Breathe Music CEO Jeff Francis on how the start-up can boost revenue for rights-holders

Breathe Music CEO Jeff Francis on how the start-up can boost revenue for rights-holders

Following its success as one of the winning start-ups profiled at the Music Week Tech Summit 18 months ago, Breathe Music has continued to develop its music recognition technology.

The company, based in Cardiff and London, is featured in the latest edition of Music Week.

Here, founder and CEO Jeff Francis explains why it’s set to be a key player in the streaming economy…

How did the 2019 Music Week Tech Summit help Breathe develop its business? 

“In October 2019, Breathe Music comprised just myself when winning the Music Week Tech Summit award. What I had was really only a novel idea that I had conceived over a year or so. Attending the summit at The O2 was really amazing. Apart from the remarkable venue and hospitality, there were some really great up-to-date talks and of course lots of networking. It was great to get some exposure at the event and also in the press. Since the event, and mostly as a direct consequence, we have developed relationships with Alex Cole from Russells, Tiago Correia from Warner Music, Karim Fanous from Abbey Road Red and the very talented Becky Brook, who is now a key adviser on our team.

“Fast forward a few months and our Innovate UK Smart application came into fruition. This initial £500,000 phase has allowed us to develop our technology. We are already getting song recognition metrics significantly higher than our competitors, probably as a result of our secret sauce! In planning the developmental phase, I did not compromise and continued thinking big. I wanted to work with the best research partner in this space in the country. I asked and they gave a very quick yes. The Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary, University of London have a superb reputation and have to date delivered what they said and more. 

“Just as we were about to recruit in March 2020, along came Covid-19. For us, like many, there were adjustments to make. Our investment and recruitment phases were temporarily brought to a halt but Innovate UK were fairly quick with a solution – a nice chunk of money to keep us going through the darkest period of lockdown!  Everything went online but we have managed very well and probably worked harder, because basically there is very little to do apart from work and Netflix.”

What are the next steps for the company in 2021? 

“Since last winter, things have really ramped-up. The research is going incredibly well and if we really do have what we believe we have, then the future is looking very bright indeed. Some of the words and comments we are hearing include ‘staggering’ and ‘it's like Shazam on steroids’. Since last winter, especially, we have been building a superb, talented team. At Queen Mary we have three very experienced academics in our area of research. In the company, there are currently five of us not forgetting three new marketing and financial folk. However, we have tech positions available to complete our current team.

“In December 2020, we won a place on the Digital Catapult Machine Intelligence Garage programme. They will be providing us with significant ‘compute’ resources and support over the next two years.  In addition, we are in talks with Abbey Road’s Red programme, so we are all very excited by what the future might offer. Over the coming months, we are heavily involved in planning our next big development phase for the summer. We have two investment rounds this year. We are hoping to seal a deal in the coming months and later in August there will be another, larger round.” 

This year we will be working with a number of industry partners to enhance and evolve our technology

Jeff Francis

We've seen the rise of user-generated content on platforms including YouTube and TikTok. Why is a service such as Breathe so important in terms of revenue growth for the industry?

“As it continues to grow, the digital music market is diversifying. As a result, an ever-increasing portion of digital income will come from things like user-upload platforms, video-sharing apps, livestreams, podcasts and other innovative services that we haven't even thought of yet. With those services, there are additional challenges in monitoring what music is played and working out who needs to be paid. The services – as well as the labels, publishers and collecting societies – all need to meet those challenges to ensure the right artists and songwriters get paid quickly and accurately. It's those challenges we are focused on at Breathe Music, using the latest AI innovations to create the next generation in audio recognition technology.

“We are also aware that recent and future copyright law changes – such as Article 17 of the European Copyright Directive and the proposals being made by Senator Thom Tillis in the US – will increase the liabilities and responsibilities of digital companies that utilise music. That's a good thing, but also means that a much wider range of platforms are going to need increasingly sophisticated audio recognition capabilities. We will be able to provide a turnkey solution to those platforms.”

What does Breathe offer the industry that's unique in technology terms?

“Audio recognition isn't new, but the major achievements to date have mainly focused on identifying commercially released sound recordings. Our technology will do that too, but our real focus is songs, which is to say musical compositions. For songwriters and music publishers – and the digital platforms they work with – accurately identifying every version, every interpretation and every performance of every song remains a major challenge that impacts on the business in numerous ways. And it's a challenge that goes beyond digital, impacting on the live sector too. Our technology will meet that challenge.  

“Having secured Smart funding from Innovate UK, we started working with Queen Mary, University of London’s Centre For Digital Music last year to develop our next-generation audio recognition system. This year we will be working with a number of industry partners to enhance and evolve our technology, and to demonstrate the different ways in which it can benefit the music rights business – and, in particular, how it can ensure the right artists and songwriters get paid whenever their music is played.”

Subscribers can read the Music Week magazine interview here.

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