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Weekend Perspective: Week Oct. 21-25

Friday, October 25, 2013 - 5:10pm

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

 

PARTNERSHIPS

Clear Channel and Black River: The radio group added to its growing portfolio of partnerships with record labels. Details not disclosed, but this one likely follows the template of Clear Channels agreement with Warner Music Group: higher broadcast royalties, lower streaming royalties, artist promotions on radio. [READ]

MUSIC SERVICES & APPS 

iTunes Radio reaches 20M listeners: And media outlets indulge in fuzzy math by comparing iTunes Radio and Pandora audience metrics, which use different standards. [READ

YouTube music service: YouTube is the gorilla in the room when it comes to music services. Not formally set up for music, the platform is nonetheless rampantly used for music search and playback, especially by young listeners. RAIN analyzes whether YouTube would compete with itself by formalizing a music service. [READ]

Sirius XM disappoints subscribers: Unexpectedly and without explanation, Sirius XM dropped several popular Clear Channel stations. The satellite company’s Facebook page swarmed with malcontent. [READ]

...and raises their rates: In its quarterly call to Wall Street investors, Sirius XM (SIRI) showed off steep gains in revenue and subscriptions from a year ago, but also lowered guidance for 2014 and raised rates on subscribers. [READ]

Twitter #Music nearing the end: Not official, but reports have us believe that Twitter’s music no-quite-service, underdeveloped but sometimes fun, and only six months old, will be shelved. [READ]

Microsoft plays the Web: Xbox Music was updated, and one new feature struck us as unique and potentially disruptive: a way of building a playlist from any web site that mentions artists and bands. [READ]

Rhapsody courts CD buyers: The music service gives one-month free subs to CD buyers at Best Buy. It’s an interesting play for consumers who might not be converted from ownership to access. [READ]

Songza updates: The Songza app is prettified for iOS 7. [READ]

“This American Life” goes endless: The public radio program, hosted by Ira Glass, has an 18-year archive of shows. A new TuneIn stream plays them continuously, with zero interactivity, for total saturation. [READ]

British music service sailing for U.S.: That would be Pure Connect, which works seamlessly with Pure WiFi devices. [READ]

ILLUMINATION 

Jim Lucchese: The CEO of The Echo Nest, a music intelligence company, describes how it powers many of the features used by millions of people across hundreds of music services. [READ Part 1] [READ Part 2]

DASH conference: A two-day conference in Detroit scrutinized every aspect of the connected-car movement, from the viewpoint of radio, solution providers, automakers, aftermarket companies, car dealers, and disc jockeys. RAIN was there. [DASH Day 1] [DASH Day 2]

OUTBURSTS 

Dave Allen vs. David Byrne: It’s a blog-debate. Settle in -- each of these gentlemen is voluble on the subject of Spotify. [READ]

 

YouTube’s reported music service: Has Google missed its own boat?

Thursday, October 24, 2013 - 12:10pm

YouTube, the gorilla in the room when it comes to online music listening, is reportedly ramping up to launch a freemium music service, probably modeled after Spotify and Rhapsody with a video component. (See Billboard’s breaking report here.)

If true, activating YouTube’s rampant music-listening audience in a formal offering is a sensible idea, and one that has been rumored for a long time. The unanswered questions are around how Google will differentiate value on the free side of the rumored service against an already-free YouTube, and what added value will be poured into the subscription package. 

Because YouTube is historically a UGC (User Generated Content) platform, its content boundaries are vast and flexible. Today, an unregistered, unpaying YouTube visitor can access a cosmic selection of music, some of it in album form with tracks delineated and linked for random-access listening. In addition to indie and amateur content that cannot be found elsewhere, an exceptionally long tail of vintage recordings from hidden back catalogs has been ripped and uploaded by the creative side of YouTube’s user base.

So the looming value question is how a YouTube music service would be separated and distinct from the larger YouTube experience -- especially if the overarching YouTube platform offers better selection, lower price (e.g. free), years of familiarity to users, and an unregulated atmosphere that appeals to millions of young users.

The answers will probably be folded around packaging. YouTube is not the easiest or most elegant media consumption interface, to put it graciously. Comparing YouTube on the web to Spotify’s desktop app is like comparing a teenager’s bedroom to Martha Stewart’s dining room. If Google puts some design effort into a new service, it might be able to leverage its brand clout and ecosystem footprint to bring new listeners into a platform that historically serves a young demo.

In addition to improved merchandising, ad-removal will probably drive some interest in the subscription side. Even staunch advocates of the unregulated YouTube experience dislike the delay of pre-rolls and the intrusion of ads layered onto the screen during video playback.

All this boils down to one question: Has Google missed its own boat? YouTube is already the dominant music service (skewed to youth) and distribution outlet. John McVey, a music producer at Coupe Studios in Boulder, Colorado, told RAIN that YouTube was “the world’s largest record label.” 

Can Google formalize YouTube as a listening platform, package it neatly enough, and somehow give it more value than YouTube already has?

YouTube announces Music Awards nominees

Tuesday, October 22, 2013 - 9:15am

YouTube, which a music producer recently told RAIN is “the world’s biggest record label,” has announced its nominees for the upcoming YouTube Music Awards presentation.

The point here isn’t the nominated artists, but the often-disregarded reality that YouTube, ostensibly a watching platform, is a massively magnetic listening platform with an immense catalog. The upcoming awards seem to plant a stake in the ground that asserts what millions of young listeners already know -- that YouTube is a music-service gorilla in the room which surreptitiously competes with Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, Rdio, Slacker, and the other music-marketed platforms.

Anyway, the nominees are in, user voting will transpire according to a complex viral-sharing scheme described here, and the gala concert will take place on Nov. 3

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.

BBC (sort of) introduces Playlister, a (kind of) music service

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 - 10:45am

The marketing is impressive, the collateral design is dazzling, and the product itself is … slightly baffling, at first. BBC Playlister is a new feature woven throughout the BBC online music experience. The top layer is a tagging function, whereby users select songs for addition to a personal playlist. The resulting list is not a playlist in the usual sense -- specifically, you can’t play it. For that, the list must be exported to a real music service. Playlister has launched with three inaugural partners: Spotify, YouTube, and Deezer.

Confusing? Possibly, and the first question might be: Why bother? Spotify itself has been available to the BBC’s primary U.K. audience since 2009. YouTube and Deezer, likewise no problem in the U.K. Is the purpose to indoctrinate American music-lovers to the unique music discoveries of BBC programmers? There is a hint of that strategy in the BBC’s introductory video: “The U.K. is world-renowned for its music. And for 80 years, the BBC has been its beating heart.”

But the reality, as of today, is more mundane. Playlister on the BBC website surfaces the same global hits that all other music services are featuring this morning: Lorde, Katy Perry, et al. Why would any user build an unlistenable playlist, then export it to another platform, when that other platform is performing the same music promotion with native playlisting?

The answer might gain more nuance when the BBC presenters (show hosts) get into Playlister, which they are not as of now. If the BBC is a uniquely astute music curator, it’s the programmers who will deliver brand value to Playlister. (Oddly, the video shows a BBC programmer sitting on the floor surrounded by vinyl LPs, 1970s-style.)

Operationally, everything works without a glitch. It’s a well-executed launch. Registering, browsing, and collecting are woven into an attractive and painless product experience. Exporting to YouTube results in a video playlist, as one would hope for -- and that, at least, is a piece of unique value right from the start. The Playlister app within Spotify (web only for now; mobile promised for later) is ready to go as well, and works fine -- even if, again, carrying a playlist into Spotify from outside seems futile.

Drilling into Spotify’s Playlister app reveals a discovery environment demonstrably superior to the BBC’s website, for listening to BBC channels and programs. It is easier to find shows and presenters without wading through non-music options, losing the navigation menu to promotions, and other distractions foisted by the BBC’s own domain. The Spotify app keeps the experienced focused on listening. Playlister is not woven into the channel and presenter options, though, either in Spotify or on BBC.

BBC Playlister is not exactly a music service in a modern sense. Is BBC missing the boat, or cagily sidestepping the need to build one? From a business perspective, all the stakeholders win: distribution for the BBC, content acquisition for Spotify, and new ad inventory for Google-owned YouTube. More power to each of them. Not much power to the user, yet, but Playlister is worth keeping an eye on. Watch this space for new developments.

If this ruins your Friday afternoon productivity, we're sorry

Friday, September 20, 2013 - 9:10am

Thanks, MusicMachinery.com (and we mean that both sincerely and facetiously) for turning us on to the mesmerizing Letsdance.to, made using The Echo Nest API.

The site takes various dance videos (some hilariously dated) posted to YouTube and syncs them with hundreds of BPM-analyzed music files, to create surreal visual/audio experiences... like Fred & Ginger fast-dancing to Radiohead. Or these guys dancing to The Hives' "Walk Idiot Walk."

Check out the most awesome thing you'll see today at Letsdance.to. You can "thank" us later.

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