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The Tenth Annual Interactive Music Conference
brainstorming graphic

Group Report: Disrupting the Current Paradigm of How Audio is Viewed and Used

Participants: A.K.A. "The Disruptors"

Len Layton; C-Media Electronics

Scott Snyder; C-Media Electronics
Keith Weiner; DiamondWare Mike Kent; Roland
Rob Rampley; Line 6 Larry The O; Toys in the Attic
Jim Rippie; Invisible Industries Chris Grigg; Beatnik
  Facilitator: Spencer Critchley; composer

“The institutional interests of entrenched players tend to ossify and constrain through restricted product offerings the options and behavior of the public at large. Periodically it’s necessary to break these structures in order to allow new structures to form that better/more closely address the current needs of said… uhm… populous.”
                                                                      - C. Grigg

“Come back when you’re good.”
                                                                     - M. Davis

Sound and fury, signifying…. ??

The group began with an initial proposal by David Battino, charging the group to come up with 10 “annoying products” that would shake up the status quo in computer audio today. From that starting point, the group decided that “annoying” was too vague, and redefined the task as “disruptive products”, since the goal was to disrupt the current paradigm of how audio is viewed and used.

Another part of our task was to come up with things that were fun. “Audio is Fun” was the charge, and we tried to keep the idea of fun within our suggestions for disruptive technologies.

Our official stated goal, then, was to challenge the existing paradigm of audio products and technologies by offering audio products and services that consumers would find fun, but which may also be seen as having the side benefit of being at least a little threatening or dangerous to the stakeholders of the existing system.

The group came up with seven product ideas that we felt represented potential successful audio technologies that were both disruptive in some way (disruptive to current business models, disruptive to society [status quo], or in some other way) and also fun for the user.

The product ideas are:

1) Personal Soundtrack
2) Aural Reality Augmentation
3) High Performance Multi-media Collaboration
4) Composition On Demand
5) Control Over Your Audio Environment
6) Socialized Music
7) Software Emulation of Proprietary Hardware Systems

1. Personal Soundtrack

The personal soundtrack is a personalized sound field individually defined by each participating person. This would become another form of personal identity and self expression – possibly becoming an “audio tattoo” of sorts. Soundtracks would be created using existing music (like ringtones, only always on) and would also generate a need for “custom” music that is unique to a specific user. One example is a “theme” that plays to all receiving people when a user enters a room.

Other terms used to describe this product are:

  • Media Aura
  • Audio Tattoo
  • Digital BO
  • Personal Sound “Skin”

Any of these things can be distributed in an “external” way – such as acoustically through speakers (one idea brought up by the groups was the concept of a “speaker hat” where a sound skin would be broadcast from the wearer to all in earshot), or “internally” through wireless connection and earbud headphones which all participants would wear.

This type of product is particularly disruptive to the social fabric, much as boom-boxes were when they became very portable and widely available. Imposing your music and sound choices onto others perhaps unwilling to receive would certainly cause some disturbances.

Other disruptions identified were:

  • Publishers/Labels
    • Trying to find a licensing model that allows the equivalent of public performance of all music by anyone in any location would certainly prove problematic for an industry still struggling with the business of downloadable music.
  • T-Shirt vendors
    • Personal self-expression has been limited to visual media in the past. The introduction of audio self-expression may become direct competition with more traditional industries of temporary self-expression – such as t-shirt creators who capture the feelings of the day on a shirt.
  • Tattoo-artists
    • The long standing traditional visual art of tattoos may be at least partially supplanted by Audio Tattoos. The same rebelliousness without the permanency.
  • Hairdressers
    • Another form of traditional visual self-expression could be impacted if hair styles were replaced with audio styles in a personal media aura.

2. Aural Reality Augmentation

Much like Google Earth has user generated tags that can be accessed by any other user on the system, audio “tags” could be placed by users (including government agencies, universities, historical societies, National Geographic, etc.) at physical locations in the real world. These tags would contain some set of metadata about the site that receiving users could ‘tune in’ to, perhaps automatically, when they were near, overlaying another layer of ‘reality’ on top of what the five senses perceive in the world around us.

• Location/Geographic-based audio overlay with information and entertainment “tags” attached to objects in the real world. When a person approaches one of these tags, he is informed that a tag is nearby, and he can choose to focus on it and “receive” that content.
• Interactive with other people (non-stationary) in a user defined manner. Crossfading, notification tones.
• Tags and indications are spatialized and delivered to the user through an ear-bud headphone delivery system.

This technology is disruptive to traditional mapping services, as well as existing social network web sites and experience/knowledge sharing sites like Flickr. It’s believed that this technology could have a social disruption attached to it, similar to the disruption the phenomenon of people walking around talking on their cell phones has had. While this technology promises a nearly infinite world of information and entertainment, it also could potentially serve to further isolate individuals into their own personally defined worlds.

3. High-Performance Multimedia Collaboration

Increasing the quality and level of communication across long-distance boundaries, a truly high-performance multimedia collaboration application, including high-resolution audio and video, has the capacity to enable levels of intimacy approaching an in-person meeting. This type of “super conferencing” goes a long way to break down the “non-verbal” communication barrier that exists in most of today’s distance collaboration technologies. Real-time audio and video, delivered in high-resolution with application sharing means that travel would become far less necessary than it is currently.

This technology is disruptive to those industries and applications that cater to the business traveler, such as the airlines. Television would see an impact, as content creators can communicate directly to their audience through high-resolution channels (video blogging). Any field of endeavor that historically has required travel to reach an audience may be impacted, even to the point of music acts choosing to do high-res webcasts in multi-channel surround sound rather than actually tour.

4. Composition on Demand

With more and more playback scenarios for music and sound, people will want more custom solutions to stand out from the crowd. If audio is going to be a personal expression for the masses, then a lot more content is going to have to be made available and created on demand by those who would use it. This content might be human created, meaning a boon in business for those composers who are asked to work. Composers might become like audio tattoo artists or local graphic artists to create custom audio solutions for individuals on a case by case basis.

Creation of this music content might also be automated. Through some parameter selection process, an end user might answer some ‘quiz’ of personal preferences, and through an automated process, machine created music is created and delivered. The music is unique, and will fit the user’s preferences stylistically as determined by the feedback mechanism.

This kind of feedback-generated automatic music creation opens the way for computer-generated pop stars – even to the point that individuals or groups get “custom” songs targeted directly to them. A single “star” could then target multiple consumer groups with different material, created as necessary.

This technology is disruptive to the entire currently established music paradigm, and nearly everyone in it. Composers, most certainly, will feel threatened by computer-generated music. Although, if user demand is for human-generated music, composers might experience a positive impact.

Publishers will certainly be impacted, as they will have to come up with new models to handle on-demand and automatic music creation, often by a computer or computer software. The current publication models don’t fit this kind of scheme.

And, of course – pop stars will be disrupted as they are systematically replaced by perfect 3D replicants who can create a guaranteed hit by processing the preferences of their audience members.

5. Control Over Your Audio Environment

The group realized that with all the emphasis on creating more audio content from more sources, there would be a reaction by some consumers away from that. Noise pollution is a current problem in many spaces, and it seemed reasonable that a user would want to be able to not only decide what audio to play, but also what audio to hear – and not hear.

Several creative ideas came out of this discussion – including the idea of hijacking an existing audio delivery system and either turning it off, or changing its content to suit the will of the hijacker. Highly disruptive to the person who set up the system to begin with, but potentially highly amusing to the hijacker as well.

A more subtle approach would be a way to filter out audio that you don’t want to hear. Through data recognition, fingerprinting, or audio tags, certain audio would be “turned off” to the user. This kind of scenario assumes an internal earbud headphone delivery system, much like would be in place for an augmented reality, or audio skins.

This would be disruptive to anyone trying to send you audio data that you had filtered out! Most obviously, this would affect advertisers, as people would most certainly filter out audio ads as soon as they could. This has a knock-on effect of impacting radio stations, who make their money through audio ads.

6. Socialized Music

This topic was highly controversial in our group, showing right away its potential for disruption in the audio community. We wanted to be clear to state that the group is not making recommendations, simply identifying disruptive technologies in the hopes that they spark new thinking in the marketplace.

At the core of Socialized Music is a flat entertainment surcharge on audio delivery channels, such as blank CD’s, Internet providers, radio broadcast, television and others. This “tax” gives the end users paying it the right to download and copy all the content they want with no (or minimal) restriction.

It was suggested that it may be possible to “opt out” of such a surcharge. Opting out removes the user’s protection under the law against litigation leveled at him for downloading content without paying.

This kind of system would probably require some type of new, government-run organization which distributes payments based on playback tracking. The more plays your content receives, the bigger your cut of the revenue pool.

This is highly disruptive to record labels, as this kind of model effectively replaces the currently established distribution channels for audio content. This is also disruptive to ISP’s and other media delivery services, as they have to charge more for their services to include the service charge. If Socialized Music comes to pass, it is to be hoped that this technology is also disruptive to the current widespread practice of uncompensated music file trading in the P2P nets, by establishing a new and more acceptable social norm, and by offering music traders an affordable safe harbor from copyright infringement lawsuits and criminal copyright infringement prosecution.

7. Software emulation of proprietary hardware systems

As CPUs become more and more powerful, the actual need for proprietary hardware systems becomes less and less. It was proposed that software emulation of some of the more well-known audio systems would not only become possible, but be highly advantageous to content creators trying to interface with these systems. Software-based emulations could also be extended and enhanced in ways that the traditional hardware systems could not, or at least not inexpensively.

This kind of technology is highly disruptive to the proprietary hardware vendors. They tend to use their proprietary hardware as market protection, and if anyone could run their systems on any computer through software, they would possibly lose their edge.


The Disruptors offer these ideas as a jumping-off point for discussions about products and technologies that will move computer audio forward into areas hitherto unknown. Many of these ideas, or some forms of them, are currently in process or at least in discussion. It is our hope that smart people will view this as the list of conceptual ideas that it was intended to be.

section 9

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1. Introduction  2. Speakers  3. Executive Summary  
4. Using a Multiplicity of Audio Devices in the Home PC
5. New Approaches for Developing Interactive Audio Production Systems
6. Design Features of a Mass Market Living Room PC
7. Ubiquitous Content Distribution to and within the Home
8. Improving Computer Audio and Music Production Systems User Interfaces
9. Disrupting the Current Paradigm of How Audio is Viewed and Used
10. Schedule & Sponsors