C Story

Songza ‘Casts onto TV

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - 3:10pm

Songza updated its iOS and Android apps today, adding Chromecast capability. Google Chromecast is a thumb-sized WiFi device that plugs into a digital television’s HDMI port. when activated, Chromecast streams content from partner providers, or from anything playing on Google’s chrome browser.

The little Chromecast device has made big noise as a cheap ($35) WiFi enabler for TV sets, competing directly with Roku and Apple TV.

Songza joins Pandora among Chromecast-enabled music services, as well as Netflix and Hulu among video sites. Distributing music service to the TV might not seem intuitive, but it covers situations in which a TV room does not have any other audio system in it.

Also in Songza’s press release is an announcement of new Christmas playlists -- 75 of them, from “Classic Christmas” to “Mad Men Christmas” (the latter for when drinking many glasses of eggnog, we presume).

Rhapsody’s new Track Match: a good feature with uneven performance

Monday, December 9, 2013 - 12:20pm

Song recognition apps like Shazam and SoundHound tap into a widespread desire to identify music in any environment. Shazam has been downloaded from the Android app store over 100-million times; SoundHound has seen over 50-million downloads. One use for these apps is to identify songs on the radio and integrate them into personal online playlists via music services.

Music service Rhapsody upgraded its Android app with something called Track Match, to solve the music-recognition need within its full-featured subscription platform. It’s a good idea -- you hear something, tell Rhapsody to identify it, save it in your library. The feature makes the celestial jukebox more connected to the real world of sound.

How well does it work?

Ideal Conditions

To test Track Match’s ear, we started easy. Using mid-level computer speakers streaming another music service (not Rhapsody), we held up an Android smartphone running Rhapsody’s Track Match feature. The phone was about three feet away from the speakers.

We started with two electronica tracks: “Interloper” (Carbon Based Lifeforms) and “Merlion” (Emancipator). Rhapsody failed to recognize either one. Rough start -- even more so when we put Shazam and SoundHound on the trail of those two tracks, and both apps identified them without hesitation.

Was the music too obscure for an initial test? Probably not, as both tracks appear in the Rhapsody catalog. We veered a bit toward pop mainstream with “You’ll Find Love” (The Cutes). The result was odd. Rhapsody did not recognize The Cutes, but did seem to know the track title, and displayed a list of other tracks whose titles contained “find love” (e.g. “You’ll Never Find Another Love”). This perplexing result cause some head-scratching in the RAIN office, but onward.

Persevering, we played “Rescue” (Yuna), and “Burn” (Ellie Goulding). Success! Rhapsody Track Match proudly identified both songs. In the heart of the mainstream, we tested “Alien” from Britney Spears’ new album, and Michael Buble’s holiday classic, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” No problem with those.

Classical Success

Classical music provides an interesting laboratory for track-matching. The standard classical repertoire has been recorded dozens of times by different performers -- it is all cover music, when you think about it. So apps like Shazam, SoundHound, and Rhapsody Track are challenged to identify the piece (for example, Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”) and the performer (one of the innumerable pianists whose recordings of that piece are in the standard catalog).

We started with the “Moonlight,” and Rhapsody hit both marks. We tried an orchestral work: Tchaikovksy’s “Cappriccio Italien.” Bingo. We did others, and Rhapsody kept pace. (Interestingly, Rhapsody started as an all-classical service in 2001 before quickly expanding to all genres.)

Listening to Itself

It occurred to us that Rhapsody might have trouble recognizing music as played through another service. That wouldn’t be an excuse, of course -- any song-identification program must deal with poor listening conditions of all sorts. Still, we set up a Rhapsody echo chamber, playing the first two (unrecognized) electronica cuts from Rhapsody’s web app, through the same speakers. It got them! Perhaps the encoding process or compression rate differed in the two tests, but again, it’s still a fail if the matching app cannot cut through sonic issues. Speaking of sonic issues... 

We simulated real-world conditions by simultaneously playing music and a sound effect of crowd noise. We laid in the noise pretty heavily. Going back to Britney Spears and Michael Buble, Rhapsody teased out the music through the crowd sound.

The Upshot

We’re glad Rhapsody introduced this differentiating feature. We hope for reliability improvements to come.

Proliferation Treatise (aka Counting the Devices)

Thursday, December 5, 2013 - 12:10pm

One reason that listening hours per week per capita to Internet radio are increasing (according to both the annual Arbitron-Edison "Infinite Dial" study and easy math you can do with monthly Triton Digital press releases) and listening hours per week per capita to AM/FM radio seem to be declining (if you're an Arbitron subscriber, check Persons Using Radio (PUR) trends in your market) has got to be due to a number that is sneaking up on us: How many devices do we own that pick up each medium?

Let's do a quick count. I think the answer will be enlightening (or alarming, depending on which side of the fence you feel you're on nowadays):

Regarding the number AM/FM radios I own, even though I'm atypical in that I have lots of emotional connections to the Chicago stations I used to work at, and have friends that still work for various stations in town, my personal count is down:

I spent decades waking up to a clock radio with AM/FM, but my last Sony model went into storage about four years ago as I started using the alarm feature on my smartphone instead.

Like many of you, I used to have a great big stereo system (amplifier, AM/FM receiver, tape deck, CD player, and giant speakers), but that went away in pieces over the last decade as I ripped my CDs onto my iMac and replaced my TV sound system with a soundbar.

I used to have an FM Walkman of one type or another for running, but now, since I use the Nike Plus app on my smartphone for measuring my speed and distance, of course it makes sense to use the same device for accompanying music.

My parents have an AM/FM radio in their kitchen, atop the refrigerator, but I never picked up that habit.

Again, I'm atypical that, as a Chicagoan, I have "cut the cord" on car ownership thanks to an improved CTA (and apps that tell me when buses and trains are due), Uber (better and cheaper than taxis), and Zipcars (car rental by the hour), so no more AM/FM in the car in the garage since there's no more car.

I used to have a compact stereo system in my study, but its one-CD capacity seemed so old-school that it's in "temporary" storage somewhere, replaced by a speaker dock for my iPad.

Total household count: Down in the past decade from six or seven to either one (if I can find my missing iPod Nano, which has FM) or none.

Meanwhile, let's do the count of the number of devices in my household on which I can access Internet radio:

  • Current iPhone 4S
  • Older iPhone (used as alarm clock, etc.)
  • iPad (especially when paired with speaker dock)
  • Apple TV (attached to older TV)
  • PlayStation 3
  • New LG Smart TV (my big splurge of the season) 
  • Decrepit (but still plugged-in) HP Windows 7 PC
  • Seldom-used (due to hideously bad user interface) Dell Windows 8 touchscreen PC
  • Regularly-used iMac
  • Seldom-used laptop (as I transition to becoming a full-time tablet user)
  • Squeezebox Radio (purchased in 2011 but seldom used, as I prefer the iPad in the speaker dock).

So that's generously a 10:1 ratio in favor of Internet radios (of one form or another) over AM/FM radios.

As I said, I'm sure I'm atypical...but feel free try it yourself! And then try it with your parents, your siblings, your friends, and/or your in-laws.

I'll bet the general conclusion will be the same: More active Internet radios than AM/FM radios.

There are fads, and there are trends. (According to the marketing consultants Jack Trout & Al Ries, you want to avoid getting caught up in the former and take the latter seriously.)

This one is a trend.

Beats Music promises January launch

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 - 11:00am

After months of leaks, the outlook for Beats Music is suddenly more specific and official. The service will debut in January, as announced by CEO Ian Rogers in his blog.

“We’re nearly ready for liftoff. Thanks to your diligent testing and feedback we are locked and loaded, ready to launch here in the US in January, 2014.” 

The service is accepting name claims, so let the name-grab begin. Go here to register early with a preferred user name. 

Edison Research partners with Triton Digital for The Infinite Dial 2014

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 12:40pm

Edison Research and Triton Digital today announced a partnership to produce The Infinite Dial 2014, the 16th year of that influential study. The report’s findings will be presented at RAIN Summit West on April 6 in Las Vegas, as they have been in previous years. (See RAIN’s coverage of The Infinite Dial here.)

The Infinite Dial is a widely-cited study of digital media usage. In past years the report has touched on how consumers use AM/FM, online radio, smartphones, and tablets. The 2014 study promises new information about mobile consumption, and iTunes Radio. According to the press release, “The study will also continue its coverage of podcasting, social media, and other consumer behaviors related to audio and video consumption.” 

The Infinite Dial report has been produced 21 times over 16 years. One of its most valuable aspects is the trended data on media usage. Previous studies have been produced in partnership with Arbitron, which was acquired earlier this year by Nielsen, and rebranded as Nielsen Audio. The Triton relationship replaces the Arbitron partnership.

AccuRadio is highest user-rated app on Android

Monday, December 2, 2013 - 12:15pm

AccuRadio, the Internet radio platform with over 900 home-curated genre stations, compiled user rankings in the Google Play store of Android music apps, and determined that AccuRadio is the highest-rated app among radio and music subscription apps. (Disclosure: AccuRadio CEO Kurt Hanson was the founding editor of RAIN.)

AccuRadio’s combined rankings in Android’s five-star system add up to 4.75 stars. Other streamers which landed in the top five included Songza, with its “life moments” concierge-style playlisting, and Digitally Imported, a boutique Internet radio operation specializing in the electronica genre.

John Gehron, COO of AccuRadio, told us, “It’s great when our in-house team’s work is validated by our listeners. Our tech team and music programmers have worked hard to make the user experience enjoyable.”

According to the press release, the study intended to be comprehensive of North America-based businesses whose apps have been updated within the last six months. The result is a user-ranking survey of 57 Android music and radio apps.

A few other points of note:

  • Music ID services Shazam and Soundhound were among the six most-reviewed apps in the cohort.
  • Pandora received twice as many user rankings (1.1-million) across all stars as the next most-reviewed app, Shazam (545,000).
  • In the top five most-reviewed apps, the lowest-scoring was Google Play Music, which came in 35th.
  • TuneIn and iHeartRadio, the leading digital radio aggregators, were the 7th and 8th best-ranked, respectively.
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