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Industry Insider: AudioShake Co-Founder & CEO Jessica Powell

We chat with the CEO and co-founder of AI stem splicing company AudioShake Jessica Powell about its goals, where the company came from and more.
Jessica Powell

Jessica Powell

Every producer has run into this problem at some point. You want to do a remix, but don’t and probably aren’t going to get the official stems. It could be for a major artist or some other producer you admire, but aren’t on first name basis with. But if you just want to work on a rework for yourself, live sets or even to put out unofficially, the stems will be needed to get into the weeds of the song. For sync licensing, having separate stems is key if an agency wants to just use one part of a song or one piece, especially if there is a vocal. 

Getting stems has gotten easier over the past few years with new companies and tech out to help separate songs down to their bare bones. AudioShake is one of them. Launched in May 2021 –- AudioShake features an AI tool that can break down songs to their stems like vocals, drums, bass etc.

Today, AudioShake has launched AudioShake Indie. Indie creators and producers can now upload their recordings to the AudioShake Indie platform and purchase their stems either as one-offs or via subscription, for prices as low as just a few dollars per stem. AudioShake counts indie labels, the majors and some top publishers amongst their clients. Some of those companies like Sony or big time artists like Green Day have used AudioShake to facilitate remix competitions. This new step with AudioShake Indie will open up the AI splicing tool to other musicians.

We had a chance to chat with AudioShake co-founder & CEO Jessica Powell about the company. We chat about what its goal is, how the company came together, the challenges of founding a music tech company and much more.

What is the problem AudioShake is trying to solve and why was it founded?

In addition to existing businesses like sync licensing, remixes, and sampling, many new music experiences in VR/AR, gaming, fitness, education, and web3, are going to be driven by the ability to break songs down into their parts (or “stems”). But not all music–particularly catalog–has its stems. We wanted to help artists open up their songs so that they could take advantage of the existing and new opportunities that are emerging.

Was there any push back from the powers that be in the music business who may not want their music to be more accessible to remixers etc?

There’s already lots of software that lets people break songs apart without the rightsholder’s permission, so whether people like it or not, the reality is that everyone’s stems are going to be out there in the future. I think it’s ultimately going to be a great opportunity for musicians to make more money for their work–and eventually, I hope, for remixers to also benefit more financially from their art.

That said, I think it’s also important to respect the creative act and artists’ wishes. So we work directly with labels, publishers, artists, licensees, and other third parties. My hope is that as the opportunities for stems expand over the next few years, artists and rightsholders will embrace the opportunity to make their music more available and in new ways–and that equally, there will be good detection in place to ensure that artists are getting paid when their stems are being used. I also think there will eventually be better ways for remixers to be compensated for what they’re doing–the current system doesn’t really work well for them either.

Tech companies love to use buzzwords like AI, machine learning or metaverse to sound interesting and get VC investment. But how does AI ACTUALLY work for AudioShake to parse out stems?

Now add “blockchain” or “web3” to the mix and you’ve got yourself a billion-dollar company!

Our company couldn’t exist if it weren’t for A.I. We train on thousands of stems to teach our AI how to recognize different kinds of stems in songs it’s never seen before. It’s similar conceptually to what happens in your iOS or Google Photos app: they train on millions of pictures of beaches (or whatever) so that when you go to search through your photos of beaches, you type that word and it will return all the photos to you that you have taken of beaches.

Who are your most common customers?

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Last summer we launched an on-demand platform, AudioShake Live, for labels and publishers. It’s used by all the majors and several indie labels, as well as publishers like Spirit, Hipgnosis, Downtown, peermusic, Primary Wave, distributors, production music companies, and others. We also help indie artists directly when they come to us via the website. We’ll have something that easy-access for indie artists and producers coming soon.

What new features or projects will AudioShake roll out in 2022?
Our next big launch is our platform for indie artists and producers. We’ve worked with a lot of indie artists since our start last year–from running the world’s first AI stem remix contest with Houston Kendrick, to helping the band Four Star Riot with an album re-master, and getting stems to artists like Thuy and Bronze Radio Return to help land sync opportunities. There have also been lots of producers who reach out after their hard drive crashes or they try to revisit an old project and the plug-ins are incompatible. We also get lots of folks who had a band when they were younger, and simply want to hear their music as they original sang or recorded it. We’re super excited to be able to put this tech in the hands of more people.

We will also soon have an API that third party apps and sites can use to pull stems apart for use in their services.

And finally, always on our roadmap is improving our stem quality. Our stems aren’t perfect, and there are always ways we can improve, so it’s really important to us that we don’t lose focus on the core AI capabilities.

You are also an author and a columnist. How does your writing impact how you work and vice versa?

On the one hand, they are very different and I don’t see much overlap between them–which always makes one a nice escape from the other. On the other hand, there is more similarity between running a start-up and writing a book than people might expect. In both art and entrepreneurship, you are confronting failure almost daily and trying to push past it. You’re often in uncharted territory, and there are no manuals to tell you whether you should go left or right. It’s both thrilling and stressful.

What is the biggest challenge of being a CEO/founder of a music tech company?
Perhaps that the challenges change each day. One day it’s focus–there are a million good ideas and it’s easy to get distracted. The next day–or an hour later–it’s recruiting, where you are competing with Big Tech companies for the world’s best engineers. Multiple times a week it’s like, OK, I haven’t seen this particular problem before. How are we going to tackle it?

Would AudioShake’s program ever be compatible with DJ software if DJs want to separate the stems for a track during a set?

I hope so! We are definitely looking at that kind of thing. While the music industry is not at a point where people have permission to remix everything, I think that or something close to that is eventually going to happen, the same way we saw breakthroughs in how people consumed music with the invention of YouTube and TikTok. But I’d really like AudioShake to work with the industry and artists from the start to achieve this.

How did you get involved in the music business?

One of my first jobs was working at CISAC (International Confederation of the Societies of Authors and Composers) in Paris. From there I went on to Google, where my first role was to work on their “content” products–Google Book Search, Google News, and YouTube. I was at Google for over ten years, eventually on their management team and running a large department. When my co-founder and I both left our jobs, we wanted to get back into something more creative, which was how AudioShake came about.

What skills and attributes do you look for in potential new hires for AudioShake?

Positivity, creativity, scrappiness, and an ability to work autonomously while retaining a collaborative spirit. We don’t have Big Tech budgets or an army of marketers to get the word out. We are too small, and need to move too fast, to be sitting in meetings and committees figuring out who is the best person to “own” a particular project. The project just needs to get done!

How should someone approach a job opening at your company?

Start-ups rarely have all the people they need. So if you don’t see a job description that fits your skills, write in and tell the start-up about why they need someone like you. It can’t hurt! 

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