Posts tagged with "music"

Albums Down, Stream Equivalents Nearly Double

Ed Christman, writing for Billboard:

While digital streaming revenue growth continues to offset the decline in digital album and track sales, the music industry still has the same problem it has wrestled with for over a decade: physical music's decline is outpacing digital's growth.

The numbers aren't completely surprising considering the trend suggested in a report from January, but I find it interesting to think about the future of streaming services and consolidation.

Right now, the big independent players (Spotify, Rdio, and Deezer) tend to implement both on-demand and radio features; radio services like Pandora and iTunes Radio still exist, but they haven't expanded outside the US (except for Australia and iTunes Radio); Google and Apple are still working on their own streaming solutions, with Google seemingly focusing on curation and Apple now in charge of Beats Music.

If this industry trend continues on a worldwide scale and big tech companies (including Amazon and Microsoft, too) iterate on their streaming products, it will be interesting to see how many of these names will stick around and which ones will be integrated with other products, get acquired, or shut down. Will music streaming become a feature of smartphones and computers?

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Google Buys Songza

In more music news, Google just announced they're acquiring Songza, a music streaming and recommendation service available in the US and Canada.

The Verge writes:

Google announced today that it's acquiring the streaming-music service Songza for an undisclosed sum. Over the coming months it will be integrating the company's smart playlist creation into Google Play Music and perhaps YouTube. Songza will remain an active and independent app for the time being. The purchase highlights the increasingly competitive landscape emerging around music, as Apple, Amazon, and Google all seek to differentiate their mobile products by offering top-notch streaming services.

Here's the Google announcement:

They’ve built a great service which uses contextual expert-curated playlists to give you the right music at the right time. We aren't planning any immediate changes to Songza, so it will continue to work like usual for existing users. Over the coming months, we’ll explore ways to bring what you love about Songza to Google Play Music. We'll also look for opportunities to bring their great work to the music experience on YouTube and other Google products.

Songza also notes that “no immediate changes” are planned, although that usually means that specific features will be integrated into other Google products or that the acquired app (Songza is available on both iOS and Android) will be removed from sale:

Today, we’re thrilled to announce that we’re becoming part of Google. We can’t think of a better company to join in our quest to provide the perfect soundtrack for everything you do.

Songza went through several iterations, and in 2011 it relaunched to focus on curated music recommendations provided by its own team of music experts; in 2012, the company launched a Concierge feature to recommend music based on situations and moods, with filters to refine selections and vote songs. Here's a Billboard article with a review of Concierge from March 2012.

There are many parallels with Beats Music, which seems to confirm that human music curation as an aid to algorithms and traditional search matters.

Music curation is one of themes of 2014 at this point – even Spotify revamped their app homepage to prominently feature curated playlists and recommendations based on mood and time of the day. It'll be interesting to see what Apple and Google will do with their acquisitions.

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Beats Music and Curation

Tim Cook, in an interview with Re/Code's Peter Kafka about the Beats deal and Beats Music's curation:

We get a subscription music service that we believe is the first subscription service that really got it right. They had the insight early on to know how important human curation is. That technology by itself wasn’t enough — that it was the marriage of the two that would really be great and produce a feeling in people that we want to produce. They’ve also built an incredible premium headphone business that’s been tuned by experts and critical ears. We’re fans of that. It’s a reasonable-size business that’s fast-growing.

The focus on curation and editorial picks was immediately clear when Beats Music launched in January. The service's front page featured a collection of curated playlists (handpicked by humans) provided through automatic recommendations based on user taste and listening habits.

From my original article, Why Beats Music Matters:

Computers and algorithms, in spite of modern advancements in data extraction and parsing, don’t understand things like artistic influences, song meanings, subtle references, or the “mood” of a song. Computers can’t compute emotion. They can’t understand what’s behind Dave Grohl’s “Best of You” at Wembley or why Death Cab For Cutie’s Transatlanticism is an album about long distance love. Computers don’t have the human touch, and I believe that they will never be able to fully, empathically replicate the ability to appreciate music as an artistic expression.

That’s why Beats Music hired people knowledgeable about music and uses algorithms as a tool, and not the medium: there’s more to music than data.

If the plan comes together, Beats Music has a serious chance at reinventing how music streaming services should work. I’m optimistic.

And here's how Beats Music describes their editorial team's efforts:

At Beats Music, our mission is to create playlists and make music recommendations based on songs that feel right together, at the right time, and for the right person… not just that sound alike.

That can’t be done with an algorithm. It requires a real human with a trained ear for blending genres and styles and a knowledge of what song comes next.

The Beats Music part of the Apple-Beats deal was highlighted in several sections of today's press statements and interviews, suggesting that Apple (unlike what speculation implied over the past weeks) saw potential in the relatively young Beats Music service. Here's Tim Cook in an interview with The New York Times:

“Could Eddy’s team have built a subscription service? Of course,” he said. “We could’ve built those 27 other things ourselves, too. You don’t build everything yourself. It’s not one thing that excites us here. It’s the people. It’s the service.”

Unlike subscriber numbers and country availability, music knowledge and culture can't be quantified, but they're extremely valuable. With Beats, Apple isn't simply buying a popular brand of headphones and a music app – they're investing in fashion sense, the interplay of technology and culture for music, and a team of people with a profound appreciation and understanding of music history and trends. And this drives analysts crazy because it can't be visualized with a pie chart.

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The Skip

Skipping has become an important part of how we listen to music. It is no surprise then, that ‘unlimited skipping’ is a feature used to entice people to upgrade to a premium paid account. And it may be one of the reasons why people would switch from a service that doesn’t offer unlimited skips even on their premium service to one that does.

Fascinating analysis of Spotify data by Paul Lamere. I would have expected the difference between mobile and desktop to be higher, especially because smartphones and tablets have playback controls available in the Lock screen.

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Owning Music vs. Acquiring Music

Brad Hill, writing at RAIN News about the shift from owning music to acquiring it through Internet streaming services and the importance of “music ID” apps:

One growing catalyst of this trend is the music-identification app, a category dominated by Shazam and SoundHound. These apps, which identify music wherever in the world it is heard, bring the “celestial jukebox” down to earth where it is even more vast and connected to the user.

Increasingly, these apps function as pivot points between what you hear and how you acquire. They enable purchasing an identified song in iTunes, for those who still favor outright ownership. But more ominously for music-download merchants, Shazam and SoundHound can fling your song discoveries into some of the most popular on-demand services.

Years after the launch of Shazam and SoundHound, it still feels incredible to me that you can hold your phone up to a speaker to recognize any song in seconds. Apple has reportedly recognized the value of music ID software, and they may be planning to integrate Shazam into Siri for iOS 8.

I hope that, if true, this integration won't be exclusive to Siri's voice activation system, because one of the best things about Shazam is that you only need to tap the app icon to start listening. A voice-only command would ruin Shazam's immediacy (not to mention that Siri would have issues understanding your voice command if loud music is playing). Ideally, it'd be great to simply activate Siri with a tap & hold of the Home button anywhere on iOS and let it listen to whatever's playing with no voice input required.

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Soundflake Review: A Music Player for SoundCloud

While my daily music listening needs are mostly fulfilled by Spotify1 and my personal library in iTunes Match2, I do follow a couple of artists on SoundCloud and I enjoy using the service to play a variety of mashups and records from independent creators that I can't find anywhere else. I'm not a huge SoundCloud user, but I've always had an affinity for the website's interface and the company's focus.

Created by Stefan Kofler and Patrick Schneider, Soundflake is a new SoundCloud client for iPhone that wants to provide a better experience than the official app through a modern design, advanced features, and gesture controls that make managing playback and sharing a faster and more intuitive affair. After trying Soundflake for about a month, I don't see why – as an occasional SoundCloud music listener – I would go back to using SoundCloud's app for iPhone.

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