Release Radar's first take.
Earlier today, Spotify unveiled Release Radar, an algorithmically-generated playlist updated Friday and designed to recommend new music. Like Discover Weekly, Release Radar tailors suggestions dynamically for your tastes, with the difference that it highlights newly released music from the past few weeks instead of anything you might be interested in. Essentially, Release Radar aims to be Discover Weekly for new song release.
The Verge has more details on how Spotify approached Release Radar after the success of Discover Weekly:
"When a new album drops, we don’t really have much information about it yet, so we don’t have any streaming data or playlisting data, and those are pretty much the two major components that make Discover Weekly work so well," says Edward Newett, the engineering manager at Spotify in charge of Release Radar. "So some of the innovation happening now for the product is around audio research. We have an audio research team in New York that’s been experimenting with a lot of the newer deep learning techniques where we’re not looking at playlisting and collaborative filtering of users, but instead we’re looking at the actual audio itself."
As a Discover Weekly fan, I think this is a fantastic idea. Discover Weekly has brought back the joy of discovering new music into my life, but the songs it recommends aren't necessarily fresh. I can see Release Radar complement Discover Weekly as the week winds down with songs that I don't know and are also new.
Already in today's first version of Release Radar, I've found some excellent suggestions for songs released in the past two weeks. Spotify has their personalized discovery features down to a science at this point.
Conversely, I'm curious to see what Apple plans to do with their Discovery Mix feature of Apple Music announced at WWDC (shown here with a screenshot). Discovery Mix still hasn't become available after four betas of iOS 10. I'm intrigued, but also a little skeptical.
Lindsay Zoladz, writing for The Ringer, has a great story on the role of the iPod Classic in today's music streaming landscape. I understand where she's coming from, and I found this passage on the paradox of choice particularly accurate:
“When I’m searching for something to listen to on Spotify, I feel like I end up listening to the same albums and artists again and again,” my friend Becca wrote in an email, after I asked a handful of acquaintances about their post-iPod listening habits. “My brain by itself isn’t good at cataloguing everything I love.”
The psychologist Barry Schwartz has written (or, if you don’t have too much time on your hands, has TED-Talked) about a related phenomenon he calls “paradox of choice” — the notion that, although we tend to think of freedom of choice as an inherently good thing, too much choice can leave us feeling paralyzed and anxiety-ridden. “With so many options to choose from,” he says, “people find it very difficult to choose at all.” I personally have proven this theory many times over in the past few months, when I’ve stared for a few moments at the infinite void that is the Apple Music search bar and decided, “I guess I will just listen to Pablo or Lemonade again.” Another friend I emailed summed up the Paradox of Digital Music Listening succinctly: “With device-bound listening, I absolutely feel limited by [storage] space. With streaming, I feel limited by my own memory.”
This is why I often buy videogames from a small shop in my hometown. I could open the App Store, or the eShop, or the PlayStation Store, and buy anything I want. But there's just so much stuff. There's too many games and too many reviews and too many Let's Plays to choose from. Sometimes, it's nice to have fewer options.
I've always loved the idea of someone else making a mixtape for me.
When I was in middle school and until the first year of high school, we didn't have the Internet at home. My parents were against buying me a PC; they thought it was a waste of time. Unlike many of my friends, I depended on books and magazines for my school research and hobbies. I was a voracious reader.
That was 2002. I wasn't exactly a music fan back then: I heard music on the radio in my mom's car on the way to school in the morning, and I occasionally slid my dad's cassette tapes in our Siemens Club 793 stereo, but he only listened to Italian music. I wanted the English stuff.
Until one day my friend Luca told me about MP3s and compact discs with hundreds of songs on them. By leaving his computer plugged in all night, he explained elatedly, he could download any music he wanted from the Internet using programs with exotic names I had never heard – WinMX, eMule, iMesh. Then, all those songs could be "burned" onto a CD as MP3s, and I could play them back for as long as I wanted with a CD player.
I was 14, we were chatting after school, and I didn't know what piracy was. And then, the surprise: because he knew I didn't have the Internet (or a computer), he had made a sample CD for me with about 30 songs on it. He gave me the CD, told me to buy a CD player for myself, and he concluded with "Get back to me soon about the songs you like. I put in a bit of everything except Italian music".
Fourteen years ago, I was handed the first mixtape someone ever made for me.
The front page of SoundHound is...busy.
It's no surprise that SoundHound has been looking to expand beyond song recognition, but their latest update to the original SoundHound app for iOS is interesting for a couple of reasons.
Today, Mateus Abras launched SoundShare 2.7, a social network for music lovers. SoundShare is an iPhone-only app designed to break down the walls between competing streaming services so that it's easier to share music with your friends. Integration with Apple Music, Spotify, and Deezer allows music sharing with others and collaboration on playlists regardless of which service your friends use.
The social aspect works on the familiar follower/following model. When you play songs in SoundShare by giving it access to your streaming service, they are added to your SoundShare music stream after thirty seconds. If you prefer to listen to your music through a different app, you can add songs to your stream, or a SoundShare playlist, with SoundShare's extension. Your followers can then listen to the songs in your stream using whichever service they prefer, add your songs to their streaming service, incorporate songs into SoundShare playlists, post comments, send SoundShare links, and like songs in your stream. The only limitation is that the songs shared must be the libraries of both services for you and your friends to enjoy them.
SoundShare shows a lot of promise. The music streaming market is fragmented and there is little incentive for service providers to build tools to share music across platforms. As a result, third-party developers have begun to step into the void.
I recently reviewed SongShift, a simple utility for transferring music from Spotify to Apple Music and back again. SoundShare aims to take third-party integration of streaming services in an entirely different direction by building a social network on top of streaming services. Social networks are notoriously hard to grow to a size where they reach critical mass and I have some doubts about the extent of the demand for music sharing beyond what is already achievable with existing social networks, but it will be interesting to watch SoundShare try with what in my limited testing is a well-considered, solid app.
SoundShare is a free iPhone-only download from the App Store.
Micah Singleton, writing for The Verge:
Streaming is now the biggest revenue stream for the music industry in the US, generating $2.4 billion in 2015. The RIAA has released its report on the state of the US music industry in 2015, and streaming music has edged out digital downloads in revenue for the first time. After declining last year, the music industry as a whole grew once again in 2015, selling $7 billion worth of music, a 0.9 percent increase from the year prior. Despite declines in digital downloads and physical sales, streaming music has managed to keep the industry on an upward trajectory.
"In 2015, digital music subscription services reached new all-time highs, generating more than $1 billion in revenues for the first time, and averaging nearly 11 million paid subscriptions for the year," RIAA CEO Cary Sherman said in a memo sent out with the report. "Heading into 2016, the number of subscriptions swelled even higher — more than 13 million by the end of December — holding great promise for this year."
The writing has been on the wall for a while, though streaming has edged out digital downloads only by a small portion (0.3%) in the US in 2015.
Count this as another instance of Apple cannibalizing one of its businesses to keep up with the times – we could argue that Apple Music was launched just in time amid a declining trend, without an ad-supported model that the RIAA clearly doesn't like.
(I wonder if YouTube will accelerate the international expansion of YouTube Red anytime soon.)
In a blog post discussing layoffs and the evolution of music streaming services, Sonos CEO John MacFarlane included a cryptic final section on voice recognition and Sonos products:
We’re fans of what Amazon has done with Alexa and the Echo product line. Voice recognition isn’t new; today it’s nearly ubiquitous with Siri, OK Google, and Cortana. But the Echo found a sweet spot in the home and will impact how we navigate music, weather, and many, many other things as developers bring new ideas and more content to the Alexa platform.
Alexa/Echo is the first product to really showcase the power of voice control in the home. Its popularity with consumers will accelerate innovation across the entire industry. What is novel today will become standard tomorrow. Here again, Sonos is taking the long view in how best to bring voice-enabled music experiences into the home. Voice is a big change for us, so we’ll invest what’s required to bring it to market in a wonderful way.
I have no idea what MacFarlane is trying to say here – it could be an Echo/Sonos integration on the horizon (possible with a firmware update) or future Sonos hardware with voice tech built in (seems more likely given the overall tone of the post). "Taking the long view in how best to bring voice-enabled music experiences into the home" doesn't mean much, but I'd love to ask Alexa to play music on my Sonos.
I've long been a fan of Shazam – I use it daily to discover songs I hear on movies and TV shows. Version 9.4, just released on the App Store, finally brings a way to keep recognized songs available on all devices through a Shazam account.
Over the years, I've lost hundreds of tagged songs between clean installs of iOS and Shazam. It's good to know this will no longer be a problem. Version 9.4 has currently rolled out for Shazam Encore only, but I assume the free Shazam app is getting an update shortly as well.
Fascinating look behind the scenes of Adele's 25 album, featuring producer Greg Kurstin, published on Apple's Logic Pro X mini-site. (via MacRumors)
From the backstory of Hello:
The chords were promising, and Kurstin and Adele were able to write most of the song that day. But they couldn’t finish it. “We tried different choruses, but we didn’t quite nail it,” he says. “And I didn’t know if we ever would. I thought maybe this one was going to end up on the shelf.”
But Kurstin was called back six months later to finish the song. He used Logic Pro X instruments and plug-ins to enhance the bass line and drums. More radically, he lowered the entire song a half step at Adele’s request. “We tried really hard with a bunch of different ideas,” he says. “And we finally got it right.”
Don't miss the photos and details on Kurstin's Logic Pro X workflow at the bottom.