Will.i.am, known for his music career and business ventures, has announced his latest startup, Sound Drive. This innovative company aims to completely transform the music industry, starting with your car.
You can spend all day long curating custom playlists for every mood, picking tracks based on tempo or intensity, but whether you’re corner-carving or just commuting you’ll never perfectly match the cadence and energy of every drive.
Will.i.am unveiled his new venture, Sound Drive, at CES 2024. This summer, the company will launch its debut in Mercedes-Benz’s electric EQ models, according to a statement given by Will.i.am at a press event covered by TechCrunch. The concept is not just to create a static in-car soundscape, but to constantly remix and adapt tracks based on your driving experience. Will.i.am describes it as the music being “conducted by the road.”
TechCrunch also had the opportunity to test this new technology at CES 2024 and, despite initial skepticism, they were impressed by what they experienced.
Sound Drive finds harmony in the numerous channels of data flying out of the ECU of a modern car, everything from throttle input to brake pressure, and links that to a sort of intelligent multi-channel mixer. Instead of two turntables and a microphone, it’s two foot pedals and a steering wheel.
Mercedes-Benz CTO Markus Schäfer explained that the app currently uses around 10 segments, meaning it can tap into up to 10 different vehicle parameters to affect the song. However, since it runs as an app within the MBUX infotainment system, it has the potential to access even more data.
At first glance, this may seem like a gimmick, just another attempt to add fake noises to make electric vehicles seem less dull. However, after just 30 seconds behind the wheel of a Mercedes-AMG EQE SUV, the skeptics were proven wrong.
This particular car was equipped with 16 Sound Drive tracks, some of which were popular, while others were created specifically for this experience. One of the tracks TechCrunch sampled was Doja Cat’s “Woman” from her last album. Even while sitting idle, the beat of the song was present but subtle.
However, once the throttle was pressed, Doja’s lyrics became more prominent. As the car gained speed, the song intensified, leaving the tester frustrated by the heavy traffic in Las Vegas.
Another track they tried out was “Scream & Shout,” a hit from Will.i.am and Britney Spears that had been remixed for Sound Drive. Once again, the song changed and adapted with the car’s movements, providing a unique and personalized experience.
It’s important to note that Sound Drive isn’t just modifying the volume levels of different parts of the song. Lyrics come in and drop out intelligently, picking up where they leave off and continuing the thread of the song, not just going mute mid-verse.
The overall experience was described as driving through a movie soundtrack that responded instantly to the pace of life.
However, there are limitations to the technology. Mercedes CTO Markus Schäfer wanted to make it clear that the music will not reward reckless driving.
Sound Drive is not quite a performance as such, Will.i.am likens being a conductor or DJ, but that’s just the beginning. Down the road, Sound Drive will let you geotag samples, linking auditory cues with memories. He said you could create a song route to chart the ending of a relationship, dropping tags with memories of where you had your first kiss — or last fight.
While this may seem like a heavy emotional experience for daily commutes, Will.i.am assures us that no two drives will ever be the same, even if it’s the same route and same time of day stuck in the same traffic.
Mercedes-Benz is the first partner for Sound Drive, with it initially launching with 10 tracks this summer as MBUX Sound Drive. This is not surprising considering Will.i.am’s existing relationship with the brand as a brand ambassador. The technology will be available in higher-performance models like AMG and AMG-Line EQ, as well as other trims in the Mercedes range.
In the future, Sound Drive will expand to models from other manufacturers as well, although no specific timeline has been given. Will.i.am believes there is no limit to how far this technology can go and hopes it will lead to a new era of music.
“Right now, still today, in 2024, people make music as if they’re still playing CDs, as if the main source of listening to music is vinyl,” he said. “Beyonce and Taylor Swift told the world that live music is where the business is, and the only way to actually listen to live music is to go to a concert.” With Sound Drive, he said, that dynamic music experience will come from you — and your ride.