Last week our team travelled to Abbey Road and we had the chance to sit down with Abbey Road Red program manager, Jon Eades to get his thoughts on 3D audio, OSSIC, and what it means to be a music technology entrepreneur; Learn more about the Red program at Abbey Road and check out the interview below:
Q: Can you tell us a little about your background as well as your current role at Abbey Road?
Jon: I head up Abbey Road Red, which means that I oversee our incubation program for music technology start-ups, whilst also spending time working with academic researchers and keeping a close eye on the whole music technology landscape as it evolves.
Q: What is the Abbey Road Red program and it’s mission?
Jon: The program is designed to support the next generation of technology-based businesses working in music. It is also intended to be a way for Abbey Road to build lasting relationships with the entrepreneurs and technologists currently shaping the future of music technology. In practice that involves using the collective experience and network that we have available here at Abbey Road, as well as Universal Music who own the Studios, along with other unique assets to maximize the advantage that we can offer businesses in their early stages to establish themselves and grow.
It’s a model that works well for both sides: Abbey Road and Universal have a lot of market knowledge and skills that are really valuable to young businesses, and small businesses operate in a way which allows them to explore innovative technologies more freely – technologies that we feel not only have commercial potential in their own right, but that might also have an impact on Abbey Road’s business long term. As such we are looking to form follow-on partnerships as well as other types of relationships with the start-ups on the program where appropriate. So the mission of Red is really two-sided: to stimulate and support innovation in music technology, as well as to ensure that Abbey Road maintains its long-standing relationship with innovative technologies.
Q: What did Abbey Road Red first see in OSSIC?
Jon: 3D audio in headphones and binaural technology are areas that we’ve been monitoring for a while as it's one that is very close to home for Abbey Road. Abbey Road has been recording music for 85 years, and throughout those years the studios have witnessed many big shifts; first from mono to stereo, then to quad and higher channel count surround and more recently to object based formats, and the engineers here have continued to experiment and push the boundaries creatively and technically at each of those stages.
We originally came across OSSIC through their pre-launch marketing activities in mid-2015, so by the time they applied (to our incubator program) we were already aware of the company and were interested in the approach that they were taking. When we invited them across to London to pitch you could instantly tell OSSIC had pedigree. We get pitched to by hundreds of companies a year and one thing you learn to look for is a strong founding team; in Jason and Joy it’s clear that OSSIC has a very strong CEO and CTO.
Q: There’s been quite an increase in interest and demand for immersive audio recently. Why do you think it took a while to get to this point, of this interest being at a global level?
Jon: I think that overall most people who have had the chance to listen to well-mixed 3D audio on a well set up playback system understand how much the addition of depth and height can add to the experience. The problem is that setting up a 3D speaker array in your front room or office (or on the bus, for that matter) is impractical, and it’s that convenience barrier which has meant that only a handful of people have ever heard surround sound or 3D sound outside of a cinema. When you don’t have a large enough group of consumers who are able to actually play surround or 3D sound, it is difficult for producers and creators to justify creating special mixes. So, and this is especially the case with music, that means that they have tended to stick to stereo as the playback format of choice.
The rise in 3D visual media thanks to 360 filming, VR, and gaming over the past couple of decades has definitely increased awareness of, as well as desire for, accompanying 3D sound which in many ways has paved the way for the arrival of OSSIC. I think that over time there will be a knock-on effect whereby more and more people will start to prefer, or even expect, all sound to be in 3D - even without 3D video.
Q: How do you foresee 3D audio will change the way people experience and/or create music?
Jon: In certain scenarios having 3D sound plays a very practical role; for example in a VR or a game environment you are more than likely to want the direction of a sound to be directly correlated to the position of an object as it tracks around you. For music I think that while there will undoubtedly be examples of people experimenting with moving sounds around the listener with crazy 3D panning (and there have already been examples of this over the years), my prediction is that over time consumer tastes and production styles will settle down and the 3D sound stage will more often than not be used to simply enhance the general sense of envelopment for the listener. Producers will likely use the rear hemisphere mainly for atmosphere, the same way they’ve mostly done in surround sound, and use the front hemisphere for the main sound stage
Q: Do you have any closing thoughts for the music technology entrepreneurs out there?
Jon: Apply to Red?! [Laughs]. One of my pieces of advice is to be inspired by your vision, but don’t be blinded by it. There are a lot of people who really love music, which is obviously great, but if you're planning on starting a business related to music then you have to ask yourself some important questions and decide whether your idea actually has the possibility of becoming a viable business or whether it is best treated as a project fuelled by passion. Ideally, it will be both, but be practical and honest to yourself about your objectives and expectations.
Q: Finally, what (if anything) are you be most excited to hear in 3D?
Jon: I'm really looking forward to hearing how musicians, producers, and engineers use the full 3D sound stage - as I say, not necessarily using these for novelty effects, but rather looking at the way in which they will play with the sense of space and presence. I want to close my eyes and to be fully enveloped in new sonic environments.
A big thanks to the Abbey Road Red team, and Jon Eades for taking the time to share his vision towards the future of audio; you can follow Abbey Road Red on twitter: @AbbeyRoadRed. Explore what other industry leaders have to say about the future of audio by following the links below: