Spotify stays quiet about launch of its voice command ‘Hey Spotify’ on mobile

In 2019, Spotify began testing a hardware device for automobile owners it lovingly dubbed “Car Thing,” which allowed Spotify Premium users to play music and podcasts using voice commands that began with “Hey, Spotify.” Last year, Spotify began developing a similar voice integration into its mobile app. Now, access to the “Hey Spotify” voice feature is rolling out more broadly.

Spotify chose not to officially announce the new addition, despite numerous reports indicating the voice option was showing up for many people in their Spotify app, leading to some user confusion about availability.

One early report by GSM Arena, for example, indicated Android users had been sent a push notification that alerted them to the feature. The notification advised users to “Just enable your mic and say ‘Hey Spotify, Play my Favorite Songs.” When tapped, the notification launched Spotify’s new voice interface where users are pushed to first give the app permission to use the microphone in order to be able to verbally request the music they want to hear.

Several outlets soon reported the feature had launched to Android users, which is only partially true.

As it turns out, the feature is making its way to iOS devices, as well. When we launched the Spotify app here on an iPhone running iOS 14.5, for instance, we found the same feature had indeed gone live. You just tap on the microphone button by the search box to get to the voice experience. We asked around and found that other iPhone users on various versions of the iOS operating system also had the feature, including free users, Premium subscribers and Premium Family Plan subscribers.

The screen that appears suggests in big, bold text that you could be saying “Hey Spotify, play…” followed by a random artist’s name. It also presents a big green button at the bottom to turn on “Hey Spotify.”

Once enabled, you can ask for artists, albums, songs and playlists by name, as well as control playback with commands like stop, pause, skip this song, go back and others. Spotify confirms the command with a robotic-sounding male voice by default. (You can swap to a female voice in Settings, if you prefer.)

Image Credits: Spotify screenshot iOS

This screen also alerts users that when the app hears the “Hey Spotify” voice command, it sends the user’s voice data and other information to Spotify. There’s a link to Spotify policy regarding its use of voice data, which further explains that Spotify will collect recordings and transcripts of what you say along with information about the content it returned to you. The company says it may continue to use this data to improve the feature, develop new voice features and target users with relevant advertising. It may also share your information with service providers, like cloud storage providers.

The policy looks to be the same as the one that was used along with Spotify’s voice-enabled ads, launched last year, so it doesn’t seem to have been updated to fully reflect the changes enabled with the launch of “Hey Spotify.” However, it does indicate that, like other voice assistants, Spotify doesn’t just continuously record — it waits until users say the wake words.

Given the “Hey Spotify” voice command’s origins with “Car Thing,” there’s been speculation that the mobile rollout is a signal that the company is poised to launch its own hardware to the wider public in the near future. There’s already some indication that may be true — MacRumors recently reported finding references and photos to Car Thing and its various mounts inside the Spotify app’s code. This follows Car Thing’s reveal in FCC filings back in January of this year, which had also stoked rumors that the device was soon to launch.

Spotify was reached for comment this morning, but has yet been unable to provide any answers about the feature’s launch despite a day’s wait. Instead, we were told that they “unfortunately do not have any additional news to share at this time.” That further suggests some larger projects could be tied to this otherwise more minor feature’s launch.

Though today’s consumers are wary of tech companies’ data collection methods — and particularly their use of voice data after all three tech giants confessed to poor practices on this front — there’s still a use case for voice commands, particularly from an accessibility standpoint and, for drivers, from a safety standpoint.

And although you can direct your voice assistant on your phone (or via CarPlay or Android Auto, if available) to play content from Spotify, some may find it useful to be able to speak to Spotify directly — especially since Apple doesn’t allow Spotify to be set as a default music service. You can only train Siri to launch Spotify as your preferred service.

If, however, you have second thoughts about using the “Hey Spotify” feature after enabling it, you can turn it off under “Voice Interactions” in the app’s settings.

Authentic Artists is building virtual, AI-powered musicians

Chris McGarry, who previously led music integration at Facebook’s Oculus, is taking a new approach to bringing music into the virtual world with his startup Authentic Artists.

McGarry pointed to virtual celebrities like Lil Miquela and virtual concerts like Travis Scott’s giant event in Fortnite as setting the stage for Authentic Artists. In a sense, the startup represents a combination of those ideas, creating virtual musicians who perform their own concerts — initially in Twitch — and can respond to audience requests.

“We are very intentionally not trying to create a digital facsimile of what already exists,” he said. “We want to use new tools to create new art, new experiences, new culture. The appeal is that these artists can really be vehicles for collaboration with the audience, so that [audience members] can selectively shape the live show.”

In fact, Authentic Artists has already held some test concerts on Twitch, and McGarry said the team was “frankly, sort of blown away by the response,” with average watch time of 35 minutes.

It will be unveiling its next generation of virtual artists in Twitch concerts starting on April 14, co-hosted by (human) Twitch streamers, who will introduce the concept to audiences — though McGarry said there’s potential for more collaboration between virtual and human stars in the future.

There are a number of different pieces to the Authentic Artists platform, working together to animate a virtual musician, generate their music and allow them to respond to audience feedback, whether that’s increasing the intensity of a song, decreasing the tempo or fast forwarding to the next song.

“Music is the lifeblood of our vision, and accordingly, we’ve invested significantly in the core audio engine,” McGarry said. He emphasized that the platform is not simply recombining music loops composed by humans, but rather generating music on its own: “We want [our virtual artists] to have autonomy, we want them to be real.”

It sounds like the team is still putting the final touches on the new artists, so I didn’t get to see a full concert experience. Instead, McGarry and his team presented renderings of these artists (including a half-human cyborg and a giant iguana) and their virtual venues, and they demonstrated the music engine, creating new compositions on-the-fly while adjusting different parameters. As McGarry put it, “These are all original compositions, generated and produced as we sit here, with no manual intervention.”

Authentic Artists is backed by investors including OVO Fund, James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems, Mixi Group and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. McGarry said he’s currently more focused on finding product-market fit than on the business model, but he sees opportunities to make money through avenues such as branded music and decentralized finance/NFTs in the future.

Apple clarifies you can’t actually set a ‘default’ music service in iOS 14.5

Apple has clarified that the iOS 14.5 beta is not actually allowing users to select a new default music service, as has been reported. Following the beta’s release back in February, a number of beta testers noticed that Siri would now ask what music service they would like to use when they asked Siri to play music. But Apple doesn’t consider this feature the equivalent to “setting a default” — an option it more recently began to allow for email and browser apps.

Instead, the feature is Siri intelligence-based, meaning it can improve and even change over time as Siri learns to better understand your listening habits.

For example, if you tell Siri to play a song, album or artist, it may ask you which service you want to use to listen to this sort of content. However, your response to Siri is not making that particular service your “default,” Apple says. In fact, Siri may ask you again at some point — a request that could confuse users if they thought their preferences had already been set.

Image Credits: iOS 14.5 screenshot

Apple also points out there’s no specific setting in iOS where users can configure a “default” music service, the way there is with email and browser apps. While many earlier reports did note this difference, they still referred to the feature as “setting a default,” which is technically incorrect. 

More broadly, the feature is an attempt to help Siri to learn the listening apps you want to use for different types of audio content — not just music. Perhaps you want to use Spotify to listen to music, but prefer to keep up with your podcasts in Apple Podcasts or some other third-party podcasts app. And you may want to listen to audiobooks in yet another app.

When Siri asks you the which service you want to use for these sorts of audio requests, it will present a list of the audio apps you have installed for you to choose from.

Image Credits: iOS 14.5 screenshot

In addition to Siri’s understanding of your habits — which are based on your responses and choices — app developers can optionally use APIs to provide Siri with access to more intelligence about what people listen to in their app and why. This could allow Siri to fulfill users’ requests with more accuracy. And all this processing takes place on the device.

The audio choice feature, of course, doesn’t prevent users from requesting a particular service by name, even if it’s not their usual preference.

For instance, you can still say something like “play smooth jazz radio on Pandora” to launch that app instead. However, if you continued to request Pandora by name for music requests — even though you had initially specified Apple Music or Spotify or some other service when Siri had first prompted you — then the next time you asked Siri to play music without specifically a service, the assistant may ask you again to choose a service.

Image Credits: iOS 14.5 screenshot

Although this may seem like a minor clarification, it has a greater importance given the increased regulatory scrutiny Apple is under these days over how its App Store and app ecosystem work. Spotify, in particular, has alleged that Apple is behaving in anti-competitive ways — for instance by requiring a commission on Spotify’s in-app purchases even though Apple runs a rival music service that Spotify claims has first-party advantages.

The audio choice feature had first appeared in iOS 14.5 beta 1, but had been pulled in beta 2. It has since returned with the release of beta 3, which again drew attention and headlines — as well as Apple’s response.

Although it’s not technically allowing you to set a “default,” the Siri-powered feature could eventually feel like one for users with consistent listening behavior. The iPhone will simply become smarter about how to play what you want to hear, without necessarily forcing you to use Apple’s own apps if you don’t want to.

 

SoundCloud adjusts revenue model for indie artists

We’ve known for a long time that music streaming royalties are fundamentally broken. As revenue has shifted away from sales of physical music, it’s become increasingly difficult for many independent artists to make a living off recorded music. But all of that has come to a head as the pandemic has stripped live music out of the equation entirely.

Some services have looked to buck the trend. The immensely popular Bandcamp Fridays are a notable example, offering all revenue to artists and labels one day a month. And now SoundCloud is looking to shake up how it pays its own independent creators — a move that could prove a nice boon for musicians on a service that’s lent its name to at least one popular musical subgenre.

The site will institute a new revenue structure at the beginning of next month. Soundcloud breaks down “Fan-powered” royalties thusly,

Fan-powered royalties are a more equitable and transparent way for independent artists who monetize directly with SoundCloud to get paid. The more fans listen on SoundCloud, and listen to your music, the more you get paid.

Under the old model, money from your dedicated fans goes into a giant pool that’s paid out to artists based on their share of total streams. That model mostly benefits mega stars.

Under fan-powered royalties, you get paid based on your fans’ actual listening habits. The more of their time your dedicated fans listen to your music, the more you get paid. This model benefits independent artists.

The service is available for independent artists who monetize their pages through select Pro accounts. There are a number of factors that go into the final payment (the first of which will arrive in May), including whether listeners have a subscription, the amount they’ve listened to one artist relative to others and ads they’ve listened to. The fine print is available here.

Musicians have become increasingly vocal about their inability to live off of streaming revenue as the pandemic has cut off major income sources over the past year. Spotify, in particular, has drawn harsh criticism as the company has spent hundreds of millions on podcast acquisitions while maintaining old revenue models for musicians.

Facebook launches BARS, a TikTok-like app for creating and sharing raps

Facebook’s internal R&D group, NPE Team, is today launching its next experimental app, called BARS. The app makes it possible for rappers to create and share their raps using professionally created beats, and is the NPE Team’s second launch in the music space following its recent public debut of music video app Collab.

While Collab focuses on making music with others online, BARS is instead aimed at would-be rappers looking to create and share their own videos. In the app, users will select from any of the hundreds of professionally created beats, then write their own lyrics and record a video. BARS can also automatically suggest rhymes as you’re writing out lyrics, and offers different audio and visual filters to accompany videos as well as an autotune feature.

There’s also a “Challenge mode” available, where you can freestyle with auto-suggested word cues, which has more of a game-like element to it. The experience is designed to be accommodating to people who just want to have fun with rap, similar to something like Smule’s AutoRap, perhaps, which also offers beats for users’ own recordings.

Image Credits: Facebook

The videos themselves can be up to 60 seconds in length and can then be saved to your Camera Roll or shared out on other social media platforms.

Like NPE’s Collab, the pandemic played a role in BARS’ creation. The pandemic shut down access to live music and places where rappers could experiment, explains NPE Team member DJ Iyler, who also ghostwrites hip-hop songs under the alias “D-Lucks.”

“I know access to high-priced recording studios and production equipment can be limited for aspiring rappers. On top of that, the global pandemic shut down live performances where we often create and share our work,” he says.

BARS was built with a team of aspiring rappers, and today launched into a closed beta.

Image Credits: Facebook

Despite the focus on music, and rap in particular, the new app in a way can be seen as yet another attempt by Facebook to develop a TikTok competitor — at least in this content category.

TikTok has already become a launchpad for up-and-coming musicians, including rappers; it has helped rappers test their verses, is favored by many beatmakers and is even influencing what sort of music is being made. Diss tracks have also become a hugely popular format on TikTok, mainly as a way for influencers to stir up drama and chase views. In other words, there’s already a large social community around rap on TikTok, and Facebook wants to shift some of that attention back its way.

The app also resembles TikTok in terms of its user interface. It’s a two-tabbed vertical video interface — in its case, it has  “Featured” and “New” feeds instead of TikTok’s “Following” and “For You.” And BARS places the engagement buttons on the lower-right corner of the screen with the creator name on the lower-left, just like TikTok.

However, in place of hearts for favoriting videos, your taps on a video give it “Fire” — a fire emoji keeps track. You can tap “Fire” as many times as you want, too. But because there’s (annoyingly) no tap-to-pause feature, you may accidentally “fire” a video when you were looking for a way to stop its playback. To advance in BARS, you swipe vertically, but the interface is lacking an obvious “Follow” button to track your favorite creators. It’s hidden under the top-right three-dot menu.

The app is seeded with content from NPE Team members, which includes other aspiring rappers, former music producers and publishers.

Currently, the BARS beta is live on the iOS App Store in the U.S., and is opening its waitlist. Facebook says it will open access to BARS invites in batches, starting in the U.S. Updates and news about invites, meanwhile, will be announced on Instagram.

Facebook’s recent launches from its experimental apps division include Collab and collage maker E.gg, among others. Not all apps stick around. If they fail to gain traction, Facebook shuts them down — as it did last year with the Pinterest-like video app Hobbi.

Spotify to launch Spotify Audience Network, an audio ad marketplace

Spotify provided more details today about how it plans to monetize its investments in podcasts. The company said it’s launching a new audio advertising marketplace, the Spotify Audience Network, which will allow advertisers to reach listeners across Spotify’s own Originals and Exclusives, as well as podcasts via Megaphone and creation tool Anchor, and its ad-supported music, all in one place. The company also said it plans to offer podcasts on its self-serve ad platform, Spotify Ad Studio, starting with Spotify Originals and Exclusives in the U.S., in a beta test phase.

This will expand to include third-party podcasts in the future, the company noted today during its live online event, “Stream On.”

Currently, Spotify Ad Studio is being used by advertisers across 22 markets following its 2017 launch, to reach Spotify music listeners with both audio and video advertisements. Spotify said the service is its fastest-growing buying channel, but didn’t provide specific figures to detail that growth.

Image Credits: Spotify

However, the larger news on the advertising side was the launch of the new audio ad marketplace, Spotify Audience Network. Similar to some of its other forward-looking announcements today, Spotify was light on details about how exactly Spotify Audience Network would work — saying only that it’s in the “early stages of developing the offering,” and it expects to be able to share more at a later date.

However, the company positioned the marketplace as a “game changer,” particularly for podcasters looking to make money from ads, as well as for advertisers who want to reach Spotify’s audience of hundreds and millions, both on and off Spotify.

This news follows an investigative report by The Verge earlier this year which found Spotify was the main sponsor for Anchor advertising to date — despite its promises to find sponsors for smaller podcasters. It now appears Spotify has been in the process of building out its ad marketplace and tooling to make good on those promises, and may not have prioritized advertiser outreach in the meantime.

Image Credits: Spotify

Spotify today also spoke about how its recent acquisition of Megaphone would allow it to scale its Streaming Ad Insertion (SAI) technology, launched in early 2020, to publishers beyond its own Originals and Exclusives audio programs. Today, SAI is available in the U.S., Canada, Germany, and the U.K., and will expand to other new markets in 2021.

Since its debut, SAI has been rolling out new features like audience-based buying, native ad placements, and reporting on creative performance. Later this year, Spotify says it will make SAI available to Megaphone podcast publishers and “leading” Anchor creators.

But Anchor creators won’t be limited to advertising to grow revenues.

Spotify also briefly noted it will, in a few months, begin beta testing a new feature that will allow Anchor creators to publish paid podcast content to Spotify aimed at their most dedicated fans, as TechCrunch previously reported.

 

Spotify confirms it’s (finally) testing a live lyrics feature in the US

Spotify this morning confirmed it’s testing a new, synced lyrics feature in the U.S. market, following a report from Engadget. Though the streaming music service today offers live lyrics in a number of markets — 27, in fact, including its recent launch in South Korea — it has not offered lyrics in the U.S. for many years. Instead, Spotify here runs the “Behind the Lyrics” feature provided in partnership with Genius, which offers a combination of lyrics and trivia about the song being played.

Reached for comment, Spotify said the new lyrics feature rolled out as a test for some users in the U.S. starting today.

“We can confirm we’re currently testing our lyrics feature to a select number of users in the U.S.,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience. Some of those tests end up paving the way for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning.”

The company declined to share additional details about its plans, but did note that its U.S. partner on the new lyrics feature is Musixmatch — a service that already powers Spotify’s lyrics feature in various non-U.S. markets.

This is not the first time Spotify has run a lyrics feature in the U.S., to be clear. The streaming service had originally worked with Musixmatch from 2011 through 2016, before ending that relationship to instead partner with Genius. But despite ongoing user demand for lyrics’ return, Spotify never brought the feature back to the U.S.

In more recent years, however, Spotify rekindled its relationship with Musixmatch. Last year, it announced the launch of real-time lyrics in, then, 26 worldwide markets across Southeast Asia, India and Latin America. This had been the first time lyrics were offered in 22 of these 26 markets, as only Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mexico had some form of prior lyrics support via other providers.

Spotify’s ongoing lack of support for lyrics in the U.S. has given its streaming music competitors an advantage. Amazon Music, for example, allowed users to view lyrics as songs played and tied the feature to its Alexa voice platform, so consumers could ask Alexa to search for songs by lyrics. Meanwhile, the updated version of Apple Music that rolled out with iOS 12 in 2018 included a way to search by lyrics, instead of just artist, album or song title. It later added live, synced lyrics with the launch of iOS 13. Siri can also respond to commands that involve lyrics.

Musixmatch additionally confirmed it has partnered with Spotify on the new U.S. test.

“Musixmatch is growing at a fast pace thanks to [the] continued investment we’ve made [over] a decade. We’re focused now on bringing more data to continue enriching the audio experience globally,” Musixmatch CEO and founder Max Ciociola told TechCrunch.

Because the lyrics feature is only a test, you may not see it yourself in the Spotify app, due to its limited availability. Spotify has not said if or when the test may be expanded.

Spotify hints toward plans for podcast subscriptions, à la carte payments

Spotify again signaled its interest in developing new ways to monetize its investments in podcasts. In the company’s fourth-quarter earnings, chief executive Daniel Ek suggested the streaming media company foresees a future where there will be multiple business models for podcasts, including, potentially, both ad-supported subscriptions and à la carte options.

The company, which also revealed its podcast catalog has grown to now 2.2 million programs, said it’s seen increasing demand for the audio format in recent months.

For example, 25% of Spotify’s monthly active users now engage with podcasts, up from 22% just last quarter. Podcast consumption is also increasing, with listening hours having nearly doubled year-over-year in the fourth quarter.

Today, podcasts on Spotify’s platform are available to both free and paid users and are monetized with ads. This is still a key focus for the company — Spotify even recently acquired a podcast hosting and monetization platform, Megaphone, to help make streaming ad insertion technology available to its third-party publishers while also growing its targetable podcast inventory.

But Spotify recently put its feelers out about different means of monetizing podcasts, too.

Late last year, for instance, the company was spotted running a survey that asked its customers if they would be willing to pay for a standalone podcast subscription, and if so what would it look like and how much would it cost?

At the time, the survey offered a few different concepts.

At the low end, a subscription could offer ad-supported exclusive episodes and bonus content for $3 per month. This would be similar to Stitcher Premium, which today provides exclusives from top shows and other bonus episodes. But Spotify’s suggested version included ads, while Stitcher Premium is ad-free.

A middle option suggested a plan that would be even closer to Stitcher Premium, with exclusive shows and bonus material but no ads. This even matched Stitcher Premium’s price of $5 per month. And at the high-end, subscribers could get early access to ad-free interviews and episodes for $8 per month.

A survey, of course, is only meant to gauge consumer demand for such a subscription, and doesn’t indicate that Spotify has a new product in the works. (Spotify said the same when asked to comment on the news at the time.)

However, it’s clear that investors also want to know what Spotify is thinking when it comes to recouping its sizable investments in podcasts.

Asked if Spotify thought customers would be willing to pay for podcasts, Ek on the earnings call responded that he believed there were several new models that could be explored.

“I think we’re in the early days of seeing the long-term evolvement of how we can monetize audio on the internet. I’ve said this before, but I don’t believe that it’s a one-size-fits-all,” he said. “I believe, in fact, that we will have all business models, and that’s the future for all media companies — that you will have ad-supported subscriptions and à la carte sort of in the same space, of all media companies in the future.”

“And you should definitely expect Spotify to follow that strategy and that pattern,” Ek added, more definitively.

The answer seemed to indicate that Spotify is considering some of the ideas in that recent survey — of getting consumers to pay for some podcasts, instead of accessing them all for free or having them bundled into their music subscription.

Of course, that would change the meaning of the word “podcasts,” which today refers to freely distributed, serialized audio programs that get distributed via RSS feeds.

If Spotify chooses to paywall podcasts behind subscriptions or à la carte payments, then they’re no longer really podcasts — they’re a new sort of premium audio program.

This is an area where Spotify has plenty of room to grow, considering the significant investment it has made in podcasts over the years. To date, that’s included buying up content producers like Gimlet Media, The Ringer and Parcast, as well as signing top creators like Joe Rogan, Addison Rae, Kim Kardashian West, DC Comics, Michelle Obama and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, among others. Spotify also bought podcast tools like Anchor and other ad technology and hosting services.

The advantage with podcasts is that Spotify has the ability to monetize them in multiple ways at once — with ads and subscriptions or direct payments, if it chose. And, of course, there are no licensing fees or royalties to contend with, as with streaming music.

Spotify could also adjust the podcast payments model as needed to fit its different geographies and the way customers around the world prefer to consume and pay for podcast content.

None of this thinking was about near-term launches, Ek also clarified.

“I think it’s early days, though, to specifically kind of look at how that could play out,” he said, talking about how the different models could take shape. “But, obviously, if that were to be the case, that revenue profile would be different than how we do music.”

Spotify Group Session UX teardown: The fails and their fixes

In July last year, Spotify extended its shared-queue feature, Group Session, to support remote usage. Essentially a “party mode,” the feature offers a way for participants to contribute to a collaborative playlist in real-time and control what’s playing across everyone’s devices.

As TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez explained, Premium users are able to tune into the same playlist or podcast together at the same time, even if they’re not in the same place. Prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, Spotify, like a spew of other tech companies, is trying to create more shared online experiences that are lockdown-proof, and as people are being forced to spend more time indoors and online.

In our latest UX teardown, with the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we highlight some of Spotify Group Sessions user experience failings and offer ways to fix them, as well as a number of UX features that are done right. Many of these lessons can be applied to other existing digital products or ones you are currently building, including the need to remember the difference between usernames and display names, when it makes sense to combine common actions into one, and how to use “react and explain” on-boarding.

Usernames and display names

Always remember the difference between user names and displays.

Image Credits: Built For Mars

The fail: If you created a Spotify account using Facebook, then you’re arbitrarily assigned an 11-digit display name. This is then shown to everyone you invite and is totally meaningless.

The fix: Prompt the user to set a real display name when they create their first session. It avoids confusion and creates a more real experience.

Steve O’Hear: This looks really sloppy and unprofessional, as well as being useless from a usability point of view. However, I’m guessing this is technical debt of some kind; any idea what’s going on here?

Peter Ramsey: Yes, it happens when usernames go from being irrelevant (i.e., Spotify) to suddenly relevant (i.e. when they add social features). But by that point, the database/infrastructure is already in motion.

Can you think of an example where this has been done right?

Twitter is the perfect example of this done right. There can only be one @jack, but loads of people with the display name Jack. Otherwise basically every tweet would be by some obscure name and the world would feel like Reddit (i.e., anonymous).

Combining common actions into one

Uppbeat launches a freemium music platform aimed at YouTubers

A new music platform, Uppbeat, aims to make it easier for YouTubers and other content creators to find quality free music to use in their videos. The system, which is designed to navigate the complexities of copyright claims while also fairly compensating artists, offers an alternative to existing free music platforms, including YouTube’s own Audio Library and Creative Commons’ legal music for videos, for example.

The idea for the startup comes from Lewis Foster and Matt Russell, the U.K.-based co-founders of another music-licensing company, Music Vine, which has been operating for about six years.

Last year, the co-founders realized there was a growing opportunity to address the creator space with a slightly different product.

“We were realizing, more and more, was that the creator space — YouTubers, streamers, podcasters — has become enormous, but there wasn’t a music platform that was doing a nice job for those type of users,” explains Foster. “So we sat down and thought about what the perfect music resource would look like for creators. That led to deciding to build Uppbeat,” he says.

They began developing the Uppbeat website in September 2020 and launched it to the public on Monday.

On the creators’ side, Uppbeat’s key focus is on eliminating headaches over copyright claims, particularly on YouTube.

Currently, if a YouTuber gets a copyright claim over music in their video, it can cause them to lose income. Though YouTube has worked to address this problem over the years with new features and changes to its Content ID match system, it’s still an issue.

“If a YouTuber gets a copyright claim, [YouTube] can de-monetize their video. And if they go through YouTube’s dispute system, it can take as long as 30 days for it to get resolved. It’s a pretty big frustration for YouTubers,” Foster says.

Uppbeat’s music will instead almost instantly clear the claims.

Image Credits: Uppbeat

Similar to Spotify, the Uppbeat website leverages a freemium model, To get started, creators can sign up for a free account that provides with access to about 50% of the site’s roughly 1,000-track music catalog and 10 downloads per month. The paid plan offers full catalog access and no download limit.

Free users simply add a credit to their YouTube video description to clear copyright claims, while paid users are added to an approved list, eliminating this extra step.

Because the tracks have to fingerprinted to fight off unlicensed usage, a copyright claim will still occur. But instead of taking days or weeks to resolve, it will be cleared within about five minutes, the company says. The Uppbeat system clears the claim by checking the video description for the necessary credit and by checking the claim against its list of paid users. This is all automated, too, which helps to speed things up.

Image Credits: Uppbeat

Meanwhile, on the artists’ side, Uppbeat will pays as their music is used — even by the free users.

The revenue from the premium subscriptions, and soon, advertising, is divided between the artists on a monthly basis, in proportion to the number of downloads the artist receives.

“What that means from the artists’ perspective is, on average, they’re going to make the same amount from tracks on the premium side as they do on the free side,” says Lewis. “It means, even for free usage, they will get paid,” he adds.

The site will also monetize through audio ads that play as you browse the tracks and listen to the music. (However, these are just promoting the paid plan for the time being.)

Browsing Uppbeat’s catalog is easy, too. The music is organized by genre, theme and style in colorful rows that aim to introduce all the different types of music and beats a YouTuber may need. For example, there’s music customized for use the background and other tracks that cater to different moods, like inspiring, calm, happy, dramatic, and more. A catalog of SFX (sound effects) is expected to be added in a few months, too.

Uppbeat believes its existing music industry connections with producers, composers and songwriters via Music Vine will help them to source higher-quality tracks than other free music services.

At present, the startup is self-funded through revenues from Music Vine, but Foster says they’ve had some VC interest. For now, though, the founders are looking to keep the ownership in-house, for the most part.

However, Uppbeat is experimenting with both a referral program and a profit-sharing scheme. The latter will allow YouTubers who bring Uppbeat new customers, then take the full revenue from those customers for two years’ time.

“We’re taking a massive sacrifice,” Foster admits. “But from from our perspective, the faster we can get Uppbeat out there and well-known in the YouTuber space, then we’re happy to share that [revenue]. We think it’s a cool idea to share that within the YouTuber community, rather than [take] a big private investment,” he notes.

The startup is also considering making shares in the company available to some larger YouTubers, Foster adds.

Today, Uppbeat is a team of 8 employees and 12 freelancers, based in Leeds, U.K.