Apple Music introduces Replay, a playlist of your top songs of the year

Apple Music is taking on Spotify with the launch of a new feature, Apple Music Replay, that will allow subscribers to take a look back at their favorite music from 2019. The feature is similar in some ways to Spotify’s popular year-end review, known as Wrapped, but Apple’s version is more than just an annual summary — it’s an ongoing experience.

With Apple Music Replay, subscribers will get a playlist of their top songs from 2019, plus playlists for every year you’ve subscribed to Apple Music, retroactively. These can be added to your Apple Music Library, so you can stream them at any time, even when offline. Like any playlist, your Apple Music Replay can also be shared with others, allowing you to compare top songs with friends, for example, or post to social media.

But while Spotify’s Wrapped is more of an annual retrospective, Apple Music Replay will continue to be updated all year long, evolving as your musical tastes and interests do throughout the year. The playlist and its associated data insights will be updated on Sundays to reflect subscribers’ latest listening activity, says Apple.

That makes the playlist more of a compilation of favorites, which continues to add value throughout the year — not just at the end. And when January rolls around, the 2020 Replay playlist will be a blank slate to fill with your favorites from Apple Music’s catalog of 60 million tracks.

Apple Music Replay is available from the Apple Music app across platforms, including via the web at replay.music.apple.com.

Beyond being fun to use, the addition of Apple Music Replay aims to help Apple better compete against Spotify, which leverages streaming data to create numerous personalized playlists and features for its users and subscribers. Spotify recently reported better-than-expected earnings and said it turned a profit, as it reached 113 million premium subscribers by September’s end. Apple, meanwhile, had 60 million paying subscribers as of late June.

Get ready to see more looping videos on Spotify, as Canvas launches into beta

Spotify is opening up its Canvas feature to more artists, the company announced this morning, which means you’ll see a lot more of those looping videos on the app starting soon. The feature has been in limited testing before today with select artists. When available, you don’t just see the album artwork behind the player controls — you see a moving, visual experience that plays in a short loop.

So far, Canvas has had mixed reviewers from Spotify users. Some find the looping imagery distracting while others simply prefer seeing the album art. Some people seem to like the feature. But others only like it with certain content and artists.

The challenge is in designing a video loop that works well. That means it shouldn’t be an attempt to try to lip sync to a part of a song. It shouldn’t include intense flashing graphics or text, nor should it distract people from being able to see the player controls and track information.

Screen Shot 2019 10 10 at 12.07.54 PM

Spotify also suggests trying to tell a full story in the loop rather than just drastically trimming a music video down to the time allotted (3- or 8-second clips). Other recommended Canvas experiences are those that help develop the artists’ persona across their profile and tracks, or those that are updated frequently. Billie Eilish, for example, uses the feature to share animated versions of fan art.

Since launching, Canvas has been seen by millions of users, Spotify says. But the company seems to acknowledge the impact varies, based on how the Canvas is designed. When it works, it can “significantly increase” track streams, shares, and artists page visits. But Spotify didn’t say what happens when the feature fails to engage fans.

However, based on social media discussions about the feature and how-to guides detailing how to turn the thing off, it would seem that some users choose to opt out of the experience entirely.

Today, Spotify says Canvas will no longer be limited to select artists, as it’s opening more broadly to artists in an expanded beta. With the beta, Spotify hopes artists will treat Canvas as a critical part of their release strategy, and will continue to use it across their catalog.

“It’s a way to get noticed and build a vision — and an excellent way to share more of who you are with your listeners, hopefully turning them into fans,” the company writes in an announcement. “The goal is for you to have richer ways to express yourself and to allow listeners to engage with you and your music even more deeply. We’re continuing to work on additional features, as well as more tools and metrics to help you better understand how your art is reaching your audience,” the company says.

It’s hard not to comment on the timing of this launch. At the end of September, Google announced that YouTube Music would not be preinstalled on new Android devices, taking the place of Google Play Music. With YouTube Music, streamers gain access to a visually immersive experience where they can watch the music videos, not just listen to the audio, if they prefer.

Spotify, however, has traditionally been a place to listen — not to watch. That’s not to say there aren’t music videos on Spotify, they’re just not well highlighted by the app nor a core part of the Spotify experience.

The company says it’s now sending artists their invites to join the beta. Those who haven’t received the invite can instead make a request to be added here.

 

Pandora puts its personalization powers to work in a revamped app

Pandora is doubling down on personalization and revamping its app in order to better compete with rivals like Spotify and Apple Music. Today, the company is introducing a new mobile experience which includes a dedicated “For You” tab where a continually updated feed of content is presented to users, including both music and podcast recommendations and more. This content is personalized to the individual, based on factors like the day of the week, the time of day, and Pandora’s predictions about your mood, among other things.

The new personalized feed will also help the company to better showcase more of its exclusive content — like its music-and-podcast combos, called “Pandora Stories,” for example. Or the dozens of SiriusXM talk shows that became Pandora podcasts, following its acquisition.

“Our listeners have told us that they love the utility of Pandora — it’s drop-dead easy, it works, it knows me, It’s really simple,” explains Pandora’s Chief Product Officer, Chris Phillips. “But what they haven’t been able to understand and have easy enough access to is all the content and programming that we have available on Pandora — the new content, new programming, and the unique content that you can’t get other places,” he says.

The For You tab aims to change that by turning Pandora’s personalization capabilities onto its broader catalog and exclusives, then crafting a scrollable feed with dozens of ways to listen.

SuperbrowseHeroStatic 002

Here, you’ll be able to tap into Pandora Modes,  for example, which is a new way to listen to Pandora Stations. The feature was previously available on the web, and has now come to mobile for the first time with today’s launch.

Pandora Modes let you toggle between ways to customize your stations. You can opt for modes that will tweak the station to play things like the most popular songs (“crowd faves”), the deep cuts, new releases, artist-only tracks, and more.  You can also opt for a “discovery” mode to have Pandora introduce you to new artists you may like, as related to the station in question.

Another section in the For You tab lets you browse by categories, including by genre, by new music, podcasts, moods, playlists, decades and by trending.

The “Moods & Activities” section, meanwhile, will present collections of music based on current trends — for example, one of the available “moods” is “fall” and another could be “rainy day,” matched up with the day’s weather. You can also dig into this section for moods to match your activity, like workout, gaming, studying, family time, and more.

As you scroll down the For You page, you’ll come across your podcast recommendations and personalized playlists. And Pandora can create some 80 different versions of the latter, which include playlists by moods, activities, genres, and more all powered by its Music Genome.

Plus, the combined Pandora and SiriusXM editorial team of around 25 creates hundreds of human-curated playlists, too.

PandoraModes BlogImage

In total, there are some 35 different modules in Pandora’s new For You feed, some of which are shown to every user while others appear dynamically based on time of day and day of week. Its suggestions will also be tailored to your own likes and interests, thanks to your own listening behavior and explicit signals, like thumbs up and thumbs down.

That means your For You tab will be unique to you, and you can later be targeted with specific promotions — like the content to emerge from that deal between SiriusXM/Pandora and Drake, for example, if relevant to your interests. (Hey, it’s better than that time when Spotify put Drake’s face on every playlist.)

Despite the personalization, the feed will still include some insights powered by the larger Pandora population, so you can see what’s popular and trending more broadly across the service.

In time, Pandora plans to roll out even more modules to build out the experience further.

100 billion thumbs are what’s powering all this,” adds Phillips, speaking of Pandora’s recent milestone, which measured the number of thumbs up and down clicks from users. Until now, he says, Pandora “hadn’t really brought together the community…and the power of our personalization, but not just for stations — for all the playlists, albums, songs, and artists,” Phillips continues. “And then the idea that we lay on top of all of this…the idea of what time of day it is, and what might be interesting based on what we predict your mood is right now,” he says.

The “For You” tab and other features are arriving today on Pandora for iOS and Android.

Kobalt’s edge in changing the music industry

Kobalt Music Group is driving the music industry to provide more transparency and faster royalty payments to musicians and challenging the traditional record labels and publishers with its own alternative service offerings that don’t take ownership of copyrights. Competition and market size are headwinds in its future growth, however, and the incumbents are thriving not dying. As I’ll outline in this final post of the Kobalt EC-1, its competitive edge rests in its administrative infrastructure and services for songwriters built on top of it.

This is Part IV of the Kobalt Music Group EC-1. Catch up on the prior posts in the series: Part I (founding story and overview), Part II (an operating system for the music industry), and Part III (music’s middle class and DIY stars).

Kobalt’s alternative to a record label, AWAL, is targeting a small but growing “middle class” of recording artists earning tens of thousands of dollars per year in royalties. But as I outlined in my last article, this business is sandwiched between the countless artists who make very little money, and the global superstars who are all owned by the big three labels. Revenue growth may be slow.

Kobalt’s publishing division, Kobalt Music Publishing, is in a stronger competitive position by comparison. Unlike recording artists, songwriters aren’t concerned with building fan followings and marketing themselves to consumers. Since the high end of the earning spectrum is lower for songwriters and the dynamics of fame on social media aren’t relevant to their careers, professional songwriters can be categorized in just the two camps of middle class and stars.

In each case, their core needs are:

  1. Administration of their royalties
  2. Matchmaking to find the right co-writers and to find the right recording artist to actually record (or “cut”) their song
  3. Pitching their songs for use in films, commercials, games, etc. (called sync licensing).

Here’s a closer look at this market opportunity — perhaps one of the most interesting areas of growth in the music industry today.

Songwriting’s middle class

GettyImages 680618218

Image via Getty Images / NoSystem images

Spotify adds two personalized playlists focused on your repeat listens

Spotify is expanding its selection of personalized playlists with this morning’s launch of two new additions: On Repeat and Repeat Rewind. Both are focused on helping you revisit the songs you have kept replaying at various times.

The former, On Repeat, will deliver your current obsessions — that is, the tracks you’ve played the most over the past 30 days. This playlist will auto-update as you continue to listen to more music. However, the playlist is not genre-specific, so for those with broad musical tastes and interests, it could be a little disjointed.

Meanwhile, Repeat Rewind is a way to return to your most recently-loved songs from over a month ago. That means it’s not quite as current as On Repeat, but will help you revisit some of your all-time favorites.

Like On Repeat, the playlist isn’t limited by artists, mood or genre. And it will update every five days, Spotify says.

There won’t be any overlap in the two playlists, either, which will make them useful additions for any regular Spotify listeners.

The playlists join Spotify’s growing collection of personalized playlists, headlined by Discover Weekly. They’ll be available in the “Made for You” hub in the Spotify app, where you’ll find Discover Weekly, Release Radar, Your Summer Rewind, Your Daily Drive, and others. The playlists will also sit in the “Uniquely Yours” shelf on the app’s home section.

Spotify’s personalized playlists are one of its top-selling features and a reason why it’s difficult for users to jump ship to a Spotify competitor.

They also tend to inspire rivals’ own efforts in personalized music. Just a few days ago, for example, YouTube Music began rolling out a “Discover Mix” playlist, which is basically its own version of Discover Weekly. And a few years ago, Apple Music did much of the same with its launch of “My New Music Mix.”

The new playlists are live now across platforms.

 

 

YouTube Music cracks down on rampant chart manipulation with new pay-for-play ban

YouTube will no longer allow paid views and advertising to influence its YouTube Music Charts, the company announced this morning. Instead, it will calculate its rankings based only on view counts coming from organic plays. In addition, it’s changing its methodology for reporting on 24-hour record debuts to also only count views from organic sources, including direct links to the video, search results, Watch Next and Trending — but not video advertising.

The changes come about after multiple reports examined how music labels were spending aggressively on video advertising in order to juice the views of their artists’ newly debuted songs.

One report by Rolling Stone detailed how the practice worked, with regard to YouTube’s TrueView ads. This form of advertising lets the advertiser, like the artist or the label, play a shortened version of a music video as an advertisement in front of other videos. Under some conditions — like if a YouTube user interacts with the video or watches it for a certain amount of time — it would count toward the video’s overall view count.

Bloomberg had also reported on the curious case of Indian rapper Badshah, whose video “Paagal” broke records with 75 million views in a single day — topping a prior record set by Korean boy band BTS. Initially, there were rumors that the label, Sony Music, had used server farms and bots to accomplish this. It later turned out to be paid advertising, which Badshah confessed to on Instagram.

But this was not an uncommon practice — Taylor Swift and Blackpink and many others had done the same, the report said. Badshah had just taken it much further.

The report also said YouTube was considering revising its system, as a result.

Today, YouTube is officially announcing those changes.

“YouTube Music Charts have become an indispensable source for the industry and the most accurate place for measuring the popularity of music listening behavior happening on the world’s largest music platform,” the company explained in a blog post. “In an effort to provide more transparency to the industry and align with the policies of official charting companies such as Billboard and Nielsen, we are no longer counting paid advertising views on YouTube in the YouTube Music Charts calculation. Artists will now be ranked based on view counts from organic plays,” the post read.

The changes impact the 24-hour debuts, plus all of YouTube Music’s other charts, including those focused on what’s rising, trending and popular, both locally and globally.

Though advertising and non-organic views will no longer contribute to the view count for the purpose of YouTube’s Music Chart rankings, the company says these changes will not impact YouTube’s existing 24-hour record debut holders. That means Badshah and others can continue to tout their “records,” tainted as those claims may now be.

The changes won’t likely mean the end of this sort of music video advertising, however. Ads still remain a great way for users to be exposed to new music which can, in turn, boost organic views as links get clicked, shared, and embedded elsewhere around the web, for example. But it could have a dampening impact on the pay-for-play business and the size of the ad spend.

“Staying true to YouTube’s overall mission of giving everyone a voice and showing them the world, we want to celebrate all artist achievements on YouTube as determined by their global fans. It’s the artists and fans that have made YouTube the best and most accurate measure of the world’s listening tastes, and we intend on keeping it that way,” said YouTube.

Pandora debuts a desktop app for Windows with support for music & podcasts

Pandora today is launching a desktop app for Windows users following its debut of a native Mac app earlier this year. On Mac, Pandora offers a variety of features for desktop users like on-screen notifications, keyboard controls, and a way to select listening “modes” and more. It didn’t, however, include support for streaming podcasts. The new Windows app includes a similar feature set, and adds support for podcast streaming.

Like its Mac counterpart, Pandora’s Windows app can be used by both free users and paid subscribers alike.

The free users will have access to Pandora’s ad-supported stations, while Pandora Plus subscribers get ad-free stations, unlimited skips, personalized stations, and up to four offline stations. Pandora Premium subscribers, meanwhile, get the same, plus the ability to make and share playlists, play albums and songs on-demand, and take advantage of unlimited offline listening.

Both of the paid subscription tiers can also stream podcasts via the Windows app.

Also like the Mac app, the Windows version supports keyboard controls for doing things like playing, pausing, replaying, shuffling, thumbs up and down, etc. And it supports the Pandora Modes feature which lets you refine your personalized stations by asking Pandora to focus more on certain types of songs — like crowd favorites, the discovery of new artists, deep cuts, songs from a select artist only, new releases, and more.

Desktop users often prefer to use a native app instead of leaving a service open in a browser tab as it allows them a more seamless and integrated experience. That said, Pandora’s Mac version didn’t have the best reviews from Apple users.

Still, Pandora’s rollout of native desktop apps helps the SiriusXM-owned company better compete with rivals like Apple Music and Spotify, both of which have long offered desktop applications. In Apple’s case, it actually built so much into iTunes, that the company decided to finally break it up into parts with the next version of macOS. Pandora doesn’t have the same problem because it doesn’t include a user library or marketplace.

Windows users can download the Pandora app from the Microsoft Store starting today.

The app works on Windows 10. (Pandora also supports streaming to Xbox via the Microsoft Store app.)

Spotify acquires SoundBetter, a music production marketplace, for an undisclosed sum

Spotify today took another step in its efforts to build out services for artists to help diversify itself away from a business model predicated on paying music streaming royalties to labels: it has acquired SoundBetter, a music production marketplace for artists, producers, and musicians to connect on specific projects; and for people who are looking to distribute music tracks to those who want to license them.

SoundBetter has about 180,000 registered users and has paid out more than $19 million to musicians and producers to date, averaging around $1 million per month currently, itself taking a cut by way of a commission (of an undisclosed percentage) on each deal secured through the platform.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed, meaning it’s unlikely to be a significant sum for the $24 billion streaming giant, which now has 232 million users, including 108 million Spotify Premium subscribers. New York-based SoundBetter had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from investors including 500 Startups, Foundry Group, Eric Ries and Verizon Ventures when it was still called Nautilus under AOL (disclosure: TechCrunch is part of Verizon Media). Its last funding — convertible debt from Drummond Road and others — was back in 2015.

SoundBetter is not being shut down with the acquisition: a spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that it will be business as usual as Spotify and the startup work on integrating SoundBetter’s services with Spotify for Artists, which currently offers musicians and others analytics on Spotify tracks and other services to help market themselves.

SoundBetter was founded back in 2012 by Shachar Gilad (CEO) and Itamar Yunger (CTO) and operates two main services. Its main business is an online marketplace for musicians to source singers, sound engineers, producers and other music and audio professionals to put the finishing touches on tracks (think Fiverr or Behance, but specifically for music). In June this year, it launched a newer marketplace called Tracks for people to license finished music, competing with the likes of Epidemic Sound (which earlier this year raised money at a $370 million valuation).

Interestingly, Spotify had tried to launch a direct music distribution platform in the past — including with an investment in DistroKid, a music distribution service that supports cross-platform uploads — but the effort never left the beta phase and was then shut down this past July. That decision possibly make more sense now, since the move might have been made to pave the way for SoundBetter.

Indeed, for Spotify, the deal is a signal that the company is going to continue investing in more behind-the-scenes services for artists and others in the music ecosystem. There are a few reasons why this needs to happen.

First, there is the financial predicament of musicians themselves. They have long lamented about how little they earn from Spotify, so having additional services available to them either to make money, or to at least operate more efficiently in their craft, can only be a boost to that relationship.

Second, there is the basics of Spotify’s streaming business for Spotify itself. The company says it has paid out  more than €13 billion ($14.3 billion) to rights holders since launch — there is money paid out with each stream — and that it’s renegotiating label deals all the time, but the company is still operating at a loss from its basic business model (albeit the loss appears to be shrinking).

Third, diversifying could help take some pressure off the streaming side of the business overall. Even putting the profitability to one side, last quarter, Spotify faced some criticism (and a drop in its share price) for missing its own targets for subscription growth

“As we build out our tools for creators, we want to give them the resources they need to thrive. SoundBetter has the same vision,” said Beckwith Kloss, VP Product, Creator at Spotify, in a statement.  “We’re excited that creators can generate income through SoundBetter, as well as benefit from its network of top professionals – from instrumentalists to songwriters to producers – as they perfect their tracks.”

Spotify has over the years amassed a growing list of assets that take the platform beyond basic music streaming, with a lot of attention of late focused on spoken word content, providing cloud-based studio services by way of SoundTrap (acquired by Spotify in 2017), and podcast platform Anchor (acquired last year).

But music continues to be the beating drum of the platform — with paid streaming continuing to grow at the expense of the physical music business. So, Spotify will continue to build up that area of its business, too (not least also because competitors like Apple are continuing to build up its own services for artists that bypass traditional labels). 

SoundBetter already has a decent, if relatively small, business, with its fair share of big names. It claims that “Kanye West’s Producer, Hoobastank’s Drummer, Jamiroquai’s Guitarist, Beyonce’s Songwriter, Joe Cocker’s Bass player, Herbie Hancock’s Engineer, Morrissey’s Guitarist, The Killers’ Mixing Engineer, and George Michael’s Mastering Engineer” are among those using its services. Getting acquired will give it a big boost in exposure: Spotify for Artists currently has 400,000 registered users, but with the platform itself a cornerstone of digital music distribution, Spotify hopes that with the right mix of services, including the kind that SoundBetter has built, that number can grow much bigger.

SoundBetter offers the most comprehensive global marketplace for music and audio production professionals for hire in the world along with a member community spanning 176 countries and 14,000 cities worldwide,” said SoundBetter Co-Founder and CEO Shachar Gilad. “We are excited to benefit from Spotify’s global scale, resources, and vision to expand our network and drive more economic opportunities for artists of all levels.”

How Kobalt is simplifying the killer complexities of the music industry

Backed by over $200 million in VC funding, Kobalt is changing the way the music industry does business and putting more money into musicians’ pockets in the process.

In Part I of this series, I walked through the company’s founding story and its overall structure. There are two core theses that Kobalt bet on: 1) that the shift to digital music could transform the way royalties are tracked and paid, and 2) that music streaming will empower a growing middle class of DIY musicians who find success across countless niches.

This article focuses on the complex way royalties flow through the industry and how Kobalt is restructuring that process (while Part III will focus on music’s middle class). The music industry runs on copyright administration and royalty collections. If the system breaks — if people lose track of where songs are being played and who is owed how much in royalties — everything halts.

Kobalt is as much a compliance tech company as it is a music company: it has built a quasi “operating system” to more accurately and quickly handle this using software and a centralized approach to collections, upending a broken, inefficient system so everything can run more smoothly and predictably on top of it. The big question is whether it can maintain its initial lead in doing this, however.

The business of a song

GettyImages 951980478

Image via Getty Images / Mykyta Dolmatov

Paid streaming music subscriptions in U.S. top 60M, says RIAA

Streaming music subscriptions continue to drive the U.S. music industry’s growth and revenues, according to a new report from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) released this week. The organization said total music revenue grew 18% to $5.4 billion in the first half of 2019, with streaming music accounting for 80% of industry revenues. The report also noted the number of paid subscriptions topped 60 million in the U.S. for the first time.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.45.29 PM

Streaming revenues grew 26% to $4.3 billion in the first half of the year.

This broad figure includes paid versions of Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and others, as well as digital radio service revenues like those from Pandora, Sirius XM, and other internet radio, plus ad-supported streaming like YouTube, Vevo, and the ad-supported version of Spotify. Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.46.43 PM

Meanwhile, paid subscription streaming is continuing to grow, too, said the RIAA. Year-over-year, paid subscriptions grew 31% to reach $3.3 billion and remain the biggest growth driver for industry revenues.

In the first half of 2019, paid subscriptions made up 62% of all U.S. industry revenues and 77% of U.S. streaming music revenues.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.47.18 PM

The number of paid subscriptions to full on-demand streaming services grew 30% to 61.1 million in the first half of the year, at an average pace of over 1 million new subscriptions per month.

This doesn’t include the “Limited Tier” subscriptions like Pandora Plus or that Echo-only subscription to Amazon Music, for example, where various factors limit access to a full catalog across devices or restrict some on-demand features. This category saw $482 million in revenues, up 39% from the year prior.

“Thanks to that breakneck growth, plus continued modest drops in digital downloads and new physical sales, streaming now generates 80% of music business revenues and has fundamentally reshaped how fans find, share, and listen to the songs and artists they love,” wrote RIAA Chairman & CEO Mitch Glazier, about the new figures.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.47.50 PM

Ad-supported on-demand services grew 25% year-over-year to $427 million, while digital radio service grew 5% to $552 million in the first half of 2019.

However, the gains made by streaming were somewhat offset by declines in digital downloads, as Glazier noted.

Revenues in this category fell 18% to $462 million in the first half of the year, with digital track sales down 16% year-over-year and digital album revenues down 23%. Overall, digital download only accounted for 8.6% of total industry revenues.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.48.11 PM

Physical product revenues grew 5% to $485 million in the first half of 2019, but the RIAA attributed this to a reduction in returns.