• Dmitri Vietze

20 for 2020: Music Tech Phenomena to Watch in the Coming Year

Music Tectonics conference director, podcast host, and rock paper scissors CEO Dmitri Vietze has been closely watching the seismic shifts shaking up the music industry as a result of tech and innovation. Which seismic zones will be the most active in 2020? Dmitri targets 20 phenomena to watch in the year ahead.


1. Social Music - Platforms from the East—primarily China and India—are doing what Western DSPs failed at: creating online and in-app social experiences around music. These apps and platforms will reach a new level in the U.S. in 2020, and everyone will notice. Spotify and Apple will make some attempts here again, and whether they succeed will determine whether they can maintain their leads in the streaming wars.


2. Staying Power - YouTube, Amazon, and Apple will show their strength in staying as major players in music. Spotify will have to fight to continue to compete with these tech giants. Globally, other platforms will keep these tech giants at bay in their home regions.


3. Publisher-Label Tensions - Publishers are not happy with their share of streaming revenues. We will hear about this in bigger ways than ever in 2020.


4. Breakout Independent Artists - All the tools are in place for an indie artist to break out without label support. Most indie artists with a national reputation started on a big label. In 2020, we may see the first major breakout star without a label. Artists are wising up to keeping all their rights and are finding tools and team members who can take them to a national scale without a label.


5. New Geo-Political Powers - Americans will become conscious of the cultural influence of China, Korea, and India on teenagers. Chinese-owned TikTok and Korea-owned K-pop won’t just be a music thing in 2020. Furthermore, foreign government policies will impact American perceptions. You don’t become a billionaire in China without knowing the rules and the consequences for not following them.

6. Lawsuit Overload - Patent infringement suits are the new black. Streaming services are going after the Apple app store. Publishers are going after streaming services. Governments are fining large tech companies. As we always tell interns who want to make a living in the music industry, the guaranteed moneymakers are software developers and lawyers.


7. Renewed Love of Spotify - Spotify got a bad rap in 2019 due to some missteps with publishers, artists, and other tech companies. But listeners continue to praise the discoverability factor of Spotify. Apple Music is easy to sign up with if you are in the iPhone ecosystem. But forward-leaning fans seem to like Spotify’s user experience even more. The industry is well aware that Spotify is the only streaming leader for whom music is not a loss leader for hardware, ads, or e-commerce. With continued revenue growth, Spotify will likely find their footing in 2020 and the heat they faced from the industry will cool off. Unless the labels and publishers decide to take bigger gains now for less industry control later.


8. An Artificial Hit - It’s only a matter of time before we see a musical hit emerge made entirely by Artificial Intelligence. The initial fear around AI generated music will continue to be quelled as people realize this is not a sudden shift. Synthesizers, samplers, and plug-ins have been helping composers and creators for a while now. Few people recognized it for what it was. The more creators use AI, the less scared they will be of it. And the cat is out of the bag. Expect a lot more music being created and released.


9. A New Cringe - Anyone over 25 years old cringes during their first experience with TikTok. “Nobody wants to see you do that!” “You’re embarrassing yourself,” they yell at their smartphone. Generational shifts exacerbated by new social norms that emerge with new technology platforms will make more Generation Xers cringe. Boomers won’t even know these new platforms or apps exist. But if you think TikTok is cringey, just wait to see what comes out next.


10. Consolidation - The winners in the new music industry are buying up their little sisters and brothers along the way. You’ve already noticed it with both music catalogs and startups. But in 2020 you are going to start to get a little bit concerned about how these growing conglomerates shift power dynamics, making it even harder for newcomers to break in.

11. PR Matters - For a while, tech companies were able to be faceless service providers or a shiny new toy. As the power shifts continue from the geo-political, legal, and consolidation factors above, what the media and the public says about your company is going to mater more than ever. In shifting times, human relationships and perceptions still matter. Though much of this conversation moved to social media, journalists have more influence on the conversation than we give them credit for. Especially in a B2B setting.


12. Genre Diversification - Since everyone is building their own listening gardens within streaming apps and smart speakers, they get to listen to what they want, not what a radio station told them to like. The ruling genres are not on stable ground. Long tail listening means artists do not need critical mass to have listeners. Look for a more diverse middle tail and more mobility up and down the tail.


13. Fandom Revenue Streams - Now that subscriptions are starting to level off, everyone in the music ecosystem will be looking at what money has been left on the table. There is an emerging trend towards new types of sticky digital experiences, and those will grow for music fans. As the streaming economy matures it is time to optimize revenue with low-cost emojis, animations, and any-cost connections with artists.


14. The Radio Turning Point - Uh oh, Spotify reportedly just surpassed Apple on podcast listening. But Apple is not the one that should be scared: it’s radio that they’re gunning for. It was a shocker when Spotify dropped close to a quarter billion dollars on podcast network Gimlet Media in 2019. People wondered: are they losing the war to Apple or YouTube and pivoting? No, they are establishing themselves in a bigger race. It turns out that music streaming is a feature, not a company. Audio is the bigger play. Then again, SiriusXM and Pandora are starting to flow programming between the platforms and iHeartRadio has long mirrored on-air programming in app form. Regardless, watch how streaming services integrate news, spoken word, and music in exciting ways that radio won’t be able to compete with.


15. Micro-Podcasts Mix with Music - Smartspeaker traction is still growing like crazy. But the personalized audio experience that intersperses music and news, sports, and podcasts customized to your liking remains a new dream, not a reality. Pandora introduced artist Stories, where artists can make short audio clips to play between songs. Spotify’s Daily Drive hopes to combine a variety of audio formats. The missing pieces of the puzzle are micro-podcasts, one- to five-minute snippets of news and cultural content inserted between songs. Watch for someone to come out with a platform to create and share these snippets or to turn longer content into shorter snippets that are ingested into smartspeaker ecosystems.

16. Personal Holograms - If you’re paying attention, holograms at live shows are not just a novelty to bring iconic performers from the dead. But the real power of a hologram is not just raising the deceased for an amphitheater of eye-straining fans, it’s putting the performer on your kitchen table. If not this year then soon, someone will start developing a way to experience these holograms on your own personal device without having to wear a headset or holding up your mobile device.


17. Music in Cars - Really?! It’s 2020 and even new cars still take forever to connect to your smartphone, either via bluetooth or a wire. This is getting stupid. Just fix it. Universally. Please.


18. 5G - We hear that 5G is coming and will be ten times faster than 4G. This will impact the availability of high-fidelity music streams, but could also breathe new life into music video streaming platforms, both archival footage and live streams. Look for reduced latency in everything, including music collaboration applications. There may be some additional power shifts between Internet providers since traditional wired providers will struggle in a new round of cord cutting.


19. Gamers Are an Alternative Market - You will not be able to brand your music within games. You will need to be the right type of music for gamers. Gamers will make the music, not be the audience.


20. A Chinese Hit in America - Remember all those news stories a couple of years ago about Spanish language hits? Get ready for an American hit from China, India, or Brazil, and in a language other than English. It is not if, but when this will happen. And then expect it to repeat again and again.


Take your place in the music tech conversation: contact rps new business manager Jade Prieboy to find out how a PR campaign with the music tech experts at rock paper scissors can build your company's profile. Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about Music Tectonics updates and analyses.