🔵 SoundCloud's AI platform integrations provide a snapshot of what's to come
And no, AI integrations aren't all bad. Allow me to explain why.
SoundCloud has announced a trio of AI platform integrations, which will allow users of those services to upload music directly to the streaming service. I couldn’t help but notice that some of the headlines around this are pushing the fear buttons, with MBW’s article (below) being a case in point. If you were to only read the headline, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the conclusion here is that SoundCloud is soon to be awash with AI clutter, further clogging up the pipes like fat in a smoker’s arteries. (And you’re welcome for that mental image)
The truth is considerably different, and to me it represents a further insight into the way things are going.
The three platforms in question - Fadr, Soundful and Voice-Swap - are all what I would describe as “genuinely useful”, by which I mean that they all have genuine applications and use, and aren’t simply high volume churn machines for AI-generated tat.
Fadr allows users to split songs into stems and work with that. Good examples would be for unofficial remixes, or just for sampling, but snatching the drums from an old funk track or whatever. Soundful focuses on AI song generation, allow easy creation of background music for films, in-store soundtracks, elevator music or whatever else, though I believe it might well find secondary function as a kind of AI Splice, creating sampleable melodies for producers to stem split and make use of. Finally Voice-Swap is the most interesting of the three by far, allowing an amateur to sing in a vocal track and have it transformed into a professional, note-perfect rendering using AI. Furthermore the track’s royalties are then split 50/50 with the artist in question, ensuring that the vocalists whose voices are being cloned are remunerated accordingly.
(As an aside, something I love is that Voice-Swap has cloned the voices of some classic house vocalists from back in the day, who never received more than a one-off fee for their performances at the time. Ergo, it is ensuring these people might finally get their dues. Now, can someone clone Clyde Stubblefield or Jabo Starks’ drumming styles?!)
Granted, a cynic might take aim at Soundful within those platforms and decry it as another means to churn out tracks at volume, now dumping them into SoundCloud. In reality, I would imagine that is quite unlikely.
To me then, all three have very solid use cases here. However what I think most people are missing is what these integrations mean. By providing these integrations, the platforms are once more allowing creators to bypass the traditional gatekeepers. You don’t even need a DistroKid account to get these songs on there; you can simply upload your track and boom - it’s ready to go live.
I’ve written a fair bit through the years about the fact that the creator platforms are parking their tanks on record labels’ lawns, slowly expanding their suite of offerings to allow artists direct distribution to platforms. I’d argue this SoundCloud deal is another fine example of that.
Equally though, as Universal and co seek to take back Spotify so that it is only generating income for the top 1%, there’s a case to argue that the likes of SoundCloud could yet become the destination for that immensely long tail of DIY creators.
Let’s not forget that SoundCloud has arguably the smartest remuneration system of all the DSPs, implementing the fan-centric model that others have so far run away from. What that means is that these lower-streamed tracks still have every chance of generating meaningful revenue for the creators in question if, for example, just a few fans happen to cane that track to death over the course of a month.
Bring that all together then, and you have quite a compelling prospect for a streaming audio platform. Granted, the integrations today are relatively small deals in and of themselves, but as more platforms sign on, it will continue to open up the options for creators - and with it, challenge all the incumbent models that are out there.
Have a great weekend,
PS - Motive Unknown is hiring! Full details at the bottom of this email, or just go here for the full skinny.
🎶 listening to “Easier Said Than Done” by Thee Sacred Souls. My word, what a delight. Sunny, funky soul of the kind that just oozes class. Another gem from Penrose Records, the offshoot from Daptone Records who, I’m super excited to say, are about to be Motive Unknown’s newest client. Pure, pure class. Enjoy.
📺 watching “How to Stop Criticizing Your Own Beats” by JonWayne over on YouTube. Where most creators on YouTube just tell you why a new synth is amazing and you must have it etc, JonWayne - no slouch in the production or rapping department - has posted this video showing how he creates beats but also the thought processes he’s working through whilst doing so. If like me you’re a producer, this will resonate, even if you’re no longer an amateur. Dive in.
Stories from the Music Industry:
Those three companies are Fadr, Soundful, and Voice–Swap. SoundCloud said in its announcement on Thursday (January 25) that the move “marks the latest milestone in SoundCloud’s efforts to empower artists on the platform”. In tandem with this news, SoundCloud has announced that it is applying what it calls “new methods to prevent AI abuse and protect its artists by blocking AI bots from crawling its site and training models on its catalog”.
👆🏻Hot take: I feel the headline is baiting people a little bit, when the bigger story to me is how these direct connections to DSPs are being made, arguably cutting out, well, most of the traditional music industry in the process.
Insidr Music to launch direct-to-fan music streaming app, which it claims could pay artists ‘4,000% more than other music streaming platforms’
Instead of relying on the payouts of traditional streaming services, fans can directly support artists on the Insidr Music app with a subscription whose monthly price is set by the artist. This subscription grants exclusive access to unheard content, including unreleased tracks, demos, and alternate versions of songs.
👆🏻Hot take: I wrote a while ago asking where the Substack for music was, and it appears Insidr aspires to be the answer. Keen to try it out; certainly the concept looks spot-on to me.
This is all troubling – and as TechCrunch pointed out, this is an issue that is going to affect female stars particularly (“about 96% of deepfakes are pornographic, and they almost always feature women”). One encouraging thing, though, was how Swift’s fans quickly came together to try to drown out the deepfakes with their own posts, leading to ‘PROTECT TAYLOR SWIFT’ trending on X.
👆🏻Hot take: this was inevitable. AI was always bound to get misused, and when you have a platform like X happy to allow this stuff to proliferate wildly before finally removing it, you have the perfect platform for amplification.
EMERGE is an AI-powered chat interface for sync professionals, linking European music with sync prospects such as film producers, advertising agencies, the gaming industry, and sync agents. It facilitates audio-visual professionals to find the perfect track to sync for their new production.
👆🏻Hot take: this feels like one of those simple-but-smart concepts that I’d imagine could prove incredibly useful to workers in the sync space.
Stories from the Broader World of Tech:
Under the changes the US tech company will also give iPhone users a range of browsers to choose from as their default, allow the use of alternative payment systems to Apple Pay, and permit the installation of alternatives to its App Store, which could theoretically include the Google Play store. But there is a catch: for the first time, developers who take advantage of the option will be charged a flat fee per installation, overturning free-to-play business models and limiting the sorts of apps that can bypass the store.
👆🏻Hot take: a landmark ruling, but the real question now will be which companies move on this, and what ecosystem spins out from that. I’d expect gaming to be first over the line.
He claims Apple is forcing them to “choose between App Store exclusivity and the store terms, which will be illegal under DMA, or accept a new also-illegal anticompetitive scheme rife with new Junk Fees on downloads and new Apple taxes on payments they don’t process.” Sweeney is likely referring to the new €0.50 (around 54 cents) Core Technology Fee Apple will charge for each annual install for apps downloaded over 1 million times in the EU.
👆🏻Hot take: Sweeney certainly provides a counterpoint to the idea that this is a terrific victory for developers and businesses.
TikTok continues to grow, but according to data from SensorTower, its growth is decelerating. In 2022, TikTok’s monthly active users grew an average of 12% year-over-year per quarter; in 2023, that figure dropped to 3%. While TikTok says the job cuts are just a result of reorganization, the app could be having some growing pains as it figures out how to integrate TikTok Shop, which officially launched in the U.S. in September. Since then, TikTok users have complained that their For You page is overrun with videos from creators seeking to make affiliate commissions by promoting products from TikTok Shop.
👆🏻Hot take: given this is THE trend of 2023/4 this doesn’t come as any kind of shock. Perhaps more interesting is this claim that TikTok Shop has confused users and potentially driven them away.
Need something else to read? Here you go:
“MDZhB” has been broadcasting since 1982. No one knows why.
👆🏻Hot take: weird, sinister… and utterly intriguing. I love this kind of thing.
AI-powered technology that projects lifelike avatars trialled at Loughborough University
👆🏻Hot take: a sign of things to come? I must admit, it looks impressive, and if it creates that more distinctly human presence when presenting, without the cost and aggravation of travel, it feels like a smart move to me.
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