The world of digitized media is as complex as it is convenient. Like every other technological advance we make as a society, each new invention is a hurdle to cross together, without any real way of knowing who’s going to land successfully on the other side. In the music streaming business, every day presents another hurdle in artist rights, consumer demand or another problem that begs us to draw a line between music as art, and music as a commodity. Because of this, there is a new demand for people working behind-the-scenes of music production to generate timely ideas in music distribution, while keeping music true to its original art form. In Denver, there are a few such innovators and startups that exemplify the hope that one day, artist and inventor can cross the digitized hurdle together.
Mad Genius Radio
Mad Genius Radio creator Eric Neumann got the idea for his radio subscription business throughout the years he spent working in radio, researching what worked for the stations, and then considering the trends financially. He picked up on a well-known industry secret — people like what’s familiar. Think top 40 radio. Neumann then got the idea of combining what he knows of advertising with what he’s fascinated by — human behavior, and how the brain processes emotion over time.
Simply put, Mad Genius Radio gives the listener more credit than other streaming services such as Pandora or Spotify Radio — what Neumann refers to as “correlation radio.” These streams assume you’ll automatically like one song, for example, because you liked the first.
“The reality is, everybody has some sort of eclectic taste in music, it probably goes hundreds of artists deep, thousands of songs deep. But it’s all stored in your subconscious where you don’t think about it.” – Eric Neumann
Although it isn’t launched yet — they did a beta test in 2014, but Neumann still needs to secure the right marketing funds — Mad Genius Radio does what algorithms and modern-day online advertising do not — allows the user to pinpoint what specifically they want to hear more of, how often and in what mood. This is done by using a sliding scale on each genre — say you want your mix to feature a moderate amount of blues, but only a little country. Listeners may also decide how much new music they want to be featured in the playlist, and what tracks from an artist they want to hear again.
The controversy surrounding streaming services such as Spotify and the way artists — especially lesser-known artists — are compensated is important to note when discussing music streaming. Before that conversation began, however, there was the issue of piracy. Denver-based company Beatport was ahead of the curve in 2004 when it established its business with legal music sharing in mind. Beatport functions as a music source for DJs, providing contemporary tracks for mixers to use legally. This is important not only to protect the intellectual rights of the original artist, but it also protects the DJ when they are producing and putting their music out in commercial space. Today, the company is a huge resource in electronic music, with offices in Denver, Berlin and Los Angeles. Beatport also serves as one of the best local examples of music commerce turned into an empire.
When Brandon Shevin, vice president of legal and business affairs for Beatport, thinks of an ideal candidate for work in the Denver office, he isn’t thinking in terms of formal education. He says what matters is the initiative the person took while trying to make something for themselves, even if it was a “failed empire” or unsuccessful go.
“We like to see that it’s something you’re passionate about, something you’re interested in,” Shevin said. “You should have a passion for what the customer is doing with that product.”
This passion is a necessity for working the right line in music as art vs. music as a business. It also serves as a glimmer of encouragement for anyone wishing to contribute and find a career in the ever-evolving world of music streaming — that is, with a mind for the times and a heart for music, you can do it. Whether you view the reliance on technology in our everyday lives as invasion or innovation, the monumental significance of digital media can’t be ignored. By appreciating work done in music streaming, we may begin to humanize, and then dissect, the mammoth elephant in the room: How does digitized media affect the value of art?