Native Instruments announced an acquisition that suggests a new area of intended growth for the company. They’ve acquired MetaPop, a firm that clears and monetizes remixes – and with the company, they also get the former CEO of Beatport. To work out what that might mean, you need to first understand MetaPop.

It’s safe to say remix culture isn’t what some predicted it would be. Instead of ushering in a bold new age where music is re-imagined by fans and artists find new opportunities to share ideas and earn money to support their art, we get — uh, takedown notices. And a lot of non-starters.

Into that somewhat desolate landscape, enter MetaPop. The startup was born at the start of 2015 in Los Angeles, founded by former Beatport CEO Matthew Adell. (Adell sold Beatport to SFX, though … that turns out to be an unpleasant story. It appears meanwhile MetaPop has only undisclosed seed money behind it – though that could be actually a good sign, in that acquisition could help it grow.)

Basically, the idea of MetaPop is to actively support fans making remixes, and squeeze revenue out of unlicensed remixes that are floating around online. When you just play music – as in a DJ mix or an online streaming service – you are required to pay a compulsory license, or a fixed license fee that is supposed to pay money back to the artist. That’s another discussion, but suffice to say even the US Commerce Department thinks that that license structure doesn’t make sense for remixes. (I will refrain from using the word “mash-up,” as I think it’s dead, like “information superhighway.”)

So MetaPop does two things. First, it actively courts remixes. There’s a marketplace of pre-cleared stems, where you can go and download stems for free and make your own remixes. There are promoted contests, too, like a recent one with Carl Craig. They’ll even host a remix contest for you for free.

Second, MetaPop supports labels and artists by searching for unlicensed remixes and monetizing them.

You can read Adell’s thoughts on this as CEO, as he speaks to Bas Grasmayer:
Monetizing remix culture: Beatport’s former CEO about his new mission

Carl Craig stems, anyone?

Carl Craig stems, anyone?

Now, it’s pretty easy to follow why Native Instruments might be interested in such a company. We’ve already seen that part of the company’s vision for the future of DJing is live remixing content with STEMS. MetaPop is literally a source of stems, if you want to look narrowly at what that might mean. But apart from remixable content on MetaPop being potential STEMS fodder for Traktor users, more broadly it seems to align with Native Instruments management’s idea about where DJing and electronic music are going.

I wouldn’t look at this as “what NI plans to do with STEMS, though.” It seems to me that NI are primarily acquiring Matthew Adell – and they’re not being secretive about that.

Keep in mind that NI had a financial stake in Beatport, and worked on strategic partnerships. Now, they’re bringing Adell into Native Instruments, naming him Chief Digital Officer. In today’s press release, NI CEO Daniel Haver says point blank, “we’re very excited to take our online offering to the next level.”

He’ll stay on in NI’s LA office. That office is now up to 50 people.

To his credit, I think he built a great business with Beatport. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the producer community without Beatport — for so many genres and labels, it’s a principle source of attention and revenue and has kept a lot of music going. (Service like Bandcamp have their own value, but they don’t always overlap. Heck, even Traxsource and Beatport don’t always overlap, and they’re covering similar genres.)

Let me break from script here, though, and say, quite frankly, I have some real questions and reservations about this direction.

The principle potential here for electronic music as service and remixing as medium is all on the DJ side. And Native Instruments has got to get their DJ offerings in better shape to remain competitive.

TRAKTOR is complicated, and subject to instability depending on the computer hardware it runs on. Then, some of its differentiation points are starting to look more like vulnerabilities. Sure, you can use elaborate NI controller hardware – but you’ve got to compete with a competitor who can tell you to just “carry a USB stick.” Then there’s the concept of doing live remixing with STEMS. I still like STEMS as an idea – I’ve released my own content on the format, other artists’ content, and I’ve used it and found it to be musically useful. But Native Instruments rolled out STEMS as a “standard” and has since utterly failed to bring on any major developers or vendor partners, or even to integrate it in their own production products (like Maschine). To me, it’s a great idea – but one that’s had next to no follow through, internally or externally. I say all of this as a TRAKTOR user.

That’s assuming this will have some connection to the existing TRAKTOR DJ product silo, but it’s hard to think remixing and online services won’t have some connection. (Again, DJs are the ones really driving consumption – worth saying.)

And let’s get real. This market has gone back to selling, buying, and playing vinyl records. That’s how devoted it is to reliability, tradition, and physical hardware.

I don’t doubt for a second that there are real opportunities in online offerings, too. Indeed, Adell identified some of those problems with MetaPop. Just getting music out and getting it in the hands of DJs (and remixers, if you like) is already a huge challenge to producers. That impacts NI products outside of just DJing, too – if you can’t get music heard, then you’re less likely to want to buy production tools. Solving these problems could well be valuable.

But this is the challenge Native Instruments faces. Whatever they do with digital offerings, I think they’re going to live and die based on hardware, because hardware is what we’re investing in. (Ask that competitive Japanese company that makes giant MP3 players that cost about as much as a used car.)

Sure, that may be an odd thing to say to the company that made its fortune by going to software. But look at it the other way round: NI has grown at each stage of life based on correctly recognizing trends. That includes the value of software development, then the potential of digital DJing and digital vinyl, then the combination of controller hardware with software.

They may well have it right by identifying online offerings as part of the next trend. But I think the thing to watch is whether that can work in tandem with a more robust offering for DJs, up against increasingly dominant competition.

Of course, that’s what keeps working in this business fun – it’s neither easy nor simple, and it connects directly to people’s most passionate feelings about music at a time when how music is made and heard is changing. So, as always, we’ll be watching.

MetaPop

  • James

    I’ve bookmarked to read this more thoroughly, but first impression NI might be asking “how can we make stems a more accepted currency for the exchange of music within a performance context and a consumption context?”

    My initial issue with stems however has been a publishing: Do my sessions conveniently conform to 4 basic subgroups? What flavor of compression is being used to permit the encoding of the stems and the full mix to be copacetic? Would I then pass on a new level of degradation to my audience?

    • Well, as a DJ delivery format, no, quality is roughly the same as what you’d buy from Beatport, etc.

      The problem is *playback* … it’s really a DJ and remix format to begin with, but now the only really common use case is Traktor users. So you’re releasing music for Traktor users. That’s fine, but that’s not what this was billed as – and I can say, as a label, it’s a bit of a problem.

      Still, I’m not convinced this is a STEMS solution at all…

      • Max

        Im not convinced the audio quality of 4 compressed files through a limiter is the same as the playback of a single compressed file.
        1. the artifacts of 4 files sum up
        2. and then get blasted through a limiter, so the artifacts get louder…
        Bon appétit.

        • You can be convinced of whatever you want. 😉 Some corrections:

          As far as this level of data compression, there aren’t going to be audible artifacts.

          Lossy compression doesn’t compound when you add multiple channels … just, no, that doesn’t happen. 😉 And anyway, again, at this compression rate, while there’s data loss, it’s not going to be audible.

          And STEMS don’t work that way, in that you have compression applied per-channel by the author, not “blasted through a limiter.”

          And anyway, as I said, this isn’t even necessarily an announcement specifically about STEMS. We don’t know what NI is planning for the Chief Digital Officer position or what their online services are going to be.

          • Max

            Play some hhs (or other stuff) where you can hear the compression compared to the original file and mix with some other lossy hhs.
            Now make this louder with compression per channel and not a limiter on the master.
            tell me again this doesn’t ad up. 😉

          • Max

            Compression works on the thought you can’t hear this because of masking and other effects.
            But here it is not applied to the end product you will listen to, so there is no way to tell if it will go under or not …

          • Max

            Careful with the bull in the China shop.

          • Max

            It’s only 256 kbps AAC. That’s what itunes sells.
            Why not use lossless compression here?
            It works only in this one application anyway.

          • Max

            Putting the stem files in an audioeditor is not a good idea either. Afaik everything converts to wav/aif and then compresses again.

          • Max

            Not very flexible, huh?

          • Max

            Start with wild eq setting not uncommon for djs …

          • Max

            To get you with your own logic. You don’t need those 16 gb 24/96 piano samples. Convert everything to lossy files. It’s only 1/5 of the size, you totally won’t hear it.
            NI sells both of those things, they should get their story straight. ^^

            I couldn’t care less about another sell/share/collaborate/streaming cloud service.

          • TJ

            I would argue that the frequency and compression adjustments needed to press music to vinyl, combined with the defects and wear in any given pressing and stylus would be much much more audible than the artifacts introduced when breaking out a digital track into four high quality lossy files. Apples to oranges, but ultimately not enough of a thing to really be upset about imo.

          • Max

            In times of terabyte harddrives lossy compression is totally unnecessary. We are not streaming data over wifi to mobile phones. 😉

            Why drive Reaktor with absurd Samplerates to get the best quality the CPU is able to deliver and then mix down a few crappy MP3s in the end?

            No No No, I won’t eat that.

          • TJ

            Do you think the only use case that NI has in mind for stems is putting them on terabyte hard drives? Don’t you think they will want people to be able to carry a decent collection of stems format files on mobile devices and usb drives? In those situations, at least at this point in time, storage capacity is still very much an issue.

  • Max

    I think the focus is completely wrong in the first place. How and why did the DJ became so *ucking important?
    Back to artists that create original content!

    • Random Chance

      And why do fans need to create remixes and release them to the wild? There is so much original music, most of which is utterly forgettable (which is totally fine if the goal is to provide the soundtrack to people dancing, drinking, smoking, snorting, and generally having what they at one point in time perceived to be a “good time”). Why does one need orders or magnitudes more remixes? Me, I’m fine with owning the original track and perhaps one or two very different remixes. What’s the appeal of this business model? How is it really any different from using pre-made loops to compose your own music quickly?

    • keloidformer

      I think you may be missing the point – this is about cross-pollination – reaching NEW fans that would otherwise never hear (or appreciate our music). Speaking as an artist (band) who creates original content, DJs/Remixers take our brand of rock, put their ‘spin’ on it (pun intended), and reach FAR more people than we can on any of the usual distribution methods (including live shows).

      We strike some kind of deal directly with the DJ (or their label) and let them go to work on our stems. We’ve had some really great stuff come out of these collaborations and now our singer (Harley Bird) lays vocal tracks all the time on new and re-mixed material…

      If a system can be implemented that captures revenue fairly, than the question is why, but ‘why not?’

  • Brian Stokes

    While it may be dead, a mashup is legally more complex than a remix as it blends 2 or more songs together, usually from different artists / publishers, requiring more permissions and an appropriate fee structure.

    • That’s a good point … but yeah, how much is actually mash-up content?

  • Justin Reed

    woop matt adell – former label owner – organico records btw 🙂
    metapop is a great idea – long overdue – so pumped to see artists like Carl Craig in the mix!!!

  • R__W

    What market has gone back to buying and playing vinyl records?

    The pro DJ market certainly hasn’t. The most popular club setup is CDJs with a USB thumb drive filled with pre planned sets.

    If Native Instruments’ future lives or dies on sales of their Traktor systems to pros, they are toast.

    Squeezing extra money out of remixes is an interesting business idea, I guess.

  • konstabel

    well, I think this is not about remixing, rather about what the webshop does, right?

  • Anton.a1

    Preach it man…thank you for going off script and calling it as you see it (and as it is).