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Speech recognition and the music industry

Updated: Oct 11, 2020

Most of us probably know speech recognition from Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant or these 'new' so-called smart speakers that can only be operated by our voice. We can ask these devices how many inhabitants Berlin has or what’s the most popular Madonna album. With the rise of smart speakers, the role of speech recognition becomes more relevant. The music industry should adapt to this development to cover voice-oriented consumer segments, and considering voice as a very natural way to operate digital devices (human-machine-communication), voice adoption, for now, is expected to grow in the future, enhancing the importance of this customer segment.

For instance, 20 % of all voice searches within the Google App were already done via voice in 2016. Also, throughout the last four years, the market for smart speakers has risen tremendously. In January this year, the ongoing 'The Smart Audio Report' since 2017 by NPR and Edison revealed numbers of Winter 2019 stating 24 % of the U.S. population (60m in total) owning a smart speaker (see figure below).

This steady growth of smart speaker ownership, being only operated via voice, pushes the adoption of voice to operate digital devices in general. However, if the use of voice transfers to the access to music, which is expectable, what does that mean for the music industry and music consumption in particular?

First, access to music is easier than ever before which could promise the next golden age for the music industry. If we imagine that we just use our voice with a simple request such as "Alexa, play music“ to initiate music listening, the barriers to it are limited to a minimum - no operating of tiny smartphone screens with touch or opening applications and typing in what we want to listen to. This could also encourage older generations to access music streaming services. These arguments all speak for an increase in music listening. The industry expects that voice commands generally comprise of requesting for artist names, parts of memorable lyrics, song titles, and music for certain moods or usage situations (cooking, driving, showering), in other words, playlists.

The music industry also recognises that this simplified consumption brings new challenges with it. On one hand, music consumption, in general, is expected to rise through voice technology. On the other hand, speech recognition addresses passive music consumption through playlists and the increasing track business, as voice assistants are not able to show an artist’s face or music video. Therefore, music would be consumed in the background, similar to radio. Especially for those in the music industry who rely on marketing artists themselves, as brands, where visual aesthetics play an important role. Here, speech recognition embodies the new concept of promoting artists through voice only.

Through radio and music streaming, the industry is used to marketing artists through voice-only commercials and can potentially transfer that knowledge to smart speaker usage. Furthermore, there are some experiments with voice assistant marketing, such as Google’s "Talk Like a Legend" approach, where the tech giant built a voice cameo of the "All of Me“ - pop singer John Legend or a speech recognition based interview in Germany with the pop singer Mark Forster.

In the end, the growth of voice adoption will help the underlying technology to improve and vice versa. For now though, it is too early to predict the full impact of speech recognition on the music industry. However, the ongoing process of voice adoption will show us how people use their voices for music listening, thus giving us the basis for an exciting new marketing channel worth exploring!

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