C Story

AccuRadio does a Christmas deep dive

Monday, November 11, 2013 - 12:20pm

Last week we noted that many online music services are lagging behind some terrestrial stations in pre-Thanksgiving holiday programming, even though adding it doesn’t displace any non-holiday music -- a choice that broadcast stations must gamble on.

AccuRadio dives deeply in holiday music this week with an extravagant array of 49 fine-tuned stations. (Disclosure: AccuRadio’s CEO is Kurt Hanson, who is also the Founding Editor of this site and newsletter. AccuRadio’s EVP of Programming is Paul Maloney, former Executive Editor of RAIN.)

The granular programming includes single-song stations (e.g. “Silent Night,” “Greensleeves”), world-music delineations (e.g. Latin, Celtic), genre categories (e.g. smooth jazz, rock, swing), and even one station which plays only carols starting with the word “Oh.” (Think about it -- there are several of them.)

AccuRadio is always a relatively lean-back experience, compared to jukeboxes like Spotify, Rhapsody, and Rdio. This positioning works especially well during holidays, when users want to set a mood for parties and family gatherings, without having to lean in for adjustments. In 2012, AccuRadio’s December listening jumped 12 percent over November, which in turn showed a 14-percent increase over October, according to Triton Digital’s Webcast Metrics. There were similar month-over-month gains in the 2011 holiday season.

AccuRadio is hooking the holiday effort into a contest to boost engagement -- “AccuRadio Secret Santa.” Each day a new code word is embedded in the streams, which users can enter on a special page for a chance to win gadget swag like an Amazon Kindle Fire HDX, a Nexus 7, and many other tech prizes.

Radio Search Engine, “a new way to interact with radio”

Friday, November 8, 2013 - 11:50am

Serial entrepreneur Michael Robertson conceives of his latest project, Radio Search Engine, as a Google for real-time music searches on radio. RAIN tested the new site, still in beta development mode, and spoke with Robertson about what it is, how it works, and where it’s going.

Most of the development of Radio Search Engine appears to be technical, not cosmetic. The single-page website is unbranded, with rudimentary design. The site's main assets are under the hood.

The basic experience of Radio Search Engine is this: you type in a song, artist, show title, or music genre. The site displays a list of radio stations which, at that moment, are playing what you asked for. Click on one to hear it. Unlike a subscription music service like Spotify or Rhapsody, where you ask for a song and get a static file of the song that you can play, in Radio Search Engine you get a stream-in-progress from a webcast.

Does it work? Yes, and the site is great fun to play with. Its success as a discovery tool is based on an immense real-time database of songs and stations.

“It’s a tremendously big undertaking,” Robertson told RAIN. “Indexing the entire world of radio is not a trivial thing. The last time I checked, we had 200-million records of songs. We store what radio stations play over time, so we have a historical record. We use that record. If you search for a song that isn’t playing anywhere right now, you get a list of stations that recently played it, or that might play it in the future.”

We found that to be true, and crucial to the core experience of radio station discovery. During testing, we found several stations (FM and pureplay) that were new to us, and that we wanted to keep track of. Robertson himself told us that he keeps a Post-it note on his desk with a list of stations that he jotted down. He noted that a bookmarking feature might be in development.

The site encourages browsing as much as searching. If you ask for an artist, not a song, the search results contain a good deal of variety, and we found ourselves station-hopping. Each time you click a result, the entire result list reorganizes around your choice. You might notice that those sequential result lists widen like concentric circles around the original request, becoming more adventurous.

We asked Michael Robertson whether Radio Search Engine is built for music discovery, or station discovery.

“I can see both. For me, I think of it as a radio experience, but with a lot more user control. It’s what I call ‘near-demand.’ Not quite ‘on-demand’ -- we don’t have every song at your fingertips like Spotify. But you can get what you like. If you want to hear Genesis, you’ll probably find six or eight songs to choose from.”

Site testing bore that out, but the real value was discovering six or eight radio stations that we might want to return to. As a listening platform, Radio Search Engine is affected by the fact that you’re usually entering a radio webcast in mid-stream. When searching for a song, you might not hear the whole thing. But Robertson told us about technology under the hood which minimizes the partial-song issue.

“When you click on a song, I’m going to do my best to give you the beginning of the song. We do many interesting things behind the scenes. When you search for a popular song, like Katy Perry’s ‘Roar,’ Radio Search Engine gives you a whole page of ‘Roar’ songs [playing on radio stations at that moment]. What many people don’t realize is that we put the fresher ones at the top. But it gets trickier than that. When you click on one of the station results, the site might actually play the song on a different station because it’s fresher. The site checks all the stations every three-to-five seconds. With very popular songs, you can sometimes get five seconds of the DJ talking before the song starts.”

When using Radio Search Engine, it’s natural to compare it to TuneIn and iHeartRadio, which aggregate radio stations. Robertson characterized those services as directories, and compared his site to Google’s emergence as a real-time, long-tail search engine. His intent is to give people a new way of interacting with radio, and notes that “radio hasn’t really changed much.” We would point to HD Radio and satellite radio as significant branches from core radio technology, but we get his point.

For us, we’ll stick to the subscription music services for on-demand music playback. But we’ll continue using Radio Search Engine for its beguiling station discovery and the fun of digital-age dial surfing. We look forward to new features as they are added.

Billy Bragg tells musicians Spotify isn’t the problem

Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 11:50am

Singer-songwriter Billy Bragg has stepped into the Spotify debate with a Facebook post that’s getting picked up in the digital music news. Bragg joins Thom Yorke, David Byrne, Dave Allen, and others who critique artist-royalty system in spotify’s business model. In this diverse series of publicized opinion statements, Spotify is the proxy for streaming music platforms generally, and the main complaint is that musicians don’t get enough money from them.

Bragg spins from a different angle, saying that the record labels are to blame more than the music services which license albums and tracks from the labels. He likens arguing against Spotify to a complaint against the Sony Walkman in the 1980s. Bragg identifies label contracts as the problem. Many contractual terms were made for the analog era, he argues, and don’t carry over effectively to digital realities like music streaming. 

Bragg’s statement adds to an emerging aspect of the Spotify debate, which points the finger of complaint at how labels share streaming revenue with their artists. The argument hinges on whether Spotify streaming (and similar distribution deals) should be contractually accounted as royalty revenue, or licensing revenue. Generally in music contracts, royalties are much smaller percentages to the artist than licensing.

Last week, a union of Swedish musicians threatened to sue their labels over this issue. (RAIN coverage here.) 

Pureplay of the Day: Cafe Cody

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 - 12:15pm

Wednesday lies at the week’s fulcrum point, and can make you feel stranded in a dim purgatory between weekends. At those times Cafe Cody (www.cafecody.com) is the pureplay music station of choice, able to carry you away sonically. Emanating from Palma De Mallorca, Spain … well, look it up, and tell us you don’t want to be there right now.

Cafe Cody markets its programming as “The Soundtrack to Your Life.” There’s more: “CAFÉ CODY is about you and your evolving place in the world. It’s about your growing feelings moving you beyond the ordinary and mundane into your expanded richness and sensuality. It’s about a place for you to abide and flow.” Holy smokes, all that from a playlist? Well, we think it works.

There is definitely a sunset-over-the-ocean feel to the tracks, with lots of acoustic guitar, shakers, soft percussion, unintrusive sax -- it’s smooth jazz exotica with a world music tinge.

The lean-back attitude of Cafe Cody is reflected in the site usability. You don’t have a lot of choices, and there’s not much information. Hit the play button and a pop-up controller tells you what’s playing, and the two tracks surrounding it. You’re supposed to be escaping the mundane, remember? Forget about music discovery and fiddling with settings. You’re on a Mediterranean island… --oh, except there is a donation button, of course. Cafe Cody is listener-supported.

YouTube Music Awards: The Fox is in the Henhouse

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 - 11:50am

This is a guest column by Jennifer Lane, first published at Audio4cast.

Speaking of seismic shifts, YouTube held it’s own music awards on Sunday, and if buzz factor is any measure of success (it is, of course), then it was a big one. Lots of people were talking about the awards, Produced by Spike Jonze, the awards were designed to be edgy, spontaneous, even strange – and definitely the opposite of the highly staged awards shows that we see on television.

By all accounts, it was a celebration of “the democratizing nature of YouTube”, with artists like Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis who became famous as a result of their hit song video on YouTube that they made for $5000 bucks with some friends. Even big record label made artist Taylor Swift got an award for her song “I knew your were trouble”, which incited more fan videos than any other.

Disruption folks, that’s the story that is being told live on YouTube, as evidenced by these awards. It’s not actually news, since YouTube’s been streaming more songs than any other platform in the land for a long time. YouTube is the place where the hip and trendy get their new music. Have you heard the song “What Does the Fox Say?” It’s a new phenom from YouTube that my daughter and her roommate played for me when we visited on parents’ weekend a few weeks ago. It’s a Norwegian viral video that’s got almost a billion views on YouTube since early September. Meanwhile, Katy Perry’s new album sold less than 300,000 copies in its first week. Not an apples to apples comparison, but certainly one that lends perspective.

If you haven’t watched these awards, and this YouTube culture thing is news to you, I highly recommend that you take a look. It’s a new world order, driven by platforms that put consumers in the drivers seat.

Meanwhile, according to Tom Taylor’s newsletter this morning, YouTube spent so much money on radio stations last week promoting its awards show that it was a top 20 advertiser….

Henry Mowry joins RAIN Enterprises

Monday, November 4, 2013 - 1:10pm

We are pleased to announce that veteran sales and marketing expert Henry Mowry has joined RAIN Enterprises as Account Director. He started on Friday, Nov. 1. Mowry will develop and manage sponsor and advertising relationships across RAIN Summits and RAIN Publications.

Mowry spent 22 years as Director of Sales at Radio & Records, from 1987 until the publication’s final issue in 2009. He was also Director of Sales at in3media.

“RAIN has been the leader for a very long time,” said Mowry. “It’s an honor to join the team, and be a part of the exciting new initiatives."

Mowry joins RAIN Enterprises at an inflection point, as the Summits and Publications businesses are merged into a single management structure under one brand. Jennifer Lane is the CEO of RAIN Enterprises.

About RAIN Enterprises

Comprising RAIN Summits and RAIN Publications, RAIN (Radio and Internet News) is the preeminent source of networking and information about Internet radio and online audio.

Since 2003, RAIN Summits have been the premiere educational and networking events for the webcasting industry. Geared to broadcasters on the web and Internet-only webcasters alike, the Summits attract speakers and audiences on the cutting edge of the future of radio and consumer listening choices.

The RAIN Newsletter and website furnish news and commentary about the emergence of streaming audio and radio’s adjustment to a digital world. The newsletter has been a crucial daily resource for thousands of readers during more than a decade of change in the radio and digital music industries.

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