Popgun/Splash interview | Inside Music - March, 20th 2020

Inside Music (Mar 20th, 2020)

Interview with Stephen Phillips of 'Splash' app / New music Friday / Coronavirus music updates


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Every Friday, I'll highlight a few of the most notable new song and album releases:

1. Music releases out today:

The Weeknd has released his long-awaited album, "After Hours." Just after its release, it appears to have struck a chord with listeners, becoming among the top trending topics on Twitter. So far, it appears to be a hit, with much more praise than criticism. The album is long – nearly an hour – and interestingly does not contain any features/guest appearances.

Rock band Alkaline Trio has dropped a new, surprise EP — titled, "E.P." The three-song collection was hinted at recently, but with the band's recent tour cancelation, it was uncertain if there would actually be anything new coming.

Lapsley's new album is out today and it's just wonderful. This is her sophomore release and if you're in the mood for something with the vibes of Adele, be sure to give it a listen. The Guardian called the record "intensely poetic and powerful."

2. Coronavirus update: I'll be tracking how the pandemic is affecting the music industry on an ongoing basis.

  • The Met Opera has now canceled its season because of the coronavirus and will stop paying musicians at the end of March.
  • Some record stores have begun to offer curbside pick up and delivery options as social distancing restrictions force stores to close public access.
  • Charli XCX has kicked off her self-isolating live streams on Instagram. She has also been keeping a daily quarantine diary featuring details about her upcoming album.
  • Jack White's Third Man Records has started its own live stream concert series, "Third Man Public Access," to keep its connection to fans.

3. Industry: A $100 million coronavirus aid bill was signed into law on Thursday called, "Families First Coronavirus Response Act." What can musician gig workers expect from the relief act? Live music workers laid off due to coronavirus-related cancellations, like concerts, will have an easier time applying for and getting unemployment benefits. The bill sets aside $2 billion for additional unemployment benefits for American workers. The act will also include free coronavirus testing to all Americans, whether they have insurance or not. — BILLBOARD

4. Trends: NPR has started collecting and putting together a calendar of live concerts and streams from musical artists. The event list is all digital and allows fans to find and track shows they might want to watch. The dates are up-to-date and currently run through April 11. As nearly all physical events and concerts have been canceled or postponed, a barrage of artists have taken this opportunity to pursue direct, and online connections with fans. Hozier will be going live today on Instagram at 3 p.m. ET and the Vienna State Opera is broadcasting each day this weekend.— NPR

5. Interview: Stephen Philips is a software engineer with over two decades of experience in machine learning. He co-founded the popular music analytics site WeAreHunted, which attracted millions of users worldwide before it was acquired by Twitter in 2012. Stephen worked at Twitter in San Francisco in Product and Engineering, and Mergers & Acquisitions before returning to Australia to start Mawson— an AI venture studio that partners with technical entrepreneurs to build, validate, and scale companies at the frontier of deep learning. Splash is one of the latest AI music apps to come out of Philips' Popgun company.

How do you personally describe Splash and what it's capable of to someone not in the music industry or who hasn’t really dabbled in making music?

Splash is a new app that makes it easy for everyone to experience the joy of making cool music. Splash features a huge variety of sound packs that you play using a simple beat pad interface. It really is the easiest way to make music and it sounds so much better than anything else. It's a lot of fun to play.

We have been delighted with the response from users so far. People are having so much fun and are blown away by how great the music sounds. For us, helping people make good music for the very first time is a delightful experience. We are really proud to work on this and bring joy to so many people.

(Splash is 100% free and available on iOS and Android.)

What do you see for AI music creation and what comes next for it?

When musicians think about AI they often think about robots and the threat of AI replacing musicians. The reality is that current technology is nowhere near that sophisticated and won't be for a very, very long time. While the technology is still developing, AI can already be useful in ways that do not threaten anyone.

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide love listening to music every day. And as every musician knows, making music is just as much fun as listening to it. Yet millions of people still can't make music and miss out on one of the great joys of life. The problem is that making music is still too complicated. We believe AI is the answer to this problem. AI will make it easier for everyone to make music and open up a whole new product category for the music industry. I predict millions more people will learn to love making music and it will rival music listening as a super fun thing to do.

What comes next for AI in music-making? AI can already compose midi for a variety of instruments, it can master audio like a human, and even generate synthetic singing. Yet very little progress has been made on the really hard problems of sound design and determining musical quality. How do we use AI to make new sounds that no one has ever heard before yet still sound amazing? How do we train an AI to tell the difference between good, bad and amazing music? These problems are extremely difficult. We still have a long way to go.

What’s the monetization method for AI music creation?

People who love making music are always looking for ways to improve. They are willing to spend money to make better music. AI is simply another tool that can help people make music. We believe that musicians, from beginners to pros, will pay for AI products if they can help them make better music.

We have no interest in royalties or taking a share of someone's publishing or anything like that. We plan to make music-making experiences so good that people will pay to use them. We want the user to 100% own the music they make and use it in any way they like.

What’s one new music app and one new band you’re digging at the moment?

Bay Faction are my favorite band right now. Their sound really hits my indie jangly guitar sweet spot.

My most used app is Twitter which I think remains an incredible product. The world's most interesting people all opening their minds.

My favorite new music app is YouTube Red. Watching reaction videos to my favorite songs is my guilty pleasure. I am always amazed how awesome music transcends time and culture and shakes people to their core.

Tyler Hayes is a writer and early adopter in both music and technology. He's based in California and has contributed to Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and Billboard, among others. You can reach out at @TylerH.

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