C Story

DASH Conference explores connected cars in Detroit

Thursday, October 24, 2013 - 12:10pm

In what Fred Jacobs calls the first radio-oriented trade conference in the motor city, several industries are intersecting this week to examine connected cars. Jacobs and his company, Jacobs Media, are hosting DASH, The Connected Car AudioTainment Conference.

Top execs from radio companies (Entercom; Greater Media), automakers (Ford; GM), solution providers (Clip Interactive, uBiquity), and Internet content brands (ESPN Audio, Pandora, TuneIn) had representatives on stage in Day 1 of the two-day event.

Automotive Keynote presenter Julius Marchwiki (chief of Ford’s SYNC AppLink product) emphasized the changing landscape of consumer technology, noting that by 2015 two-billion smartphones will be on the street, holding 180-billion app downloads, and claiming that 75 percent of survey respondents want to connect their phone to the car.

Entercom CEO David Field took a more complacent tack in a slideshow that emphasized AM/FM’s reach, while acknowledging recent survey data from Edison Research indicating that over half of connected Americans listen to Internet radio. Field asserted that, despite all disruptions implied by a conference devoted to multi-modal car listening, broadcast radio is in a “golden age.”

In the first of two “Breaking News” panels, Blair Cullen of ESPN Audio caused Twitter to light up over his remark that “the car is going to be the most expensive iPhone accessory ever built.” In the same panel, Patrick Reynolds of Triton Digital prophesied: “The future will be won by those who see themselves and publishers, not stations.

In the day’s final discussion panel, George Lynch of Pandora (head of Automotive Business Development) said, “Pandora is the next generation of FM.”

The DASH conference continues Thursday, adding car dealers and radio DJs to the mix of panelists.

Pureplay of the Day: Somehow Jazz

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - 9:15am

Let’s talk about Smooth Jazz. We know what you’re thinking. But the problems with Smooth Jazz -- the sugary coating, the lascivious saxophone licks, the percussion chimes sprinkled like fairy dust over cadences, the pseudo-funk, the quasi-cool -- all that becomes problematic through accumulation of relentless genre flogging. What happens when you blend tasteful Smooth Jazz with articulate Straight Jazz?

Go to Somehow Jazz to find out. (www.somehowjazz.com) Yeah, you’ll get Everette Harp and Joe Sample. You’ll find contrast with Maceo Parker and Brian Bromberg. The juxtapositions will illuminate one and the other.

Like most pureplays featured in this series, Somehow Jazz is supported entirely by listener donations. You can kick in any amount; suggested gifts range from ten bucks to 500 dollars. That’s what we call patronage!

A pop-out player makes web listening easy and controllable. Bit rates go up to 320k mp3, so put this stream through your best speakers. And wear your most comfortable shoes for day-long foot-tapping.

Twitter #Music reportedly near its end

Monday, October 21, 2013 - 11:00am

Tech and social realms burst into chatter Saturday evening when AllThingsD reported that Twitter would soon pull the plug on its #Music service, introduced just six months ago. Engadget speculated that the departure of Kevin Thau from Twitter, project head for #Music, might have left the still-new music-discovery app without a will to survive.

Twitter #Music always seemed an incomplete service, though with attractive features. The iOS app took off strong, then faded from the popularity charts. The service is not often in the news or conversation around music streaming platforms.

Hooking into music references on Twitter, #Music leads with the social aspect of music sharing which, for other services, is secondary. As such, #Music is an effective discovery milieu, rewarding the lean-in user with unexpected long-tail bands and artists. The default setting plays 90-second song clips from the iTunes Store, which by itself is unsatisfactory -- there is no native capability to play whole songs. (Similarly, the BBC’s new Playlister product requires a hook into Spotify, YouTube, or Deezer for whole-song listening. We have doubts about it, as expressed here.)

In fact, #Music can invoke Spotify or Rdio for users who have signed up with either one, and doing so turns Twitter’s app into a lean-back listening station driven by Twitter-based music charting. Set up that way, Twitter #Music is entertaining, illuminating, underrated, and, following the initial flush of curiosity, underused.

No official word from Twitter about the fate of #Music. We’ll keep up the vigil.

Pew Internet surveys music listening on cell phones

Friday, October 18, 2013 - 10:25am

The Pew Research Center has added a survey category to its ongoing study of how Americans use their connected phones. Adding to historical behaviors such as texting, emailing, browsing, downloading apps, and getting directions, listening to music is a component of Pew’s latest report.

The headline statistic is this: 48 percent of all cell phone owners listen to music on their phones. The sample size was 2,076.

Men tend toward listening more than women, 51 percent to 45 percent. Phone listening is a youth activity predominantly, with 80 percent of positive responses falling in the 18-29 year-old population. Generally, more education transfers to more listening. Likewise with more money: households with incomes above $75,000 contained 58 percent of positive responses. Urban listeners outnumber suburban listeners, which in turn use cell phone for music more than rural residents.

The survey was conducted in April and May of this year.

Tunecore has paid musicians $330M in royalties

Thursday, October 17, 2013 - 12:40pm

Tunecore, one of several intermediaries that provide a gateway to digital distribution for independent musicians, announced on its blog that 330-million dollars has been paid out to musician clients during the company’s seven-year history.

Tunecore represents an interesting and significant service category in digital music. Its rise, along with that of CD Baby and others, emblemizes the replacement of old-world career agencies with technology platforms, just as digital listening has displaced analog music products. Tunecore and its ilk are distributors to retail outlets, but also have replaced A&R departments and artist managers to some extent. 

Tunecore’s essential business is putting recorded music into streaming music services like Spotify and Rhapsody, and download stores like iTunes and Amazon. Its clients are indie artists who own their own labels and fully control their recorded masters. The core values are distribution and bookkeeping. For relatively low fees, aggregators like Tunecore and CD Baby place music in large portfolios of commercial outlets, track streaming and purchasing, issue earning statements, and write royalty checks.

This middleman service is alluring to musicians seeking exposure and a toehold in the music business. However, for many who reside down the long tail of available music, those low fees are never recouped in fractional payouts from streaming and downloading. From that sad outcome stems much of the controversy surrounding the economics of streaming music services and the fairness of artist royalties.

Operating profit might be elusive for music services like Spotify which pay royalties, and for indie musicians who receive royalties. Intermediaries like Tunecore (which is privately owned and venture-funded) sit in a sweet spot between the two, passing content in one direction, funneling money in the other direction, and collecting a fee. It’s a valuable service. But some musicians wonder: Wasn’t the Internet supposed to eliminate intermediaries?

Pureplay of the Day: SomaFM

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 10:20am

One of the landmark indie pureplays, SomaFM (www.somafm.com) has grown into a streaming empire over 14 years. Founded and operated by Rusty Hodge, the Internet outlet is located in a San Francisco warehouse. The current programming lineup includes 28 hand-curated, electronica and alt-genre stations.

SomaFM is perhaps best associated with Groove Salad, a stream of downtempo ambient tracks, and the second station launched in Soma’s early days. Groove Salad is personally tracked by Hodge, who maintains a programming staff of about a dozen people. Other stations include Lush (vocals), Deep Space One (self-descriptive), Mission Control (more space), and Doomed (“for tortured souls”).

Hosted on Shoutcast servers, SomaFM produces a darkly attractive website and streams in several formats and bitrates. There is no built-in player, so desktop listening is best accomplished via a stand-alone mp3 player like Winamp or Windows Media Player. [UPDATE: there is a pop-up player in the browser interface; thanks to @Louth for the correction.] We keep Winamp stocked with SomaFM bookmarks. Groove Salad, the tastiest downtempo mix we've ever known, is our go-to station, but we have lately been diving into Sonic Universe, featuring avant-jazz explorations.

SomaFM is an entirely ad-free, listener supported production, soliciting one-time and recurring monthly donations, and selling merchandise (branded coffee mugs, hoodies, etc.). Mobile listening is provided through a four-dollar Android or iOS app.

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