A London-based tech start-up called Mashtraxx has made some big-name friends in the music and advertising businesses for an automated system that could be the first true disruption to music-synchronization licensing.
The production-music division of record-label and publishing multinational BMG and UK ad-industry guru Sir John Hegarty are among the heavyweight supporters of Mashtraxx’s music-sync desktop app powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Music sync is the age-old practice of legally licensing recordings to create soundtracks for audio-visual content, from movies to TV commercials, video games and, now, online and mobile content. However, it is expensive and labor-intensive.
Mashtraxx wants to use its patented products and services, under the MXX brand name, for the profession’s first serious overhaul since the invention of film soundtracks in early 20th century.
And, in so doing, the founders believe they will make life simpler for digital video producers and create a new revenue stream for the music industry.
“It allows creators everywhere to use a simple intuitive desktop application to add amazing soundtracks adapted to their videos,” says co-founder/CEO Joe Lyske (pictured, below), a film-score composer with a PhD in AI. “This type of tech has not been possible before but there is a demand for it.”
Traditionally, creators have had to spend several days and large amounts of cash searching for the appropriate licensed music tracks, before hiring expensive editing equipment and professional music editors to synchronize the music to fit the video content’s precise needs.
Today, it takes experienced producers and amateurs nanoseconds to shoot a video on smartphones and upload for distribution. Mashtraxx says the sync sector needs to evolve accordingly.
Teaching the world to sync
The AI algorithm in its MXX Audition Pro can slash the amount of time required to access copyright music, audition it against the producer’s brief, select the appropriate track and re-edit it to suit the video’s specific narrative. And anyone can do it.
“The user has the power and skills that only leading experts have had so far,” Lyske explains. “The tool allows you to create the brief and drop in the music on the spot. The AI works out what is needed and the best way to edit the music to fit the video. It takes seconds compared to anything between half a day and two days for just one edit.”
MXX Audition Pro is currently in Beta mode but scheduled to launch commercially in the second half of this year. It will be followed by other MXX products. These will include its Track Finder, which will connect the app’s users to registered music libraries featuring millions of tracks to choose from.
Lyske compared what MXX tech can do to advances made in other creative sectors.“Before, you had to be an expert in or have access to metal plates and ink to publish magazines. It was a craft. Now, because of computers, you can create your own high-end magazines easily. Why can’t the same progress be applied to creating soundtracks for video productions?”
The vision behind Mashtraxx has been inspired by the 300-plus hours of professional and user-generated content (UGC) videos uploaded every minute on YouTube.
Furthermore, YouTube is being joined by a new wave of Internet-distributed video platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Video, Facebook Watch, Instagram Stories and Snapchat’s Discover channels.
The copyright question
They are packed with new forms of content, including high-quality episodic series built around two to 10-minute video shorts. But accessing professional-standard soundtracks is not cheap. And most music rights owners do not like having their music “atomized and reconstructed” for a third party’s creative needs.
“We talked to the record labels, which gave us an insight to where the music industry is heading. The thinking is that anything that enables people to reshape a piece of copyright music should require you to buy the sync license, otherwise your technology is enabling piracy,” Philip Walsh (pictured, below), Mashtraxx’s co-founder, adds.
But Walsh's colleague Lyske points out that the MXX tech is designed to protect the original copyright, irrespective of how the music is broken up and re-used. It is able to trace every sample of a musical work, down to a 44,000th of a second. This, effectively, creates new uses of music and hence new revenue streams for rights owners and artists.
“We can deliver to rights holders a new level of granularity and traceability for how their music is found through mega tags, listened to through players, imported to editing equipment, exported as a new edit, and who listens to all this along the chain,” Lyske adds.
Mashtraxx plans to reveal how it will monetize its service at the time of its official launch.
Sync for artists and consumers
It will come as the future of music sync is being re-evaluated, as demonstrated during Sync, the Evolving Deals, a Music 4.5 debate held in London in February.
Paul Sampson, co-founder/CEO of Lickd, a start-up specializing in music licensing for online videos, urged the international sync business to focus on consumers’ use of music in UGC as well as the professionals.
“The B2B (business-to-business) option is how the market has always existed. Today, there is the B2C (business-to-consumer) option. Half the world’s population has a production company in their pocket in the form of smartphones,” he said.
As digital technology forces us to redefine what is media and entertainment and how we monetize them, there are many who believe sync could be earning more for the global music market.
Thanks to Spotify, Apple Music and their rival streaming platforms, digital music has started making money. But it is still not enough to match the almost US$40bn generated in 1996 from mostly physical sales.
International trade body IFPI estimated that sync earned US$314m globally in 2016, a mere 2% of the US$15.7bn earned by the recorded-music market worldwide.
Another €31m (US$38.4m) came from royalties collected by the world’s authors and composers’ societies, according to their umbrella organization CISAC. Additionally, several music-rights owners carry out direct deals with production firms.
“There are numerous routes for artists to license their music for sync, but it is hard, hard work,” warned artist manager Alex Kennedy, a Music 4.5 panelist.
The irony is that there was a time when artists refused to give permission for their music to be used for commercial purposes, such as TV ads.
But as more advertising campaigns shift to digital platforms, there could be more opportunities for artists to earn income from sync, noted another Music 4.5 speaker, Alyssa Stringer, Product Manager for New Technologies and Partnerships at Audio Network, an international online production-music library.
“Fewer artists see deals with brands as selling out, because more thought and authenticity are going into the ad campaigns,” she said.
The AI advantage
She is supportive of services like Mashtraxx, where AI helps manage the expanding workload required to sync music to the continuously growing quantity of videos in digital media.
“AI should help creators do their jobs more simply. Those generative techniques can streamline the workflow to enable artists to focus on creating the music, and help users to search and find that music quicker.”
As subscription-funded streaming services replace paid-for downloads, record labels and publishers should be embracing new legitimate opportunities to generate revenue, Mashtraxx’s Joe Lyske argues.
“People are not buying music anymore because of streaming. But what happens when downloads completely stop? People will go back to ripping CDs. There is a ticking time bomb and that needs to be addressed.”