Google is revamping Google Play Music with intelligence that it says will deliver the right music at the right time using machine learning. According to a post by Elias Roman, Lead Product Manager for Google Play Music, Google’s streaming music service will go beyond just figuring out what you like from the music you listen to. The update will also take into account context – things like your location, what you’re doing, and even the weather.
As Roman describes it:
To provide even richer music recommendations based on Google’s understanding of your world, we’ve plugged into the contextual tools that power Google products. When you opt in, we’ll deliver personalized music based on where you are and why you are listening — relaxing at home, powering through at work, commuting, flying, exploring new cities, heading out on the town, and everything in between. Your workout music is front and center as you walk into the gym, a sunset soundtrack appears just as the sky goes pink, and tunes for focusing turn up at the library.
In addition, Google has redesigned the Google Play Music home screen to emphasize your favorite music by putting it right at the top of the screen and adjusting what’s shown based on your context. The service will also automatically create an offline playlist of recently played songs for subscribers to listen to when they have no data connection.
It’s not surprising to see Google take Google Play Music in this direction. One of Google’s biggest competitive advantages is the data it knows about you from its many products. This sort of assistive technology is already baked into products like Google Photos and it seems natural to bring the same smarts to Google Play Music too.
Google Play Music will begin its world-wide roll-out to sixty-two countries this week on iOS, Android, and the web.
SoundShare is designed to bring music lovers together regardless of the streaming services they use. I reviewed SoundShare back in May when it launched a big update and since then, Matt Abras has continued to refine and improve the app with a series of updates.
Today, SoundShare released an update that includes a great iMessage app. From SoundShare’s iMessage app, you can pick a song from among the iTunes Top 100 list or search for something else using the search bar at the top of the iMessage drawer. Tapping a song adds album art, the title, and artist to a message ready to send with or without a comment.
What makes SoundShare’s iMessage app so handy is that when your recipient taps on the album art, it opens full screen with options to open the song in iTunes, Apple Music, YouTube, or the SoundShare app. This isn’t the full compliment of services that SoundShare works with, but the others (Spotify and Deezer) can be accessed through the ‘Open in SoundShare’ option. That opens the SoundShare iOS app and immediately starts playback of the song with one of those services if you are logged into them through SoundShare.
We have started to see some interesting iMessage apps a month into the iMessage App Store that take advantage of platform. SoundShare is one of my favorites so far because it removes the friction of sharing music. I can send a nicely formatted link to a song without thinking about whether the person on the other end of my message has the correct service to play it.
SoundShare is iPhone-only and can be downloaded for free on the App Store.
Amazon announced its long-anticipated streaming music service, called Amazon Music Unlimited, with a focus on Echo integration and pricing. According to Dan Seifert of The Verge:
…while Spotify relies on its intelligent music recommendation and discovery as a draw and Apple pushes people towards its service with major album exclusives, Amazon is touting Music Unlimited’s tight integration with its Echo devices and Alexa voice assistant as the real differentiator here. Not only do Echo owners have access to a discounted version of the service (though it’s only available on one Echo device at a time), they can request songs from Music Unlimited in a variety of ways just using their voices.
The service also differentiates itself from Spotify, Apple Music, and others with a feature called Side-by-Side that adds artist commentary to certain albums.
For now, Amazon Music Unlimited is available only in the US, but it is scheduled to be released in the UK and Germany later this year according to 9to5Mac. After a 30-day free trial, Amazon Prime members can subscribe to Music Unlimited for $7.99 per month. Non-Prime customers pay $9.99 per month (the same as an individual Apple Music subscription), unless they have an Amazon Echo, in which case the service costs just $3.99 per month. Amazon plans to offer a family plan that can be used by up to six family members for $14.99 per month, the same as Apple Music’s family plan, but it’s not yet available.
Music Unlimited looks like a great deal for Echo owners, but apart from the cost advantage and Echo integration, it remains to be seen how the service’s music selection, playlists, and other core features stack up against competing services.
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.
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.)