Interview | Technology
"It’s about experimenting"
Berlin-based curator and consultant for tech, art and culture projects and co-founder of Music Pool Berlin, Eric Eitel discussed the impact of new technologies on the music business and culture. Goethe Institut talked to him about today’s standard of virtual and augmented reality in music videos, artificial intelligence in music production, and the role of playlists and meta data.
You have raised concerns over today’s role of virtual and augmented reality in the music business. What are the difficulties for artists?
The hardware still has its limits and deficits. Nobody wants the virtual reality (VR) gear that we know today, because VR glasses make us look silly. Also, wearing today’s VR gear completely isolates you from your social environment. Hardware-wise that’s a limitation, and content-wise there are some nice examples of what can be achieved with this technology from an artist’s point of view. Take the video for “Crown” by Run the Jewels, for instance. It is a really cool 360° video production that gives us a glance into the future of VR music videos. Another limitation is Germany’s technological infrastructure: Currently there isn't complete 4G coverage and connectivity is always a pre-condition for this technology to become useful.
Given that VR is not reaching a broad audience yet, does it still make sense for artists to produce such videos or do cooperations with brands, trying out those technologies?
If you are interested in this technology, I don’t see why shouldn’t experiment with it.
Because the costs are still quite high compared to a regular video shoot ...
But you already mentioned the solution: you can cooperate with brands. They definitely have the money for these kinds of production. I am not saying this should be recommended, but most of the videos I’ve seen were branded. On the other hand the 360° camera equipment is not a huge expense factor anymore, and maybe experimenting is the way to deal with the whole thing. I don’t think that all formats have been established yet. Maybe you can come up with a DIY-like idea that is successful in the end. It’s about experimenting. I'd love to see more of this stuff.
In your workshop you played a track which sounded like a mixture of The Beatles and The Beach Boys. It was an example for a song produced by the artificial intelligence (AI) programme “Flow Machine”. Can you explain how it works?
They also tried several other set-ups, e.g. crossing lyrics by Bob Dylan with music by The Beatles or The Beach Boys, and so on. It seems possible to feed the system with different input, letting the programme produce mash-ups. These mash-ups are completely new songs. The concept is not completely new, though. The next step in AI music production are programmes picking a song that will be successful. And not only copying a style, but developing one, modifying it, making it interesting. At this point where we are now, these productions still need a human tweak to make them interesting.
Are major labels already using this technology?
They are not very open about that if they are using it, because it is also a legal problem: If you make a style tangible and feed your system with data by The Beatles or whomever, who owns what actually comes out of it? Who owns the ideas? Who is the author? Is it partly owned by The Beatles, by the label, or by the person who actually worked with the system? This is an ongoing discussion.
Another topic that appeared often in other talks, is the power of playlists. How are they created, and how do artists get in?
There have been some investigative articles about it, and there were implicit accusations that the current playlist market is actually a “pay for play”-system, which is forbidden, at least in the US. These articles claim that platforms like Spotify sell playlist slots. Not like: give us 5000 €, more like: let’s make a nice marketing deal, and we will feature your artist in this playlist.
Obviously, there’s more power on the platform’s side. At the beginning of this whole playlist business, major labels had their big playlists to promote their artists, but now streaming platforms such as Spotify or Tidal have pushed them back and position their playlists on top. I remember that back in the day, there were a lot of playlists not branded by Spotify. Now, it’s the first five or six. The platform owners are the absolute gatekeepers of who’s accessing these playlists. And to get back to your question: I have heard that the major companies have teams for Spotify relations. So, promotion teams that purely focus on keeping in touch with the producers of these playlists.
Can you explain why meta data become more and more important to artists?
You should focus on meta data if you want to get royalties from the collecting societies. You need a full set of meta data, where all kinds of aspects about your record are mentioned. That would be authorship, where it’s produced, who was involved. The more precise, the better. Really take your time to make it accurate, because this kind of data helps you promote yourself. It’s important to make sure you are getting tagged in the data streams that accumulate all the data that belongs to you.