May 26, 2019
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Spotify-owned Soundtrap launches a podcast studio in the cloud

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In November 2017, Spotify picked up the online music studio Soundtrap as part of its efforts to offer more services to artists on its platform. Now that Spotify has a growing interest in podcasts and the needs of podcast creators, Soundtrap is launching a new product to address that market instead. The company today announced the launch of  Soundtrap for Storytellers, a cloud-based podcast creation platform with a number of advanced features, including the ability to transcribe and edit podcasts, collaborate with others, and more.

Soundtrap isn’t the only podcast creation service Spotify now owns. It also bought the lightweight podcast creation app Anchor in February 2019 as part of its big push into podcasts.

Like Anchor, Soundtrap is focused on making it easier to podcast. But unlike Anchor, which is free, Soundtrap is available by subscription, starting at $14.99 per month (or $11.99 per month, if billed annually).

The pricing represents the differentiated feature set Soundtrap provides. While Anchor offers lightweight podcast creation — it began as a mobile app — it also now provides hosting, distribution, and monetizaton. Soundtrap, meanwhile, is focused on recording, editing and publishing primarily to Spotify.

When Spotify first acquired Soundtrap, it was focused on collaborative music making — now, that same technology is being turned to podcasting.

This includes built-in features like recording, remote multi-track interviewing with video chat, interactive transcripts, full audio production capabilities, SEO optimization and more.

For example, the new service will transcribe the podcast (in English only for the time being) — and this transcript is then published along with the podcast to help optimize its discoverability in online search results. (Coincidentally, Google just announced at its I/O developer conference last week it would now index podcasts in its search results, allowing users to play episodes from the browser or save them for later listening.)

The platform also allows multiple podcasters to talk and record on separate tracks as they work on the same podcast together, by sending a link to join the session to remote guests. This is similar to a number of existing solutions like Zecastr, Ringr, Cleanfeed, Clearcast, and Cast, for instance. Also like some existing solutions, Soundtrap will offer sound effects. And like Simplecast, it offers distribution.

Where the service shines, however, is in its editing studio. Here, you can edit the spoken-word audio file much like you would a text document, which makes things a lot easier. This is one of its unique features — and something that could make it a compelling alternative to existing solutions.

Another part of the service’s value proposition is also that it’s a one-stop shop…of sorts. Today, many podcasters hop from product to product — one to record, one to edit, and another to publish. Soundtrap includes all these options within its platform.

However, one big issue is that Soundtrap only directly publishes to Spotify itself, in addition to feeding the transcript to search engines. To distribute the podcast elsewhere, creators will have to download the mastered podcast they create with Soundtrap, then use another service for distribution.

Given Soundtrap’s higher price point than competitive solutions, that could be a sticking point as it can’t fully replace all aspects of the podcasters’ workflow.

And because Soundtrap is not a hosting solution, podcasters will have to look elsewhere for analytics.

“The Soundtrap team has done a fantastic job with this new product,” said Charlie Hellman, Spotify’s Head of Creator Marketplace, in a statement. “Part of Spotify’s mission is to grow the number of creators able to build podcasts worldwide. Soundtrap for Storytellers gives podcast creators incredible editing capabilities, collaboration in real-time, and the ability to publish their podcast to Spotify,” he added.

Soundtrap’s full suite is available on the desktop, with a subset of its tools available on iOS and Android.

Additional reporting: Chris Gates

Spotify is testing its own version of Stories called ‘Storyline’

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Spotify is testing its own version of Stories — the sharing format popularized by social apps like Snapchat and Instagram and has since made its way to other apps like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, and others. In Spotify’s case, it’s not called “Stories” but rather “Storyline,” and the focus is on allowing artists to share their own insights, inspiration, details about their creative process, or other meanings behind the music.

This is very much similar to what Spotify’s “Behind the Lyrics” feature today offers. But instead of pop-up cards that load in time with the music, Spotify Storyline is very much a Stories-like experience where users tap through the different screens at their own pace, and where horizontal lines at the top indicate how many screens still await them ahead.

By comparison, “Behind the Lyrics” pulls in this sort of background information from Spotify’s partner, Genius — and Genius doesn’t always get things right. This, in fact, was the cause of a bit of an uproar recently, when Paramore singer Hayley Williams took to Twitter to yell at Spotify for running “outdated facts” on “Behind the Lyrics” — something she said her management team had tried to get changed for a year.

After her tweet went viral, Genius reached out to help. But following the incident, music fans pointed out other inaccuracies in “Behind the Lyrics” including misstated facts on 21 Pilots’ song “Jumpsuit” and Travis Scott’s “Yosemite,” for example.


For Spotify, one possible solution to this problem could be to allow artists and their management teams to take control over what’s displayed as the song plays — while adopting the popular Stories format in the process. But at present, the Storyline feature is appearing on top of “Behind the Lyrics” which is a bit odd and confusing.

We understand that Storyline is only a test for the time being on both iOS and Android, but not desktop. It’s available in the U.S. and in other markets, but Spotify isn’t commenting as to who may be seeing the test at this time or where.

If you are a part of the test group, you’ll see an indicator on the bottom of the screen that alerts you to the additional content. You can then swipe up anywhere on the screen that’s not a button in order to reveal the story and start tapping. The stories may contain lyrics, text or images.

For the time being, there’s no direct way for any artist or management team to contribute to Storyline. Those involved are working with Spotify directly. But it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that the feature could be something that’s built into the Spotify Artist Dashboard in the future, if it proved to deliver the sort of positive engagement Spotify hopes to see.

The feature, if launched, would give Spotify its own sort of original content — an area that hadn’t fared so well in the past when Spotify was producing its own original videos, for example. And it would better cater to Spotify’s younger demographic who already understand and regularly use Stories in other social apps.

Android Police was first to spot the news (via Reddit), and found it was live on a handful of songs including Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” and several by Billie Eilish (“Bad Guy,” “Bury a Friend,” “When the Party’s Over,” “Wish You Were Gay.”) We also understand it’s showing up on MAX’s “Love Me Less.” Plus, Reddit users claim to have seen on it 2 Chainz’ “Forgiven,” The Beaches’ “Snake Tongue,” and others.

Spotify confirmed to TechCrunch it’s testing Storyline in a brief statement.

“We are always testing new ways to create better experiences for more users,” a spokesperson said, when asked about the feature. The company didn’t offer any information about when it would roll out more broadly.


Spotify brings its slimmed-down ‘Lite’ app to India

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Spotify has launched a more slimmed-down version of its streaming music app in India, only months after its public debut in the country. The Android-only app, Spotify Lite is only 11 MB in size compared with 30 MB for the main app — a change that’s common to apps targeting emerging markets where bandwidth and storage space are concerns.

The company had already tested Spotify Lite in other areas, including Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Mexico, Brazil, and others. The app has a similar look as the main app, and offers the same key features in terms of being able to play music on demand, discover new music you might like, and save songs for offline listening. However, it also lets you keep track of your mobile data by showing you how much you’ve consumed during the month, and set a monthly limit for Spotify Lite’s use of that data.

The app can be used as an alternative or alongside the main Spotify app, depending on the users’ needs.

The first version of Spotify Lite launched in Brazil in June 2018, so it’s still a relatively new app. Today, the app is publicly available in 22 countries including, now India. It has around 2.1 million installs, according to data from Sensor Tower. India has only produced a few thousand downloads for Spotify Lite so far, as it’s just gone live.

That said, India will be a key market for Spotify Lite going forward, given the heated competition for streaming music services in a region where millions of internet users are coming online for the first time. Already, Apple, Amazon, and Google are running their own music services in India, where they face competition from local players Gaana, JioSaavn, and others. Catering to the unique needs of the Indian market’s user base will help Spotify better compete with these rivals.

“Lite” apps are now a common way to reach Indian users. Google offers a handful of lightweight “Go”-branded apps, like Google Go, Gmail Go, Files Go, YouTube Go, Google Maps Go and Google Assistant Go in the country. There’s also Facebook LiteInstagram LiteMessenger LiteTwitter LiteUber Lite, TikTok Lite, and, as of last week, Tinder Lite, too.

The news of Spotify Lite’s Indian launch was first reported by a newswire report featured on news site The News Minute. The report quoted Amarjit Batra, Managing Director for Spotify India, as saying the Lite app was a big step towards better localization of Spotify’s service as it “enables users to play millions of songs for free, takes up less space on phones, and saves data when used on the go.”

Reached for comment, Spotify confirmed the launch to TechCrunch, but referred to it as a test and noted its “beta” labeling.

“At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests, including the Spotify Lite Beta, in an effort to improve our user experience,” a Spotify spokesperson said. “Some of those tests end up paving the path for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning. We aren’t going to comment on specific tests at this time,” they added.

Slack aims to be the most important software company in the world, says CEO

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Slack this morning disclosed estimated preliminary financial results for the first quarter of 2019 ahead of a direct listing planned for June 20.

Citing an addition of paid customers, the workplace messaging service posted revenues of about $134 million, up 66 percent from $81 million in the first quarter of 2018. Losses from operations increased from $26 million in Q1 2018 to roughly $39 million this year.

In addition to filing updated paperwork, the Slack executive team gathered on Monday to make a final pitch to potential shareholders, emphasizing its goal of replacing email within enterprises across the world.

“People deserve to do the best work of their lives,” Slack co-founder and chief executive officer Stewart Butterfield said in a video released alongside a livestream of its investor day event. “This desire of feeling aligned with your team, of removing confusion, of getting clarity; the desire for support in doing the best work of your life, that’s universal, that’s deeply human. It appeals to people with all kinds of roles, in all kinds of industries, at all scales of organization and all cultures.”

“We believe that whoever is able to unlock that potential for people … is going to be the most important software company in the world. We aim to be that company,” he added.”

Slack, valued at more than $7 billion with its last round of venture capital funding, plans to list on the NYSE under the ticker symbol “SK.”

The business filed to go public in April as other well-known tech companies were finalizing their initial public offerings. Following Uber’s disastrous IPO last week, public and private market investors alike will be keeping a close-eye on Slack’s stock market performance, which may determine Wall Street’s future appetite for Silicon Valley’s unicorns.

Though some of the recent tech IPOs performed famously, like Zoom, Uber and Lyft’s performance has served as a cautionary tale for going out in poor market conditions with lofty valuations. Uber began trading last week at below its IPO price of $45 and is today down significantly at just $36 per share. Lyft, for its part, is selling for $47.5 apiece today after pricing at $72 per share in March.

Slack isn’t losing billions per year like Uber but it’s also not as close to profitability as expected. In the year ending January 31, 2019, Slack posted a net loss of $138.9 million and revenue of $400.6 million. That’s compared to a loss of $140.1 million on revenue of $220.5 million for the year ending January 31, 2018. In its S-1, the company attributed its losses to scaling the business and capitalizing on its market opportunity.

Workplace messaging startup Slack said Monday, February 4, 2019 it had filed a confidential registration for an initial public offering, becoming the latest of a group of richly valued tech enterprises to look to Wall Street. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Slack currently boasts more than 10 million daily active users across more than 600,000 organizations — 88,000 on the paid plan and 550,000 on the free plan.

Slack has been able to bypass the traditional roadshow process expected of an IPO-ready business, opting for a path to Wall Street popularized by Spotify in 2018. The company plans to complete a direct listing, which allows companies to forgo issuing new shares and instead sell existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors directly to the market, in mid-June. The date, however, is subject to change.

Slack has previously raised a total of $1.2 billion in funding from investors, including Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Social Capital, SoftBank, Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins.

Where top VCs are investing in media, entertainment & gaming

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Most of the strategy discussions and news coverage in the media & entertainment industry is concerned with the unfolding corporate mega-mergers and the political implications of social media platforms.

These are important conversations, but they’re largely a story of twentieth-century media (and broader society) finally responding to the dominance Web 2.0 companies have achieved.

To entrepreneurs and VCs, the more pressing focus is on what the next generation of companies to transform entertainment will look like. Like other sectors, the underlying force is advances in artificial intelligence and computer power.

In this context, that results in a merging of gaming and linear storytelling into new interactive media. To highlight the opportunities here, I asked nine top VCs to share where they are putting their money.

Here are the media investment theses of: Cyan Banister (Founders Fund), Alex Taussig (Lightspeed), Matt Hartman (betaworks), Stephanie Zhan (Sequoia), Jordan Fudge (Sinai), Christian Dorffer (Sweet Capital), Charles Hudson (Precursor), MG Siegler (GV), and Eric Hippeau (Lerer Hippeau).

Cyan Banister, Partner at Founders Fund

In 2018 I was obsessed with the idea of how you can bring AI and entertainment together. Having made early investments in Brud, A.I. Foundation, Artie and Fable, it became clear that the missing piece behind most AR experiences was a lack of memory.

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