Chaired by Vickie Nauman, the founder of CrossBorderWorks Consulting, there clearly was a lot of debate about how precisely voice-activated speakers were pushing streaming music deeper in to the mainstream consumer market and the process was how exactly to best harness this as it hits scale.
“Voice caught everyone by surprise – possibly even Amazon,” said Nauman of why the technology is gathering a mind of steam.
“Voice activated speakers may bring an entire new number of people into streaming – less tech-savvy audience,” proposed Eric Fristchi, EVP of marketing and business strategy at mTheory, but caveated that it was working well for “young genres” (like pop and dance) but that the true opportunity will come when it will the exact same for genres targeted at older audiences.
Margaret Jacobi, director of artist and creative marketing at Onerpm, said, “In a streaming economy it's been amazing.” Bu lots of questions still remain for her, with metadata being the one thing which will ensure it is sink or swim. “How do you make sure that your music is surfacing and connecting?” may be the question she feels a all together must be asking.
Fristchi proposed one method to unlock the potential as through storytelling. “Fans really interact with stories,” he said, before adding that narrative focus must also connect with the song titles themselves. “We are also dealing with artists to be sure they have memorable titles for his or her playlists that don't compete with another ones the services are using.”
Jacobi was not, however, convinced the mainstream crossover moment was as imminent as some of the loudest evangelists are proclaiming. “The technology has to access a spot where it's readily available across all demographics,” she said of where she feels it needs to move to really take off.
For Fristchi, there's a need to have a much broader selection of playlists precision tooled for voice-activated speakers. “Hopefully there is a diversity of playlists and not only one singular Hot 100.”
Edward Ginis, co-founder, of Openplay, mentioned the importance of using lyrics as a way to fit request and how it's to be much more rounded and inclusive. “They become very valuable components,” he explained of lyrics but added there remain some doubts over so just how which can be surfaced.
For him, the speakers have to use voice since the bedrock but need certainly to also have a visual component – something that'll happen since the technology evolves and the consumer demands become richer. “We will have a hybridisation of lean-back listening and some visuals projected on the wall,” is how he envisages it moving forward.
There is, however, some concern that a few of the major streaming services building their very own speakers (Google, Amazon, Apple) will result in a ghettoisation of listening.
“Are we entering into a new walled garden?” asked Nauman, pointing out how HomePod pushes Apple Music, Alexa pushes Amazon Music and so on.
“I like to talk about the one speaker to rule them all,” said Jacobi but accepting that's a tube dream for now. “Each speaker is associated with its respective service and that doesn't ensure it is easy.”
She also added that the lean-back listening experience that's increasingly native to these kind of speakers could be the antithesis of marketing. “As a music marketer, that's not what we wish,” she said, adding that marketers want people to know about the name and background of the act. They desire as much context that you can so that the technology can unlock as much engagement as possible. Amazon Show goes a way towards solving this, she said, but she wanted this to go much further.
Fristchi ended by saying it is still in its infancy and we are able to parallel it with the early days of Spotify. In those days, he says, Spotify was merely a blank search bar and users, overwhelmed by choice, just played what they already knew, but their listening become much broader and promiscuous when playlists made their impact felt. This, he felt, could be the step change we must see with smart speakers so they become much shaper and smarter marketing channels.