Abbey Road Red’s 10 to Watch in 2021: The Countdown (10-3)

Abbey Road Red’s 10 to Watch in 2021: The Countdown (10-3)

18th March 2021

This year we weren’t able to host our annual Abbey Road Red Demo Day. So, for what was our 10th Red Talk we decided to take its knowledge sharing forum online and present some music tech trends that we will be watching and think will be making headlines in 2021 and beyond. As an extra special treat we managed to get two fantastic speakers to join forum for 10-minute Q&As: Poppy Crum, Chief Scientist at Dolby Laboratories and James Poulter, CEO of Vixen Labs. We then broke into a great group discussion at the end.

In a three-part blog series we’ll list our trends to watch and then follow up with insight from our key speakers and the group discussion.


  1. Car OS

Apple's Project Titan is, although delayed, inevitable. Tesla is spearheading new expectations from in-car interfaces and entertainment. The other major global manufacturers are rushing to catch up. The introduction of autonomous driving is delayed but eventual. While some say car design is becoming homogenous, this makes the car the next great content battleground, where content and digital ecosystems can help manufacturers differentiate. Watch the major players define how voice activation pans out here, while we also anticipate B2B voice activation platforms will drive differentiation alongside contextual services like adaptive music, automated navigation and other automated service prompts. Immersive sound systems and playback will be big here too.

  1. Augmented Reality Frames

This year may see music platforms and marketers start to prepare for the slow but steady roll out of augmented reality headsets we will see in late 2021 and 2022, led by Facebook’s AR headset drop in partnership with Ray Ban and potentially consolidated by a market-defining entry by Apple a few years down the line. AR headsets alongside high tech hearables will drive a major trend towards AR layers from service features/apps to entertainment becoming omnipresent in our day-to-day lives.

  1. VR Music Creation

Due to expensive hardware, with Apple's high-end device projected to cost $3000, physical isolation and other factors, in 2021 headset VR is becoming a niche, exclusive or premium experience driver rather than the more mainstream experiential platform many predicted. That said, the Oculus Quest 2 has lowered the premium for creators to enter this world and we are seeing a bubble of start-ups and larger companies announce music creation platforms for VR headsets; for example Patch XR's modular synth environment or Korg announcing the porting of its Gadget platform to VR headsets.

  1. Metaverse Cottage Industries

The meta-verse is the combination of our real world with our digital 'beyond' world platforms from social media to game-worlds. The boundaries between each of these are blurring as we share content and functionality from one to another. A bunch of service sectors or small economies will spring up across our metaverse, or cottage industries within each platform. An example could be paying someone to mine for you in Minecraft. There are many interesting opportunities for music cottage industries in the metaverse. An example could be musicians collaborating with room makers in Roblox to create new music experiences or formats. See our blog on our Metaverse Red Talk, here, for more. We expect to see the buds of exploration in these areas this year as meta-verse platforms like gameworlds become more mainstream, especially with live stream SR experiences…

  1. “Live Stream +”

…which brings us to live streaming! We could see the following three phases of live stream evolution in 2021, and start-ups which cater to each one:

Phase 1: 'Live stream Plus'; live performance streams with fluid ticket purchase and access, basic but robust message chat and merchandise systems, exclusive ticket tiers including pre- or post-show meet and greets which mimic real world exclusive experiences but in the digital arena.

Phase Two: 'Live stream XR'; alternative format exploration with choreographed extended reality production turning a live stream into a new format which sits between a record, music video and live performance, with exploration of AR/XR elements (e.g. the Billie Eilish Where Do We Go stream); initial exploration of immersive audio and premium VR experiences.

Phase 3: 'Live Stream SR'; an increase in volume of synthetic reality shows, i.e. those hosted in VR, AR or gameworlds; pre-recorded with mo-cap suits; AR experiences via early smart glasses; premium VR experiences; personalisation and immersive elements; semi-automated to fully automated artists / musicians / crowd members using artificial intelligence; natural blurring of the game and live music sectors.

  1. Music and Wellness

This is a year of market reckoning for Music and Wellness. Headspace and Calm launched and consolidated major music strategies last year, while newer platforms like SPOKE are looking at connecting with different demographics. This year is a year of reckoning the music and wellness tech sector works to persuade users to opt-in and actively commit to them.

  1. Design Facilitation

We’ll admit this is a bit of a fudge and includes a series of sub-trends, but Music design facilitation is a term we are coining to represent the general move towards user first design trends in appearance, UX, personalisation and more in order to enable user-first and user-centric design. Examples include:

- Creator facilitation: innovative music creation apps are designed with user experience as the driving factor, rather than copying real world hardware design and production flows
- Near or real-time collaboration in online or hybrid DAWs and music project management platforms
- End to end ecosystems: new apps or platforms contain all key processes/steps within one environment or app, for example from creation to editing, mastering and even distribution
- Standalone hardware: manfucaturers are creating new hardware pieces that enable performance, writing, production in one box from a UX perspective to faciliate 'flow' and from a manufacturer prerspective to keep users in their ecosystems
- Personalisation and gamification: a new wave of apps will provide gamified learning, deep personalisation of user feedback and tailoring of learning modules and progress using machine learning; improvements in sheet music databases will enable improved features, feedback and personalisation for sheet music and other music education app users; while adaptive music will power tailorable B2B or B2C experiences in wellness and fitness apps.

  1. Non-Fungible Tokens and Digital Assets

We won’t begin to try and unlock all the insight and buzz around NFTs in a paragraph here but here are some basic themes: blockchain, non-fungible tokens and particularly the ERC 721 smart contract standard have created a new type of asset class in music which is simply a unique expression of ownership that can be transferred, sold or auctioned. This expression of ownership can be tied to digital and physical assets. The digital assets can be anything from a digital artwork or trading card to an animated GIF piece of music written by human hand or generated by algorithm and more. The interest in NFTs has peaked and concrete experimentation will happen throughout this year. By the end of the year or by next year NFTs may have become minted into acceptance.

Our next blog will overview the first of our top two: Immersive Audio and High Tech Hearables, as well as an inspiring Q&A with our first key speaker, Poppy Crum, Chief Scientist at Dolby Laboratories.

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