CMU Trends

Trends: China, AI and music education – setting the agenda

By | Published on Friday 23 February 2018


As CMU Insights publishes agendas for each of the conferences that it will present at The Great Escape later this year, CMU Trends outlines the background to each theme being explored.

Everyone agrees that the British music industry is one of the UK’s success stories. British artists, songwriters and music companies constantly punch above their weight. The UK government frequently acknowledges the value of British music – culturally, commercially, and as a calling card around the world. Yet music education in the UK has seen its funding cut and its place in the curriculum down-graded.

The Musicians’ Union recently called on the UK government to review its education policies, capitalising on a new survey from the BBC that confirmed that the vast majority of schools in England have cut back lesson time, staff and/or facilities in at least one creative arts subject, like music.

This trend has in no small part been blamed on the English Baccalaureate – or EBacc – system. This is the way the academic performance of English schools has been assessed since 2010. Creative subjects like music are excluded from the EBacc, meaning schools are less likely to prioritise them, because achievements in those subject areas don’t have a positive impact on their perceived success.

In the recent BBC survey of 1200 primary and secondary schools, 90% said there had been cutbacks of some kind in at least one creative arts subject. Meanwhile, 40% said they were spending less money on facilities for these subjects, and 30% had reduced the hours in the timetable dedicated to the creative arts. Most blamed a combination of EBacc criteria and funding cuts for these changes.

The government’s Department Of Education defended its record in this domain, insisting it continued to invest in music and other creative art subjects in schools. At the same time, schools regulator Ofsted defended the shift to prioritising more traditional academic subjects, especially at a GCSE level, but said that that shift in focus hadn’t altered the overall expectation that schools offer students a “broad education”.

The music community is not convinced by either of those arguments. MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge stated: “This new research from the BBC has confirmed the MU’s findings that far too many young people are unable to access music as part of a broad and balanced school curriculum”.

He went on: “Government policy, in particular the EBacc, is the driving force behind this situation, with the result that increasing numbers of children can have music lessons only if their parents are able to pay for them. This will do nothing to increase diversity and opportunity in the music industry. The MU therefore calls on the government to review its education policy in order to ensure that music is a skill that everyone gets a chance to learn”.

Why the disconnect in government, where one side repeatedly acknowledges the success of the British music industry while the other side downgrades music education? Such breakdowns in communication are not unusual in government of course, though in this case the issue is arguably exacerbated by the disconnect between music education and the music industry.

A good music education serves many functions for young people. It exposes them to the excitement of performance and should help them to appreciate music of all genres. It can also engage some students in a way other subjects do not, helping them connect better with education at large.

In addition to that, a good music education can also open doors to possible careers in music, the music business and the wider creative industries, while also providing valuable transferable business, communication and creative skills. Though, arguably, the latter outcomes are not consistently delivered across the music curriculum.

That is a missed opportunity. Our starting point with The Education Conference is that industry and entrepreneurial skills, and practical careers advice, should be incorporated into the music and wider arts curriculum as a matter of course, in the classroom, as part of instrument coaching, and in extra-curricular activities.

Doing so would provide a number of benefits.

First, it would better prepare young people to pursue careers in the music and creative industries. Secondly, it would provide young people with media, communication and IP skills and knowledge, which are increasingly important in the social media age. And thirdly, it would mean that music education is genuinely providing the next generation of creatives and business leaders for the music industry.

Plus, crucially, more closely allying music education and the music industry would make a much stronger case for funding the former, as an investment in education would become an investment in the business. The Education Conference will begin by making the case for this argument, though much of the day will be focused on three other questions.

Assuming that you agree with the position that industry and entrepreneurial skills should be incorporated into the music and wider creative curriculum, what skills are we specifically talking about? How could they be taught, especially at the outset, given we know funding and resources have already been cut? And how do we get the buy in of educators, the industry, funders and government on these proposals?

These are the questions we will seek to answer at The Education Conference. And we will share those answers here in CMU Trends too.

2. AI
The history of the music industry is basically a story about how a long line of new technologies changed the way music is made, performed, recorded, distributed and consumed. But which new technologies will kickstart the next revolution in the music community? For each new technology that causes a revolution, there are plenty of other hyped tools, platforms and devices which ultimately fail to make their mark on the business of music.

That question will be at the heart of The AI Conference. Although – as the name suggests – the specific focus will be on those technologies that can be loosely grouped under the banner of ‘artificial intelligence’. Which is to say technologies that utilise big data, algorithms and machine learning. Of particular interest will be those AI projects and products that are changing the way we monitor, market and make music.

In terms of monitoring music, we’re talking about audio-recognition technology. Which isn’t particularly new. What is probably the most famous audio-recognition service – Shazam – was originally launched way back in 1999.

However, this technology is becoming much more sophisticated as the years go by. In terms of being able to recognise new versions of songs as well as officially released recordings. And being able to ID a track from ever smaller snippets. And being able to still ID something when there is background noise, or the tracks has been tweaked in someway by a producer, DJ or user.

In addition to the evolution of the technology itself, it is also interesting to see the different ways audio-recognition technology has been employed, beyond consumer facing apps like Shazam. Perhaps most interesting of all is the employment of this technology to monitor music usage in order to make sure the right labels, publishers, artists and songwriters are paid whenever their music is used.

This is where it feels like there is still much more potential for the employment of audio-recognition. Obviously user-upload platforms like YouTube and Facebook have been using this technology to enable rights owners to manage and monetise their music on their sites for a while. Some collecting societies have started using services like DJ Monitor to track what music is being played at clubs and festivals. Plus start-up Dubset is helping platforms work out what tracks are sampled in a mix with the aim of increasing the distribution and monetisation of such mixes.

It feels like there is still much room for growth here, given how much music being used around the world still goes untracked, so that potential royalties go uncollected, or collecting societies have to employ assumptions and market share criteria when distributing collected monies to the music community. We’ll be looking at the very latest developments in audio-recognition and how it is being employed by the music industry at The AI Conference.

In terms of how music is marketed, we’re interested in all the interesting uses of big-data, algorithms and machine-learning to inform and change the way artists, labels and promoters engage with fans. That includes those technologies that are making social media communications more sophisticated, and allowing the artist-fan conversation to shift over to the messaging apps, where fans increasingly hang out. We will also look at clever uses of data on the live side to better promote shows.

When it comes to how music is made, that’s the amazing platforms that automatically compose music. These services are slowly starting to compete with the production and library music companies. They provide cost efficient ways to get original compositions to accompany video, making them attractive to TV, game and film makers on tighter budgets which would traditionally rely on library music to soundtrack their output. However, as these AI music-making machines evolve, could they start writing the pop music of the future too? That’s the question we’ll confront head-on at the conclusion of The AI Conference.

Ten years ago every music conference had a China panel, where music industry execs discussed opportunities for Western artists, labels and promoters in the key emerging market of China. Although the conclusion of most of those panels was that while there was undoubtedly much potential in the Chinese market, the actual real opportunities available in 2008 were somewhat limited. Ten years on it feels like those opportunities are really starting to become real. However, experts on the Chinese music market will tell you that it remains a challenging place to do business.

In its ‘Global Music Report’ last year, the International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry noted that: “With over 1.36 billion people, China is, in terms of population, the biggest country in the world. In terms of recorded music revenue, however, it has never broken into the top ten markets. Historically hampered by rampant piracy, it was the sleeping giant that many in the industry believed would never be woken up”.

However, it added, “thanks to a confluence of deals, technology, new government policy and cultural shifts, it is being talked of as the next great global opportunity, with the potential to rank alongside the biggest music markets in the world. Recorded music revenue grew 20.3% in China [in 2016], driven by an 30.6% rise in streaming”.

So, while the streaming boom is pushing the global record industry back into growth, it is also helping transform what were once impossible markets for the recorded music business. Although the streaming boom in China is dominated by local services, rather than the global players like Spotify, Apple and YouTube.

The company that has been getting the most global attention in this domain is Tencent, which owns China’s market-leading streaming service QQ and also acquired two other streaming music set-ups.

Tencent established a specific music division for all this activity which it now plans to spin off as a standalone company via an IPO later this year. Meanwhile, Tencent has struck up a formal relationship with global market-leader in streaming, Spotify, each taking an equity stake in the other.

Beyond the Tencent empire, there are other notable streaming services in China too, the music operations of NetEase and Alibaba being most notable.

Interestingly, the web companies operating in music in China have also become music distributors. This creates the slightly odd situation where streaming services must get licensing deals from their competitors in order to access big chunks of catalogue, especially from international record companies.

The China Conference will put the spotlight very much on these Chinese streaming services, looking at how they work for both consumers and rights owners, and where the opportunities lie for Western artists.

We’ll also look at the evolving Chinese copyright regime beyond streaming, where there is still much room for improvement.

The global body for song right collecting societies CISAC noted just last year that only 105 of more than 2000 radio and TV stations in China pay any royalties to music publishers and songwriters. Collections of that kind in China currently stand at €23 million, but CISAC reckons that if performing rights were properly enforced tens of millions of extra revenue would be unlocked.

Beyond rights and recordings, The China Conference will also put the spotlight on media, social media and live music in the Chinese market.

Just like with streaming, social media in China is dominated by local networks rather than the global services, which generally don’t operate there. Meanwhile, in the live domain there has been considerable growth in recent years, though commercial, logistical and political challenges remain for international acts.

We’ll be consulting the artists, agents, promoters and marketers who are working in China to find out how you can make it work.

Full agendas for this year’s CMU Insights conferences are now available at