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In Perfect Harmony: Exploring the Role of Tech in Media with Göran Andersson

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Matthew: Welcome to The Spotlight Podcast, in our interviews we feature insightful people at the deep end of TV and film production and distribution. Today’s interview is with Göran Andersson, an international consultant and highly experienced and knowledgeable media entrepreneur with offices in New York, LA London, Paris, Rio and Sao Paulo. His specialities include producing and music publishing.

So Göran, you work in a pretty exciting industry. But exciting can sometimes be turbulent, what aspects of running your own business give you the most headaches?

Göran: I deal with a lot of different individuals, and most of them I truly enjoy working with. There are some also that I might not work with, but I do get in touch with. And the one thing that probably is the most annoying is people listen too little and also refuse to learn. You know, I’ve been in this business for 40 years or so and my attitude is, if my mind is open, I learn new things every day. And that’s a good thing. And I think especially in the creative industry, you need to have a very open mind. That’s what I’m trying to say.

Matthew: I think as well, if you come with a tech brain to an organisation, there is almost that understanding that that’s always going to evolve. We see that here at Creative. So I get that. So I gather you have a bit of an ability to build and drive really tech businesses. And every day when running those, you must have to make multiple decisions with different hats on. So what would you say is your approach to decision-making? And are you any good at it?

“I think you have to really follow your gut instincts, follow your intuition and tune out what other people are doing.”

Göran: I think most of the time I’m pretty good at it. A lot of the things that I live by are what I learned in my early years working in recording studios. I think you have to really follow your gut instincts, follow your intuition and tune out what other people are doing. I think that’s always a risk and I saw that in the early days, you know, some of the records I produced, the ones that were really nightmare was when the artists were a little bit insecure, and then spent too much time, paying attention to what was happening in the charts and what other people were doing, and what I used to say back then, you know, you run the risk of being a mediocre sound-a-like, plus, when your record is coming out – now, of course, these days records can be released instantly – when your record is out six months from now, it will be then irrelevant.

So what I’m living by is, I don’t really care what other people think, if it’s producing a record or helping build a company, I build something that is meaningful for me and the people in the team. And if you’re happy with what you do, you have a much better chance of succeeding. And at least at the end of the day, you’ve done something that you truly enjoy and love. So if you’re not becoming successful, at least you’ve had the privilege of doing something that you really are proud of. 

Matthew: I agree with that. I’m quite similar in that respect. You can’t wait for everyone else to pat you on the back if you’re pleased with what you’ve done, I think that’s half the battle, isn’t it?

Göran: I think so. And you know, we only have so much time, right? So why should you? Why should you compromise? Why should you do things that you don’t 100% love doing? You know, the difference, as a friend of mine said a long time ago, the difference between a hobby and work is with a hobby you can stop, when it’s work you can’t. Even if you do things you really love and are excited about, a big part of it is dealing with things that are annoying and could be painful. But at least the reward is that you have done something you’re proud of.

“The difference between a hobby and work is with a hobby you can stop, when it’s work you can’t. Even if you do things you really love and are excited about, a big part of it is dealing with things that are annoying and could be painful.”

Matthew: Yeah, I agree. And media tech companies normally have a driver at the forefront. What has been the biggest driver to your success in the industry?

Göran: The media tech companies that I have been involved with, and I am involved with, my role is very similar to the one that it was in the recording studio. If I feel I can make something great, even greater I’m usually the support cast. So when I find a founder or a team that are really visionaries, that have the ability to not necessarily predict the future but you know, work on something that at the time at least we feel that this will be something meaningful in the future. And the future could be imminent, right? But there’s a lot of this, maybe similar to what I said earlier, if you just look at what other people do, you end up running the risk of having mediocre copies of something else. So I’ve been pretty good at sort of weeding out the things that are not that interesting. And I do also find, and I’m not always right, I find a lot of very smart people with fantastic solutions. And between myself and some friends, we put them in the category of great solutions to problems that don’t exist. And it’s kind of sad because these people are usually very smart but they have a vision for something that, at least from my perspective, is not really going to be successful, because it doesn’t really solve a meaningful problem.

“If you just look at what other people do, you end up running the risk of having mediocre copies of something else.”

Matthew: Yes. And sometimes not enough people to make it commercial, right?

Göran: Yeah. Well, because all the records we produced back in the day, we all expected them to be big hits. And of course, that didn’t turn out. And that’s the same thing with ventures. I think, if you don’t believe that, it’s going to be successful, why bother? But you still have to be grown up enough to realise that not everything is going to succeed, but it still might be meaningful or you might also learn something from it and succeed the next time around with the learnings from the ones that failed. And back to the records I produced, the first one maybe didn’t succeed, but maybe the second or third did because we learned some things along the road.

“Not everything is going to succeed, but it still might be meaningful or you might also learn something from it and succeed the next time around with the learnings from the ones that failed.”

Matthew: Yeah, that’s interesting. We see a lot of businesses coming through here, some that we think are going to grow quicker than others, and it’s like you say, it’s not always the ones that you think are the ones that then really take off. And then sometimes the ones that you thought were gonna go then don’t. So yes, like you say, I guess it’s just the learning curve for the next one, right? Which is really what you’re saying there? Yes.

Göran: Yeah, absolutely.

Matthew: Based on the media sector, specifically, how has your approach changed over the years, when you’re helping to create new tech?

Göran: As I said, when I started in the 70s, I was predominantly working in recording studios, but I’ve always had an interest in tech. So I always looked at, you know, new technology and I was one of the early ones to use sampling in recordings. I was very reluctant to use automated mixing consoles because I felt they were not really that useful. And also the ones that had automation, the ones that had good automation, the sound wasn’t good. So from my perspective, nothing really has changed that much. We have new great tools, but for me, the driver is the creative process. So you use the tools that are available to you, and of course they change, but what drives it, at least from my perspective, hasn’t really changed. But I’m very curious, I was always the first to try new gadgets and things. And yeah, so back to the recording studio days, it took me a very long time to find recording consoles that were automated and actually useful. And believe me, I tried. I tried everything that was new, but it just didn’t work. The work process didn’t fit the workflow I liked to adapt to – and actually, adapt to is probably a good phrase because I don’t want to have to adapt to something, I think great tech adapts to you and not the other way around.

“I think great tech adapts to you and not the other way around.”

Matthew: Yes. That actually really leads nicely onto my next question, because you’re almost saying there that actually is great to have the tech but if you don’t have that creativity in the person that’s driving that tech, you’re never going to get the end result. 

So that’s really what’s leading to my next question, because obviously AI is huge now. What effect is that having on what you do and what impact do you think it will have for you and your tech companies going forward?

Göran: I think AI is a great tool as long as the creator is in charge, and there are a couple of companies I’m involved in that are taking that approach. And it’s fantastic. It adds to your creative process, it doesn’t distract from it. You know, back in the days when we had typewriters, and all of a sudden word processor, you know, computerised design, and that was a natural progression. With AI, of course, it can be so much more powerful, and I think that’s absolutely fantastic.

Then we have the flip side of the coin, where there’s been a lot of debate in the industry and also in the media where, you know, I think some people call it bad AI. But to me, it’s similar to the reality we have now. You have 100,000 plus songs uploaded every day to the services so we have an enormous amount of music that probably shouldn’t even be there. And with AI, there’s a risk that we will have even more, but I don’t think we can stop it, we instead have to make sure that the fans, the consumers, they find what they like to listen to. And I guess we are just destined to have an ocean of a lot of recordings that people probably don’t really care about. But I think that’s just the reality of what happened even before AI. And with AI, we have a risk, that there will be more of it. But I think in music and also in other media, you know, the things that people really care about, those recordings will be here forever. And the ones that are sort of meaningless will probably just be ignored and then disappear. 

“I think AI is a great tool as long as the creator is in charge… It adds to your creative process, it doesn’t distract from it.”

Matthew: I think in some respects, because of the nature of the minute you utilise AI with the likes of Chat GPT, you lose the ability to call that your own IP. So I guess in some respects, that means that people that want to hold on to their own intellectual property rights against content, will still want to create without some of these other tools because they’ll want it to be their own, right?

Göran: Absolutely. There’s a lot of complex legal ramifications here. To have AI that generates new music, it needs to be trained on something. And I think that’s been going on for quite some time. There was a company started by a friend of mine, and for some reason, they actually never did anything with it. And I think that was in 2016. And no one really paid attention. But I know what they did, their AI was trained on Mozart, and I think the Beatles. And it actually sounded really good, but it sounded like Mozart. But it sort of creates good background music. But we do have an issue, since the machine was trained on music with copyright, and now the rights holders are waking up to wait a minute, we didn’t license this use. So there is a big legal battle. And also the question is, even if they pay us, should we license companies to use our copyright to create new stuff? I think what always attracts me to the work I do is working with creative individuals and then using tools, not just feeding copyrighted music into a machine that then spits up something new. Yeah, it’s kind of cool. I can see some geeks thinking that they invented something fantastic. But I don’t think it’s useful. I don’t think it adds to our culture.

Matthew: Yes, I agree with you though. It sounds from a rights perspective and copyright perspective, that sounds like a legal nightmare. I don’t know how you would even contemplate managing that because you almost need a tool -then that says your piece of music was utilised on this date by this person as part of this process. That’s hard enough in the current media environment where content is being shown on screens all around the world.

“Creativity comes from people.”

Göran: For me, creativity comes from people, right? It’s so removed from that. I did a lot of hip hop in the 80s when I was living in New York, and we sampled. I knew I was committing copyright fraud, maybe not fraud, but we knew we needed to license them, but it was such a new thing. We came up with ways to license samples to use in new recordings. This to me, it’s an artist using a sample from another artist in a recording, of course, it needs to be licenced but that’s creating a new copyright. And that’s a creative process that I fully endorse. Some really great new recordings came out of this. Also some things that weren’t so great, but whatever, that happens. But at least it’s some artists and producers in the studio making creative decisions, and then the fans will be the jury on if it’s good or not. That to me is a very creative, interesting way of working. And we knew there were some legal problems, we solved them and now that’s very much part of a lot of recordings today. Even mainstream pop artists sample other recordings, and it fits nicely into what they do and it brings revenue to the older catalogues and also sometimes gives them a second life, which I think is really cool.

Matthew: As you know, we love technology. So we’d love to know what you think is the next big thing. So we’ve just covered AI. And if it’s something you’re involved in, we’d love you to share.

Göran: Yeah, I think today with technology in the creative process, the quality of the sound, even if you’re not in the same room. Like now we’re doing this interview over the internet, but if you were to do this with a recording session, there would be some lag times it wouldn’t really work so well. But all this is being solved so you can actually do collaborations that we were already dreaming about doing in the past. So one of my companies, the image business for music called SoCo, where we felt that there was a need for bringing sort of the image of music back, because it sort of disappeared as the albums shrunk to CDs and now, it’s a little postage stamp on your playlist. And we have teamed up with a company in LA that’s at the forefront of what’s called volumetric photography. And so we’re going to learn something next year, where it’s going to be absolutely mind-blowing, you can’t really explain it, you have to see it.

So those are some of the things that I’m working on that I think are very exciting. And then maybe a little bit less exciting, but equally important, I have looked at a lot of blockchain solutions over the years, they usually had a problem because they needed the clients to adapt to systems. So there’s a company in Amsterdam that I have teamed up with since May, that decided to be an under layer that others can just partner up with. And they will adapt to the client, not the other way around. And we call it sort of boring banking Blockchain because it was actually built on a backing system. And I think that is something that is really needed, we’ve spent many, many years trying to solve issues relating to metadata. We know that a lot of the problems are related to poor metadata, with an enormous amount of compositions and recordings, it’s a problem that’s growing every day, even if you try to solve it, it just keeps growing.

So there’s one project which is a really creative project with imagery. And then this absolutely fantastic group of entrepreneurs in Holland that built a system that now we’re going to introduce this year, and we have to my, I wouldn’t say surprised because people have been looking for things like this for a long time, I think now we are in a very unique position to really enable and help the industry.

When it comes to tech, a lot of people talk about disruption. I don’t really like that word because I like to enable, and we have to also embrace the entire industry. And there’s a lot of very ambitious projects that think that they can replace, I don’t think this industry can be replaced, it can be enhanced, it can be improved, but trying to think that you can just make all the old companies go away overnight is not really feasible, in my opinion.

“When it comes to tech, a lot of people talk about disruption. I don’t really like that word because I like to enable.”

Matthew: I’m intrigued by the imagery against music, because I grew up in the 70s and 80s and then we then had MTV hit. And actually, it looked like that was going to revolutionise music forever, and that the sort of video accompanying music was always going to be the thing after that, but actually, we’re back to a time now where those are gone. Because people tend to listen to music on Spotify, they might have the Amazon thing in their living room playing music while they’re working or doing whatever. And actually, we’ve gone very much back to listening. And then I think that’s in some respects, quite a good thing, because it’s not about how someone looks and whether they’re opener or they’ve got there by another mechanism than anything but their creativity, which I think is, is quite a good place to be in with music. 

Göran: I agree. I think audio-visual content that moves is very interesting, but it grabs your attention. You know, the reason we decided to build SoCo, which is still photography, I think that, for me, is more suited to listening to music. So we are now starting to partner up with streaming services so we will then deliver great imagery about the artist and of the artist that you can then look at while you’re listening.

Matthew: It actually is far more interesting then, isn’t it? 

Göran: I think it’s not either or, right? But I think, for instance, a lot of people listen to music when they go cycling or drive their car. But you shouldn’t really be looking at music videos while you’re driving because it grabs your attention, right? I still listen to music while I work, but if I was looking at your videos while I was working, I’d probably not get any work done. So I think, you know, maybe growing up in the 60s and 70s, the imagery around the artist was very important because I think it gives the depth, it adds on to the expression that’s in the recordings of those artists. It can give some backstories, I think it’s a great storytelling medium so that’s why business is up and running. And then as I said, we’re working with this company in Los Angeles that is doing amazing 3D volumetric photography. And they have patented compression of the files because that’s been a big problem with these 3D images, that they are actually very large so you can’t stream them. But they’ve solved that. The things we’ve already done as an experiment are absolutely mind-blowing. We’re looking to do some album covers and it’s like you can walk inside the album cover. And that’s something that we’re very excited about.

Matthew: That is mind-blowing when you think about being able to walk inside that, that’s that’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?

Göran: Yep, we have no way of knowing but at least we feel that this is something that, you know, back to what I said maybe in the beginning. I love being involved and creating things that I enjoy myself. And then hopefully, I’m not the only one that likes these things.

Matthew: Brilliant. That’s a great note to end on. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s really kind of you to give up your time. I know you’re a very busy man, so we’re very, very grateful.

Göran: Thanks so much.