Posts tagged with "music"

The New musiXmatch Widget for iOS 8

I've talked about musiXmatch, an app to find lyrics for songs playing on your device, before here on MacStories. Earlier this year, I covered the app's new version for iOS 7, noting how an officially-licensed database of lyrics with a polished interface makes it a superior choice for anyone who wants to read song lyrics on iOS:

Overall, musiXmatch is impressive and accurate. I've discovered lyrics for hundreds of songs and finally learned some of my favorite ones thanks to musiXmatch. The app can listen to songs playing on the same device, and its integration with iOS' local music library means it can display lyrics for songs you already have without having to use the microphone at all. I mostly find myself trying to find lyrics for songs that are playing on my computer or iPad, and the app's on-time, licensed lyrics provide a great experience for those interested in knowing the lyrics of songs they like.

musiXmatch rarely fails to find lyrics for me, and I like its design and integration with Apple's Music app. And last week, they released an iOS 8 update with one of the most impressive widgets I've seen to date.

Here's how it works: start playing a song in Apple's Music app, open Notification Center, and musiXmatch will show you synced lyrics that follow the song you're listening to. If you're used to the traditional musiXmatch experience (in the iOS app or one of their desktop integrations, such as Spotify), you'll recognize the service's display of lyrics and timeliness – only as a widget on iOS.

From both technical and user experience perspectives, this is excellent work from the musiXmatch team. Over the weekend, I tested the widget with music I had in iTunes Match, albums I synced locally, and, today, Taylor Swift's new album, and musiXmatch always found lyrics and displayed them at the right time in the widget, which needs less than a second to appear (tested on an iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6; obviously, musiXmatch needs an Internet connection to work). The widget also has buttons to open the Trending, Music ID, and Search sections in the musiXmatch app as well as playback controls, but synced lyrics with artwork preview in Notification Center were the highlight of this update.

Unfortunately, due to iOS limitations, musiXmatch can't display lyrics in the widget for third-party music streaming services such as Spotify, Rdio, or Apple's Beats Music, but it'll work for apps that use Apple's Music as the background player. The widget can't access the device microphone to identify a song without launching the app, and, for now, musiXmatch can't display lyrics in the widget for iTunes Radio streams either. These limitations narrow the potential user base (people who only use Spotify or Beats won't see lyrics in Notification Center), but hopefully musiXmatch will be able to develop some kind of integration with third-parties.

The musiXmatch widget for iOS 8 is too good to pass up. If you use Apple's Music app and would like a way to see synced lyrics with a single swipe, download musiXmatch for free from the App Store.


Albums for iPhone

In the increasing complexity of music streaming apps that put several layers of interface and navigation between the launch experience and listening to your favorite songs, Albums is a refreshingly simple music player that lets you search, bookmark, and play your favorite albums. Developed by Louie Mantia and Caleb Thorson, I was skeptical about the app's premise when I saw its one screenshot and read its iTunes description, but there is something about it that resonates with me and that has been elegantly executed in this first release.

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Shazam Rolls Out Beats Music Integration

As noted by several users yesterday, Shazam has begun rolling out Beats Music integration in their app, allowing users to stream tagged songs off Apple's service. Similarly, both 9to5Mac and Engadget report that Spotify integration is back in Shazam, as also confirmed by a support document. The feature mirrors Rdio integration for songs recognized in Shazam, launched last month.

With Shazam becoming Apple's official partner for Siri in iOS 8, it makes sense for the dedicated Shazam app to offer more options to its users – hopefully, this time Shazam won't decide to pull these integrations.

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Shazam for Mac: Background Song Recognition in the Menu Bar

I was surprised to hear last week that Shazam, makers of the popular music recognition app that's going to be integrated with Siri in iOS 8, had launched a desktop app for OS X, available for free on the Mac App Store. I always associated Shazam with the portability and instant-on nature of the iPhone: you hear a song playing, you want to know what it is, you pull out Shazam and let it work its magic. That's why I've never managed to get used to Shazam on the iPad and why I seldom use all the features that the company has tacked onto the app over the years: fundamentally, I see Shazam as the music recognition app for iPhone, and that's it.

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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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