With an update released over the weekend, musiXmatch — my favorite lyrics discovery tool for iOS — added support for video playback on iPhone, faster performance for older devices (iPhone 4 and 4S), as well as a new way to quickly get lyrics for the song that’s currently playing in the Music app. (more…)

Mike Beasley:

According to a pair of tweets posted on the official @TwitterMusic account, the app will be removed from the App Store later today and all streaming service will end on April 18th—one year after the app first launched.

Twitter #music launched on April 18, 2013. The #music app wasn't necessarily bad – it had some interesting touches and design details – but its implementation of streaming was confusing, as I noted in my original article:

As a daily music listener, the 1-song limitation is confusing and anachronistic. It feels like Last.fm all over again: in spite of its direct plug into Rdio and Spotify, Twitter will only play one song from an artist – their “top” one, according to Twitter – then move on to the next one. Why is that so? Do they expect users to always want to listen to just one song and jump from artist to artist all the time? I understand this for #NowPlaying, which is a Twitter-like feed for single songs in your timeline, but I can’t seeem to find a good motivation for this choice in other areas of the app. Why wouldn’t I want to listen to three songs from an artist I just discovered while, to use Twitter’s parlance, I keep engaging with him on Twitter?

Twitter never put much effort into #music after that; in the meantime, new on-demand streaming services have arisen and Apple has built iTunes Radio directly into the iOS Music app. It appears, then, that Twitter #music will follow the demise of Ping, Apple's social music recommendation service that never took off.


When I collected my must-have apps at the end of last year, I included musiXmatch in the iPhone and iPad roundups, but never got around publishing a proper review of the app. I’ve been using musiXmatch on a daily basis for the past six months, and I think it offers a solid song lyric-matching experience for iOS.



Every time I go out with friends and we start talking about music, there's always that one guy who wants to play a song and he does so…using YouTube. In spite of the relatively low barrier to entry for services like Spotify and Rdio (both available in Italy with free plans), the convenience of using YouTube as an audio source is indisputable (on top of that, add the fact that most people have a high tolerance for YouTube ads – or ads in general). Personally, I prefer a dedicated music streaming service or my iTunes Match library, but I do rely on YouTube for the occasional live performance or unreleased demo tape that I can't obtain legally anywhere else.

Tuner is a music player for YouTube videos: with a simple search feature, it uses YouTube as an audio source, turning videos into songs you can listen to on your iPhone.


Beats Music

As reported by CNET, Beats Music, the music steaming service that launched two months ago as Beats Electronics' sister company, has introduced an API today. Available here, the Beats Music API will allow third-party developers to integrate their apps with Beats Music to access a catalogue of over 20 million songs and, more importantly, other features such as search, recommendations, playlists, and curated content.

If you're willing to pay $100 a year for music, which in my experience for all the world's music is a tremendous bargain, you should have access to music anywhere you might want it, in your car, house, anywhere,“ Beats Music Chief Executive Ian C. Rogers told CNET in an interview.

A new entry in the music streaming space, Beats Music launched to a substantial marketing campaign that saw a Super Bowl ad and various celebrity endorsements; unlike the major players in the field (Spotify and Rdio), Beats Music comes with a single paid tier that allows for unlimited, high-quality streaming at 320 kbps for $9.99 per month. Beats Music doesn't have ads, and, this point, it has an iPhone app, a somewhat limited web app, and it lacks native apps for the desktop and tablets.

What differentiates Beats Music are the curation efforts that CEO Ian Rogers – a longtime music industry personality – wants to put at the center of the Beats Music experience. Over the course of the past year, the company has built an editorial team of music experts and critics who curate songs and albums in playlists and collections that are then automatically suggested to users. On top of curation, Beats Music allows listeners to receive songs based on their current mood and activity through a feature called "The Sentence”.

All these features are exposed in the API that Beats Music made public today. As the company writes:

Beats Music believes in being as open as possible, because we think the best ideas come from you. This is why we've decided to open up nearly all of our REST resources, which we use ourselves, to everyone.

The Beats Music API comes with fairly common functionalities such as artist and track lookup, audio playback (with two bitrate settings), search, metadata retrieval, and library management, but it also enables developers to access more specific aspects of Beats such as individual options for The Sentence, artist popularity, personal recommendations for “Just For You” items, featured Highlights and Editor Picks, new releases, and playlist subscriptions.

Beats Music' API appears to offer a solution to, effectively, access all the functionalities of the official Beats Music app. Documentation (including terms of service) can be viewed here.

This week, Apple showed Beats Music among the list of initial partners for their CarPlay initiative. With Beats Music entering the crowded space of music streaming and radio services, an API may help the company gain traction among third-party developers quickly, enabling them to feature the service's library and editorial aspects on a variety of devices and platforms. Just yesterday, music steaming service Spotify reported the acquisition of The Echo Nest, a music data company used by hundreds of online music services, including Rdio and MOG, which was acquired by Beats in 2012.


Why Beats Music Matters

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Beats Music

How do you treat music less like data and more like art, and make a business out of it? That’s the question Beats Music, a spin-off of Beats Electronics risen from the acquisition of MOG, wants to answer with their new music streaming and recommendation service.

I first got wind of Beats Music in December, and, when I heard the news last week that Beats Music was launching to the public, I thought I wouldn’t care. As MacStories readers and The Prompt listeners know, I’ve been happily using Rdio for the past three years: Rdio gives me all the music I want, it lets me check out New Releases and subscribe to playlists created by other users, and it’s got a Stations feature that automatically recommends music I may like based on my history and listening data collected about me. There are many reasons why I prefer Rdio over Spotify, which I’ve shared on several occasions in the past. Rdio works: you type stuff in, you get music back. If you don’t want to search, the service gives music to you with recommendations that go from “good” to “great”.

As coverage of Beats Music started coming in and cynics quickly derided the service for being part of a company that makes headphones audiophiles don’t like, I got curious. Beats Music’s CEO Ian Rogers, for instance, has a quite amazing story of being a pioneer of Internet-based music delivery and marketing, working (and touring) alognside Beastie Boys at a very young age, eventually going to work for Nullsoft, Yahoo Music, TopSpin Media, and now Beats Music.

The creation of Beats Music itself was spearheaded by Jimmy Iovine (historic music producer and co-founder of Beats Electronics with Dr. Dre), who ended up hiring Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor as Chief Creative Officer of the new service because Reznor himself had been looking for a new take on music streaming services.

On a product level, Beats Music offers no free tier as it is a paid-only service that delivers 320kbps MP3 streams and promises to pay artists higher royalties thanks to the lack of cheaper, ad-supported streams. When I went to check out Beats Music’s website, I found an honest, well-written FAQ that explained the company’s vision and motivations for launching a paid service just after Spotify and Rdio extended their free tiers to tablets and desktops.

I could go on with a list of factors that contributed to piquing my interest in Beats Music. Such as the way Rogers worded his explanation of the service’s paid-only model, or how he explained their strategy to The Verge and then offered a simple screenshot as proof that ads in music may not always be the best option. Or how Reznor – for context, the guy who left his label to try “alternative” marketing campaigns that included leaving free copies of NIN songs in USB flash drives in bathroom stallssaid that “to brag about being agnostic and just providing access to music seems to me, as a culture person, as a fail” when asked about Spotify’s search and algorithm-based music platform.

As a music lover and iOS geek, it seemed silly to dismiss Beats Music just because of others’ opinions about headphones, and I’m glad I didn’t. I can’t stop using Beats Music. (more…)

Billboard's Ed Christman:

For the first time since the iTunes store opened its doors, the U.S. music industry finished the year with a decrease in digital music sales.

While the digital track sales decline had been expected due to weaker sales in the first three quarters, the digital album downturn comes as more of a surprise as the album bundle had started out the year with a strong first quarter.

Overall for the full year 2013, digital track sales fell 5.7% from 1.34 billion units to 1.26 billion units while digital album sales fell 0.1% to 117.6 million units from the previous year’s total of 117.7 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Nielsen SoundScan hasn't released numbers for streaming services in 2013 yet. However, as reported by Billboard and as we argued on The Prompt, it's very likely that services like Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, and iTunes Radio are contributing to the decrease of digital sales.

There's a convenience in paying a monthly fee to access a virtually infinite catalogue of songs that, for many people, beats the superior quality of iTunes downloads and the idea of ownership of a music file. I suspect that's particularly true for individual tracks (where sales fell 5.7%): why bother purchasing Blurred Lines or Thrift Shop when you can just stream it, for free, using a service that also gives you Top Charts and recommendations if you want to see more popular hits? Even if you don't subscribe to modern streaming services, if you just want to listen to a couple of tracks every day there's a chance you won't hear a single commercial. They're good enough.

Unless all streaming services go out of business soon, I think that the trend of digital track sales will slowly continue downwards for the next few years. Digital album sales are down 0.1% in 2013, which suggests that consumers still like owning an entire album in their collection; from my perspective, this makes sense if you want to a) support an artist you like; b) having access to multiple tracks in one download; and c) having a high-quality version of an album.

Overall, I wouldn't consider this report “bad” news for Apple or iTunes (although it makes for an intriguing headline). The market share of iTunes grew for US album sales (case in point) and Apple has shown that they can still play the exclusivity card pretty well even these days. It would be interesting to know the impact of other Apple initiatives like Mastered for iTunes and iTunes Match. If the market is moving to streaming for digital tracks, I guess that Apple is thinking about this scenario with their reported move in ad sales; for digital album sales, I'd wait to see 2014 numbers next year.


Ecoute 2.1

In my review of Ecoute 2 for iPhone, I noted how the app lacked a proper queue management system to replicate the Up Next feature of iTunes for Mac:

Ecoute has a “Play next” feature, but, alas, there’s no Up Next-like queue management: adding a song to the queue will put it at the top of the queue, not at the bottom after songs you’ve already queued up. On iTunes for Mac, you can either play a song next or add it to Up Next, but Ecoute can only “play next”. Furthermore, the Play Next button is based on another workaround that’s a byproduct of playback managed by the Music app: Ecoute can’t create a real queue in Music, and therefore every time you’ll add a song to the queue you’ll hear a brief interruption as the currently playing song stops and resumes itself. This is a hack, and it works, but it’s not elegant and the app doesn’t have all the queue-related features of iTunes 11, which is unfortunate.

In an otherwise excellent update that made Ecoute 2 my favorite alternative to Apple’s Music app, the lack of Up Next stood out. Fortunately, developers Louka Desroziers and Julien Sagot were already working on improvements to the queue functionality, which are available today in version 2.1 of Ecoute, released on the App Store.

When playing music in Ecoute, you can now choose between “Play Next” and “Add Up Next” from the tap & hold menu; this works for individual songs as well as entire albums or playlists. The way Ecoute’s queue works mirrors iTunes 11: you can play a song immediately after the currently playing one, or you can stack songs at the bottom of the queue.

Up Next can be accessed by tapping the clock icon in the Now Playing screen (which has been redesigned to show blurred album art in the background, like Apple’s Remote app). Songs can be removed and rearranged in the queue, and you can add more through the “+” button in the top left corner. Right now, Ecoute uses the default Music picker to add songs manually to the queue, but the developers confirmed they are working on their own solution.

There are still some bugs and hacks that Ecoute has to employ to work around Apple’s limitations for iTunes Match and queue management on iOS. Overall, though, Up Next is a solid addition to an app that I already considered superior to Music for navigation and responsiveness of the interface. Ecoute is $2.99 on the App Store.

This week, the boys talk about music consumption.

Specifically, we talked about iTunes Match, Rdio, Spotify, and the differences between these services and apps in terms of sound quality, user experience, and royalties paid to artists. I had a lot of fun doing research for this episode and putting together links for the show notes – which I recommend checking out.

We're not done discussing music but this is a good start. Get the episode here.