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From Coachella to your commute, self-driving opens new possibilities for music

Everyone loves listening to music in cars, and ever since self-driving cars moved from fantasy to reality, there’s been speculation about how that musical experience might get even better. Some have suggested turning autonomous vehicle interiors into living rooms or movie theaters on wheels, but I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve long believed there is a universe of new experiences autonomous vehicles can unlock around music.

This week on No Parking, we talked to Barak Moffitt, executive vice-president of content strategy and operations for the Universal Music Group, about what those new experiences might be. Moffitt was a musician and composer before jumping the wall to a label, so he deeply understands the business and creative sides of the industry. How people spend their time could radically affect what comes next, he said.

“There are only 24 hours in a day,” he said. “One of the things Universal is doing is looking at the entertainment share of consumer time, and how we make the non- “sort-of-music” streaming share of that consumer time additive to artists careers, as opposed to cannibalistic to it or competitive with it.”

He pointed to lessons from the past, like the Sony Walkman and the way it personalized music—a tradition smartphones carry on today. With self-driving cars, Moffitt imagined ways to immerse the rider in a communal way.

“Not only do I get to sort of participate in music with other people in the car, but maybe we’re taking advantage of the unique aspects of a moving vehicle like geolocation and intention and context. Where am I going and what am I doing? Am I going to a workout? Am I going on a date? Am I going to a concert? What do I want? Am I at the beginning of my road trip, the middle of my road trip, the end of my road trip?”

Add augmented reality, and an entirely new form of musical experience becomes possible.

“When [augmented reality] is on the windshield,” said Moffitt, “maybe I’m gamifying a music experience to make my trip more interesting. Maybe it’s helping me connect with what’s outside in a way that it wasn’t before. So I’m driving down 105th street in New York. I want to hear what kind of music was in this scene in 1972, and what it felt like to drive down the street back in the day.”

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