The future sound of music
New digital tools, such as RjDj and MXP4, are set to transform the way we listen to music from a passive to fully interactive experience.
Despite the rapid evolution of music media in the past 30 years, from vinyl to MP3s, the industry is acutely aware that the way we listen to music has hardly changed – it has remained a passive process, allowing little interactivity.
The album format celebrated its 100th birthday last year, and while albums and singles remain the mainstay of the music industry, technologists, innovators and composers are coming up with new tools to help modern listeners engage with the songs they love.
One of these is MXP4, a program that allows people to mix their favourite tracks in virtually any way they like. You can add drums, take away backing music, or mash two songs together. The user interface is very simple and built for people with no DJing experience.
The music of about 70 artists, including Michael Jackson, has been licensed to the platform. The tool can be found on the websites of the participating record labels, who are looking for innovative ways to compete with the huge volume of free music available online – often illegally. The team behind MPX4 say it offers new ways to rejuvenate artists’ back catalogues, potentially creating new revenue streams for musicians and labels.
“We offer music fans different ways to experience their favourite artist’s work,” says Albin Serviant, MXP4’s chief executive. “It’s all about enriching the music experience and adding new features. This allows fans to play with a song they may have heard a thousand times and breathe new life into it.”
RjDj is another application in the same vein. This is available as a standalone app on the iPhone. Co-founded by Michael Breidenbruecker, one of the creators of Last.fm, it allows music to be influenced by different stimuli, such as the sounds around you or the speed you are walking at while listening to a tune.
RjDj has started to join forces with leading artists; it recently worked with Little Boots to build an app which allows listeners to either hear her latest singles, or turn on the RjDj function - letting her tunes be manipulated by the outside world in real time. Each experience can be recorded, whether it’s the sound of the listener singing along, or the version made unique by their surroundings and actions at a particular moment.
Crucially, both MXP4 and RjDj let users share their creations via sites such as Twitter, creating further opportunities to enrich the collaborative experience between artist and listener.
Robert Thomas, a 'reactive music' producer from RjDj, said: “Our tool opens up new possibilities for both artist and listeners, and allows much more flexibility. CD and vinyl are the same thing conceptually – they allow people to listen to music frozen in its current form by virtue of it being recorded.
“Our software allows old and new music to change, be added to and grow with time and its listeners.”
Last week at Midem 2010, a conference addressing the challenges facing the music business in the digital age, a new type of music file was launched. MusicDNA, created by the technologists behind MP3, the standard format for digital music files, is a new deluxe format which will be able to include lyrics, videos, artwork and blog posts – all of which will be continually updated – as well as the music.
It will launch in spring, although its developers still need to get the major labels on board and work on a pricing strategy - it will undoubtedly be more expensive than a normal MP3. MusicDNA will directly compete with Apple’s iTunes LP, which was created to encourage people to buy more albums by offering added content such as bonus tracks, artwork, lyrics and video interviews.
However, Mark Mulligan, vice president and research director of industry analysts Forrester Research, said that Apple’s attempts to add value to the album experience have not gone far enough: “Essentially all Steve Jobs [Apple’s chief executive] did was add artwork and a few lyrics, which should be the standard offering. So-called innovations like the iTunes LP need to go further. People should just pay once to get everything that artist does over the next year in one file which is regularly updated.”
Mulligan believes that innovative tools such as MXP4 and RJDJ are moves in the right direction to keep music relevant in the digital age, but there is no longer one answer which will solve this issue. “The future of a successful music industry, if there can be one in the digital age, will come from a rich tapestry of different tools, service and products,” he says.
However, Mulligan admits that most people do not want to be anything other than a passive listener. “The battle to win over the passive audience, who have effectively stopped buying music in the digital era, has already been lost,” he says.
“These innovations are to engage those music aficionados who still buy loads of music. They are the ones the music industry needs to focus on – if they don’t continue to engage them, they really could be no-one left who is willing to heavily and regularly invest in music in years to come.”