In an otherwise boring conversation about some press release or another, a Spotify PR person mentioned to me that an artist who had a big hit on the platform’s Fresh Finds playlist was discovered when one of the curators just happened to see them play a show in Bushwick. I was as surprised as anyone really can be by an email from corporate PR.
Fresh Finds is one of Spotify’s prized products, a weekly playlist crafted from a combination of two different data inputs: it identifies new, possibly interesting music with natural language processing algorithms that crawl hundreds of music blogs, then puts those songs up against the listening patterns of users their data designates “trendsetters.” What’s going to a show in Bushwick have to do with it? I had visions of a bunch of suits using their business cards to get into cool shows for no reason other than to feel like Vinyl-era record execs for a night. It seemed extremely redundant, and more than a little like posturing. Why bother?
“It's basically their job,” I was told. Okay but, excuse me, how is that a playlist curator’s job? To find out, I asked if I could tag along with on a few of them on their nights out. I did not expect the answer to be yes, mostly because I thought it should be obvious that my intention was to point out how weird the whole thing was.
But the answer was yes. So, for three weeks, I went with Spotify playlist curators to live performances in Chinatown, Bushwick, and an infamous club on the Lower East Side. I got dozens of half-answers to the question: Why are you here?
Fascinating story by Kaitlyn Tiffany for The Verge on how Spotify is sending curators to live music shows – a process that, according to the company, informs the platform’s tastemakers on what later ends up in popular playlists. As she argues, it’s easy to imagine how Spotify may be planning a lot more behind the scenes.
For the better part of this year, I’ve been using both Spotify and Apple Music. In my opinion, each service does a few things exceptionally well, but, unfortunately, I can’t have all of them in a single music app.
Spotify’s discovery tools for both old and new songs are simply unparalleled in the industry: Discover Weekly continues to surprise me on a weekly basis just like mixtapes used to do. Spotify is everywhere (including my Amazon Echo); I like how it organizes releases on artist pages; and, it’s got a richer selection of user-generated playlists. Apple Music, on the other hand, looks much better than Spotify (I love Apple’s focus on album artworks and large photography), features built-in lyrics, is deeply integrated with the Apple ecosystem, and I’m a fan of the social feed launched with iOS 11. In short: Spotify is superior when it comes to discovery for music aficionados and integration with third-party hardware, but Apple Music is nicer and easier to use for iOS users. I can’t choose because I happen to have a foot in both camps.
Music Business Worldwide reports on a new, multi-year deal Spotify has struck with Universal Music Group. One change tied to the deal is that some new albums from Universal will be exclusive to Premium subscribers for a two-week window. Spotify's CEO Daniel Ek shares:
“We know that not every album by every artist should be released the same way, and we’ve worked hard with UMG to develop a new, flexible release policy. Starting today, Universal artists can choose to release new albums on premium only for two weeks, offering subscribers an earlier chance to explore the complete creative work, while the singles are available across Spotify for all our listeners to enjoy.”
Another change brought by the new deal is highlighted at the end of the article. Quoting a Spotify press release:
'The new agreement will also provide UMG with unprecedented access to data, creating the foundation for new tools for artists and labels to expand, engage and build deeper connections with their fans.'
Although this information is spun by Spotify as a positive, it may be concerning to any more privacy-conscious users.
We’ve teamed up with Sonos to make it easier than ever to keep the music going strong. Now Spotify Premium users can control their Sonos straight from the Spotify app using Spotify Connect. Use all the features you love about Spotify: the curation, discovery, and sharing and hear it all throughout your home in crystal clear sound. You can also access the multiroom power of the Sonos home sound system directly in the Spotify app. We’ve brought out the best of both worlds to give you the smartest and most seamless home sound system yet.
I've been trying this in beta for the past couple of months, and it has worked well with my Sonos PLAY:1. The feature is based on Spotify Connect, which is fast and doesn't route all system audio to a single device. In my experience, using Spotify Connect with a Sonos speaker has been much more reliable than streaming music to AirPlay or Bluetooth speakers.
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.
Josh Constine, writing for TechCrunch:
The first unofficial single-track remixes just went live on Spotify and Apple Music thanks to their partnerships with music rights management service Dubset.
Apple struck a deal with Dubset in March, and Spotify did in May, BPMSupreme reported. But the remixes are finally beginning to stream today, starting with this DJ Jazzy Jeff remix of Anderson .Paak.
This sounds like good news for users, DJs, content owners as well as Apple and Spotify. Dubset will scan a mix uploaded to its service and use the Gracenote audio fingerprinting database to detect which songs were used in the mix. Royalties paid by Apple and Spotify will be distributed to the original rights holders.
Stephen White [Dubset CEO] says 700 million people listen to mixed content a month, making it a big opportunity. But record labels have historically fought against unofficial mixes because they considered them piracy since they weren’t getting paid. Dubset gives them a fair share, so they’ll permit remixes and mix sets to stream on the major platforms. Royalty revenue from the platform is shared with rights holders while Dubset gets a cut.
At WWDC in June, Apple announced ‘Discovery Mix,’ a playlist of Apple Music songs based on your musical taste, similar in name and substance to Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist. When iOS 10 launched, the name of Apple’s music discovery playlist had changed to My New Music Mix and was joined by a second playlist that wasn’t discussed at WWDC – My Favorites Mix. Both Apple Music playlists are updated weekly.
Spotify didn’t have a favorites mix of its own until today when it responded with Daily Mix, a daily playlist featuring tracks that users mark as favorites as well as new music. According to Spotify:
As your music taste evolves, so will your Daily Mix. In fact, the more you listen, the better your Mixes will become – offering an effortless music experience based entirely on your personal listening habits. Don’t like that new discovery? Simply “ban” a tune to remove it from future playlists. If you love it, be sure to “heart” the hit to add it to your collection.
Spotify’s Daily Mix adds some nice touches that differentiate it from Apple Music’s My Favorites Mix. I like the idea of a more frequently updated daily mix, but I wonder whether adding new music to the mix makes sense in this context. One of the benefits of a favorites mix is knowing you will like everything played. Adding new music potentially undermines that.
Daily Mix is currently available on iOS (in the latest update to the iOS app) and Android only. Spotify says other platforms will be added soon.
In a March blog post announcing layoffs, Sonos CEO John MacFarlane made cryptic comments about bringing voice control to Sonos that specifically called out Amazon’s work with the Echo. According to The Verge and Variety, Sonos unveiled plans today to integrate Sonos with Amazon’s popular line of voice-controlled products beginning in 2017. A video released by the companies shows a family using an Amazon Echo Dot to play music, skip tracks, get artist information, and pause music. It is unclear from reports whether the Amazon integration is limited to Amazon’s music products or will be available to use with other services too.
Variety is also reporting that Sonos has struck a deal with music streaming service Spotify to allow Spotify customers to stream music to Sonos speakers directly from Spotify’s mobile app. Spotify will begin beta testing the new integration in October.
In February, Sonos added support for Apple Music in its own app. With these latest deals Sonos appears to be taking a Netflix-like approach to ensure it remains relevant by integrating with as many services and platforms as possible. The strategy makes a lot of sense given today's highly competitive music streaming landscape.
For more on the Amazon/Sonos announcement, check out the video after the break.
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.