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.
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.
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.
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.
Fun – and informative – look at GarageBand by The Verge, featuring T-Pain. I know what you're thinking – T-Pain makes those horrible auto-tuned songs that somehow kids like. Music tastes aside, the guy knows what he's talking about: he's been making music on GarageBand for years, and he makes solid points about integrating the app with third-party tools and using it on the go.
T-Pain laughs off the criticism when I ask him about it. "That’s weird," he says. "It’s totally legitimate." GarageBand has become a lot more capable over time, he says, offering more granular control over sounds, the ability to manage more tracks, and — a new feature in this release — the use of third-party apps, like iMaschine, as additional instruments. It has nowhere near the power of Logic, but T-Pain says he sees Apple bringing more of Logic's features down to GarageBand, rather than stripping things out of GarageBand for further ease of use. That makes Garageband a useful tool for putting together ideas when he’s outside the studio. "Usually when I open up GarageBand, I'm not in a place where I can start belting out lyrics and recording," he says, mentioning that he often uses the app while traveling. "I'm trying to get a solid production piece out of it. And that usually happens."
Also of note: T-Pain's home studio and diamond-encrusted Apple Watch.
Like many musicians, Voice Memos has become a quick and easy way for me to record my music ideas. Sometimes I just hum the idea, but most of the time I’ll be playing my guitar and just reach over and tap record. If I don’t record the idea then and there, it’s gone forever.
I have hundreds of these little snippets on my iPhone. Sometimes I work them into full songs, sometimes I combine different ideas to make a song and sometimes they just sit there because I have no idea what they are.
Apple took the idea of Voice Memos and expanded it for musicians with a new iOS app called Music Memos.
In his overview, Jim mentions other features – such as tagging and organization of files – which will come in handy for musicians recording their ideas on iOS.