

These are a few of the more interesting efforts going on in the world of blockchain for music:

  • Ujo Music – https://ujomusic.com/
    • Builds an ethereum-based solution for automatic rights administration and payment
  • Bittunes – http://bittunes.co.uk/
    • Uses the bitcoin blockchain. Creates a new digital distribution system for independent artists.
  • Peertracks – http://www.peertracks.com/
    • Helps you stream your own music and get paid through your own digital coin.
  • Dot Blockchain Music – http://dotblockchainmusic.com/
    • Is developing a new file format that can automatically execute rights management when playing the music.
  • Rightsshare – http://rightsshare.com/
    • The Dutch company that helped DJ Hardwell use blockchain technology
  • JAAK – http://JAAK.io
    • Building a blockchain network that will allow the music and media industries to collaborate on a global view of content ownership and rights
  • GUTS – https://guts.tickets/
    • Digital ticketing, using blockchain to fight secondary ticketing and ticketing fraud.

References:

About the author

Lykle de Vries (1970) plays the guitar, and wrote a series of articles covering social media for artists for the Dutch magazine MusicMaker in the beginning of the social media revolution. These days, his stage performances aren’t with a guitar in hand playing music, but talking about the possible uses of bitcoin, blockchain, smart contracts and cryptocurrencies, but hey! Stay up-to-date and follow Lykle on Twitter: @lykle