Free to Be Free

Never call musicians Luddites, here is one who has launched his own music service. No, I’m not talking about Dr Dre’s and Trent Reznor’s “Beats”, but Fleet Foxes-drummer J. Tillman. SAP (I know, the business software company… bear with me), or “signal-to-audio process”, is a new service that promises “popular albums /…/ “sapped” of their performances, original vocal, atmosphere and other distracting affectations”. It also “the daily barrage of content that much easier to analyze and rate, leaving more time for discoverness, freedoming, and sharehood”. You probably guessed it by now, it’s a parody. A startup jargon joke. And a PR stunt for Tillman’s upcoming album launch. But it’s also beautifully executed and surprisingly the “sapped” audio samples from the record sound really good, even with the vocals garbled.

Mindwarp: this brought me back to a music conference I attended five years ago, where one Dagfinn Bach presented a new music startup. Bach invented the mp3-format, so there is no arguing with his resume. The technology he pitched was algorithm analysis of music, things like tempo, feeling, flavor, mood… all the things music critics try to capture with words, Bach said he would do with data. By algorithmic recommendation, the business opportunity was to create recommendations and even help composers make better music. I was skeptical – surprise! – and had to ask him if there wasn’t an X-factor to music, something that escapes definition, which is what makes music great. Bach said no, it’s just a question of improving the algorithms and that was the end of our discussion. Tillman’s SAP service has a joke about this too: “Sophisticated discovery algorithms even guarantee that we never accidentally discover anything we might not like”. I’m not going to say I was right in the end, but Bach’s algorithms did not make it in the recommendation business. Instead it became industry standard for airplay tracking. Let’s say we were both right. And hope Bach also enjoys Tillman’s sense of humour!