Armonia boss Virginie Berger on the excitement of machine learning potential

Originally written for Music Ally.

Machine learning was one of the key music-industry trends in 2016, according to Virginie Berger, CEO of music licensing hub Armonia.

Berger, who will be speaking at our NY:LON Connect conference in London later this month, said that the discipline of machine-learning has already shown its importance not just in areas like personalised music recommendations, but also as a creative tool for musicians.

“One fundamental goal in the field of Music Information Research is to automatically structure sound and music collections in order to facilitate the access and retrieval of their audio content. For hubs like Armonia, it is fundamental,” said Berger.

She added that with machine learning having permeated nearly every area of music informatics, it is throwing up new challenges and opportunities for researchers and digital-music companies.

“For instance, how do we recommend a piece of music that has not yet been rated by anyone? How do we define similarity when crowd data is missing?” said Berger.

“With collaborative filtering methods it is impossible to obtain good quality recommendations without rich user data, and unfortunately it is also often impossible to obtain rich user data without good quality recommendations.”

“This is where sophisticated machine learning systems based on content are necessary to bootstrap quality recommendations. Even from an industry perspective, content-based music recommendation remains very much an open and promising academic research problem.”

Berger hailed the progress made on these challenges within the MIR community, but noted that the problems are still “very far from solved”. She welcomed the efforts by services like Google Play Music in 2016 to use machine-learning to bring more personalisation to their users, and sees plenty more potential.

“Artificial intelligence is fascinating. How could machine learning change the composition of music? How using machine learning to generate music? Google’s art machine just wrote its first song,” said Berger, who is an avid follower of research like David Cope’s Experiments in Musical Intelligence.

Armonia is the pan-European licensing hub that was founded in 2012 by collecting societies SACEM, SGAE and SIAE. Other members are SACEM Luxembourg, SPA, SABAM, Artisjus, SUISA and AKM.

The hub includes more than 13m works covering 33 countries. Berger was appointed as Armonia’s first CEO in June 2016, and told Music Ally about her ambitions for 2017.

“From a licensing standpoint, our strategy is to implement more streamlined and simplified processes in order to benefit digital service providers and grow our client base,” said Berger.

“Armonia wants to reaffirm that its strength as a licensing hub is about flexibility and about letting members chose their degree of involvement in all or some activities of Armonia.”

“The societies that are members of Armonia have a common ambition to go further in what we do for creators and the online music industry: we are about ensuring a fair deal for everyone.”

Berger said that Armonia will also continue to host events and have its say on industry hot topics, while also shouldering more responsibility in the consortiums and institutions in charge of digital music standards and formats.