Spotify

Listn gets funded for social music listening

Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 11:50am

Listn is a music app owned by MFive Labs that expands the social possibilities of music listening by connecting people, and their music collections, across platforms and services. The company received $500-thousand in seed funding this week, giving it a foothold for future growth.

The presumption is that many people use more than one music service, or have more than one collection source -- for example an iTunes collector might also have a YouTube account and be registered at Spotify. Listn solves the “walled garden” problem by providing an encompassing space in which to share content from multiple sources, and develop a social network that likewise crosses boundaries.

Currently, Listn has connection agreements with YouTube, Spotify, Rdio, and SoundCloud. An Apple-only app presently, Listn also soaks up information about your iPod or iPhone collection purchased from iTunes, adding those tracks to YouTube favorites, and your music associated with membership in the other services.

Listn provides a twofold benefit. First, the user doesn’t have to hop from one app to another -- one’s entire macro-collection is presented in a single location. Second, the realm of social sharing and following is greatly expanded. In Listn you meet new people and are exposed to more facets of a person’s music life.

That second point has yet to be fully proved out, in our opinion. Listn provides an interesting way to meet new people, but does not transfer social relationships from connected music service, as it does with music. So, while you can listen to your Spotify tracks in Listn, you cannot listen to your Spotify friends’ playlists unless those friends pile into the Listn app. A socially active subscriber to Spotify, for example, would probably fall back to Spotify where his or her friends are.

Listn’s core mission is reminiscent of the Instant Message startups which pulled that form of communication out of the early web services (CompuServe, Genie, Prodigy, AOL), and unleashed it to the open web in the mid-1990s. That transition can be difficult, when users are reluctant to jump off their islands into the ocean. But the idea behind Listn is solid. People who use multiple music services are forced to engage with separate social schemes. The social aspect of online listening would be more useful and enjoyable if it were more open.

Music services not boarding the early Christmas train, but maybe they should

Monday, November 4, 2013 - 1:10pm

Tom Taylor notes in his morning newsletter that all-Christmas radio is breaking out early on the broadcast side. Taylor’s interpretation: “Most are an attempt to lay claim to the local market’s Christmas image -- even if it irritates regular listeners.”

Local broadcasters walk on a thin November ledge between pushing Christmas upon listeners too soon, and attracting Black Friday ad dollars before it’s too late. Most online music services don’t have a sufficient local sales effort to worry about that conundrum, Pandora being the exception.

But a close look at activity in several music services this morning offers indications that users might be swinging into the holiday mood sooner than their in-house programming departments. Holiday listening stations don’t usually appear in the genre lists of music services this early in November, and that trend is born out. The following services lack a Christmas or Holiday preset in their “stations” lineups: iTunes Radio, Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, Slacker (even as a sub-genre of Christian).

Interestingly, user-generated 8tracks.com shows a Christmas tag fairly high up the genre list (Android app), and digging into the details on the website shows over 300 user-created Christmas playlists, dozens of them created in the last few days. Creator comments reveal an eager early-season jubilance: “The jolliest time of year is back!” Some of these playlists were assembled in mid-October, indicating some degree of appetite for the Christmas spirit even sooner than broadcast radio is willing to bet on.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Clear Channel-owned iHeartRadio is displaying a “Holiday” channel preset this morning in the Live Radio section. Some of the listed stations are pureplays, not live, but the interesting point is user comments -- many listeners are happy to find the early dose of Christmas tunes. “Start super-duper early! Why not?”

Note to Apple, Pandora, Rhapsody et al: The Christmas train might be leaving earlier than you think. When you have an unlimited programming slate, it makes sense to claim the space early.

RAIN Weekend Perspective: Week of Oct. 28 - Nov. 1

Friday, November 1, 2013 - 4:30pm

RAIN’s Weekend Perspective summarizes the week’s important events for a weekend catch-up, and revives your blasted synapses for coming week.

PARTNERSHIPS 

The Echo Nest partners with Getty Images: Music services that use The Echo Nest’s intelligence technology will be able to enhance their album art with artist and band photos. [READ]

Spotify partners with Tango Messenger: The alliance lets Tango instant message users to include 30-second Spotify music clips. You might not be familiar with Tango, but it’s a bigger service than Spotify. [READ

MUSIC SERVICES & APPS 

TuneIn reaches 100,000 radio stations: The TuneIn aggregation platform has aggregated up a storm: “The most radio stations ever in one place,” according to the press release. [READ]

Rhapsody introduces new features: RAIN reviews important additions to the Rhapsody music experience. [READ

SoundCloud reaches 250-million listeners: Take that, Pandora, as SoundCloud’s new emphasis on uninterrupted listening is bringing in new users. SoundCloud is now chasing YouTube’s 1-billion users. [READ

Pandora releases Android tablet app: RAIN reviews the essential features that exist in the new version across all devices. [READ

iHeartRadio updates features: The Clear Channel-owned platform gets into concierge-style programming, similar to Songza and Slacker, but with tongue in cheek. [READ

ILLUMINATION 

Edison Research videos show a “barrage of new” in connected cars: Seeking insight to how new-car owners are coping with modern infotainment systems built into digital dashboards, Edison Research produced video interviews with recent car buyers. RAIN interviewed president Larry Rosin. [READ]

Survey/Interview - iTunes Radio little threat to Pandora: Investment firm Canaccord Genuity surveyed Pandora users who have tried iTunes Radio, to get a picture of its existential threat to Pandora. RAIN interviewed the study’s author. [READ]

BIZ / LEGAL 

Swedish musicians threaten to sue labels over Spotify distribution: The musicians' argument is less with Spotify than with labels, and how Spotify revenue is shared with artists by those labels. RAIN untangles it. [READ]

Spotify enables clip sharing via Tango Messenger

Sunday, November 3, 2013 - 11:35am

Spotify, which arguably has the most vigorous social environment of the interactive music services, is pushing social sharing outside of its apps, via a new partnership with Tango Messenger.

Tango is a stand-alone message, game and communications service. Members can interact with texts, lightweight games, animations, and now 30-second music clips supplied by Spotify. The business play is to hook new users into the Spotify music-and-app ecosystem. To hear the full track of a clip, Tango throws the user into the Spotify app -- which of course must be downloaded if the user doesn’t already have it.

A quick test of the latest Tango update in Android revealed the music-sharing piece in place and functioning perfectly.

Tango is a four-year-old company with current funding of $85-million. The service has 150-million registered users as of September, and a reported 60-million active monthly users. Spotify has 24-million global actives and six-million paid subscribers.

Swedish musicians threatening to sue their labels over Spotify distribution

Monday, October 28, 2013 - 11:55am

It might seem ironic that Swedish musicians are unhappy with their participation in Swedish-born Spotify. But it makes sense that if any national group of artists would take action related to Spotify payouts, it would be in Sweden, where streaming music has become rampantly popular. Spotify reportedly accounts for 70 percent of Swedish music sales, with 10 percent of the population subscribing to the paid service.

The musician argument is less with Spotify than with labels, and how Spotify revenue is shared with artists by those labels. When Spotify income is treated like album-sale income (physical or download), artists share the money according to a royalty split, typically 10 percent. Licensing revenue, by contrast, is often set as a 50/50 split in artist contracts, and the Swedish complaints assert that Spotify distribution of music tracks should be a licensing scenario. The musicians union involved in this controversy is threatening action to remove artist repertoire from Spotify.

This Swedish page can be translated for quotes by the union head. The Guardian has an English write-up here

INTERVIEW: Jim Lucchese, CEO, The Echo Nest

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 - 11:35am

You might have The Echo Nest to thank for the thing you love most about your favorite music service.

The Echo Nest is a data company that develops music intelligence technology, used by many of the most popular listening services covered by RAIN every day. Through the company’s application programming interfaces (APIs), music services can develop apps and features for their users, such as song recommendations and artist-based stations. The Echo Nest has furnished music intelligence for Spotify, Rdio, MOG, iHeartRadio, Xbox Music, and many others.

RAIN spoke with Jim Lucchese, CEO, about The Echo Nest’s influence over the streaming music experience. This is Part 1 of a two-part interview.

RAIN: It seems The Echo Nest is the hidden lynchpin that informs many people’s experiences with interactive music and music services. Is it fair to say the The Echo Nest is the main determinant of what most people hear in popular music services?

JL: It’s certainly what we’re aspiring to. There’s still a lot of work to be done, first from the standpoint of customer adoption -- we’re not powering every [service], but we’re powering many of the players.

The area where I feel there is still a lot of work to do, is to work with our customers to help make streaming music truly a mainstream experience. In the last 12 months there’s been massive progress in bringing streaming consumption to the mainstream, but we’re still in relatively early days. I see our role as making the cold-start experience for a first-time listener exceptional, and making the personalized experience so intuitive, that when someone tries it they never leave. I think we’ve been very influential, and I think we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.

RAIN: Besides providing technology, how do you do advocate for streaming music?

JL: We drive adoption by enabling the best listener experience. We are obsessive about that.

Another aspect of evangelism -- we’re betting on app developers. They are the architects of how we consume music today. This is one of the most exciting parts about the space.

Think about terrestrial radio: it requires a massive investment, and new market entrants are few and far between. In digital, making changes to the listening experience on a mobile application can come from anywhere. A couple of developers from nowhere can avail themselves of compulsory licenses under the DMCA, build an app, and get it out there. I’m not saying it’s easy to go from there to a whole business.

But we built what I think is the largest music hacker community out there, about 30,000 music hackers building on our API. We’re trying to build a community that our commercial customers are part of, and can tap into. That’s where a lot of the next generation of integration is going to come from. Some of it may come from guys who work here full time. But it’s also going to come from [external] people using our API, building stuff we never thought of.

On the evangelism side we are directly consumer-focused. But bringing together that community and facilitating connections to the larger established media companies is an important goal of ours.

RAIN: That leads to an inevitable question: Will The Echo Nest ever consider launching its own music service?

JL: We sure have considered it, many times. It’s really not in the plans. Our reasoning is largely driven by staying focused on our strengths. We’re a company in Boston run by a lawyer and founded by two PhD’s. We’re not a consumer-facing media company. We’re music data dorks.

When we looked at the data opportunity, we thought the business opportunity was being the dominant player in the intelligence layer between people and their music. It’s a massive opportunity. We looked at our strengths. We’re in a great position to define that market and dominate it.

When you look at what it takes to build a consumer-facing service, there are a lot of core competencies that are outside of our scope. We really felt that there was a huge biz opportunity in being that intelligence layer, enabling lot of innovation and diverse applications.

An additional piece -- we’ve got a nice business here. It would cause us to lose focus, and probably be confusing to the market if we were to take different paths.

RAIN: Speaking of data dorkness and domination, there is the audacious banner on your website. It advertises that you have over 1B data points stretching across 35M songs, recorded by 2.5M artists, on 431 applications. Do you have any meaningful competition?

JL: Sure. When I think about competition, I really think about two things. As digital music and streaming become more mainstream, you see some of the largest technology companies in the world starting to invest more [in that direction]. In those cases, our competition is making a case that working with us is considerably better than in-house development for companies with limitless engineering resources. They don’t ”get” music. There are about 12 people who graduate with advanced degrees in music information retrieval every year.

RAIN: Wait -- there’s a degree for music information retrieval?

JL: Oh yeah, and we’ve got five of them with PHD’s who work here. There is a scarcity of "depth-of-domain" expertise. I think a lot of companies look at this as a data problem, not as a “domain understanding” problem -- understanding content and culture of music. That education process for companies that are strong in data engineering, is one area that I see as competition.

The other area that I worry about is the next Echo Nest. The next group of really smart, completely music success guys, who have the next disruptive idea. Sooner of later they’re going to be coming, as the space continues to grow. Venture capital, on the data side, is easier than it was when we started. At this point, there’s nobody that I put in that ballpark, but that’s what I think about in terms of future competition.

RAIN: When you say “big players,” you probably mean Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Do you work with any of the big ecosystem companies?

Funny you should mention that. Our first peek of a product collaboration with Xbox launched this morning [last week]. The feature is called Web Playlist. It allows you to create playlists when you are on any site that features an artist or band. [See RAIN coverage here.]

RAIN: That seems different.

JL: [Xbox Music engineers] leveraged our artist extract capability. We’re parsing the text on about 10M documents every day. We can look at a block of text and identify the band names -- we analyze much more than band names, but they pulled the band information and matched it to their playlist technology, which automatically builds a playlist based on bands mentioned on a web page. This is something we envisioned, but these guys took it much further.

It’s a pretty cool implementation. We've talked about hackers, people who are pushing the envelope -- well, there’s a crew at Xbox Music that comes from that world. It’s a good example of that working in a commercial context.

Look for Part 2 of RAIN’s interview with Jim Lucchese tomorrow. In it, we ask The Echo Nest CEO to compare his computer-modeled music analysis with Pandora’s Music Genome Project … and also what’s playing every day in The Echo Nest office.

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