Teddy Riley can remember the first time he experimented with the concept of 3D audio, nearly 30 years ago during the making of Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous.” Using the now-defunct Roland RSS Space Sound Compressor, Riley filtered his voice through the gear to create a surround-sound “5-4-3-2-1” countdown during the intro of Jackson’s 1991 single “Jam” in an era when such technology was too prohibitively expensive and bulky for the masses.
“It’s come a long way,” says Riley. “I have to tell you, if you look that piece up and then look at it today you’d be, like, ‘I don’t think I could walk around with that.’”
That’s why Riley has teamed up with 3D audio app Audible Reality, which launches today (Aug. 31) on iOS and Android, in an effort to bring hi-def audio to a more accessible format. Designed to enable music listeners to experience their favorite songs through different audio filters, or “Vibes” as they’re called on the app, Audible Reality is seeking to be the Instagram of music for the audiophile set. Users can sync the app to their streaming platform of choice and swipe through a host of different Vibes (with names like Diamond, Five O’ Clock and Intimate) that can reshape the sound without the aid of designer speakers or headphones.
To help introduce his fans to the concept, Riley has created his own Vibes exclusively for the Audible Reality app to coincide with the premiere of his new single “Dance 4 Glory.” The song features guest appearances from V.Bozeman, Donel, J.SOL and Nezi Momodu, and takes what Riley describes as an African tribe-inspired approach to music as a global healing mechanism during chaotic times.
“The song will speak volumes because of what we’re talking about and get the minds of beautiful people off of COVID-19 and just stay positive,” Riley says. “That’s what the actual tribes did back in the day – get rid of the distress and the poverty going on and take the COVID off your mind. Because it’s on everyone’s mind everyday, we don’t know where we’re going from here. And when you don’t know where you’re goin’ from here, all you have left to do is pray and dance it out.”
Riley is one of several artists to lend his music and guest-curated Vibes to Audible Reality, including Semisonic and frontman/producer Dan Wilson (The Chicks, Adele), Big Freedia, Low Cut Connie and Lauren Jenkins, among many others. Co-founder and CEO Matt Boerum says the app’s goal is to help artists find solutions for the discovery conundrum that many face in the streaming era — of the 60 million tracks Spotify recently reported exist on its platform, Boerum points to findings that show only 20% of those tracks are actively being played, with only 2% to 5% driving the bulk of the revenue.
“To get to that place of 100 million streams, an artist like Lauren Jenkins has got to figure out another type of exclusive thing to push her music to the next level,” Boerum says. “If Lauren has an exclusive Vibe, she can create new ones around a tour or release to keep it fresh. Since there’s no actual audio being made here, it allows the artist to make them in 5 mins or less and drive unique discovery for those tracks.”
For Riley, the partnership with Audible Reality makes a new chapter in his career resurgence after his Verzuz battle with Babyface became an early must-see music moment during quarantine.
Songs For Screens caught up with Riley from his home in Vegas to learn more about what drew him to the app, his slightly out-there description of how 3D audio works (“I may sound crazy and I’m not Kanye West”) and why his music industry rolodex is suddenly filling up again.
How did you get connected with Audible Reality, and what made you want to get involved?
I got connected with them through my team, and when they bought it to me I did all my research and I said, “Wow this is definitely something I would love to be involved in.” It’s where technology is going, where you’ll be able to listen to music anywhere the way you like.
I did something with 3D audio a long time ago, when I did the Michael Jackson album [“Dangerous”], we used some of the same concepts but it was a big piece of equipment — not as small as going into your phone and picking a preset, picking a filter for your music. But when you hear my voice on the “Jam” record, that’s how we got that virtual stereo surround sound which is basically what we implemented here. With Audible Reality, you’re experiencing virtual stereo surround sound. So you can actually take one of my presets or one of the other celebrity presets and you’ll experience what we experienced as far as sounds and what we hear in the studio.
What inspired your new song “Dance 4 Glory” and what was the thinking in premiering it through the app?
“Dance 4 Glory” is a song which was created by myself and J. SOL (Jason Lopez) and the artists on there are V. Bozeman, Donel and Nezi Momudo. And what we’re gonna do with this song is we’re going to is get artists from all over Africa – Congo, Nigeria, Namibia, all the different territories — for them to sing it. I hope to do this with K-Pop artists, too — I’ve done K-Pop songs as well — and then bring it back to Audible Reality and mix it. The song will speak volumes because of what we’re talking about and get the minds of beautiful people off of COVID-19 and just stay positive.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of 3D audio, how do you describe it to them?
I have a lot of guys who are so deep into sound and technology, that’s all we do when we’re mixing songs. I have a recording studio in my bedroom that is sort of like a virtual surround sound mixing room where I can actually hear what I mix. I can put some of these backgrounds imaging-wise in different places where people feel the illusion and imaging of instruments or the sound or a vocal in the back of their heads, or on the side. And it’s like, “Wow, it’s part of my head!”
A lot of people don’t know what I’m talking about, but you don’t just only hear from your ears, you hear from your head and your brain. And I may sound crazy and I’m not Kanye West, but I’m in that world. I’m sure Kanye would attest to this, but music can be delivered in so many different ways as far as sound and sonics, and we have yet to experience that. I’m talking about people in their homes. Of course they experience the surround sound in their speakers, but what if you want to stay in your bed? If you want to sit back with your headphones on — and by the way, we’re creating headphones as well because we wanted to give you something special to help cancel everything out, take everything out of your system and just listen to the new world of reality.
Your instantly legendary Verzuz battle with Babyface back in April sparked a newfound appreciation for your extensive back catalog. Have you seen new fans discovering your music in addition to people reconnecting with it?
Majorly. After the Verzuz, our catalogs and our streams, everything went up more than 30%, almost 50%. … I’m just so happy I’m able to share my expertise in this day and age because a lot of us haven’t made it this far.
Is your dance card filling up again with people looking to collaborate?
Way, way more. I can’t even express how all the things happened have changed my life. I had to add two people to my team to help manage all the things I love to do, which is technology and going into film. I really feel it’s time for people to really get back to music, media and multimedia in its rarest form. You don’t have to change your way, but embrace the new way. And that’s what this is about, embracing the new technology that’s about to evolve.
Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by Anzie Blue, a wellness company and café based in Nashville. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Hampp on Twitter at @ahampp.