Splitting Tunes

USC Viterbi alumnus Alejandro Koretzky and his partners are building a startup that could transform the way people listen to music

Alejandro Koretzky had MTV dreams.

The lead singer and producer of the Argentinian rock group Ximetria made it his mission to convince the music television behemoth to show his band’s self-financed video. It wasn’t easy.

For six months, Koretzky, M.S. EEMC ’15, phoned and knocked on the doors of different MTV executives, asking them to check out the DVD he had sent. He cold-called everyone from marketing chiefs to A&R reps to “whoever answered the phone,” he recalled.

His persistence finally paid off. “We got an email saying, ‘We love your video and want to put it on the air as soon as possible for our new indie section,’” Koretzky said. In June 2011, MTV Argentina ran “It’s A Wild Ride” for two months. Leveraging its newfound popularity, Ximetria toured the country to rave reviews.

Koretzky has brought that same drive, creativity and passion to TuneSplit, a startup that combines his love of music and engineering. The TuneSplit app allows music lovers to separate a song’s instruments and vocals to personalize the listening experience. It does so by combining signal processing and machine learning to recognize, manipulate and separate audio signals.

“Right now, if you want to remix a song, for example, you need to know about music production, specialized software and other technical stuff,” Koretzky said.

“TuneSplit will be so simple that a 5-yearold or an 80-year-old could do it.” TuneSplit, Koretzky said, has widespread appeal. Casual listeners could tinker with it for fun. DJs could use other artists’ content to create new remixes, even combining instruments from different songs, and split the proceeds among the artists, music labels and themselves. Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services might license the technology for user enjoyment.

To be sure, artists, DJs and producers have long sampled songs to create new ones., For example, MC Hammer had a mega-hit with “U Can’t Touch This,” built on the pulsating bass line from Rick James’ “Super Freak.” More recently, Justin Timberlake sampled 1973’s “Sho Nuff” by Sly, Slick & Wicked for his smash “Suit & Tie.”

What’s new is that with TuneSplit, anybody — not just tech-savvy producers and DJs — could take existing songs and fashion new masterworks. Think of it as democratizing music creation.

What’s more, as its technology improves, Koretzky envisions the television and movie industries using TuneSplit to better isolate dialogue shot outside and in other noisy environments, allowing studios to avoid costly edits and rework.

“There are some programs that are doing this, but they’re at their nascent  stages,” said Midge Costin, the Kay Rose Endowed Chair in the Art of Sound and Dialogue Editing at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and a former Hollywood sound editor. “So anything that can separate a voice and clean up noisy background would be a major benefit to the film industry. It would be incredible to take the purity of the performance away from a noisy background.”

TuneSplit’s prospects are such that the burgeoning company has landed a coveted spot in the USC Viterbi Startup Garage. The Garage offers mentoring, legal advice, office space and other strategic resources to a select group of budding business builders over a six-month period.

“They’re solving a very hard, interesting problem, and they have the right expertise to take a stab at building a great company,” said Ashish Soni, founding director of the Startup Garage, which has given the team access to powerful computing that allows members to run their algorithms in the cloud.

In the Garage, the TuneSplit team is working on improving its technology to separate vocals and other instruments, a real challenge given the mathematical complexity of source separation, said Eduardo Pavez, a USC Viterbi Ph.D. student in electrical engineering and TuneSplit’s research scientist.

At present, the company’s algorithms work well isolating bass, drums and piano. However, TuneSplit executives remain confident they can surmount the technological challenges, especially with so much support from “the USC environment, the Startup Garage and the School of Engineering,” Pavez added.

The company hopes to have a music player app on the market by next year and add technologies and products over time.

“The company has great potential,” said USC Viterbi Professor Jay Kuo, who supervised Koretzky’s research that later developed into TuneSplit. “And it has a deep technological root, which makes it difficult to copy.”

If the past is a predictor of the future, then TuneSplit’s appears bright. That’s partly because of Koretzky, a Fulbright Presidential Scholar, engineer, entrepreneur and musician. At 31, he has already founded several successful businesses.

Two decades ago, he started a company that sold organic spices, anticipating the market for natural foods. Six years later, at 18, Koretzky created ALEK, a Web design firm he ran for five years that landed clients throughout South America and Europe.

After a stint as a Motorola software engineer from 2010 to 2012, Koretzky co-founded tuQuejaSuma.com, an online platform that allows customers to post complaints and companies to give immediate feedback and solutions, turning a negative interaction into a potentially positive one. Koretzky remains an adviser to the growing company.

And then there’s the music. As Ximetria’s leader, he has somehow managed to keep the band together, even though his bandmates live in Cordoba, Argentina. Ximetria recently released its second studio album, “Outliers.”

“I’m a dreamer and a doer,” Koretzky said. “To me the most important thing is to have an opportunity to create, whether it’s in engineering, business or music.”