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September 24, 2018
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Spotify will now let indie artists upload their own music

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Spotify today is taking another step that may make record labels uncomfortable. Fresh off reports that the streaming service is cutting its own licensing deals with independent artists, the company this morning announced it will now allow indie artists to directly upload their music to its service, too.

The upload feature is today launching into beta on Spotify for Artists, the online dashboard that arrived publicly last year. This dashboard and its accompanying mobile app allow artists to track metrics surrounding their streams and their fan base demographics.

Through the new upload tool, artists will now be able to add their own tracks to the streaming service in just a few clicks.

Explains Spotify, artists will upload the music, preview how things will appear, then edit the music’s metadata, if need be. They’ll also be able to choose when those new tracks “go live” on Spotify. (No more new music Fridays, perhaps.)

Most importantly, Spotify says that artists are paid as usual for their uploaded music – the royalty payments will simply be direct deposited to artists’ bank accounts every month.

Another new report in the dashboard will detail how much the uploaded streams are earning and when they can expect to be paid.

The upload option is free, and Spotify says it won’t deduct any fees or commissions of its own.

The move is likely to concern labels, who have traditionally acted as gatekeepers between artists and fans. But through digital media platforms, artists have been exploring new ways to build their audience.

For example, on SoundCloud – a service Spotify once considered acquiring –  indie musicians, DJs, bands and other performers have been able to attract followings. Similarly, YouTube has often served as a discovery vehicle for unknowns.

Both services will be impacted by this move, as it’s one of the reasons they’re used by artists. Now, they’ll be able to point fan bases directly to their Spotify tracks.

Those who are able to gain fans on their own may be able to route around the need for a label, and subsequently keep more of their earnings in the process.

“Artists receive 50% of net revenues from the songs they upload, and Spotify also accounts to publishers and collection societies for additional royalties related to the music composition,” said Kene Anoliefo, the Senior Product Lead for Spotify’s Creator Marketplace, confirming the payout structure.

Meanwhile, according to a recent report by The NYT, artists working with labels may see much smaller percentages. The report said that Spotify typically pays a record label around 52 percent of the revenue generated by each stream. The label, in turn, then pays the artist a royalty of anywhere from 15% to as high as 50%.

If artists are dealing directly with Spotify, they could be making more money.

Labels suggested that they could retaliate against Spotify for overstepping. The NYT had also said. They may do things like withhold licenses Spotify needs for key international expansions, like India, or not agree to new terms after existing contracts expire.

They could also offer more exclusives and promos to Spotify’s rivals, like Apple Music, which has surged ahead in the U.S. and is now neck-and-neck here with Spotify for paid subscribers. (Some reports, as well as Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, have claimed Apple Music is ahead in North America.)

Spotify has historically downplayed these concerns to investors, saying that it’s building a two-sided marketplace, and that it’s always licensed music from creators both “large and small” and will continue to license music from whomever owns the rights.

A music upload feature also means artists who own their own rights could break out big on Spotify if they catch the attention of playlist editors – something that Spotify now makes it easier for them to do, as well.

In addition, having indies upload music directly means Spotify could better compete against Apple Music by attracting more artists and their fans to its platform.

The upload feature is debuting in beta on an invite-only basis in the U.S., Spotify says.

A small handful of independent artists are already on board, including Noname, Michael Brun, VIAA, and Hot Shade. They provided Spotify with some initial feedback in earlier testing ahead of the beta launch, the company says.

“We started off by working with artists who are both deeply engaged in our platform – so they use Spotify for
Artists often –  and they also release music often,” said Anoliefo, adding that music upload has been one of artists’ most requested features.

“We used the test with them to shape the tool and make an upload process that we think is really easy, transparent and flexible. It’ll enable artists to use the tool to upload music through Spotify for Artists whenever they like. There are no barriers or constraints. And they can upload as often as they’d like. And as many times as they like,” she said.

Over the next few months, Spotify will email other artists to ask them to try out the feature, as well.

Initially, it will open up access to a few hundred more, before rolling it out publicly to the over 200,000 monthly active users of the Spotify for Artists platform.

At launch, music upload will be a web-only feature. The company wouldn’t comment on its plans to bring the feature to mobile.

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Pandora takes on Spotify’s Release Radar with its newest playlist, The Drop

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Pandora is taking on Spotify with the launch of a new personalized playlist, The Drop, announced this morning. Similar to Spotify’s Release Radar, The Drop will also focus on new releases from artists its listeners care about. New tracks are added to the playlist on the day they’re released, the company says  – that means Fridays, as with Release Radar.

Pandora’s playlist will also be longer than Spotify’s 30-track Release Radar as it doesn’t immediately ditch older tracks when new ones arrive. The Drop will instead grow to feature 100 of the latest tracks listed in order, with the newest at the top.

The selections on your version of The Drop will be based on your prior listening behavior on Pandora, the company says. And they’ll be algorithmically programmed, not hand-curated.

As you listen, if you find something you like, you’ll be able to add it to “My Music” or share it directly with friends and family.

The launch arrives at a time when the company has been more recently focused on personalized playlists as a means of upselling free users to its paid tiers.

In May, the streaming service rolled out dozens of personalized playlists to its Premium subscribers, based on their listening behavior and Pandora’s Music Genome. These “soundtracks,” as Pandora calls them, are categorized by genre (R&B, Hip Hop, Pop, Alternative, etc.) as well as by mood or activity (Focus, Chill, Happy, Rainy Day, etc.).

Since their debut, more than 790,000 users have listened to at least one of these personalized soundtracks, Pandora told TechCrunch. In addition, users have collectively listened for nearly 1 million hours, and have played a total of 21.4 million songs from their soundtracks to date.

Energy is the top soundtrack with 2.8 million spins, followed by Hip Hop (2.5m), Country (1.8m), R&B (1.43m), Party (1.41m), Pop (1.4m) and Happy (1.2m).

Like these playlists, The Drop will also only be available to Premium subscribers or those testing Pandora on a free trial before committing to a subscription.

The Premium tier is Pandora’s answer to Spotify’s on-demand service, offering playlist creation, downloads for offline listening, unlimited skips and replays, higher-quality audio, and no ads, as well as the ability to play any song at will.

The strategy of enticing paying customers with personalization features may be working.

The streaming service in July reported its two paid tiers – Plus and Premium – had reached 6 million subscribers – a number that’s up 23% year-over-year. But its user base overall is declining slightly, as Spotify and Apple Music charge ahead. Its 71.4 million active users represented a 6% drop from its 76 million users in the year-ago period.

While I was able to test The Drop pre-launch, it’s harder to speak precisely to its quality because my child uses my Pandora account more often than I do. So my playlist was an eclectic mix of David Bowie, Blood on the Dance Floor, Interpol, Ariana Grande, Twenty One Pilots, Echo & The Bunnymen, among others. That said, it didn’t have anything on it that was way off base for at least one of us.

It was also not 100 songs at launch – just 14 – as the playlist will grow over time.

The Drop is launching today, but will roll out to Pandora’s Premium user base over the course of the next two weeks, says Pandora.

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Apple Music launches a ‘Top Charts’ playlist series

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Apple Music is rolling out a new playlist series that will feature the Top 100 songs on Apple Music globally and for those countries where Apple Music is available. Because they’re playlists, users will be able to add these top charts for their country or the Top 100 Global songs to their library so they can stream them any time, or listen offline.

The feature was first reported by Rolling Stone, which was given a preview of the changes by Apple.

At launch, there are 116 charts launching in total, including the Top 100 Global and one for each Apple Music market. Many countries will have access to all of these new Top 100 playlist charts, but availability will vary, we understand.

What’s also interesting about the top chart playlists is that they’ll be updated daily at 12:00 AM PT based on Apple Music streams, which keeps them fresh.

Rolling Stone’s report indicates the release of these charts is due to growing importance of streaming numbers. Artists and their managers as well as labels and scouts tend to reference top streaming charts in the hunt for new talent, it says. And the industry has adapted, too, by more heavily weighting paid streaming over free.

On that front, Apple Music’s dominance in North America means its numbers, in particular, are important to track.

Apple Music, now with 50 million paid subscribers worldwide, is currently ahead of Spotify in the North American market, according to comments made by CEO Tim Cook on the latest earnings call.

“We took the leadership position in North America during the quarter and we have the leadership position in Japan, and in some of the markets that we’ve been in for a long period of time,” he said in July.

Spotify is still ahead on the worldwide stage, with 83 million paid users. 

However, it’s worth also pointing out that these new top charts aren’t just launching as a static section of the Apple Music app – they’re dynamic playlists.

That is, Apple’s new Top Charts playlists will not be replacing the existing Top 200 Songs chart, available today.

Playlists are an important battleground between the major streaming services, with Spotify focusing heavily on personalization with playlists like its flagship Discover Weekly, plus Release Radar, Daily Mixes (and a newer variation, Your Daily Car Mix), Your Summer Rewind, and Time Capsule.

Apple Music, meanwhile, offers users a Favorites playlist, along with a New Music Mix, Chill Mix, and is rolling out a Friends Mix in iOS 12.

The feature is available today on Apple Music. You can check out these playlists as an example:

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Spotify expands its $4.99 per month student bundle with Hulu to include Showtime

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Spotify today is announcing a new way for students to access its Premium service, along with Hulu and Showtime, for a discounted price of $4.99 per month for all three. The new deal is an expansion of the existing Hulu and Spotify bundle for students, which launched around a year ago at the same price. Now those existing subscribers as well as new ones will be able to stream from all three services when they sign up.

The new bundle consists of Spotify Premium for Students, Hulu with Limited Commercials, and Showtime . Students will need to be attending a Title IV accredited institution in the U.S. to qualify for the discounted pricing.

When Spotify teamed up with Hulu back in September 2017, it was the first time it had ever partnered with a streaming video service on a bundle deal. The deal had arrived just as Spotify’s own efforts into original video were failing, and its head of video Tom Calderone was departing amid a shift in content strategy.

For both Spotify and Hulu, a bundle of music and video allows them to steel themselves against the looming threat from Apple, and its expected launch of its own streaming video service, which itself could be bundled with an Apple Music subscription. Because of Apple’s built-in advantage that comes with the iPhone, Apple Music has already outpaced Spotify in the U.S. – and clearly, the streaming services are concerned about its video plans.

According to Spotify, the reasoning behind a bundle has to do with the fact that college students are streaming entertainment more than any other age group. It wanted to reach them with better pricing, it says.

“We’ve been really pleased about the uptake of the original Hulu bundle, so are happy to be expanding the offering,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The company, however, declined to share the number of students who had taken advantage of the bundle discount so far. Spotify had also expanded this same bundle to all customers in April, at $12.99 per month for both, instead of $7.99 per month for Hulu and $9.99 per month for Spotify, when sold separately.

Spotify has added subscribers since those launches, but it’s unclear how many were from bundles. Today, it has 83 million paying subscribers out of 180 million monthly users. That’s up from the 60 million paying subscribers it had when the student bundle was first announced, when it was then twice as big as Apple Music.

With the addition of Showtime, students will be able to watch series like “Shameless,” “Who Is America?,” “The Chi,” “Billions,” “Ray Donovan,” “Smilf,” “The Affair,” Homeland,” “Twin Peaks,” the upcoming Jim Carrey comedy “Kidding,” and upcoming “Escape at Dannemora,” among others, plus movies, documentaries, sports and comedy specials.

Showtime currently costs $10.99 per month over-the-top, when purchased directly from the network itself, though it’s possible to find it for less elsewhere. For example, Amazon Channels sells the subscription a la carte for $8.99 per month, at present.

To get all three services for $4.99 per month is an almost ridiculous price at this point, and one that’s intended to serve as a way to addict students at a time when their media consumption is heavy, so they’ll become avid users.

Once students have created their playlists, downloaded their songs, followed their favorite bands, networks, and shows, they will benefit from the personalization these services offer. After a few years’ time, it will be difficult for the students to abandon the services when the price increases after graduation – or, at least, that’s the thinking on the streamers’ part.

Spotify won’t discuss the partnership particulars, but it’s obviously subsidizing the services here.

To sign up for the triple-play bundle, students can go to spotify.com/us/student. During the first three months, Spotify will only be $0.99, bringing the cost down even further.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Spotify is falling behind on lyrics and voice

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Spotify’s lack of full lyrics support and its minimal attention to voice are beginning to become problems for the streaming service. The company has been so focused on the development of its personalization technology and programming its playlists, it has overlooked key features that its competitors – including Apple, Google, and Amazon – today offer and are now capitalizing on.

For example, in the updated version of Apple Music rolling out this fall with iOS 12, users won’t just have access to lyrics in the app as before, they will also be able to perform searches by lyrics instead of only by the artist, album, or song title.

And Apple Music is actually playing catch up with Amazon on this front.

Amazon Music, which has quietly grown to become the third largest music streaming service, allows users to view the lyrics as songs play, and ties that to its Alexa voice platform. Amazon Music users with an Alexa device can also search for songs by lyrics just by saying “play the song that goes…”.

The company has been offering this capability for close to two years. While it had originally been one of Alexa’s hidden gems, today asking Alexa to pull up a song by its lyrics is considered a standard feature.

Though Google has lagged behind Apple, Spotify and Amazon in music, its clever Google Assistant is capable of search-by-lyrics, too. And as an added perk, it can also work like Shazam to identify a song that’s playing nearby.

With the rise of voice-based computing, features like asking for songs with verbal commands or querying databases of lyrics by voice are now expected features.

And where’s Spotify on this?

It has launched lyrics search only in Japan so far, and refuses to provide a timeline as to when it will make this a priority in other markets. Even tucked away in the app’s code are references to lyrics tests only in the non-U.S. markets of Thailand and Vietnam.

Those tests have been underway since the beginning of the year, we understand from sources. But the attention being given to these tests is minimal – Spotify isn’t measuring user engagement with the lyrics feature at this point. And Spotify CEO Daniel Ek wasn’t even aware his team was working on these lyrics tests, we heard, which implies a lack of management focus on this product.

Meanwhile, competitors like Apple and Amazon have dedicated lyrics teams.

We asked Spotify multiple times if it was currently testing lyrics in the U.S. (You can see one person who claims they gained access here, for example.) But the company never responded to our questions.

Image credit: Imgur via Reddit user spalatidium

Some Spotify customers who largely listen to popular music may be confused about the lack of a full lyrics product in the app. That’s because Spotify partnered with Genius in 2016 to launch “Behind the Lyrics,” which offers lyrics and music trivia on a portion of its catalog. But you don’t see all the song’s lyrics when the music plays because they’re interrupted with facts and other background  information about the song, the lyrics’ meaning, or the artist.

That same year, Spotify also ditched its ties with Musixmatch, which had been providing its lyrics support, as the two companies could no longer come to an agreement. There was expectation from users that lyrics would return at some point – but only “Behind the Lyrics” emerged to fill the void.

Demand for a real lyrics feature remains strong, though. Users regularly post on social media and Reddit about the topic.

A request for lyrics’ return is also one of the most upvoted product ideas on Spotify’s user feedback forum. It has 9,237 “likes,” making it the second-most popular request.

(The idea has been flagged “Watch this Space,” but it’s been tagged like that for so long it’s no longer a promise of something that’s soon to come.) There is no internal solution in the works, we understand, and it’s not working on a new deal with a third-party at this time.

 

The lack of lyrics is becoming a problem in other areas, as well, now that competitors are launching search-by-lyrics features that work via voice commands.

In fact, Spotify was late, in general, to address users’ interest in voice assistance – even though a primary use case for music listening is when you’re on the go – like, in the car, out walking or jogging, at the gym, biking, etc.

It only began testing a voice search option this spring, accessible through a new in-app button. Now rolled out to mobile users on Spotify Premium, the voice search product works via a long-press on the Search button in the app. You can then ask Spotify to play music, playlists, podcasts, and videos.

But the feature is still wonky. For one thing, hiding it away as a long press-triggered option means many users probably don’t know it exists. (And the floating button that pops up when you switch to search is hard to reach.) Secondly, it doesn’t address the primary reason users want to search by voice: hands-free listening.

Meanwhile, iPhone/HomePod users can tell Siri to play music with a hands-free command; Google Assistant/Google Home users can instruct the helper to play their songs – even if they only know the lyrics. And Amazon Music’s Alexa integration is live on Echo speakers, and available hands-free in its Music app.

Even third-party music services like Pandora are tapping into the voice platforms’ capabilities to provide search by lyrics. For example, Pandora Premium launched this week on Google Assistant devices like the Google Home, and offers search-by-lyrics powered by Google Assistant.

Spotify can’t offer a native search-by-lyrics feature in its app, much less search-by-lyrics using voice commands option, because it doesn’t even have fully functional lyrics.

Voice and lyrics aren’t the only challenges Spotify is facing going forward.

Spotify also lacks dedicated hardware like its own Echo or HomePod. Given the rise of voice-based computing and voice assistants, the company has the potential to cede some portion of the market as consumers end up buying into the larger ecosystems provided by the main tech players: Siri/HomePod/Apple Music vs. Google Assistant/Google Home/Google Play Music (or YouTube Music) vs. Alexa/Echo/Amazon Music (all promoted by Prime).

For now, Spotify works with partners to make sure its service performs on their platforms, but Apple isn’t playing nice in return.

Elsewhere, Spotify may play but won’t be as fully functional as the native solutions. With Spotify as the default service on Echo devices, for example, Alexa can’t always figure out commands that instruct it to play music by lyrics, activity, or mood – commands that work well with Amazon Music, of course.

Other cracks in Spotify’s dominance are starting to show, as well. 

Amazon Music has seen impressive growth, thanks to adoption in four key Prime markets, U.S., Japan, Germany and the U.K.. With now 12% of the music streaming market, it has become the dark horse that’s been largely ignored amid discussions of the Amazon vs Spotify battle. But it’s not necessarily one to count out just yet.

YouTube Music, though brand new, has managed to snag Lyor Cohen as its Global Music Head, while Spotify’s latest headlines are about losing Troy Carter.

Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook just announced during the last earnings call that Apple Music has moved ahead of Spotify in North America. He also warned against ceding too much control to algorithms, in a recent interview, making a sensible argument for maintaining music’s “spiritual role” in our lives.

“We worry about the humanity being drained out of music, about it becoming a bits-and-bytes kind of world instead of the art and craft,” Cook mused.

Apple was late to music streaming, having been so tied to its download business. But it has the luxury of time to get it right, knowing that its powerful iPhone platform offers anything it launches a built-in advantage. (And it’s poised to offer TV shows as a part of its subscription, too.)

Despite these concerns, Spotify doesn’t need to panic yet – it still has more listeners, more paying customers, and more consumer mindshare in the music streaming business. It has its popular playlists and personalization features. It has its RapCaviar. But it will need to plug its holes to keep up where the market is heading, or risk losing customers to the larger platforms in the months ahead.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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