11/27/13: Is Spotify the new radio?

Brad Hill
November 27, 2013 - 12:05pm

The “Spotify debate” swirls around one core hypothesis: Musicians don’t get enough value from the service. As such, Spotify is a surrogate for music streaming sites, which promote access instead of ownership, and attention instead of purchases.

The debate flared up again this week, in a caustic exchange between Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Moby. Moby called Yorke “an old guy yelling at fast trains.” Yorke emitted a Twitter yawn.

Spotify evangelists, especially founder Daniel Ek, repeatedly preach that it is still early days for streaming, and that massive future scaling will eventually solve complaints about the model’s revenue potential for recording artists. (Spotify’s investors have reportedly bought some time to build into that future with an eye-popping new funding of $250-million.) 

But the entire subject of artist revenue on Spotify might be moot in the long run. What if streaming services are really about exposure of potential stars? What if Spotify’s true role is more about leverage than earnings? In other words, is Spotify the new radio as a hit-making influencer? 

A just-published piece in Forbes lays out a timeline of Lorde’s success in Spotify, identifying Spotify’s role in building awareness of the artist and her not-yet-hit single, “Royals.” Key to this conception of Spotify as a star-maker is the early-mover power of virality inside the app. Two weeks after entering the Spotify catalog, “Royals” was featured on an influential public playlist followed by nearly a million users. That was back in April. From there it jumped to Spotify’s in-house charting system, where it climbed quickly. Two months after that, the song entered radio playlists. One month after that, “Royals” was recognized on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

This timeline is meaningful and emblematic of “crowd wisdom” which is supposed to shape a more democratic media landscape, but which so often doesn’t seem to. The Spotify crowd pushed Lorde into broadcast’s gigantic audience, and onto the charts. As to Spotify’s much-debated role as an earnings machine, “Royals” has been streamed 100-million times in Spotify alone. That would probably furnish a good-news earnings story for the music service if the figures were ever disclosed.

Brad Hill
November 27, 2013 - 12:05pm

The Christmas season begins this weekend, and the Christmas-music season along with it. Actually, as we have observed over the past few weeks, holiday music started in early November, on both the broadcast and pureplay sides of the fence. But in our view, three and a half weeks of Christmas music saturation is sufficient.

Saturation is the watchword of today’s POTD. BRS Media, George Bundy’s enterprise, posts an annual roundup of Internet-delivered Christmas music streams, emanating from radio stations as well as Internet-only stations. (The pureplays are separated into their own list.) With nearly 300 streaming options it is lean-back heaven for anyone who doesn’t want to curate a personal playlist -- although this many choices actually requires some degree of leaning in, just to find the perfect mix. Especially since, well, a few of them didn’t work in our testing. But in the spirit of holiday joviality, we’re ignoring glitches.

The pureplay list has an international scope, which adds fun variety. We are settling into KerstRadio from Rotterdam, which seems, at this minute, to be playing a Dutch version of “Winter Wonderland.” Moge de vreugde van het seizoen met u zijn.

Brad Hill
November 27, 2013 - 12:05pm

Just as Chromecast, a $35 HDMI plug-in dongle from Google, is a simple way to stream video to a television, a little device called Rocki does the same for audio to analog speakers by turning them into WiFi-enabled speakers. Engadget notes that Manhattan-based Rocki has surpassed it Kickstarter goal, and will release the little WiFi enabler in December.

WiFi speaker systems liberate online audio from computers and phones. As such, they can be viewed as home radio replacements. If a speaker is communicating with your audio apps, you can, for example, listen to your favorite NPR programs via TuneIn whenever you want, timeshifted from their broadcast schedule. The app becomes the radio dial, and the WiFi speaker becomes the receiver. 

WiFi speakers (and their siblings, Bluetooth speakers) represent a fairly robust consumer electronics category, bringing mobile audio back into the home. The problem, though, is price. WiFi speakers cost hundreds of dollars … each. The Sonos Play:1 is considered a budget entry to the field, at $200 per speaker. If only there were a way to make analog speakers WiFi-capable.

That is the Rocki angle. The device plugs into speakers via the RCA jack. It works with studio monitors and boomboxes. The simplicity and versatility is attractive. Just as Chromecast threatens Roku and Apple TV, which can seem cumbersome and needlessly expensive by comparison, Rocki could grab some share of the WiFi speaker market -- just in time for the holidays.