D Story

SoundCloud reaches 250-million listeners

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 - 12:10pm

While Pandora’s “active listener” metric hovers around 73-million (72.7M reported in September), and iTunes Radio brags of attracting 20-million unique users in its first month, SoundCloud is quietly rolling up an impressive user base. TechCrunch reports from its Disrupt Europe conference that the audio-upload site now hosts 250-million “monthly active listeners.”

SoundCloud was founded in 2008 as a storage service and collaboration platform for music producers. In early days, the founders compared SoundCloud to Flickr, the photo-sharing site. Today, it makes sense to compare SoundCloud to YouTube. As Google reportedly prepares a formalized YouTube music service, it is interesting to see SoundCloud’s user-generated content approach as an audio-only parallel to YouTube.

Soundcloud has long offered subscription plans, but geared to creators who upload audio, not to listeners. All listening and organizing of music on SoundCloud is free, unlimited, and without advertising. Revenue comes entirely from subscriptions. Paid accounts are for creators, who pay for additional space for uploading and enhanced statistics. In this way SoundCloud historically has been focused on delivering premium value to the creator side of its user base.

Last December SoundCloud launched a redesigned site with listener-friendly features and a clear intent to build up the listener side. The site’s content is far-reaching (again, like YouTube), ranging from the rawest of amateur uploads to well-known artists sharing clips, full releases, outtakes, and live audio. It all adds up to a fascinating and engaging landscape for the inquisitive, lean-in user. Some lean-back functionality was added in the redesign, too, keeping the music flowing radio-style.

The repositioning of SoundCloud as a music listening service seems to be working from the vantage of growing audience, which has grown from 200-million to 250-million since July.

Pureplay of the Day: Bar Legend Radio

Friday, October 25, 2013 - 11:45am

Emanating from the town of Larissa, Greece, Bar Legend Radio celebrates U.S. and British blues with an unrelenting blues-rock playlist. The site (www.barlegendradio.net) has in informational component, featuring biographies of bands and artists like The Allman Brothers, J.J. Cale, Rory Gallagher, Gov’t Mule, and others.

The curation of this stream is consistently satisfying. There is no interactivity, as usual with pureplay Internet stations, and there’s no need for skipping and favoriting if you like straight-ahead, guitar-oriented, beer-drinking, good-time-having, backbeat-driven 12-bar with an oldies slant.

The station is carried on TuneIn, Radio Tuna, RadioForest, and probably other aggregators. You can also listen directly on the site via a built-in player, or the major desktop clients. It all comes through at an adequate 128k mp3 bitrate.

Bar Legend Radio ushers the weekend perfectly.

Songza updates iOS 7 app

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - 9:15am

The release of Apple’s iOS 7 mobile operating system, with its dramatic design changes, has generated an influx of app re-releases of a new “iOS 7 update” category. In other words, little or no functional changes, but the app is prettied up to make the most of iOS 7 translucencies and other cosmetic loveliness.

Such is Songza’s upgrade, which landed in the Apple app store this week. Songza’s Concierge service (mood/activity “life moments” listening) remains unchanged, as do its finely curated genre stations. The only discernible change to our eyes is the Now Playing screen, in which the share buttons are more obvious (good for Songza brand extension) and more easily accessed (good for users who love sharing). The design is quite beautiful on an iPhone, not so striking in the iPad app.

In the iOS 7-upgrade race, Songza has now caught up with Slacker -- worth mentioning because the two seem locked in an orbital dance. Slacker recently copied Songza’s day/mood/activity listening model with the My Vibe section of its app, which it launched with iOS 7 beautification. That maneuver definitely comprised an eat-your-lunch aggression toward Songza. (See RAIN coverage here.) In our humble opinion, Slacker still looks better, and has more streamlined navigation.

For listeners, though, the main test is quality of music. All these mobile platform apps have the same essential design elements. Does the playlist work for you? That’s what counts.

Pureplay of the Day: BellyUp4Blues

Monday, October 21, 2013 - 11:00am

Ten years of hand-to-mouth operation hasn’t dimmed the fire of BellyUp4Blues (www.bellyup4blues.com), an Internet-only blues-rock stream. If its tagline (“The Only Ass-Kicking Blues Rocker”) exaggerates the exclusivity of its musical mission, the description is certainly accurate. This is relentless pounding blues, with hard-baked vocals and scorching guitar solos. We credit BellyUp for our discovery of Ana Popovic, a favorite blues-rock guitarist.

To our ears, there is always a motivational quality to hard-rock blues, the sometimes gloomy lyrics notwithstanding. The RAIN editorial office is starting the week with an invigorating, foot-stomping BellyUp backbeat blast. It goes great with coffee. This morning the playlist has included Tab Benoit, Scott Holt, Bobby Messano, Buddy Whitington, and Little John Chrisley.

BellyUp4Blues is ad-free and listener-supported. There is an air of precariousness about the operation, with monthly donation goals and looming shut-down deadlines. Long-time listeners are rabidly dedicated -- one of them recently posted a 1,500-word exhortation in the site’s blog, admonishing listeners to donate, and characterizing non-givers as “unruly, undeserving, disrespectful children.

BellyUp is distributed on the web and via an Android app -- a simple radio-like interface with a play button, a stop button, and nothing else. Like the music it plays, BellyUp4Blues gets right down to business.

Stitcher earns bragging rights

Friday, October 18, 2013 - 10:25am

Specialization has benefits, for consumers and business. Stitcher, a listening app dedicated to podcasts and talk radio shows, announced that its mobile app has been downloaded over 12-million times, and its catalog now contains over 20,000 shows.

Other platforms include a focus on talk, including TuneIn, iHeartRadio (which has been building up its Talk section recently) and Apple’s podcast app for iOS. Stitcher’s dedication to the category is paying off in usage metrics, and also provides a more refined in-app experience for anyone for whom talk is as important as music (or more important).

The Stitcher app encourages music-style customization -- favoriting, playlisting, sharing, and a back-end intelligence that learns the user’s taste over time. The result is a high level of discovery in the talk realm, and a rewarding level of control.

Stitcher’s press release quotes an executive at Libsyn, an unaffiliated podcast hosting platform: ““From our metrics, Stitcher appears to be the largest platform for listening on Android and second largest on iOS behind only Apple." On the revenue side, Stitcher’s ad earnings have grown 75 percent year-over-year.

QUICK HITS: Musical ads and a spacey video

Thursday, October 17, 2013 - 12:40pm

Standard ads that play music: Startup F# (pronounced F-sharp, after the music note) has launched creative ad technology that puts a streaming music player inside an IAB-standard 300-by-250 ad box. The player is branded by the advertiser, and the music is curated in collaboration with F#’s recommendation research database. F# handles music licensing, and the units are DMCA-compliant, according to the company. It is easy to imagine strong engagement with these interactive ads, if they can overcome “ad blindness” which plagues the industry.

Video lead-in to an audio service: In an unusual marketing ploy, music service Rdio is dangling free access to Red Bull’s movie about Felix Baumgartner’s leap to earth from orbit, “Mission to the Edge of Space,” according to The Verge. Rdio operates a video rental site (Vdio), which is where the Red Bull relationship probably comes from,


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