The music industry hasn’t always viewed the tech industry as a friend. When downloading first broke onto the scene, the industry went into a panic and made many lawyers very rich. The enormous opportunity for people to instantly access their favourite artist anywhere in the world had bypassed many of the industry suits and they moved into attack mode.
Happily, things have changed. Music and tech are now synonymous with each other. The world’s biggest tech companies all have their fingers in the musical pie: Apple and Google (via Play and YouTube) have music at the core of their offering and streaming companies like Spotify and Pandora are well established and well-funded.
— Mixcloud (@mixcloud) December 2, 2015
The depth of his competitor’s pockets was a problem that Mat was blissfully unaware of when he started Mixcloud. “We were probably a little naive, to be honest! If you look at our space, everyone who does something similar has over $100million in funding – Apple, Spotify etc. but we just built something that we were excited by and grew it organically”.
Mixcloud is a place for longer form music content. Creators upload mixes of at least an hour in length and users enjoy them. It grew out of Mat and his co founder’s jobs and passion of creating content for DJs and not having anywhere suitable to host them. The site looks very modern and built for the dance music generation, but has some surprising user groups.
Mat explains: “we’re the largest jazz streaming site in the world. You might not know it by landing on the home page, but users discover us via the artist and stay in the Jazz “walled garden”, streaming more jazz and finding new artists, unaware that we host dance and hip hop elsewhere”. It’s more complex than “build it and they will come”, but there is a simplicity at the hearty of what Mixcloud does.
The rise of streaming sites hasn’t always been smooth, with controversies about royalty payments hitting the headlines on a regular basis- Figures released recently from the British music industry shows that labels and artists make more money from vinyl than royalty payments from YouTube – and Taylor Swift becoming an unlikely hero for the solidarity movement. Mixcloud’s business model differs from the likes of Spotify as the site operates under a radio licensing model and, so far, this hasn’t been a barrier to their growth.
— Steve Angello (@SteveAngello) November 17, 2015
The careers of Steve Angello, music producer, and Mat Clayton, technologist, intersect where streaming is concerned. Sites like Mixcloud have helped fans discover new music in a way that was unheard of 15 years ago, building profiles of artists without the help of the traditional industry.
Steve raves (sorry) about the possibilities of streaming: “There are cheap outlets for music – YouTube is basically free with just an advert every now and again. The studies have shown that as streaming has increased, illegal downloading has dropped off, so it’s probably a good thing for the industry. If people can pay $10 a month and get everything then that’s cool.”
— Steve Angello (@SteveAngello) November 24, 2015
What once was considered disruptive is now most definitely mainstream. It’s helped bands build an audience and is killing illegal downloads in a way that a court case never could. Steve, possibly the coolest man on earth, is clearly a professional and wasn’t falling for being led down the garden path with a question about illegal streaming, but I got the feeling he’s not quite as against it as the money men of the industry. “Not everyone can afford a streaming service, but if they discover my music illegally… I’m not saying that’s ok because it’s illegal, but people still want to listen to music. It’s good for us, it’s helps us spread our message. Maybe [it’s] a love / hate relationship”
Sites like Mixcloud have also helped to democratise the music industry. Where once the only route to market (and fame and glory, obviously) was through a record company and a deal with a label who would invest what Steve calls “a $100,000 in to get on radio”, now talented kids who are tech savvy can build an audience, fan base and exploit that with the help of a smaller label or entirely independently. It’s become such a cool way to become famous, that even major record labels are trying to replicate it.
— Mixcloud (@mixcloud) December 5, 2015
One thing that is certain is that technology has forced the music industry to change. Where once single and album sales kept the money coming in, now live shows are the cash cow. Steve continues: “I make my living from touring. It gives me the chance to create”. And if technology has forced the industry to change, where do Steve and Mat see it going next.
Steve sees the potential in growing music’s connection with fans: “tech is what’s moving the world right now and it’s important for our survival that we embrace that. I’m happy with the technology I have to make music – I even still us vinyl. I’m here to explore what new technologies are going to help with distribution or connecting to the customer.”
Mat sees a similar future, but with a different product: “talk is the next big thing for us. We’re growing nicely and organically in music, but see the chance to build into podcasts and audio books over the coming 12 months”. A quick look at Mixcloud shows that podcasts are already blossoming, with James Richardson’s Football Weekly podcast from the Guardian available alongside more niche titles such as The Social Club which covers Northern Ireland’s football scene. In the end, both Steve and Mat are both talking about pairing good content with user’s ears
With Adele’s recent return breaking all records and showing the power of the music market, the future is looking rosy for both Mat Clayton and Steve Angello. Kids still pick up instruments, bands still form, and traditional music keeps going. But distributing it, finding like-minded fans and growing an audience has evolved and doesn’t look set to stop any time soon.
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