London College of Music

The Commercialisation of Interactive Music

In 2015, the AHRC funded a research project called Transforming Digital Music under its digital transformations call. This project developed a radical new music-release format - variPlay, which packaged an album as mobile iPhone application (an app) with real-time interactive playback capabilities. This innovative technology allows users to manipulate and interact with music in ways that had not previously been possible. In addition, the format packaged rich media such as lyrics, photographs, production credits and song/artist information.

The app

The app offers a number of different modes of interactivity. For example, variPlay allows the listener to decide on and manipulate the genre of the song being played, in a smooth and creative manner. A song consisting of standard pop-rock instrumentation (drums, guitar, synth, strings and vocals) might be manipulated in real-time to instead play as electronic dubstep, a capella, folk-acoustic, or a blend of styles. Equally the listener can manipulate instruments, removing the vocals, isolating the drums, or creating their own preferred mix of the recording.

In addition, variPlay can make its own intelligent decisions about how to vary playback, taking the listener on a unique journey through a given song on each play. The listener can experience the music based on their mood or preference, whilst also exploring a deeper creative vision of the artist than can be achieved with conventional playback platforms, which in turn brings a new and innovative commercial proposition.

Impact

The AHRC have now awarded a further £90k follow-on-funding for impact and engagement. The Principal Investigator is LCM’s Associate Professor of Music Technology, Justin Paterson with Co-Investigator Prof. Rob Toulson of the University of Westminster. Both are experienced researchers, music producers and software developers. They have now teamed up with major record label, Warner Music Group (WMG) to launch the app with three high-profile artists from its roster, and WMG will use its global leverage to promote the format.

Commercialisation

WMG plan to release high-profile artists from various genres - names to be confirmed in due course. This new project will therefore maximise the impact of the previous research and reach huge worldwide audiences, bringing them the ability to shape the sound of their favourite artists, whilst simultaneously offering the artists a new mode of deeper engagement with their fans.

The technology also provides the record company with data on how users are responding to, and using the variPlay format. If for instance the bulk of listeners appear to prefer acoustic versions of a given song, future artist development and marketing can react to this in a way never previously possible, thus unlocking career development opportunities for the artist and future monetisation.

The original research concluded with a pilot app-release by the artist Daisy and The Dark; the Red Planet EP. This follow-on project involves taking the technological 'shell' of that app and repopulating it with the music, images, and text of the new WMG artists. The three releases are targeted to different sections of the consumer demographic in order to explore which audiences best respond to such a format, and indeed the associated pricing. This approach will inform future releases.

In addition, the funding is supporting launch events that will draw in the media, and help to publicise the new releases in order to further increase public awareness, and hence impact. The project will culminate in the creation of a sustainable business model for variPlay, attracting further commercial funding and later forming a spin-out company to precipitate further releases. This project will therefore define a transformational digital business-model that might reinvigorate the global music industry.

Download the pilot Red Planet EP app for iPhone and iPad.

The AHRC

AHRC funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

For further information on the AHRC, please visit their website.

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