The Future of Music & Audio | A Conversation with Cliff Fluet

Cliff Fluet has over two decades’ experience in the music industry, having practised as in-house counsel and external advisor to some of the biggest names in digital, mobile, social, brands, music, live events and online.

On top of this, he also works with some of the most disruptive start-ups in this space across artificial intelligence, blockchain, and cryptography, and social/immersive video.

We sat down with Cliff to learn more about his vision for the future of audio.

How do you feel the music industry approaches emerging technologies?

There is a general consensus that the music industry is slow-moving. Yet it has always been my opinion that this is unfounded. In my view, the music industry is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to emerging technologies and consumer trends, due to its ubiquity and popularity.

After the invention of the internet, the music industry was one of the first industries to be disrupted with the arrival of online distribution. Now, you can access all kinds of music via streaming, online downloads, music apps, and user-generated platforms… Music has always been at the cutting edge.

This mindset continues to this day — with one of the most downloaded new apps in the world, TiK Tok, which was originally launched as a lip-syncing app, now it has transformed into a whole new method of communication and expression!

However, whenever the music industry has been able to appreciate and licence a new technology that is a better experience for consumers, it has done well. For instance, in the late 1990s, the major music labels failed to make their content available online in order to preserve the world of CDs. Unfortunately, illegal file-sharing became extremely popular with a core demographic because, frankly, the user experience was better, allowing unlimited choice and access. Once services came along which offered a better experience than piracy, such as Spotify, the music industry moved to significant growth. It’s only when the music industry tries to hold back the tide that it doesn’t do very well.

Sometimes I see glimpses of the past in the response of the industry to artificial intelligence and music. It’s all part of a continuum — the music industry continues to evolve and needs to keep learning how it can adapt to consumer habits and consumer needs.

In what ways do you think the music industry will evolve?

I am often asked what I think the future of music will look like and I think there are three key ways that the industry will change in the near future:

It will be democratised — we are all going to have tools on our desktop that might only previously been available in studios. Something that only the highest-paid professionals would have access to. It represents a seismic change where users can suddenly adapt and broadcast their music to the world in ways they could never do before.

There will be greater distribution — with whole new worlds of being able to disseminate content. You don’t have to be on a radio station or Spotify, users will control where and how they listen to music. Or as an alternative, these platforms will narrowcast and dynamically serve to individuals based on their specific preferences.

The music industry will be dynamic — Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, and Twitter are all based on you, and personalised to your own consumption habits. Therefore, it makes sense that music that fits a particular context will be served to both individuals and the masses.

Cliff Fluet speaking at Radiodays Europe 2019 on the subject of copyright for podcasting
Cliff Fluet Speaking at Radiodays Europe 2019 on the subject of copywriting for podcassting

How do you feel consumption habits of listeners have changed in the past few years?

I think the consumption habits of listeners have changed dramatically and are continuing to change.

If you look at radio, the proportion of people listening to radio stations hasn’t changed. Yet, there are a significant proportion of people who listen to radio and podcasts as well as audiobooks. All of this content is consumed when listeners are often performing another task — which means grasping the attention of your listeners is hard. It is now an engagement economy rather than a consumption economy.

The music industry is going to have to change at a micro-level and give people something that they want when they want it. Instead of making music at a larger level and expecting people to consume it on their terms or timetable.

How do online streaming services and podcasting fit into this landscape?

If one were to look at a company like Amazon, who have the vast majority of the market share in the sale of physical music, they also have Audible, Amazon Music and Alexa speakers and you can see them drawing those elements together to merge them into more of an integrated ‘radio-like’ mix. Apple has Apple Music, their own devices, a major Podcast app and launched a global radio station with DJs and curators. Spotify has spent close to a billion on acquisitions in the podcasting space. How are these brands going to bring these elements together so that they are sufficiently at scale?

All of these elements will need to be merged to create a contextual experience. If you look at the charts you would think Ed Sheeran or Beyonce makeup the entire music market. But there are whole genres that fit into a contextual music category i.e. ‘mindfulness’ that should be aggregated on one platform. The very basic and crude tools that are used for contextualisation today are not up to scratch.

Tell us about your experience as a mentor with Abbey Road Red

Abbey Road Red is one of the leaders in fostering emerging music tech. I help to join the dots of value for emerging start-ups and turn cool technology into solutions.

Technology in itself is useless, but when it provides a solution it creates a whole new paradigm in society.

Does it create efficiencies, opportunities, new jobs, new models? Those are the things that I try to bring to bear at Abbey Road Red. I also seek to provide a bridge with other music tech ecosystems such as those at Tileyard and The Rattle and with my work with the music charity sector.

AI Music CEO Siavash Mahdavi speaking at Abbey Road Red in 2018

Why did you choose to work with AI Music?

I was drawn to AI Music because I was drawn to how modular and multilateral the technology was. There are some very ear-catching elements to how it works, but once you look past that you can see all the different problems that it solves across so many different applications — it’s fascinating. I’m really interested in working out what those problems are and how AI Music can solve them.

Aside from the joys of the technology, the greatest pleasure is working with the team. They are brave and thoughtful — rather than just having innovative technology, they seek to solve a significant number of problems the industry has right now.

They give people the power to play with music; to make it contextual, to provide personalised experiences, to transform music from static to dynamic and democratise music. Their tech is the future of music. To hear more of Cliff Fluet’s thoughts on the future of music check out his podcast episode on Spotify.

Originally published at on March 31, 2020.

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