✖ Your own personal AI music star
And: making old music go viral on TikTok; Reddit buys Dubsmash; Imogen Heap's Creative Passport goes beta; what 2020 could have been according to Pollstar
Could virtual music stars reach millions of people without doing so through communal experiences? It’s something we’re bound to find out in the next decade.
Virtual stars are not a new thing. Vocaloid avatar Hatsune Miku has been around for over a decade and opened for Lady Gaga in 2014. Another type of avatars are virtual YouTubers who have been around for about half a decade. Arguably the most well-known avatar of that group, Kazuna AI, recently performed at Porter Robinson’s online Secret Sky Festival. Chinese streaming giant iQiyi’s research into virtual idols has shown that 64% of people aged 14 to 24 in the country follow one or more avatar stars.
Thus far, the music stars in this area of entertainment have followed a similar strategy to real-life pop stars: getting on a (virtual) stage and singing to many fans. An AI-powered chatbot named Xiaoice shows the potential for another approach.
Xiaoice is a virtual assistant designed to keep users engaged by forming deep emotional connections to them. The result? Over 600 million people have tried the bot out over the past years with many of them becoming hyper-engaged. The company, spun off from Microsoft, estimates that “half the interactions with AI software that have taken place worldwide have been with Xiaoice.” The AI’s fans are 75% male and reading about some of the ways they describe interacting with her may remind one of the movie Her.
Xiaoice is a type of mass media to which each user feels a personal connection, because instead of one-to-many communication (like pop stars), the virtual friend is able to have one-to-one communication at scale, much like Siri and Alexa. The communication model it uses is hard to apply for a human being who can only do one thing in one place at one time, but with improvements in AI and the increasing virtualization of music the one-to-one model is easier to utilize by the music business.
I’m not aware of a one-to-one virtual music idol at scale (do leave a comment if you know of something), but I have no doubt that something like this will emerge over the next years, no doubt using channels like TikTok as part of a user acquisition funnel and becoming part of mainstream consciousness that way.
Interestingly, I think this discussion mimics one of the cultural discussions we are having around music right now as exhaustion sets in trying to attain higher streaming numbers for unsatisfactory incomes. So as musicians explore models beyond extracting small amounts of money from giant numbers of listeners — such as membership models like Patreon — we may see virtual idols mimic the cultural shift in music, but apply the dynamics at a scale that non-AI creators can’t employ.
As long as that doesn’t lead to a situation where AI idols start cannibalising the membership revenues of non-AI performers, that scale may not be an issue beyond the fact that the bargaining power may distort other markets that musicians rely on for income. While the next year’s theme will be a return to normal, the next decade will stretch and upend the meaning of normal.
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👾 You may recall Riot Games putting together K/DA, a virtual music group with each of the characters having a League of Legends backstory. On the Genius blog, Leah Degrazia goes into conversation with the producer of the group, Sebastien Najand, about K/DA’s creation and success — attaining hundreds of millions of views and plays over the past 2 years.
🛂 Congratulations to Imogen Heap, Carlotta De Ninni and the Creative Passport team - the music data project just went into beta with the UK’s PPL as their first collection society partner. It aims to provide a digital ID for better data management in music.
💿 This may bring some comfort to those of us who feel a bit old whenever we sign onto TikTok: music marketers are trying to engineer viral moments to sell old records on the platform in a strategy to bring new audiences to these parts of catalogue.
🤝 On the topic of TikTok: Reddit is buying Dubsmash, one of its competitors. For some background on the company, I recommend Cherie Hu’s early 2019 piece about its history and pivot into music. The move seems to have paid off, as a year later Josh Constine reported its billion monthly views only being rivalled by TikTok.
🏆 Music Ally has released a report highlighting the 50 of the best music marketing campaigns in 2020 with special awards for things such as best use of Zoom (Haim), best livestream (Disclosure), and best use of Instagram (Leonard Cohen).
🏟 Back to normal for festivals in 2021? Some believe Q3 will see small events back on as normal, with larger events happening in a few places too. Live Nation expects shows back by summer, with almost 20 million fans having held on to tickets of shows postponed from 2020.
📉 Pollstar has a number of year-in-review style articles worth your time, including a look at what 2020 might have been vs. what it was. It has calculated that the global live market has lost around $30 billion this year.
🤔 Some music clubs in New York have been getting around restrictions by saying the music in the venues is incidental.
🎟 For Water & Music, Cherie Hu & Maarten Walraven-Freeling (MUSIC x’ Thursday editor) write about the film industry’s release strategies and how its waterfall approach can be applied to ticketed livestreams:
“Under this strategy, the original concert video can move from a ticketed livestreaming model for a smaller group of fans, to an on-demand or pay-per-view (PPV) release on a different platform with wider reach, to an exclusive distribution deal with an SVOD service like Netflix or Disney+ or even with a free ad-supported TV (FAST) service like Pluto TV or Samsung TV Plus.”
🎆 This New Year’s Eve will be an interesting one for many reasons. The UK’s Night Time Industries Association is warning that potentially millions of people will gather for illegal parties around the end & start of the year.
I’ve recently been listening to Belarussian ska-punk band Lyapis Trubetskoy again, since I have a soft-spot for ska in Slavic languages ever since discovering the Bulgarian band Wickeda when I lived there in 2007. Enjoy!