Deep Dive #2: Music industry in Berlin

Category: Deep Dive

DJ Rob in der Groen Freiheit ©TUI Cruises

DJ Rob in der Groen Freiheit ©TUI Cruises

DJ Rob in der Groen Freiheit ©TUI Cruises

When nowadays a song goes around the world, it is usually done via streaming services such as Spotify, Amazon Music or Apples iTunes and Youtube Music. According to a survey by the digital association BITKOM, one in two Internet users streams music nowadays. In the age group 14 to 29, even 63 percent of users choose millions of titles directly from the cloud and listen to them on their smartphone or any other terminal device – wherever and whenever they like, without physically buying or owning the title. It resembles a digital jukebox, where users pay a monthly fee (also in form of cryptocurrency) and in return can listen to their favourite music. This digital music model pays off as the share that streaming services have on the music market, currently amounts to nearly 50 percent.

Much has changed in the age of digitalisation, not only as far as the “provenance” of music is concerned, but also in the way we produce, listen to, experience, share and distribute music and the way musicians, DJs, producers and users are linked together and generate revenues. The changes have not necessarily been for the better, in particular, as the revenues generated via major streaming services are only a few cents per title. 

To challenge the market dominance of Apple, Amazon, Spotify YouTube and others, a whole new ecosystem and new business models in and around the digital music industry have emerged parallel to major streaming services. They are geared to better meet the needs of musicians, producers and DJs, by working in a fair and transparent way and on equal terms with all involved parties. One example are platforms that offer a faster and better utilisation and payment for artists and publishers, for example by excluding third parties from the utilization process via blockchain technology and establishing direct contact between musicians, their music and the paying listeners. Other startups provide alternative means of giving music a new technological face, composing music by using artificial intelligence, sharing our own titles via apps or finding performances and artists or attending performances virtually. All this happens around the world and in Germany, especially in Berlin.

Berlin’s Digital Music Industry 

The inventor of the gramophone record and the gramophone, Emil Berliner from Hanover, was a real Berliner only in name. However, his invention contributed to one of the major disruptions in the music industry as early as 1887, which ultimately also inspired the digital creative scene and startups in the capital’s music industry. Thanks to his ideas, it was possible to record music on vinyl, reproduce it more easily and to purchase it for less. Moreover, the Emil Berliner Studios have been located in Berlin since the year 2010. And it’s not just from here, that the Berlin music industry sets many things and people in motion., the changes in the music industry in the past 15 years have become a blueprint for the possibilities and opportunities that the digital transformation has to offer for various industries. In hardly any other sector have technological innovations arrived more clearly than in the music industry. 

LIZZY: Smart and portable sound

With her stylish 3D Drum Dress, the Berlin artist LIZZY shows how to add melodic features to fashion items. The multiple award-winning drummer invented the musical wearable, a wireless drum dress, in co-operation with engineers and the fashion tech designer Maartje Dijkstra. This music fashion item has an integrated digital drum set. This allows LIZZY to set the digital pace during her performance and choreography. 

Another invention focusing on the body as a resonating body is the Basslet portable subwoofer from Lofelt. The idea behind it is that the Basslet uses a psychoacoustic phenomenon. The silent subwoofer delivers bass straight to your body, offering haptic vibrations and a powerful music experience anywhere you go.

DJ Rob: Humanoid disk jockey with a sense of rhythm

We are the robots? No, HE is the robot and in addition, one with human traits and a distinct sense of rhythm and sound. The Berlin design studio Pfadfinderei and the robotics company pi4_robotics, also located in Berlin, have worked together to engineer DJ Rob. With 15 rotatable axes, a sophisticated music detection system, innovative laser sensor technology and synchronised motion and light design, the world’s first humanoid DJ robot entertains the audience in the style of famous DJs.

Find yourself great gigs from across the globe

The gigmit platform, which calls itself Europe’s biggest tendering platform for musicians, allows bands and DJs as well as promoters, businesses and individuals to find each other through a large database. For clubs, live acts or corporate and brand events, gigmit provides the music and Electronic Press Kits (EPK) of more than 50,000 music artists.

Be close, even if you’re a far apart from each other

dö.our.tune connects you with your loved ones through music. As an iMessage extension, dö lets you share songs from your Apple Music library with the people you like and love in real-time and be close, even if you are far apart from each other. After the listening invitation is sent, all recipients have to touch their screens continuously to make the music play. Thus, the acoustic experience is emotionally enhanced by a shared haptic dimension.

Digital music models go around the world

Meanwhile, beats, basses and other sounds have found a new digital existence beyond the city of Berlin. In the Deep Bach project for example, artificial intelligence composes Bach’s cantatas in the form of neural networks, which makes it difficult for even pros to tell whether the work was composed by Bach or his AI counterpart Deep Bach. After all, the art of composing cantatas and the art of programming lies in (algorithmic) step-by-step procedures.

For those who want to listen to (live) performances without going to a concert themselves, can do so with MelodyVR. This startup makes it possible to experience virtual reality by using a VR headset, along with free seating, time travels and being virtually up on stage next to the stars. And even more so, when the concert is actually sold out.

If you need a proof that jukeboxes have had their days, you will find with Musicoin. Although it is still about coins that need to be inserted to listen to music, these belong more to the category of cryptocurrency. Musicoin itself, however, is more than that. In fact it is a streaming service based on blockchain technology and a platform where musicians, distributors and consumers meet in their own ecosystem. A similar decentralised model is offered by Audius, an alternative to SoundCloud. The purpose of these two providers and similar platforms is to give artists more control over their works and revenues via blockchain technology. They further aim at establishing a closer and more direct contact with the audience and users. 

The US startup Kobalt Music , which also has an office in Berlin, works in a similar way. Kobalt’s model is also to bring together artists, users and the audience on a single independent platform beyond the usual major streaming services. For this purpose, they use their own app where all data traffic, revenues and statistics on downloads and neighbouring rights are available in real time. Moreover, Kobalt offers the option of supporting artists in terms of PR, distribution and on-site recordings. 

Roli is without doubt a further US startup aiming at changing the global music industry. The company produces tools that offer a variety of innovative sounds and effects for smaller and bigger stages thanks to touch-sensitive music technology. 

Steereo offers an even deeper insight into the listening habits of drivers of transport services such as Uber, Lyft and others. The music app is in fact about allowing the drivers to play music along their route (and earning money at the same time), while musicians and their managers can upload new titles into the app and analysing them in detail how the listener reacts to each title. 

All in all, the way we make, listen to, distribute, monetarise music and make it accessible is changing.

With the "Deep Dive" series Projekt Zukunft regularly gives an insight into current technologies in the digital, media and creative industries and provides information about actors, trends and applications from Berlin.


Nadja Clarus