Business through Science: The extra mile in business thinking.



While in Malaga, attending the huge ISMIR 2015 conference, I had the chance to see a presentation by Jeff C. Smith – a “tutorial” actually – where he presented a new kind of research that would academically benefit the MIR (Music Information Retrieval) community, giving them some new ground to expand their scientific quests. Jeff, after receiving a PhD in CCRMA (and probably previous to that), works at Smule, a company that creates music-related apps for iOS devices. These apps offer from karaoke singing to simple piano-like interfaces.

What the MIR community does: researchers in MIR-related academic and industrial institutes work on extracting information out of music, e.g. identify chords or onsets out of recordings, create music recommendation systems (like lastFM or Spotify) etc. Every year, during the annual MIR’s conference (ISMIR) they also organise the MIREX (MIR exchange) competitions, where researchers try to build algorithms that beat previous ones on tasks like “find the correct chords from audio” etc. However, the most of these competitions have been well established for may years and the improvements are not so impressive – say, from 95% to 95.5%.

The key-thing in Smule’s strategic planning: Smule being so successful, has many people using their products. So they took the rational step to keep lot’s of user data (like age, gender as well as several app usage data) in their servers in order to be able to analyse them for planning their marketing strategies. Having such a huge database of user data, they also made an analytics tool to be able to acquire any pieces of information they wanted through customised queries.

The extra mile in business thinking: what Jeff presented was the proposal of Smule to throw all the data they have to the community of MIR, which is hungry for new tasks and new research directions. Thereby, MIR researchers, who are ambitious for scientific discoveries, have the chance to initiate new research ventures, trying to figure out what people do and how they are affected when they use these apps. Will this task be scientifically interesting? It will! It’s a huge chance to study human behaviours on musical tasks.

Summarising thoughts:

1) Smule will probably get what they want by offering scientists something that they want.

2) Planning such large scale win-win scenarios seems ingeniously simple!

3) In contrast to some evil-looking industry-science collaborations (see wars, banks), such initiatives remind us that there are ventures that do good to both – and to the society too.

4) Bonus comment: according to the analytics that Jeff presented, there are over 10M users of such apps! For those who care, there is a market for iOS music-games related apps out there.

P.S. The picture is of Asteris Zacharakis and myself (exhibiting 2 out of 4 COINVENT posters) during the ISMIR 2015 conference.


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