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If I Hadn’t Been a Translator on a Wild Boar Farm . . . with Jessica Powell
Episode 513th December 2022 • Innovating Music • Maremel Institute
00:00:00 00:48:34

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Jessica's journey -- what a ride!  Music change agent Jessica Powell shares her Roads Taken, ranging from following a now-ex boyfriend across countries to using her languages at CISAC and on a wild boar farm (!!) -- to Google London, Google Asia, and to her current AI and Stems startup, AudioShake.   And even that founding with her co-founder Luke Miner began as a "What If" exercise around bass lines and karaoke, before landing with Billy Mann and peermusic to experiment with AIs and stems to create a next-generation stem separation platform for artists and new creative technologies.  We ran into her at Music Tectonics' annual conference as AudioShake won the "Swimming with Narwhals" Tech Startup Pitch Competition, the latest in a recent series of wins for this new company.

Guest: Jessica Powell, CEO and Co-Founder, AudioShake

Jessica Powell is the CEO and co-founder of AudioShake, which uses AI to separate songs into instrumentals and stems so that they can be opened up for new opportunities in sync licensing, remixing, and emerging immersive, education, and social media formats. The company won Sony’s Demixing Challenge, and was called the “cleanest stem separation tech” by DJ Mag.Powell spent over a decade at Google, where she sat on the company's management team, reporting into the CEO, and ran the company’s global communications organization. She began her career at CISAC, the International Society of Authors and Composers, in Paris. She is also an author and essayist, whose work has have been published in the New York Times, TIME, WIRED, and elsewhere.Mentioned Links:

Transcripts

Gigi Johnson:

Today with Jessica Powell from AudioShake on how you can go from a lot of random to an AI and stems company. Jessica, you've had quite a journey, you've done so many interesting things. And I want to ask you about all of them. But can you start our conversation and tell us a little bit about what AudioShake is and what it's doing now before we go down the rabbit hole?

Jessica Powell:

Sure, so AudioShake uses AI to split audio into its different components. So if we're talking about music, it uses AI to split recordings up into their stems, and instrumentals and stems that for those who don't know, the easiest way to think about stems are as the different parts of the song. So the vocal stem or the drum stem. And so people in will use those stems to do all kinds of things. So your favorite remix was probably made music stems say, taking the vocal of one song and combining it with the melody of something else, there's something entirely new, if you're listening to surround sound. So what's called spatial audio or immersive mix on Apple, or Tidal or Amazon, those are created with stems, because you need to place the sounds in different parts of what are called like the perceptual field. If you're listed doing instrumental on TV, you might be listening to a movie and you hear music, quite often, you won't actually hear the vocal from that music because the music editor didn't want you to get distracted by what the actors were saying on screen. So again, that's where they've taken the acapella stem and maybe turned down the volume or they removed the acapella entirely. So there's a whole bunch of uses for stems. But those are probably some of the most popular in terms of today's music industry. And then there's also a lot of uses outside of music as well.

Gigi Johnson:

So this is kind of the pre mixed layers?

Jessica Powell:

Or the . . . it all kind of . . . Yes, I guess it all depends on what direction you're coming from. But yeah,

Gigi Johnson:

So you're looking at . . . you're . . . you're backing up, though, and in many ways, creating those layers, again, when they may not have been kept or retained, originally.

Jessica Powell:

Right. So yeah, no, exactly. There can be a bunch of different reasons why you might want to create AI status, I guess starting from the furthest back in history, and then moving forward. If it was an old recording, like a mono track recording you that that was everyone just playing in a room. And so there is no way to split that apart. But now you can do that with AI. So just last week, we separated. One of the my favorite actually female jazz . . . jazz vocalists of all time for an album that will be coming out. That was a mono track recording. Then you move forward in time, now around the Beatles, things are starting to be multi-tracked. Those are on analog tapes. So physical tapes that over the decades have usually become degraded or have been lost, there might be bleed from the vocal track drums or whatever it might be, you have to bake those tape, there's only a couple of facilities, I think in the US where you can do that it's probably $20,000.

Gigi Johnson:

And they actually retain its flexibility and its ability to be then even just used nowadays during . . .

Jessica Powell:

To be able to be used, right, to be able to work with it. And then you would have to do a whole bunch of things after that. So then you move into the transition to digital. So the multitrack should have been, you know, been stored and so forth, a lot of stuff just didn't necessarily get transferred over. And then now we're like in a digital era, things are getting recorded on computers and so forth. People should be bouncing their stems and passing them onto the label. But that actually only really became a standard practice around seven years ago or so. And so, and even today, it's still quite, it's not as uncommon as people think that stems aren't passed along. So for example, we work with a number of labels that will use our technology when they cannot get the stems for popular tracks. So we've worked on some of the biggest albums of the past year to where there might just be one track on that album where the stems producer, they couldn't get the stems from a producer or somehow they got lost or someone's hard drive crashed, or the song was recorded on a phone. So all kinds of different reasons that even though today stems are passed on more often than not, it's still a big issue.

Gigi Johnson:

And we will come back to that issue because I have about 25 questions just from that. But I'm, I'm fascinated because a lot of our guests come on who they come from a real tech lens when they wandered into music or loved music as a teenager or they were professional musicians even as teenagers, and then the tech or innovation layer came on. You've come from which or neither? Or what was what was your joy as a teenager? Were you a music fan? Were you someone who was, you know, creating your own computers? Were you someone instead it sounds like who was really interested in communication? What was what was your teenage lens?

Jessica Powell:

Oh, I was at music was everything when I was a teenager. I mean, there wasn't. I don't think there was anything more important in my life and music. One of the things I remember very clearly, which was one of the not the only that one of the inspirations for audio shake, was I when I was a teenager, I was trying to learn to play bass. So really into punk. And so I'd be sitting on my bed trying to play CDs, punk . .

Gigi Johnson:

And hear the bass and hear all the baseline elements?

Jessica Powell:

And hear . . . and pick out the baseline elements. And what's funny is that a lot of like punk baselines are not necessarily particularly complicated, but they can still be really hard to hear. And I like years years years later, I remember that right. I would like thinking, you know, we did this thing with Green Day actually, where they used AudioShake to pull apart one of their songs, 2000 Light Years Away, which was, they'd lost the master tapes to that song, I think it's from 1991. And what they did was they used audio tape to create the stems for that they uploaded that audio minus the guitar to TikTok. And then all their fans could play the guitar along with Billy Joe, as if they were in Green Day. And that, to me was just like, that was the kind of thing I would have loved as a teenager.

Gigi Johnson:

That was a full loop back. Right?

Jessica Powell:

Yeah, exactly.

Gigi Johnson:

Back to your thoughts and needs?

Jessica Powell:

Yeah.

Gigi Johnson:

Where did you grow up?

Jessica Powell:

I grew up in Southern California. Okay,

Gigi Johnson:

so you were aspirationally wanting to be a punk rock, bass player. That was, that was passion, and your brain was heading somewhere else?

Jessica Powell:

I mean, I sure I think I like everyone else had like rockstar fantasies of wanting to do that. I was never very good, though. Nor did I have to discipline. I think it's very funny, right? When people talk about hobbies that kids have, and they're like, the things that are seen as very, you know, important, like, are so dedication, right, like you'd see the student at the piano or playing the violin and then all these fantasies that parents have of like their great children and their great hobbies. And I don't think you actually see as often say, the, the the teenager who's spending hours in their room playing guitar, but it's the same thing, right? Like to become really, really good. It's hours of hours of work, and I didn't, I was I was a very distracted teenager, I was into a lot of stuff so I never . . .

Jessica Powell:

So what distracted you . . . what distracted you?

Jessica Powell:

Um, I read a lot. I wrote a lot. I, I swam, I swam until I think my I swim through my freshman year of college. And, and then I did spend a lot of time making I was just a really small objects and crafts I made, like probably not healthy. I mean, like 1000s of small mice out of beads. So I just had a lot of hobbies. I was extremely good at being extremely mediocre at hundreds of things.

Gigi Johnson:

I love the mice idea. I now want to see them.

Gigi Johnson:

So college beckoned. And looking on your LinkedIn, I was seeing several interesting things that that told me that you're an interesting person. I was seeing this Stanford degree, I was seeing the Korean scholar stuff, and I was seeing also you're going to Switzerland to learn French. So what was the what was the communications lens that dragged you into some of this stuff? And where were you thinking you were going at that phase of life?

Jessica Powell:

You really don't.

Jessica Powell:

I've don't think I've ever known. There been very few instances in my life where I didn't know what I was doing or what I wanted. After . . . so I like you said I went to Stanford. So I was on the West Coast. And after college, I thought maybe I'd like to work in journalism, and actually got an offer from the LA Times, which I was super excited about. But they only paid minimum wage and I could not . . .

Jessica Powell:

I was going to say $1.95 an hour later then you were gonna

Jessica Powell:

I couldn't . . . I couldn't actually afford to take the job because I wouldn't have been able to pay for rent even and I haven't calculated that if I lived with my parents in Orange County and I commuted to LA I I wouldn't be able to I still wouldn't be able to afford it. And so I was pretty bummed out about that because it seemed like the dream. Instead, I went to New York because I had a bunch of friends that had moved to the East Coast. And state like crashed on the floor of friends while I looked for a job and ended up getting again a journal a journalist In a job that was very different. There's actually as a market analyst for electricity and oil, which I had zero interest in, except that it would pay the rent. And it was it ended up actually being very interesting. And depressing just to see to what degree oil moves the world. But so I was there. And then, but had a huge, huge, I think case of wanderlust, like where I'd grown up, everyone, almost everyone was from another country. My parents weren't immigrants on all sides from Appalachia. So they were, I guess, immigrants to California. But everyone around me spoke other languages, they had been in all these different parts of the world, and I'd really only ever been in California. And so to me, that was really fascinating. And I wanted to go somewhere else. And so I saved up while I was working. And when I had enough, saved up, my then boyfriend, and I moved to Paris, hoping we could find jobs there. But with idea that probably we wouldn't end we'd end up coming back six months later, it ended up working out and then we ended up just staying abroad for like a decade. And I actually missed your earlier question, which was around the the Japanese, like how did I end up in Japan and Switzerland and all these places for the Switzerland part came because after I graduated, I like totally not a tale of wonderful female empowerment or anything like that i i was like, wanted to be my then boyfriend who was in Spain, and we kept breaking up, like, I go to Spain, and then we break up and then I go make more money somewhere with some small job and then end up going back then we'd break up. And so every time we'd end up breaking up, I'd end up in some country that was adjacent or near Spain. So one point I ended up in Portugal working as a translator on like, at an NGO where I worked as a translator into like, I prepared fences all day long, because I had a wild boar problem. At another point, I ended up in Switzerland, where I, I taught English, and then also went to the University on the side and very randomly picked up a, like a sort of postgraduate something or other degree while I was there. So there's a lot of random, like a ton of random and what's really funny is when you look at my resume, people will be like, Oh, you were so brave, you just left and you went and I'm like, and they like there's always I think particularly nowadays because people love to talk about these like empowering stories of women against the odds and I'm like I was following and boy people like let's not actually pretend that I was Amelia Earhart in forging new paths.

Gigi Johnson:

But this adds to the mixing bowl, right? So it's sometimes those accidental sidebars that add texture, thought process, that being focused and heading places still not knowing that much. But having an idea in your head versus sometimes it's a guy, sometimes it's a job, sometimes it's caring for a parent, that you end up getting sort of dragged into a different path doesn't mean that you don't then add a B, C and D into a different layer cake. And I do find I can't come back a layer cake modalities, usually food but but in many ways, I find that with a lot of creative entrepreneurs that there were various things that kind of came into the puzzle that were made it so they probably weren't gonna go an obvious direct path. But then you ended up at a couple more traditional companies. So you ended up in French PRO, if I remember correctly?

Jessica Powell:

Yeah, it's actually interesting what you were just saying a moment ago because I moved to Paris. Like I said, I didn't expect as an American meaning having no visa having no being at a disadvantage in terms of trying to get working within the European Union. I didn't expect to get a job but hoped I could get a job. I had savings to last for about six months there and cat I think I think the pieces back then were for six months. Maybe it was three, I think it was six. But and I did interview at a ton of places because I had worked at a newswire, I interviewed at all of the news wires, and everyone was just like, we have a million people that speak English and they're European and they actually know about Europe, and you do not so but I interviewed at CISAC, which is sort of the parent org to ASCAP and BMI and the WGA and all of those based in Paris. And so all the different PRO's around the world are members of CISAC and, and I didn't know anything about copyright. I didn't know anything about puros but I was excited to have a job and on their side if I hadn't had all of that random that I said before. So I, when I went to interview at CISAC, I spoke English. By then I spoke English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, all largely because of that very unsuccessful relationship. And that happened to be the skill set, they needed a native English speaker writer for the job they were hiring for. But they also needed that person to speak all of their working languages, which I did. And so it it just the stars sort of aligned in terms of them being able to make a case to hire someone who was not European Union, for the job. And so, like, none of that would have actually happened if I hadn't been at one point, you know, a translator on a wild boar farm or chasing some boy around Spain.

Gigi Johnson:

There are worse things in life. There are. So how did you then take that journey and end up with your long communication stint at Google? What was the pivots to get to that pathway?

Jessica Powell:

After I was at CISAC, I ended up moving to Japan for a bit, I had a like a linguistic scholarship at one of the universities there, and was writing a book a nonfiction book, and so did those sort of simultaneously. And then after that, my then boyfriend, this is a good boyfriend was going to do now my husband, that's what I have to say he was the good boyfriend was going to do his PhD in London. And so moved, we moved to London. And, and then I needed a job. And unlike in the countries I lived in, up until then, where they hadn't been native English speaking countries. And so I could always find some sort of work, whether it was a teacher, translator or whatever, all of a sudden, I'm in England, and not only does everyone speak very good English there, they tend to think your English is not particularly good. And so I had no particular advantage there didn't have work papers. And was, you know, I think 24 . . .you know, 24-25 like, I had no real work experience either. And I remember applying . . . The Guardian had, maybe they still do this huge jobs section, like classified ads. And I went through everything. And I applied to be a waitress at Wagamama, I applied to be the CEO of a small company, like, I was totally unqualified, but I just applied for everything. And at some point, a friend was like, why don't you apply for Google, because I think they have an office in London. And, you know, they seem to like people from Stanford. Which, of course, is very elitist. But, um, but worked out in my favor, because I was able to apply and they actually called me back, I proceeded to fail the interview. But I did. The I did get me in the door. And I interviewed there. And like I said, the interviews did not go well at all. However, they were being sued already for one of their content products, which is Google Book Search. And a lot of the people that were upset with Google, were the same people who are members of CISAC, where I'd worked. And so Google's logic was like, let's at least bring her in as a contractor, because she at least knows these people and knows how to get ahold of them and can try and get everyone talking and figure some stuff out. So they hired me as a contractor, just like on a six month contract. And, and then eventually, and I ended up I was hired through communications. But the job ended up being actually much more marketing and policy and then later even became product management went in all kinds of different directions, because the European team was still very, very small. So you did sort of everything under the sun. And, and then eventually, they asked me to join full time. So.

Gigi Johnson:

This warms my heart. It warms my heart, because so many I talked to a lot of friends, kids right now in their 20s, who are saying, well, I got a degree in x, y that can I just go do that. And I always come back with this statistic that only 27% of people are doing jobs that connect with their degrees. But that's so understates the journey path, which is that it is connecting A, B, C, D, walking off the wall there and then oh, wait a minute here and then let me come in this side door. But it also tells me a bit that you're a person who's willing to deal with uncertainty which some people are not, and are willing to take risks and you've got cumulative risks you've just described which are really cool that you are willing to not miss like jump off a massive cliff. So you've definitely got some of those on there. But willing to iterate yourself and do something that is not a comfort zone thing, which you've now told me like five stories of that already, which is massively cool. So you did the Google journey, which lots of people, there's lots of things out there with what people have said about their Google journeys. And then you went and wrote a book. So what was this book that you had out a few years ago? And how did that did that lead to your journey to what you're doing now? How does that tie him?

Jessica Powell:

Yeah. So in between my two stints at Google, so I started in Google after CISAC, and then worked there, eventually ended up running communications for them in Asia Pacific. But my husband had stayed back in London, I needed to get back to London. I knew then that after that he had followed me to a bunch of places around the world at that point. And I knew that sort of his his turn next that where he was a professor, so that whatever his next placement was going to be, I was going to need to follow him, which meant I was probably going to need to leave Google. So it didn't feel good to me to ask Google to relocate me back to London, and force a reorg. Because that point, I was already pretty senior to force a reorg of a European team to accommodate me when I knew a year later, so I was going to be leaving. And so I decided to just cleaner to just leave completely, and I ended up going to the startup. And it was just this crazy, crazy place where everything, you know, I think I had had like, like any company, Google, even back then it wasn't as big as it is today. You know, like any company, it had its downsides and its positives. But on the whole, it's been a really positive experience. And you can tell the fact that I was trying to be like, I didn't want to force a reorg. And all that, like I really liked the people I worked with, and I felt like a lot of loyalty to them. And I think I largely bought into a lot of the things that the tech industry as a whole said, I think a lot of the people working in industry were extremely idealistic, not so much money motivated, even though the industry was already doing well. And there were there was, there was a large, almost philosophical now almost like philosophical component to a lot of what people were doing and what they believed technology could do to help people. And I think I rather naively thought that all technology companies were like that, that everyone was motivated by the same things, and I ended up in a place where that wasn't the case, then where I would come into the office, and people were getting fired every single day, just because the CEO didn't like how they looked. Or, you know, I walked in one day, and there was a dildo on my desk. Now that, you know, another time I walked into one of the rooms, and someone had put like a picture of a naked woman on it, like it was almost comic because it was so bad. And, and at the same time, also just the way that we would approach and think about users was pretty, I thought, pretty evil, right? Like, and just how we would talk about essentially how to, like, take advantage of them the most, it just felt like a very different discourse from Google. And every time I would raise something that I thought was wrong, I would be told that I was being too American about it, or that I was prude or that I just didn't understand how things worked. And, and I started to kind of, like, when everyone around you and I'm sure there were other people that thought they were things were wrong. But when everyone around you is sort of saying this is normal, you start to kind of question your own sanity, right. And I so I remember one day, I'd gone to this conference in Germany, which is a big deal then called DLD. And I was sitting in this is like, 2012, and I was sitting in the audience and, or 2013, I guess, 2013 2014 I don't remember who is sitting in the audience. And Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb got up. And he was talking about his new product, that that wasn't very well known in Europe at the point, that point and he was like, you know, what's gonna allow people to stay in each other's houses and, and he even suggested that it could solve cure the world of war, and, and even invoked the Israel-Palestine crisis. And, and I was just sitting there being like, dude, like, this seems like, just sort of like an illegal hotel business. It seems cool. Like, I'd use it. But also like, it's like, I have to, you know, okay. And you're talking about war, like, what? And I just felt like that over and over again, everyone would get up and just promise these huge things. And we at the startup, were also doing the same thing, right. It was essentially a hookup app that we had invented, or that the founder had invented and that we were trying to tell everyone was just a social network and it was for making friends and so forth. And I got on a plane. And I just started to write, like I just started to, I think it was just trying to make sense of the world around me and why the things that didn't really make sense to me like, why did we a whole bunch of like 20 and 30 year olds have so much power and so much money? And why did it feel like everything was one big marketing kind of smoke and mirrors show. And I ended up writing, like, it was not my intention to write a book at all, there was like, no plot at all, it was just and then at some point it I did revise it a bit to make it give it a you know, more structure. And it ended up in the hands of an agent who took it to all the different publishers. So this would have been actually now that I think about it, I think it would have been 2012. And she took it to all the publishers in New York, and they were all like, this is funny, and it's well written, but no one cares about technology. Like it's not an interesting industry. And, and so like, there's no commercial appeal for the book. And anyway, so then, and then I ended up leaving the startup and going back to Google, and I just put the book aside for what ended up being six years like I wasn't, I'd already been rejected by everyone. And then on top of that, like I was at Google, and then eventually running off communications for Google. I figured people would think the book was about Google, even though it wasn't really about Google at all. And so I didn't do anything with it. And then, by chance, just a couple months after I left Google, I think it was maybe six months. Someone who had someone who had seen that book back in 2012, we ended up reconnecting, and she ended up saying, like, I'm gonna, you know, can I send it to this person that I know who works at Medium, and they sent it, she ended up sending it to medium and connecting me with Medium, and Medium was like, we've never published a book before. But we love this and we want to buy it, and we want to publish it. And that's how it happened. So that's how the book was published. But no, it actually has nothing to do with it, what came after with AudioShake.

Gigi Johnson:

But it doesn't kind of maybe figuring out what you don't want to do for a living and building your own company and being a model for "Not that, thank you very much. I will pass on all those options." So how did AudioShake get birthed?

Jessica Powell:

So I left Google, I thought I was gonna take a really long time off. I wasn't I wasn't sure if I was going to do anything more in tech, I really didn't know. But at the same time, had one of the things that I felt by the end of my time at Google, I felt really burnout. And really like that I had kind of become the shell of a person, like I loved reading. And I hadn't read a book, like I'd read a ton of memos, a ton of like white papers, and legal documents and everything. But I kind of felt like I forgot to read like I didn't really I didn't read fiction anymore. That always been something I loved. I didn't really listen that much to music anymore. And I remember even when I was in London, I'd still played the piano hadn't done that in years. Anyway, I just really felt like very reduced to just kind of not very human and. And so I quit. And I started doing some of those things again. And while I was doing that, also started talking to Luke, who was like, my mentor, co founder. But we were both very interested in doing something with music. It was like a shared interest. And started originally playing around the idea of like, Could you do like, could you build music from the ground up in an interesting way to allow remote collaboration? And in the process of doing that, we also said, Wait a second, what if we went in the other direction? And we both lived in Tokyo? We both done a lot of karaoke, we remembered how terrible karaoke had been because you do it to rerecord snot to the originals. You have a limited catalogue. And we were like, what if you could do karaoke to any song in the world? And then it was like on if you could sample anything in the world? What if you could and then that that Green Day scenario, like what if you could do what were essentially the music minus one Jamie Ableton, right, like play along with the record type of experience. And then the final thing we started to think to was we were like if you could actually split audio apart and do it in a way that was standardized, so that the labeling was the same and the metadata was the same. You could probably power entirely new audio experiences that have not been invented yet, or consumer audio experiences that haven't been invented yet. Because the real stents are the real assets are difficult to work with in a coding program, like a coding environment today. And so that was that was sort of the genesis of it all. We spent a lot of time playing around with the axe. I mean, it was it was a good amount of time working on the model before it was actually ready to be debuted in any sort of public sense. But, um, but yeah, that's how it started.

Gigi Johnson:

So you had been at a large tech company, you had been at a small tech company, you had been on various international adventures. So you had a nice sort of mixing bowl of interesting personal experiences that you're bringing to this, how did that inform how you decided to start a company?

Jessica Powell:

You know, I think what I, although I didn't like the, in a lot of ways, the startup experience I had in between my two Google stunts, I loved the speed, that things happened, like I there was Google, rightly. And certainly, by the time I left, had a lot of processes in place. You know, to make sure that things were done professionally and properly, which is probably not just probably like, is the way it should happen, right. You know, I but I, but it's also a little bit soul crushing. From an employee point of view, like, I remember my final months there, having seven or eight different subcommittee meetings around one specific privacy feature. And, you know, the committee first came to my office to review it, and then we, and then I like in week one, and then in week eight, they were back in my office, and maybe the group was a bit bigger. And there was someone else, like one of my peers, it was also in the meeting. And then week 12, it happened again, anyway, there'd be all these reviews. And then finally, you'd be sitting in the management team meeting. And that committee would come in to present and I had this moment where I realized that everyone in that I don't know how many we were 10 or 12 people that every one of that 10 or 12, people grew that each of us had seen that presentation a ton of times, and we'd all signed off on each component of it, such that there was going to be no debate at all over that. That presentation, and that the only person that hadn't seen it was the CEO. And that was probably like the super smart way, if you were head of that committee to get things done, right to make sure that like you got that all of your stakeholders socialized? Yeah, totally. So it's like, it's not a criticism, necessarily the process of no doubt that that could always be made better or more efficient, or whatever. But like on the receiving end, you know, when you're like, when it's like, it's just kind of like, oh, it's got like an element of Dilbert cartoon to it, right. And so I really missed the speed of a startup and have you know, that you decide something at 9am. And potentially, it's implemented a few hours later. I mean, obviously, it depends on what you've decided. But the point is just that things can move very, very fast. And I, I liked that I also really liked from the startup times, and from my early years at Google, I really liked working across multiple areas. I had loved, you know, in all of those jobs that are like the early years of Google got to work a lot in product and, and a lot working very, very closely with engineering, which is something I'd always liked. I was I was and remain a pretty crappy coder. But I like coding like, and I like understanding the at a high level, the technical approaches to solving different challenges. And I, I liked getting back into that and being on the product development side again, and, and having a more holistic view of a product or a business and how all those parts interact.

Gigi Johnson:

So you guys came in with a bunch of great what ifs? What if we could and building a product? How did you validate that as people coming in? Not in the music industry? And then how did you then wrestle to the ground, your first few compatriot clients and partners on this?

Jessica Powell:

Yeah. Um, so I probably made it tidier than it was and that it didn't start off as a business. Right? It just started off as like, could you do this? And oh, wouldn't that be fun? If anything? It was like a hobbyist kind of thing of Oh, could you make karaoke fun stuff, right. But then, we were actually on. We were talking to a friend who was in the music industry. And we showed him what we had done just because we thought he would think it was neat. Find the party. Exactly. It's a fun party trick. And he was like I don't think you've realized what you've built like, do you even do you even know what think licensing is? And we're like, what? No. And I had, like, I'd worked at CISAC. So I understood some aspects. Definitely not all of copyright but but didn't know what sync was. And he's like, no, no, the label that he was at just a very large label, he's like, we we don't have instrumentals for more than probably half of our catalogue. And, and so we're like, oh. And then he ended up introducing us. Like, we basically it was just one of those things where he introduced us to someone in the industry and other person, they introduced us to some of the industry. And eventually, we found we ended up being connected to someone named Billy Mann, who is the super accomplished songwriter, rights for pink and a whole bunch of other people also have a label. But Billy, essentially, it was this one man, force of nature. And he introduced us to a handful of publishers that, you know, I don't know if they would have taken the meeting with us if we hadn't had that, you know, because I think labels and publishers had been pitched stem separation or source separation, as it's called, for a very long time. And it's never sounded clean enough for them to be able to use commercially. The other other people that I really have to call out were a college friend of mine had been the college friend of Mary Megan Peer from peermusic. And she just said, you know, I'm going to shoot an email to Mary Megan and just telling her what you're doing. And like, let's see, you know, she's interested. And then she didn't have to respond. And she didn't have to take you know, she could do or she could have just done like a really a courtesy. 15 minute call with us. I just got very important person's got a very big job. But she did. And not only that, she was like, let's just try, she was like, I'm skeptical. For exactly the reason I just said, right, she's like, I'm skeptical. I've heard this stuff before. But let's try. And, and this actually happened before the interest from Billy with peermusic. They, they give us some tracks to run, they. . . like our first our initial passes over the months were not good enough for them. But I remember Donovan's "Season of the Witch" was just this track that we just kept failing at. And we all, you know, that was a song, I think my parents had listened to. And I kind of knew, and I just became this like, Donovan.

Gigi Johnson:

A curse and obsession at the same time.

Jessica Powell:

Yeah. But at some point, it became good enough anyway, I'm, I'm very, very grateful to Peer like they took a chance on us when they had no particular reason to. And they like they were hugely helpful. And Carter at Peer would give us feedback on the different tracks and be like, see how at this point, there's this bleed, and so forth. And so we learned a lot too, because when you're approaching from a technical point of view, what you consider to be good separation might be the cleanest separation there. And in some cases, you might actually want to remove a little bit less, to retain some like feeling of presence, that might be very important to someone that's actually in the industry working in a certain way with that recording. Anyway. So I would say it was the combination of those two having up publisher really early on that was willing to experiment and just take a chance on us combined with Ben, Billy, who was wowed by the technology, and who introduced us to different people in the C-suite of the labels and publishers that really opened up, like open doors for us. And then, again, every single comment the same way where they were like this stuff doesn't work, but we will give this a try. And I would just I would do a demo with one of their songs. And it was really, and it remains like really exciting when you see someone's face when they see a song split for the first time, like the way and and what I love about the music industry because it gets such a bad rap. And for a lot of reasons, some of them deserved. But many not and what I love about the industry, which I think is so unique to it is like people love music, which is a really dumb and obvious thing to say. But it's it's just very interesting that you have this immediate thing in common with these people on the other side of the Zoom call. Where, you know, you split this track and they all of a sudden hear the vocal of like iconic vocalist, you know, like particularly think of like some of these mono track recordings, to all of a sudden hear like, we worked on the original Jackson Five recordings. And you hear Michael's voice when he was eight, right? And he's like, it's just mind blowing. You're like, how is that coming from an eight year old? Right? Or like the jazz vocalist that I mentioned the other day we were just like, This is extraordinary to hear her voice as someone might have heard it. Back then, like it it's just amazing. And so yeah, like I with every single one of them, it felt like there was kind of this sort of wow moment and we'd let them try the software and then they very quickly became customers.

Gigi Johnson:

So what is the journey now. You have a product that's winning awards at events that you're getting clients working with you on it. Where are you wanting to go with this? And what are you needing?

Jessica Powell:

Um, let's see. So we started with sync licensing departments, and then the word spread to A&R departments. So now we have a lot of A&R departments that will use us for getting stems to create Dolby Atmos mixes is a big one. The other one would be to, a lot of them will create stems for remixes -- remixes that they might do in house. In some cases, they're giving stems to TikTok producers, we even have some labels that will create stems for songs where they have the stems, but because they actually find that their artists like using our stems for some uses more because we produce a smaller stem set. So you know, our stem that we can do up to eight stem types, someone else might have stu . . . you know, 15 stems. And if you're thinking of some particular producers that are . . . or artists that just have their different tricks of the craft for them, like their stems are kind of like gold, right? And they don't necessarily always want to hand them over. I know one very, very big producer, who claims he doesn't know what stems are and refuses to hand his stems over to to labels. And because he's a very big deal, he can get away with it.

Gigi Johnson:

It's his children.

Jessica Powell:

Yeah, but it's that and he actually has used audio extends for one of his projects recently, because he was like, I don't feel because there's, it's not the same level of granularity as the real stems. I feel like I still keep up some of this close to the vest, and I feel more comfortable with people working with it, and so forth. I mean, generally our what we say is like, we're not trying to replace real stem like if you have a real stones use the real stones, you're making an immersive mix, and you have the option to use 15 stems rather than are eight stones like go use the real thing. But we're more there to open up that opportunity when that isn't an option. But . . . but I hadn't anticipated that it makes sense to me now, what that particular producer was saying, which was like I did actually makes me more comfortable, particularly if I'm going to give these use them for a remix contest or have someone else reimagining and playing with my stuff. Like I actually feel like I have a little more control, if I'm giving them a slightly different version of my stems. So that's, that's essentially where we are today, I think there's still a lot of a lot of work to be done with more and our departments in that remix space and in spatial mixing. The other thing that we're very interested in is working collaboratively with the labels and the publishers to help open up their catalogs for the all the new kinds of music experiences that we think are starting to emerge. I think it is. It's really kind of extraordinary. When you consider that, for example, on TikTok, 60% of that content is music. And you think about what you can do on tick tock with images and video, or think about on Instagram or Snap, or Canva. Right, any of the tools that you use today. They're things that you and I couldn't have done 10 years ago, unless we were design experts and knew how to use say Photoshop, or video editing tools. And today it's not that we're replacing designers, right? Clearly the people that work with those tools for their craft continue to do that. But it's but a much lower level accessible version of video editing and imitating image editing have opened up to people like you and me. And so we can with like a little button all of a sudden have an Instagram filter on our images or on TikTok turn our face into or snap turn our face into like a squirrel that's, you know, talking or something. And then you think about music and you're like, oh, yeah, what can we do with audio? I'm not that much like you can speed it up, you can slow it down, you can like loop something. Right? And that's because you don't, we haven't historically had the ability to pull apart audio and to do these kinds of manipulations or editing and then to build the tools that would make that accessible meaning not a DAW but rather something that a layperson could use. And I think that's all about to change. And so I think the there's going to be enormous opportunities for artists and labels that range from having music in apps. Where so for example, one of the apps that we've worked with I melodics. That's about teaching music to people. They you know, they're kind of almost sort of like that Green Day scenario, right where they're they're making they teach drum pads and keys. But like, that's, that's a good example. In gaming, you're going to be able to make all music, adaptable to a game such that someone is playing music in their living room, that music is matched up to the game's corpus of music, which will be millions of tracks, not 10 tracks for the game, or 100 tracks for the game, but it will actually be like millions of songs. And you could actually make, you could actually adapt that audio so that every time the hero enters the cave, or every time they jump over the valley, the energy that base increases or everything drops out. And you could you can do that because you can now pull apart audio and make it interactive and do it in a way where it's consistent across all those tracks. And you actually couldn't do that very easily with regular stents. So I think it's going to it's really, really exciting. And so we're really interested in like, how do we partner with industry for those uses and to make it easier for because I think stem separation is happening very, very, it's very widespread, that I don't think the industry is able to take advantage of it. In all the instances where it's happening, and . . .

Gigi Johnson:

They're letting that happen to them, not with them necessarily.

Jessica Powell:

In a lot of cases. Yeah. Right.

Gigi Johnson:

So we've had I love this conversation, we've kind of gone through a great journey about a collection of experiences that made you ready for this, which is so exciting. What are we not talked about, as we wrap up that you'd like to mention, is there anything we haven't mentioned? That's kind of on your mind?

Jessica Powell:

Well, I guess one thing is we've talked a lot about labels, or I've talked about labels and publishers a lot. And we do have a lot of customers in that space. But I think it was always really important to us that our technology was available to everyone, that's an artist as well, and that they shouldn't have to have deep deep pockets to be able to use it. So we do also have a platform called AudioShake Indie, which is just for indie artists, indie labels, could also use it. But it's an indie.audioshake.ai. And that's a self serve platform for indie music. So I should mention that because I wouldn't want people to think that we're not serving that crowd too. That's really important.

Jessica Powell:

Absolutely, and a lot of this crowd listens too, so that's great to connect those dots. How. . . who should reach out to you and how should they reach out to you?

Jessica Powell:

Well, I'm on Twitter @themoko. M-O-K-O. The things we come up with 10 years ago when that's that's now my handle. And then. And then AudioShake is on all the channels that it needs to be, I guess, social media is such a terrible thing in so many ways, at least if you're a brand, but that's just an AudioShake.AI. And yeah, and then you can find me. I'm also just Jessica@audioshake.ai. Pretty easy to find me.

Gigi Johnson:

Excellent. Jessica, thank you very much for joining and inspiring with your various journey stories and where you're taking tools for artists and those around them. wonderful and great conversation.

Jessica Powell:

And thanks a lot.

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