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Asia's untapped markets for AI-based song analysis is music to Musiio's ears

IT did not take long for the founders of music technology startup Musiio to realise that the Asian music market is a land of diverse needs.

"We have been speaking to customers and they ask if it (Musiio) can handle Chinese music, Thai music, and even Japanese or Korean," chief executive Hazel Savage said. "Whereas if we were based in London or New York, we would not even have thought of it. Being here gives us the exposure to different markets."

That demand – and a dearth of supply – for artificial intelligence-based music tagging solutions in the region means opportunity, and the chance to shape the market on your own terms, Ms Savage said.

"Europe is more developed in this technology, but the opportunity is that Asia isn't," she said. "Not only do we get to be the first, we also get to build the ecosystem here."

Ms Savage, a music industry veteran who had previously been at Shazam and Pandora, and Musiio chief technology officer Aron Pettersson, a software engineer, met at Entrepreneur First’s (EF) Singapore incubator in January 2018. The pair decided to combine their expertise and created Musiio, which relies on machine learning to quickly make sense of music. The startup left the incubator programme in July 2018, and is now under the Google Cloud for Startups programme.

Musiio has raised S$1.2 million of seed funding from Singapore venture firm Wavemaker Partners, and is looking to raise Series A investment in January 2020.

Owners of large music portfolios need good tagging systems to help them analyse their music libraries and to sort, filter, locate and recommend songs. Before machine learning, the task of tagging would have to be carried out manually, which is extremely difficult and costly on a large scale.

But Musiio's engine is able to analyse music files and assign each file with appropriate tags and visualisation tools. Mr Pettersson built the algorithm single-handedly for six months. To train the machine, Musiio has partnered music companies, which provide the startup with audio files that are used as training data.

"Pretty much half of the year it was just me," Mr Pettersson said. "I got everything working, of course not in a scalable way but we got it working. It was just us, before we raised anything."

But the technology worked, and Musiio has leveraged that into three products – Musiio Tag, Musiio Search and Musiio Playlist. Pricing for the Musiio Tag service can range between one and eight Singapore cents per track, depending on the volume and complexity of the project.

The immediate opportunities in creating large-scale efficiencies means that Musiio is a business-to-business (B2B) startup at the moment. Musiio currently has three paying customers that it declined to name. A business-to-consumer (B2C) model could be possible down the road.

"There is potential, it could work, but obviously as only a year old company, we decided to focus on B2B because we know that there is a market there and we know this is a challenge," Ms Savage said.

"But when it comes to six to 12 months and we start thinking, that's a great product, and the B2B market is loving it, do we want to try something more user-facing? Then we might want to expand into that region."

For now, Musiio is busy enough with growing in the geographical region. Based in Singapore, the startup is hoping to piggyback on the city-state's strong and reliable infrastructure to access Asia's bigger markets, including South-east Asia, China and India.

However, the size of the Asian music markets is a challenge for Musiio, where being scalable and cost-effective is a constant demand that the firm seeks to fulfill. That's where the funding comes in.

Ms Savage and Mr Pettersson view this as a good challenge.

"If we were based in London, we would be one of 10 music tech startups that got funded this year, possibly more," Ms Savage said.

Musiio at a glance

Co-founder and CEO: Hazel Savage
Co-founder and CTO: Aron Pettersson
Business: Machine learning-based tagging and analysis solutions for the music industry
HQ: Singapore
Backers: Wavemaker Partners, S$1.2 million seed funding; Google Cloud for Startups
Current size: 16, including two co-founders