Between 1962 and 1970, the Beatles recorded nearly all their singles and albums at London’s Abbey Road Studios using one of EMI’s innovative REDD mixing consoles. Five decades later, the studio is turning to startups to keep up with the pace of technological change. “We are aware of the studio’s heritage of continually tracking technology as it changed over the years,” says Jon Eades, innovation manager at Abbey Road Red, the studio’s technology incubator, which launched in 2015. “It’s all about pushing that forward.”
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Abbey Road Red runs six-month mentoring programmes, giving music-technology startups access to the famous studio’s experts and facilities, not to mention a foot in the door with Universal Music, which has owned the complex since buying out EMI in 2012. The third wave of startups graduate in October and their track record is impressive. Uberchord, an AI-powered guitar-learning app, now has licensing deals with Sony and Universal, including a collection of Beatles songs; another graduate, Tokyo-based QRATES, is the first online crowdfunding platform for artists and labels to collect pre-orders from fans to fund vinyl pressing.
“Without the right introductions, some of the most important players within the music industry can be very hard to reach,” says Simon Barkow-Oesterreicher, one of the co-founders of Uberchord. “The criteria for choosing which incubator to be a part of came down to three things: resources, geography and whether the value extends past the incubation period,” adds QRATES co-founder Taishi Fukuyama. The platform has hosted more than 3,500 vinyl crowdfunding projects and completed more than 300.
Abbey Road Red’s latest intake includes AI Music, which has created an app called Ripple that personalises tracks for each listener. “We’re going to use artificial intelligence to help unsigned grassroots artists collaborate with each other, then connect with a fanbase and a distribution network,” says CEO Siavash Mahdavi. Vocals can be recorded into a phone, and a studio-style backing track is applied automatically. “When you sing on one track, your vocal can fit on any other track in the system,” he adds.
Also new to the incubator this year is software firm Vochlea Music. “The idea is to use your voice as a controller to trigger different software instruments, a bit like speech recognition, but non-verbal and completely real-time,” founder George Philip Wright explains. The idea was partly inspired by a video of Michael Jackson’s remarkable beatboxing performance during a plagiarism case to demonstrate how he wrote “Billie Jean”. “The music-tech industry is a small group,” Wright says. “Everybody knows everybody else and at the centre of that is Abbey Road. That’s been helpful.”