Rastko Petaković - k/Talks MTF & Copyright
Rastko Petaković is Senior Partner at Serbian law firm Karanovic & Partners. He’s a specialist in Mergers & Acquisitions, cross-border trade and corporate antitrust law. He’s also the host of the firm’s podcast, k/talks. This week’s MTF Podcast is this week’s k/Talks podcast.
Rastko interviewed Michela Magas and Andrew Dubber for the podcast to talk about music innovation, music culture and copyright in an age of AI, blockchain and multinational tech giants, as well as connect the dots with personal stories of music fandom, music for social change, accessible music tech, and music technologies for children with autism.
Karanovic & Partners
Listen to more episodes of the k/talks Podcast
Dubber Hi, I’m Andrew Dubber. I’m the director of Music Tech Fest, and this is the MTF Podcast. Now, one thing that gets talked about a lot within MTF, because it’s something that affects pretty much everybody in our community, is copyright. It’s something that’s not just important, but also that we’re having to change and adapt in response to technologies, platforms, politics, and the ever-evolving nature of creative work. And so it’s something we’ve really wanted to do a deep dive on, here on the podcast, to look at the legal as well as the philosophical aspects of copyright in an age of AI, blockchain, and monolithic tech giants, but also to look at it not just from a business perspective, but also what it means at the other end of the chain. What does the experience of music mean for people who just love music? And what role does copyright have in shaping that experience?
Now, of course, normally what we’d do is track down an expert with a good story to tell, maybe a partner from a top legal firm. But not just any lawyer, one with a direct and personal connection with what music and technology can mean. But instead, he tracked us down.
Rastko Petaković is a senior partner at Karanovic & Partners, a Serbian law firm. In fact, probably the top law firm in southeastern Europe. Now, he’s a specialist in big industry stuff, mergers and acquisitions, antitrust law, cross border transactions, that sort of thing. He’s also the host of their podcast, k/talks, and he interviewed Michela Magas and me about MTF. About the relationship between our experience of music and the technology used to create and share it, and, of course, some of the legal underpinning of that. It was a really fun conversation to have, and, I hope, to listen to. So today here’s this week’s episode of Rastko Petaković’s k/talks podcast, with MTF on the other side of the virtual interview desk. Enjoy.
Rastko Hello, and welcome to k/talks. My name is Rastko Petaković. Today I’m speaking with Michela Magas and Andrew Dubber. In short, they are a force of nature on the cross-section of music and innovation. Michela is the creator of the Industry Commons and Music Tech Fest. She’s an Innovation Advisor to the European Commission and the G7 leaders, and in 2017 she was awarded European Woman Innovator of the Year award. Andrew is the director of Music Tech Fest, which is a global community platform of over 7,000 creative innovators and scientific researchers. He’s also an author of several books about media, music, innovation, and the social impact of digital technologies. In 2006, he established a pan-European digital music strategy think tank and consultancy New Music Strategies. I will be linking more information about these two impressive guests in the notes of this episode, including links to bios, social media, and books. So without further ado, I’m bringing to you Michela Magas and Andrew Dubber.
Rastko Hi, Michela and Andrew, and thanks so much for agreeing to do this. First of all, maybe I could give you a brief introduction on what this is, who we are, and why we are doing this. We are a law firm, and, as you can imagine, this is completely outside our comfort zone, but we also want to do things in the public that are more convenient for people where we go about exploring businesses, exploring science, arts, culture, and so on. And so we have a commitment here, and that is to not make just legal podcasts or in-depth legal content. And so this exercise is pretty much us exploring our curiosities around many different things and seeing if anything sticks with our clients, with the start-up community, and so on.
So what we try to do as a business, and what we like to encourage with k/talks, is to have a platform, a community of sorts, where people get ideas, where they think in novel ways, and ideally get inspired to become entrepreneurs. And so when I heard about what you have been doing I was very much impressed because it hits a lot of my curiosity spots. I really love music, I like technology, and I like culture, so what you are doing is on the cross-section of all three. I was, of course, trying to learn as much as I can about the concept of Music Tech Fest, but maybe it will be better if you can start by explaining briefly to our listeners what is it that you do, and what is the Music Tech Fest?
Michela Well, thank you for this, to begin with, and it’s always fantastic that as a legal firm you reach out to start-ups and to young entrepreneurs and that group of people because they tend to be underserved by your profession in particular because it tends to be prohibitively expensive. But also because their landscape in terms of rights and in terms of registration of their intellectual property is changing, and we are actually contributing to this. So I’m sitting here with Andrew Dubber who is… For instance, you might be familiar with Bandcamp. He is someone who authored the book, which he can probably tell you more about later, that inspired the founders of Bandcamp to start that company because he actually outlined a system that would allow musicians to utilise online tools to actually earn a proper living from it, which was really unheard of, especially at that time. But that’s that kind of story. So it is really relevant to anybody who is starting a business today to see, for instance, an example of where someone has utilised digital tools to their advantage, and to create a new business model that actually really works.
So in that sense, the sort of things that we do are those types of things, where we look at “What are the new affordances of the technologies?”, and then we experiment with them. And we do experiment with them with our huge community. We have over 7,000 members, and they are from all kinds of backgrounds. They gather around music because music is our social glue, for the very reasons you have just specified. The idea that everybody loves to go to concerts, whether that be classical or popular or electronic music, or they play an instrument, or they have an affinity towards music. They can either be involved actively or they are simply curious. For instance, people listen to Latin music without knowing very much about the culture that’s associated necessarily with it. They tend to learn about the culture through the music. So it’s very accessible, so we call music our social glue. And I can get a Nobel Laureate in physics who is averse to anything to do with the arts, and says “Humanities and arts are not my thing.”, but if you mention music “Ah, that’s different.”. So this is why it’s so wonderful for bringing people together.
So we bring this huge community together around playing around with music. Around the fact that music allows us to prototype very quickly and easily in a low-risk space, but also gives us very fast feedback, whether something works or not. And very often whatever you have invented can then be ported over to other areas of activity. For example, if you do create, as we have done in the past, an interface which allows you to play music directly from your brain, that gives you basically a test for what you can do in terms of operating machinery from your brain. So it is actually a very, very quick and easy… I’m exaggerating a little bit. It’s not an easy thing to set up, but once you have set it up it gives you very quick feedback, and you understand how quickly your brain is adapting to something, and how easy, or relatively easy, it would be for people to train to start to operate machinery with, for instance, neurofeedback. So this is a very, very interesting space. This is the sort of thing we do. And this is why people think it’s science fiction, and it takes them a while to get their head around it. But it has major, major implications on everything, including law, copyright, intellectual property. Funnily enough, we will start throwing legal stuff back at you during this podcast, I’m sure, because we constantly have to think about it.
Rastko Well, of course, and no problem. I’m really loving this that I’m hearing because I also love music in a way that is, I think, special. I love arts, but I think music has this sort of a visceral impact on people. It gives a strong emotional feedback to the listener, to the artist, and it instantly creates a community. You see this at the festivals or at concerts. You hear the music, you see the people, but you also see that glue that exists around them in that moment. And then the bonds that are created at those events, they very often last the longest. Sometimes a lifetime. So it is really great.
And then you see how music is developing and evolving together with technology. And this, of course, isn’t new, but still, there is this strict form that is evolving slowly. The content is changing, the form is changing, and the technology is changing the form, but, again, still slowly, and within a certain set of rules. So what you are doing, in my view, is really allowing the experimentation to go wild, so there are no rules, which is very interesting. So for example, maybe electronic music, if we take it as an example, that is on the cutting edge right now, but it also has certain rules to it, and what you’re doing is breaking the rules and going outside of it. And actually, not you’re doing it, but you’re bringing together people who like to break the standard rules. Experiment and, again, see what sticks, and not being afraid to do any of this. So what is the kind of reception that you have? Is there an amazement? Is there an instant impression that you get from people?
Michela Yeah. Oh, not only that. It’s getting a huge amount of traction. For instance, one of our long term members, since 2015, in fact, is the founder of DADABOTS. This is a duo who are creating experimentation with neural networks produced music. It has really become an art, in the sense that it is not just a simple fact of feeding samples into neural nets and then having to see what comes out, but actually how you train the system, how you nudge it towards certain directions. It’s an art. It’s a new tool for music production. And what’s really incredible, what they’ve done, apart from replicating Kurt Cobain’s voice, or rather getting the neural nets to actually sound and even say things that Kurt Cobain would say and things like that, what has really been incredible about it is that they’ve created new formats.
We’ve been stuck in the Motown track format for a very, very long time. And it was there for a reason. It was a dinky, short size format that could fit between radio reports, so you could fill that space. It was also fitting on the vinyl size, 7” record. It was the sort of thing that was logical at the time. And, of course, the art around the track that lasts three and a half minutes, developed beautifully by Motown with this intro, the build-up, the refrain, etc. And this has been replicated for 50 years, more than that. And with the digital technology, it didn’t… We had the concept album. We had Pink Floyd and all the rest of that early 70s, so when the 12” record came out then that gave us a new format, etc., but really haven’t really moved on from this.
And yet, what DADABOTS have done is we have online, on YouTube, they have tracks that are ongoing. The neural net keeps building it. You plug in and you hear part of that track as it’s ongoing, and it never stops. It’s constantly progressing. It’s like a concept album of the AI age, and it’s really fascinating. It’s got a lot of traction. It’s been on TechCrunch, it’s been on all kinds of things. And, of course, it’s been promoted now in, for instance, music industry trade fairs, and people want to showcase this new format. And also new museums who want to feature it, and things like that. So, yes, it is getting a great deal of attention. There is a great deal of discussion over how much of a quality you get out of these systems, and it is exactly like any other tool. CJ Carr, who’s this amazing ex- Berklee College of Music kind of guy who’s behind DADABOTS with his colleague, he is really an artist now in this domain because he’s been doing it for five years, and he’s really honed in on his craft. So it is much like any other tool. And I don’t know if Andrew wants to add something to this because he’s been working with…
Dubber The thing I was going to say is that developments in music have always been people kicking at the edge of what’s technologically possible, so you get something like The Beatles doing Sgt. Pepper’s. What they were doing was in the recording studio going “What else can this do?”, and trying to find where the edges are and pushing them out. Radiohead, similar thing. Kraftwerk, similar thing. Just “Here is the technology that we now have. What else can be music?”, and I think that’s been the driving force throughout. A lot of popular music history has been people experimenting at the edges. Innovation always comes from the margins, even if it’s from enormous, famous, successful bands that are doing it. It’s this marginal activity of not trying to repeat what’s already been done, but actually wrestling with the technology and trying to innovate with it. It’s been really successful.
Michela Am I right in saying that Sgt. Pepper had the loop at the end of the vinyl? Basically, the vinyl kept jumping forever. And then when they digitised it they lost it because they had to cut it off. Because, basically, when you left it on the record player it just kept on looping at the end, and that was actually deliberate. It was a deliberate feature. Am I correct?
Dubber Well, I don’t know 100% if it was Sgt. Pepper’s that did that. There was definitely a Beatles album where that was the case.
Michela So maybe I got the wrong album. We need to double-check on that.
Dubber I don’t know.
Michela Because Sgt. Pepper was so tremendously innovative I thought it was that one. But anyway, we can check, but there was definitely one of theirs…
Dubber My excuse was I was born when Sgt. Pepper’s came out, so it’s not in my frame of reference quite as much as some of the later material.
Michela But they cut it off when they digitised it because they just didn’t know… Of course, there are digital tools that will allow you to do this infinite record concept, but they just didn’t… It was just this new… They didn’t get the concept, basically, when they digitised it.
Dubber But the thing that you touched on right at the beginning, of music being something that is more than just entertainment. It’s something that brings people together. It’s, like you say, a social glue. It’s something that really moves people beyond what language can do. I have a friend who’s an instrumental musician, he says that music is his way of communicating when the words run out, and I think there’s a really nice idea in that. I’ve worked a lot in music as a tool for social change, so working with projects in places like India and Venezuela and Columbia where people are actually trying to make people’s lives better, and using music as a way of doing that. And it really speaks to…
Michela He had to be guided by drug lords. This is really good stuff.
Dubber But it speaks to how important music can be in people’s lives when it can be deployed in a way like that. It isn’t just this distraction or just mere entertainment, there’s a lot more depth to it than that.
Michela Yeah. The fact that, seriously, you had to get protection from the drug lord of the barrio, right?
Dubber It was something like that. It’s one of those very long stories that involve some very questionable people we were able to do some…
Michela Because the only way that they could access these poor kids is by getting protection, and the only way you get protection is basically… And it turns out, right? That the guy in charge with a dubious past actually wanted the kids not to follow in his footsteps, which is an interesting story.
Dubber Yeah. To tell the story, essentially each neighbourhood in this part of Caracas in Venezuela is run by a particular crime lord, essentially. And so what this one guy did is he invited us up there to essentially run a music tech workshop in his basement, and essentially put the word out on the street that while we were there we were untouchable. And so we would walk through the streets of this neighbourhood and they would just be empty because people were terrified of us because they were terrified of him. But what he wanted was for the young people in his community, which had an average life expectancy of 18 years old for men because just the violence was so high in this one community, making particularly hip-hop was seen as a way out of these kinds of environments. It was like the only other thing you could be was a hip-hop artist. And so the idea that bringing people in to do music training or to do “How do you promote your record? How do you record using very simple technologies?”, those sorts of things, was actually seen as emancipatory, which is interesting.
Michela So we worked with a guy, amazing figurehead in Brazil called Pena Schmidt who worked with Gilberto Gil when he was minister of culture, and in the Auditório Ibirapuera in São Paulo he was having… He was basically collecting all the kids from the favela, and basically all the kids from the favelas were given instruments. And it was a program to… This is the way to get them out of the poverty. And then he said “What I’d love to add is the element that you guys add, which is the technology element, because then in 15/20 years you have a generation of engineers.”. And as it so happened, the European Commission, you might have picked up I’m an Advisor to them, they sent me to advise to the Brazilian government prior to the present government, the previous government, and to the minister of innovation and science and education and communication. And we were talking about deploying the Internet of Things around Brazil and how much this would help with health and also with the food production industry.
And we did all of that, but then when he told me the story that they had had a campaign to enable all of the remote areas of Brazil to have mobile phones, because they felt that this would really help the society there, I realised that in today’s age if we deploy microcomputers, because they’re super cheap… We had one computer per child, one laptop per child, initiative. It was a fantastic initiative, but it was rather expensive. Nowadays you have microcomputers. They’re super cheap. So you get Arduinos and what have you, and if you add this to music, which drives all of the kids, there’s not a child in Brazil that doesn’t react to music, then you actually can… Give it 15 years, you have a country of engineers. So we did this thing called One Smartboard Per Child, and this was very well received. So, yeah, it’s an amazing enabler. Sorry, this was a very long answer to your question.
Dubber The point that I would want to make is that, yes, music responds to changes in the technological environment, but also technology is changed in response to what people do with music, arts, creativity. And there’s the opportunity to experiment in that space in order to make technological changes that can be applied across all sectors.
Rastko And I fully agree. And, actually, two things resonated with me that you just mentioned. Belgrade, Serbia, where I’m from has this kind of situation. Decades of troubles, so to say. Social, political, economical, and so on. And this is the area of the world that was under so many troubles for so many years, and what was glue for the likeminded people was also one of the engines of change, and that was music.
So, similarly, in East Berlin there was a huge scene that emerged before the changes, and then when the winds of change came a huge new subculture had already existed there and was transformed into one of the major cultures in the world right now. But what is extremely nice to see is how all of these cultures across the world can cross-pollinate and then exist and be experienced in a similar way in so many different cultures, and then there is science and new progress and new ways of doing the experimentation. So, for example, when you say concept albums by Pink Floyd, this is something that I was maybe too young to live through, but I know my father was a huge collector of those records. And I know that…
Michela I can tell you, I’m obviously older than you, my first record was Wish You Were Here on Jugoton. And the funny thing about Jugoton was we would get a selection of great music from the West but printed a bit late, usually, in Yugoslavia, but we were still able to get it. And actually, they had pretty good taste. They would pick some good stuff. We couldn’t get everything but we could get some good things. So Wish You Were Here was my first record at the age of ten, that I bought myself. The album, that is. And the funny thing was that Wish You Were Here originally had a brown paper bag cover in Britain because there is a bit of a connotation with a brown paper bag as being something that you’re… If you put a brown paper bag on your head it’s like you’re ashamed, sort of thing. And so there was a story behind it but they didn’t quite get it, so there was just a black paper cover. So it’s an unusual version of the album, and I still have it intact. You know how it has, maybe you’re familiar, it has several covers inside. Two inside and then one paper one. It’s been listened to death, but it still has the black paper over the top that was particularly Jugoton version.
Rastko Yeah, I was getting there exactly with that. I think they were experimenting with music in new ways, with sound and the listening experience around music. So for me it was Dark Side of the Moon, and that was my first experience with Pink Floyd, and I loved it as a kid. And then you also mentioned Kraftwerk, and this is a different story but still something that was changing the music towards what it is today.
And for some reason I just remembered I had a discussion recently with one of my father’s friends who is a generation older, of course, than I am, and he was under the impression that music stopped evolving around the late 80s, and for me that was the time when it really exploded. That kind of music… For example, you can’t disregard Nirvana. And interestingly I had their T-shirt before this one, and I just changed because I thought I should look better for recording this. Yeah. So I have maybe a different view on that, and maybe he has a different view on that, but what everybody knows and probably thinks right now is that Kraftwerk is still alive. That kind of spirit and what Kraftwerk changed in music is still alive. So going to the question, what would you tell to someone who is of an opinion that the music stopped evolving, or at least rock stopped evolving, around the late 80s or early 90s?
Dubber I would say “For you, that’s absolutely correct.”. This is what I would say to them. “If for you music stopped evolving, then fine, it stopped evolving, because your not the target audience for what’s changed now.”. I have a 27 year old son, and his iconic, groundbreaking, changing artists, most of them people my age haven’t heard of. They’re not in our consciousness, they’re not shared amongst us. We haven’t collected the records. They haven’t been revelatory moments to us because the revelatory moments to us were when we were 15 to 20, and when he was 15 to 20 those were different groups. But there are some phenomenally… Particularly in the underground.
And I spent a decade in Britain, Michela spent much longer in Britain, and so we have that British context, but you look at what’s happened with dubstep, with grime, with different kinds of electronic movements… Drum and bass, jungle, all these sorts of things, there are iconic, seismic shifts in music that have happened that have more or less passed me by because it’s not for me, which is fine. At 52 years old I don’t have to be at the cutting edge of what’s happening now.
Michela Having said that, we listen to all of it.
Dubber We do listen to it, but I’m not a student of it in the same way that I’m a student of a lot of music that happened when I was a teenager. And I can tell you what all the groundbreaking stuff was for me, and a lot of people my age would go “Yeah, well that’s exactly the most important stuff. And what’s happened since then?”, but my answer to that is “What’s happened since then wasn’t for you.”.
Michela Well, more importantly, you weren’t at that highly emotional age to receive it, and I think it creates a tremendous impact around… Everybody goes back to the age of 15 as a seminal age of when something really hits you, because at that time, biologically, we tend to be prone to be more emotional about things, and we are more impressed by things, and we absorb things more. But it also speaks to us more, for that reason. Which there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s a very, very positive thing, music, for people in their teens. It’s an incredibly positive element of their lives.
Dubber But there’s probably a good reason why you own a Nirvana T-shirt and possibly not a Stormzy T-shirt.
Michela Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Do they even do Stormzy T-Shirts? Or did that just…?
Dubber I would imagine so.
Michela Really? I would have thought that they would do something different.
Dubber Maybe. Everyone needs a T-shirt.
Rastko Right, right. Well, one thing that I think also changed with time is the channels of delivery, and this is a big and obvious thing. It’s associated to business, but it’s also associated to culture because, as you mentioned, Jugoton, it was bringing in records, and people went to shops, and there was this almost magical sensory thing when you tried to save money for it, then you go to the shop, when you take it out of the box, when you play it, and so on.
Michela Yeah. My pocket money was spent on a record every week when I started getting pocket money. That was it. And fortunately they were cheap where we came from, right? And I’ve been actually talking to Srđan ŠaperSrdjan about doing the equivalent of Concrete Utopia that was at The Museum of Modern Art in New York last year, and I said “We need to do the equivalent for the new wave and the whole movement that we had that was totally…”. What he was doing was Talking Heads, and it was at the same time. And now when I show people the videos they love them, and they’re timeless. So, basically, all of the bands around that time, it was absolutely phenomenal stuff that was coming out of our part of the world. Plus all the graphic design that was also… And the videos, and everything else. So we should actually have a retrospective that’s the equivalent of Concrete Utopia in that sense. So sorry, I’ve cut into you, in fact. I’m really actually very passionate about this.
Rastko No, no, no, that’s great. This is a great topic. And just to continue on that, the kind of visceral feeling that I was mentioning when you touch the record, when you put it on the shelf, when you play it and then return it to the sleeve… That was a whole ceremony, and that is mostly gone today. It is just a click on your mobile and then you get it instantly. So what are your thoughts around this change? The fact that it is so ubiquitous. And not only the mainstream music, but more and more the alternative music as well is very much available. Is that changing the strong emotional attachment that our generation or previous generations had with records?
Dubber Absolutely, and I think that that’s fine. People put this moral value on holding physical objects, which I find really weird. I’m a record collector. I have a lot of vinyl, I love that, but that’s because I’m the age I am, not because records are better than digital. They don’t sound better. There’s a whole lot of nonsense debate about… Records sound different, they don’t sound better. I happen to prefer it. But the ownership, the going into a record shop, I love all that. I’m an absolute vinyl nut. I love record shopping, I love owning, but I don’t think it’s bad if that goes away, because it doesn’t have to go away for me. It’s just what other people find more convenient or more suited to them. I didn’t have games in the way that people have games today, and so that passion and collection and enthusiasm is for, now, a medium that can last, let’s say, 72 hours from start to finish, not 45 minutes, and I think that’s really interesting.
So I don’t think that music has stopped being important, but I think the ratios have changed of how people spend their time and attention. And that’s a large part to do with the technology, because the reason that we value these things is because that was the technological limits of what we could do. If somebody told me when I was 15 years old that I could put 1,000 records into my pocket and listen to any of the tracks in them in any order, I would have gone “That’s the future I want. That sounds amazing.”, and yet what I was doing was going in… My pocket money, on a weekly basis, I could get, if I was lucky, one record. So some things are lost, some things are gained, but it’s a shifting of ratios. And that always happens with everything, forever.
Michela And there’s another element to it, which is that when we first started digitising music we were, as I say, simply replicating what was there before which was designed for another format. And I did say this already, the Motown format, etc. And, basically, when you start digitising something that achieved a great level of art form in another format, it’s awkward, it’s inadequate, until you start discovering what this format can give you and until you start creating artistry, like I mentioned, for instance, with neural networks and other types of ways in which you use the technology as a tool to create with it, and then you start discovering that there are some other exciting things that happen. There are things that you couldn’t have done with the previous format. So this is the shift, and I think you have a whole theory about this.
Dubber Yeah, I do. Books, even.
Michela It’s true, he’s written books about it.
Dubber But it comes down to… People say things like “In the digital age, how long should an album be?”, because it’s not restricted by the length of the vinyl anymore. And then the next question is “Well, what should an album be?”, and then the next question is “Should an album just be music? Is it something that I should hear? Or something I should see? Something I should feel? Something that I should interact with? What are now the affordances of…?”. Essentially, “What is a creation of a piece of art by people who have creative talents and things to say, and how do I put that out in a way that is meaningful and that people can make sense of?”.
Michela But also “How do I generate sound in completely new ways? And how do I experience sound?”.
Dubber Well, that’s the thing.
Michela We have some people in our community who have developed ways in which you can feel sound through your bones. It is a bit like introducing Quadrophenia into your body, and it’s a completely new experience. And so the experiential side of things has also changed tremendously. The business models we are constantly experimenting with…
Dubber Well, the interesting thing is the business models. And the reason I think that you raised distribution of music as the interesting part is because that’s where all the dialogue has been, particularly in the press and the record companies talking about it, and that being the important thing. But there has been, I would argue, more significant change in the production of music, but also in the consumption of music and the promotion of music. How music is promoted today is radically different from how it was promoted 30 years ago. So not just distribution but composition, production.
Michela You’ve got the Ada T-shirt there, actually.
Michela You want to pass it over to me?
Michela I know you can’t see it on a podcast, but this is a T-shirt that’s based on the famous design by Experimental Jetset from Holland. But we’ve actually turned it into… The original one had The Beatles’ names, which had John and Paul and Ringo and George, and we’ve changed it to women in electronic music and computing. So, basically, Ada, Delia, Laurie, and Daphne. This is not Laurie Anderson, actually, although it could be, it’s Laurie Spiegel and Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire. They were part of the Radiophonic Workshop, and they were inventing new kinds of electronics that created new kinds of sounds, and they were really pioneers. And this one is tremendously popular, but another thing that’s really great about it is that all our T-shirts are scannable with your phone and actually have a soundtrack attached to them, and we can actually change the music that’s attached to them.
And the reason why this is a great business model is because your app actually contains the T-shirt owner’s details and their preferences and their size and all the rest of it, so instead of merchandise sitting somewhere in a warehouse and then being distributed through concerts, etc., this is a pre-order thing. So you put your size in and you say “I’d like this T-shirt.”, and then you end up being, amongst your friends, the one who has the exclusive track on your T-shirt. And you are paying fashion prices for this T-shirt. It’s been tested for 12 years, this kind of model, and it works really, really well, and therefore after you’ve funded the production of the T-shirt the rest of the money goes to the artist. Now, when have you had that much income from a piece of merch? Which is effectively a new format. This is a new format. It’s a new tangible format. And also it comes in a vinyl package. It’s basically a vinyl cover that you could put into your vinyl collection, so if your T-shirt is in the wash you can scan the cover of the vinyl. And it’s got all kinds of other things attached to it. But, basically, it’s a tremendous new business format.
And all the big labels were very, very interested in it but it doesn’t officially register in the charts, and therefore it’s not an official format that’s accepted, etc. This is one of those things we need to get over. We’ve got fantastic new formats, they create a great deal of wealth that’s fair for artists as well as for everybody else, so it’s plenty in there to go for everyone, and all it needs it to be accepted as a format in the industry and then we are good. So it’s not like we don’t have solutions, we have.
Dubber But there is one other aspect to this, which is that the 20th century was the only time in history where music was so professionalised that there were people who were musicians who were allowed to make music and then there were audience whose job it was to sit down, put the needle on the record, shut up and listen. And prior to that, music had been something that had been cultural and shared, and everybody had a piano in the parlour or they had… It was something that people did together, and now it’s becoming, again, something that people can do together. So the production of music is no longer simply a professionalised, ring-fenced, with a guild of “You are qualified to be a musician. Here’s your budget to go into a recording studio.”. Now, again, we have the opportunity for people to sit at home in their bedrooms and just go “I want to make something, I want to play something, I want to share it with my friends. I want to express myself through music.”.
Michela Yeah. Jake does how many? He used to do how many per week?
Dubber Oh, yeah.
Michela And they are so free of fear. They don’t have this cultural snobbery about “Oh, yeah, I shouldn’t put anything out. That’s not perfect.”. This is Jake, Dubber’s son. He put out a record at the age of, what, 18 or 19? Put out a track that had one point… It’s got about two million online.
Dubber Yeah, two million views on YouTube. But it’s not made to be a professional, commercial release. It’s made to be “Here is a thing that I made. What do you think?”. But what’s really interesting about this conversation, and this goes back to the same people who were saying “There is no good music made after X amount of years.”. These are the same people that are saying “Well, there’s too much music today. There’s so much crap out there. How do we sort through all this nonsense out there?”, and the idea that there can be such a thing as ‘too much music’ makes no sense to me at all. Partly because, just from a purely pragmatic view, if just as a listener you want to hear a lot of good music, 90% of everything is going to be crap, but the more stuff there is the bigger that 10% is going to be and the more amazing things that are going to be out there in the world. And if you can’t find good music to listen to today, there is something wrong with your filtering systems.
Rastko Yeah, I fully, fully agree, and there is a small anecdote on this. As I was looking for music to be the intro to the podcast I went to some of these websites that have all sorts of license-free and licensed material, sounds, music, and so on, and I ended up spending the whole day listening to this music because it was so awesome. I could find so many good tracks to listen to. Not only for the podcast, but in general, and I was simply amazed with how much good quality music you can see everywhere.
But let’s maybe dial back and go to Kraftwerk one more time. I think there is a crossover here between law and music right there on the Kraftwerk thing, actually, because as you may know there was this judgement recently by the German courts disallowing the use of a couple of seconds motif from one of their songs. So what are your thoughts around, from the bird’s view perspective, how much of an enabler or disabler the current copyright law is to music?
Michela Cool. I also have a lot to say about it but maybe you go first.
Dubber Okay. It’s really hard to know how to answer that question in a way that doesn’t take several hours.
Michela Just do examples.
Dubber Okay, so here is my starting point. Copyright’s really, really important, and it’s really, really broken, and that’s really where I come at this from. There are all these cases in which copyright is… It’s important because of what it’s for, which is so that people will make things and put them out into the world. To contribute to culture. For me, that’s the purpose of copyright, is to incentivise creativity. Is to make sure that the people who create great things have a mechanism by which they can get compensated for that. What it’s used for, and the reason I say that it’s broken, is to stop that from happening. Is to say “You’re not allowed to touch my stuff and use it to make new and interesting things.”.
Kraftwerk’s a really good example for that. There’s a motif from a Kraftwerk song which is a very important part of a Coldplay song, and should Coldplay not have been allowed to make that song? That five or six note melody not be able to be heard by an entire generation of audiences all across the world simply because they don’t happen to own that Kraftwerk record from nineteen seventy-whatever it is. I think that’s where it becomes problematic. And the idea that copyright is used not to incentivise creativity but to shut it down, that’s where it starts to get really, really complex.
And the problem is that there are extremist views on both sides. There are copyright abolitionists and there are copyright maximalists, and those are the two loudest conversations in the room. And everybody else in between who’s going “Well, this is more complicated than that. It’s more nuanced.”, this is why you’re important. This is why we need lawyers in the mix to go “Actually guys, no. Let’s try and find the best resolution to this. Not ‘I win, you lose’, but what are we trying to get out of this? What’s best for culture? What’s best for the artists? What’s best for the continuation of the music industries? What’s best for policy?”, and you go through like that and you start to negotiate these possible answers.
Michela What about your eight-bar example?
Dubber Well, okay. So let’s take AI as a really contemporary example. So there are lots of conversations around how copyright should relate to artificial intelligence. Who owns the music that is created, let’s say, if an AI can create a new composition? Okay, so you say “Well, an AI is just a tool. It’s a computer software, so it should be owned by the company that owns the AI and programs the AI. That’s obvious.”. Okay, so the presupposition with copyright, the way that it’s written, is that the moment you create a work the copyright exists. You don’t have to register it. You can register it, and that will prove that the copyright exists, but the copyright is already there. It’s said to subsist within the work, right? So you get an AI that is owned by a corporation and then you program that AI to analyse not just all of music, but musicology. How does melody work? How does harmony work? How does rhythm work?
Michela Yeah, chroma and… Yeah.
Dubber Exactly. So you get the AI to do that. Okay. And then you say “Write for me, please, every possible eight-bar top-line melody that could be used in a piece of music that hasn’t already.”. And so the AI gets to work and it creates all that, and then suddenly you’ve got “This massive amount of work for every possible song that could ever be written from now into the future is now owned by one organisation.”. What do we do with that? Because that’s what’s currently possible with both the technology and the law.
Michela Precisely. And as another aspect, let me give you another example. If, as we have experienced with DADABOTS, the AI is… They were at times sponsored by Amazon Services because of the amount of computing power that it requires to train the neural nets, right? So they’re maximising on the CPU, and they’re maximising… Basically, you could be producing at a maximum. Now, if everything the AI is producing needs to be parsed and analysed and registered at some point, you need three or four times the power to then address it, to then process it, and maybe you’ve maxed it already, right? So now what’s happening… You can’t do it in retrospect. It’s too fast, right? There’s too much stuff.
So then the question is “What is the value of what’s coming out?”, right? How are you going to think about it as a lawyer? As someone who actually protects value for people, right? What is the value? Is the value only certain things that are coming out, where we program it so that certain things are perhaps more valuable than others because we just simply can’t cope otherwise? Or is it when it starts to create a feedback loop with something else? Or is it the reaction to the thing that you’re starting to measure as a value? Now, there are so many parameters here that you could set up in a system like that, but you would have to really, seriously think “How do we capture the value? Where is the real value? What is protectable here?”.
And this is the new use cases that in these discussions about copyright are completely unknown. They haven’t got a clue. This is why in the AI space, what we do… Well, I would say in this case is rather important because, basically, unless you experiment and unless you have the experience of the thing as we have, and we realise that these are the problems, you wouldn’t know. In a boardroom discussion it just simply doesn’t come out because people just can’t imagine that this is what’s happening.
Dubber The other thing that’s happening in copyright policy discussions which is really, I think, problematic, is that the only people who get to have a voice at the table are the people with a commercial interest in music, and not the people with the…
Michela Well, lobbyists, yeah. Mainly, yeah.
Dubber Absolutely. But these are groups that represent, let’s say, the publishers or the recording industry, or there’s The Featured Artists Coalition in Britain. Now, all of these, they have perfectly legitimate positions to defend and advance their positions and so on, but who isn’t being listened to are citizens, consumer groups, listeners. How does this affect them? So you get all of these ridiculous laws that get passed on the basis of lobbyists that open up things for things like Sony to be able to reach into your computer and break capability of it so that you can’t copy something onto something that you can play in your car, for instance, because it’s in their interests that you don’t do that. It’s not in your interests at all.
Michela But this is also the irony of it. The lobbyists themselves have got the information that actually really is antiquated, and it’s not really particularly well informed. Like the cases that I just mentioned, but also other cases. There has been, very famously, in the past… When we started doing Music Tech Fest back in 2012/2013, we had all the big labels the second year because they were really curious as to what we were doing. And of course they wanted to protect their IPR and all the rest of it, but when they realised the possibilities of some of this stuff they allowed samples, they allowed our crowd to use the samples, and in fact turned it into an advantage because Everything Everything, the band that actually gave some of the samples, it got turned into a really good version of their track, a remix of their track, and then they decided to do the opposite. They decided to give it to their fans to do it with and realised that there was potential in this.
Dubber Well, more importantly it wasn’t just samples, it was stems. So it was the original multitracks of their recordings.
Michela That’s right, yeah, sorry. Individual, yeah, channels.
Dubber The interesting part about the end of that story is that Jeremy from Everything Everything is now the chair of The Featured Artists Coalition.
Michela Which is fighting for artists to get more. And what happened at that time is that Warner actually gave… They can give YouTube permission for some of the users, like Music Tech Fest, to use their samples, and we got that from them because it was interesting…
Dubber You get whitelisted.
Michela We got whitelisted, yeah, because it was interesting for them. And then after that, Universal… I think it was 2015, I was speaking about content creators to the European Commission and saying just how important this was, and people weren’t into that at that time. And I quoted one of the MDs of Universal that actually said how thrilled they are now that users of YouTube use their samples to create videos whereas just the year before they were clamping down on it, because they realised there was actually a business model attached to this. So when lobbyist lobby for copyright, they are lobbying based on what they know, and they are not aware of some of these use cases that we are always… We can always tell them. There are so many more business models you could have out of this if you accept and if you are informed about these new use cases.
Rastko No. I think I can also, like you, go on for ages talking about this, but being conscious of the time I have one more topic that I would like to discuss. It is more of a personal nature. I have a daughter who has autism, and one of the things that we’ve been exploring a little bit was music as a therapy because, as you probably know, sensory processing plays a huge role for her and sensory overload can be a challenge for children with autism. And some of the things that I’ve been seeing being done by Music Tech Fest is also about using music as a therapy. Can you maybe spend some time discussing this a little bit more?
Michela The accessibility element is phenomenal in our community, and possibly some of the most important results have been obtained from work in accessibility. And it has been coming very natural to us and to our community because we have maximal inclusion, radical inclusion, in the sense that we don’t consider anyone to be, so to speak, normal, because normal is not really a word that should be used. There’s no one who’s normal.
And we have discovered in our experiments and in our laboratories that, basically, people who would have been considered less able-bodied in the mechanical era, for instance, because they cannot use an arm or they cannot see, suddenly we hook them to data-driven systems and they can operate systems, as I say, through neurofeedback or through devices that we attach to other parts of their body or through micromovements, for instance, suddenly they are brilliant at it. So it’s basically the equivalent of you wouldn’t have had a pianist virtuoso before the piano was invented, so it’s exactly the same now. You have some new systems that are being designed by our community that suddenly discover virtuosities in people who are, like your daughter, autistic, and who perhaps in the ordinary framework that’s available to her would not be able to excel. And yet, when you construct the right kind of technology for her she actually proves that she’s far, far better than you are at this particular task or this particular system or whatever it is.
And music is a wonderful tool for this as well, in the sense that not only is it understood by everybody but it is also… And it’s also felt by people who are deaf. They feel the rhythm, they feel the vibrations, and vibration is something that is fundamental to our DNA. Everything inside us is vibration, everything around us is vibration, so it’s an incredibly good connector between people, and between people and systems. And we know for a very long time, since 2005 already, when our colleagues at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona invented the Reactable. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but this is a DJ table that has cubes with graphic symbols on them, and you could do… Basically, are parts of the analogue synth, but it’s very easy to experiment with and learn. It’s a playful thing. And when they were testing it, autistic children reacted to it beautifully.
Dubber Well, there are two things that have come out of that, specifically. So, I think they were descendants, if you like, of the Reactable, but taken further down the whole therapeutic and almost… What’s the word I would look for? Yeah, therapeutic is probably the best way to describe it. But they’re designed for kids, including kids with autism, is probably the best way of thinking of it. One is Skoog.
Michela But it’s enabling, as well. Therapeutic sounds like a clinical case, as possibly… I always call it enabling.
Dubber Enabling is probably a good…
Michela Because they can actually express themselves. They can actually hear how good they are at something.
Dubber There are two products. One’s called Skoog, out of Scotland, and the other one to look at is Jooki, from Belgium, and they’re both music making and music listening devices that are aimed specifically at kids and are responded to really, really particularly well, and are thought of in their design, for children with autism. And one of the things that’s really enabling about that design is it unlocks creativity and expression in a way that tools that are not designed in this way just prevent, so they’re really lovely products to have a look at and to experiment with.
Michela Don’t know how old your daughter is, of course.
Rastko Yeah, she’s seven.
Michela Oh, she’d like it.
Rastko We tried ROLI BLOCKS, and this is definitely something we can also try and do.
Dubber Yeah, definitely try the Skoog. Yeah.
Michela Absolutely. But the fact that she can… This is what’s wonderful about music. You hear, there’s a feedback loop that’s immediate, and so you know that you’ve done something cool or something well. And then you build confidence, which is incredibly important for autistic kids.
Dubber But this is the great thing about technology, is these things weren’t possible before these technologies were available. So Skoog relies on Bluetooth as a technology in order to exist. Jooki relies on MP3 as a technology in order to be able to exist. So these new developments in these areas aren’t just to make what we already had better, but to make possible whole new things that can improve people’s lives.
Michela Dj Arthro you may have come across on our website. He has a disability from an arthritic related disease, severely debilitating, but he has got an absolutely full life because he first constructed himself what he called a ‘spaceship’ that can be used by his tongue and his nose, where he actually describes his arms as chicken arms. So he is able to use other parts of his body to create loops now because some of our community constructed specially designed devices for him, and then they started to use AI to allow him to also be a VJ at the same time. So, basically, without all these new technologies he would have been… He had a dream of being able to play guitar, and now with these new technologies he’s actually… And I’m not saying just play individual notes, properly play. The moment that he started doing this with all these devices, two days after our festival, his music was featured on the BBC.
Rastko Right, right. Wow. Well, thank you. I would just like maybe to share those links in the episode notes once it’s produced and released. Well, thank you so much Andrew, thank you Michela. Thank you for this conversation. It’s been eye-opening and very exciting, and maybe we can do it once again.
Dubber Brilliant, thanks so much Rastko.
Michela It’s been an absolute pleasure. Yeah.
Dubber That’s the k/talks podcast, hosted by Karanovic & Partners’ senior partner Rastko Petaković, and that’s the MTF Podcast. You can find the k/talks podcast at www.karanovicpartners.com/ktalks where you’ll find episodes on everything from escape rooms and digital transformation, female digital affirmation and venture capital 2.0, to the economic shock of COVID-19. I’ll link to that in the show notes. The MTF Podcast is out every Friday, so hit the subscribe button wherever you like to listen to podcasts. And don’t forget to share, like, rate, and review because it really helps other people to find this. Have a great week, stay safe, and we’ll talk soon. Cheers.