Big Data in the Music Industry: An interview with Chris Carey

Much has been told about music industry blurry situation, the effects of the digital impact on the business and the trial-and-error approach to their future model. In such a context, a new sort of “fortune tellers” have aroused: Big Data specialists, holding in their hands some of the big expectations of the music industry.

Far from this image of “clairvoyant”, Chris Carey surprised us with his straightforward, realistic pitch. Nothing deliberately obscure or tangled in his answers, but a sincere interest in explaining clearly the role of Big Data as an useful tool to give some light in the nebulous scenario of music industry today. One of the more celebrated Big Data specialists on music business, Chris Carey co-authored the influential Adding Up the Music Industry papers at PRS for Music, leaded innovative initiatives as Global Insight Director in strong companies as Universal Music Group or EMI Music, and now he is the founder of his own company, Media Insight Consulting.

P.N. From a technical point of view, how are Big Data used in huge music companies ?

C.C. Working in EMI or Universal we put emphasis on making sure that all the important data were grouped together in a way that everyone could connect: sales figures, number of streams, e-mail responses… The biggest challenge in front of Big Data is to put them together in a way easy for people to connect. At that point you need to ask more questions of the data, and so we are careful of how we structure them to make sure that they can answer all kind of questions: artist level questions, album level questions, fans level questions… What this means is that for an artist you can say how his music compares to the genre overall, and so for instance an artist can have a profile of the standard rock genre. Comparing their behavior to a norm, to a genre group, you can see how they behave. You can take it even further and see what happens when you compare one artist to another, or compare one song to another.

Chris Carey at Sonar +D
Chris Carey at Sónar +D Barcelona

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Sputniko! interview: “I just can’t stop crossing borders”

Sputniko! is an artistic name based both on technology (Sputnik) and surprise (o!): and that is in some way a good definition for her work too, mixing design, technology, art and many other disciplines to cause our amazed surprise and constant delight. Hiromi Izaki, real name of Sputniko!, mathematician by career and artist by profession, seduced us with the softness of her manners and the strength of her ideas during our conversation at Sónar +D Barcelona. An Assistant Professor at renowned MIT Media Lab, while keeping her allure of “Woman of the Year 2013” by Vogue Japan Magazine, she shared with us her thoughts about technology, design, art, pop culture, and society in the world to come.

P.N. You are constantly mixing different areas from video to music to technology: how do you like to define your creations and installations? Is that wide mixing of techniques something deliberate to enhance your message, or just a way to feel comfortable to develop your work?

S. If I need to explain what I do and why I work with so many media, also working with many different genres of people, I think that artist would be a very convenient word that covers everything for me. I guess the reason why I work in so many different formats is that I have always been a hybrid, I grew up mixing techniques. I like just working with different ideas and genres because it give me an inspiration. I just can’t stop crossing borders, I just like it.

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Collecting Data from One’s Own: an interview with Daito Manabe

After his enthralling speech at Sónar +D, we were eager to have the chance of speaking closely with internationally renowned artist Daito Manabe. A multi-faceted creator, so many are his specialties that it is difficult to name them all: programmer, designer, VJ, researcher, technologist … Seeing his cutting-edge projects succeeding one another, it seems that a perpetual storm must occur inside his head. Nevertheless, face to face and with the company of his translator, Daito Manabe was a calm and collected man, with warm manners and fresh thoughts.

P.N. With so many facets of your creativity running on your trajectory, which is the one that would define you better? An artist, an engineer, a researcher?

D.M. I really don’t mind, I tend not to label myself. Actually I spent most of my time programming…

P.N. Your researches and inventions involving motility are really a bright step forward. Are you planning to apply them in implementations for everyday life, for instance using them with therapeutic purposes?

D.M. I’m open to work for any purpose. I have not a license as a doctor, but I will be completely open to work with some. I’m doing anything that keeps me interested, and that would be interesting too: so if someone ask me, I will be glad to explore that practical application.

P.N. Your works are always filled with technical challenges. Which technical problems use to hinder your projects?

D.M. Usually most difficulties come from non-existing hardware, as software is easier for me to develop. Sometimes it is difficult to control: for instance, on the physical electrical stimulus you can’t see everything on the screen, as the real impact of the power you are administering, so these are really important issues.

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Sonar + D – Day Three

The last day of Sónar +D Creativity & Technology Conference was maybe a quieter one, with less talks and workshops. Anyway, we discovered some really interesting stuff.

Data Cuisine, Helsinki-born research project by Moritz Stefaner and Susanne Jaschko, was one of the most surprising projects presented during these three days. Using food as a medium, they represent data and tell stories from the local context where food is cooked.  On stage, they presented the results of a 4-day workshop done at Barcelona as part of the CCCB’s Big Bang Data exhibition. Expressing data on a physical medium beyond the screen, they managed to get our attention on important issues as the unemployement rate or the state of scientific research in our country.

Moritz Stefaner and Susanne Jaschko from Data Cuisine on stage
Moritz Stefaner and Susanne Jaschko from Data Cuisine on stage

We missed the Friday live demo of Belgian creative studio Superbe but on Saturday we visited them at their stand at the MarketLab to know about the two products they presented at Sónar +D: Geometric Music is an app that enables to make music with sounds you record in a very intuitive fashion by using geometric forms and colors. On the other side, Minimom are Arduino-based little boxes to play with 8-bits recorded sounds. There are different models with different functions . By combining some of these little boxes you can have a physical experience and create real music. Superbe is also working on a prototype with more advanced features.

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Sonar +D – Day Two

On Friday, as music at Barcelona’s Sónar Advanced Music Festival stages kept sounding non-stop, we had the chance of attending some cutting-edge presentations on the frontier between art and technology at Sónar +D.

The first stimulating proposal of the day came from Japanese artist/designer Sputniko!. Now working as Assistant Professor at MIT Media Lab for the Design Fictions Group, she is also a highly renowned pop-culture personality in Japan, with a wide expertise as developer of hybrid projects addressed to question boundaries between technology and everyday life.

Coining the term “New Pop”, she talked about the importance of creating controversial works and challenging proposals using the power of new media, specially the social ones. In her experience, you can develop an influential position as a popular figure and take it to make a difference through insightful projects with an actual meaning.

She usually makes known her innovative projects through music video-clips full of imagination and humor. Sputniko! exposed some of her more celebrated works, as the Menstruation Machine, a device which simulates the symptoms of menstruation for those who wear it. Also, she talked about her Lunar Girl project with space agency NASA, a project meant to approach young girls to space sciences.

A real designer for debate, Sputniko! gently shared with PostDigital Node some other thoughts in an interview that we will publish in the following days.

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Sónar +D – Day One

Besides the internationally renowned Sónar Advanced Music Festival, simultaneously this week Barcelona celebrates Sónar +D, a Creativity & Technology event, where some of the most cutting-edge artists and researchers get together in a wondrous kaleidoscope of highly talented people. Eager to know new stunning proposals, we were there from its Day One.

Our first discovering was the successful Belfast-born project Patchblocks , programmable mini-synth modules that caused a backing storm at Kickstarter. It has everything to delight inquiring musical minds: it is modular, it is funny and it is open. These modular synth units can be joined as puzzle pieces, and even they can be plugged to other musical instruments and gadgets, creating a wide range of sounds. Just “playing” with them, you realize the incredible variety of possibilities that these low-fi artifacts provide you, in a nearly-infinite constellation of combinations. There is a strong emphasis on the community side of the project, to share experiences and sounds. The perfect instrument to turn a musician into a maker!

After this, Andy Goodman and John Alexiou discussed about new trends on wearable devices, with witty statements like “In wearables importance is not on the device, but on the experience”. Andy Goodman, from the design agency Fjord, placed wearables on their very initial stage, remarking the issues their development still implies: recharge difficulties, tricky use of too small screens, and ugly appearance. He pointed out the great importance of the evolution of materials as the real way to improve actual wearables: to insert an electronic artifact on a textile piece, he said, doesn’t seem to him as interesting as making the materials of the textile piece fulfill a given function. “There’s no a killer app in wearables yet”, he stated.  Would it ever appear?

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