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Future Of Music? Sub Pop Founder Bruce Pavitt Thinks It's Engagement

Bruce Pavitt and Adam Farish show off the 8Stem app, which they expect to launch to the public next year.
KUOW Photo/Ross Reynolds
Bruce Pavitt and Adam Farish show off the 8Stem app, which they expect to launch to the public next year.

When you play recorded music you can turn the volume up and down or adjust bass and treble – that’s about it.

Bruce Pavitt, co-founder of Sub Pop records, the record label that unleashed Nirvana on the world, thinks that’s pretty boring. So he’s teaming up with inventor Adam Farish to develop a new music format called 8Stem.

Pavitt and Farish told KUOW’s Ross Reynolds that it will upend recorded music by letting listeners engage more deeply with what they hear.

Their start-up company is working on a format that allows listeners to delete or remix individual tracks of songs – vocals, percussion, instruments – and add their own music elements, then post the remixes on social media. 

Pavitt said he sees the potential in his 17-year-old son, Cedar.

“He hasn’t purchased music in two or three years – he has a Spotify account,” Pavitt said. “But what he will purchase every single day is games that are engaging. He’s looking for engagement. … This is a generational thing. Young people are motivated by engagement and social recognition.”

And what’s in it for the industry?

“I’m betting that my son, Cedar, breaks down and buys his first song in three years,” Pavitt said. “We think this is going to generate significant revenue for musicians and hopefully revitalize the music industry, which has been in free fall for quite a while now.”

Industry numbers show revenue was flat between 2013 and 2014, a continuation of the malaise over the past decade after a precipitous decline in the early 2000s.

Why would musicians want to let fans fiddle with their music? For one thing, the technology will let musicians, record labels and self-produced artists control how listeners can interact with their music. But there are other reasons.

“The model is going from a manufacturing model where you hire an engineer, you go in the studio, which is essentially a factory, and you crank out a widget – or an album,” Farish said. “The way that technology works is very different. Musical works are not widgets, they’re pieces of intellectual property. If you open up those pieces of intellectual property for user input and make revisions based on user input, you have a much stronger ecosystem.”

8Stem goes into beta testing in the first week of December. Farish and Pavitt expect it to launch for the public early next year.

“Songwriters with acoustic guitars may not be interested in this,” Pavitt said. “So we’re going to start primarily with hiphop and electronic music producers and the edgier end of indie rock culture.”

Music note: Farish and Pavitt demoed 8Stem using Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry" combined with Opiuo's "Robo Booty."