Music licensing marketplace Songtradr raises $50M

Music licensing marketplace Songtradr this morning announced a $50 million Series D. The oversubscribed round – which features Regal, Aware Super, Perennial, Argo and Greencape – follows a $30 million raise last August, bringing the Los Angeles company’s total funding to north of $100 million.

The platform licenses music to high profile names for advertising, films, TV, gaming and the like, including Disney, Netflix, Apple, Coca-Cola, Amazon and Google. It hosts songs from some 600,000 musicians/songwriters/rights holders.

The service hasn’t had any issue spending its funding to date. Earlier this month, it announced the acquisition of creative agency MassiveMusic. Other acquisitions made in the past year include Cuesongs, Song Zu, Pretzel and Tunefind.

The company says the new funding will go toward even more M&As, new products and an increase in global headcount. The company is headquartered in L.A., but also has offices in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Image Credits: Songtradr

“Songtradr is rapidly accelerating as we continue to develop our tech-enabled B2B music ecosystem and integrate our new acquisitions,” CEO Paul Wiltshire said in a press release. “Attracting such a blue-chip investor base into this round further endorses our vision of the future music industry in this rapidly evolving digital world, providing a strong foundation for the future.”

Wiltshire adds that the company saw a 100% y-o-y revenue growth for 2020.

How I Podcast: Left Handed Radio’s Anna Rubanova

The beauty of podcasting is that anyone can do it. It’s a rare medium that’s nearly as easy to make as it is to consume. And as such, no two people do it exactly the same way. There are a wealth of hardware and software solutions open to potential podcasters, so setups run the gamut from NPR studios to USB Skype rigs (the latter of which has become a kind of default during the current pandemic).

We’ve asked some of our favorite podcast hosts and producers to highlight their workflows — the equipment and software they use to get the job done. The list so far includes:

Science Vs’s Rose Rimler
Election Profit Makers’ David Rees
Welcome to Your Fantasy’s Eleanor Kagan
Articles of Interest’s Avery Trufelman
First Draft and Track Changes’ Sarah Enni
RiYL remote podcasting edition
Family Ghosts’ Sam Dingman
I’m Listening’s Anita Flores
Broken Record’s Justin Richmond
Criminal/This Is Love’s Lauren Spohrer
Jeffrey Cranor of Welcome to Night Vale
Jesse Thorn of Bullseye
Ben Lindbergh of Effectively Wild
My own podcast, RiYL

Image Credits: Anna Rubanova

This week, we talk to Anna Rubanova. A comedy writer-turned podcast producer, she’s worked on myriad podcasts, including “The Thrilling Adventure Hour” and “Election Profit Makers” (featuring recent How I Podcaster, David Rees). Rubanova serves as an executive producer at Forever Dog and has hosted programs for WNYC Studios and Stitcher Premium. She co-produces and hosts the narrative sketch comedy show “Left Handed Radio” with Adam Bozarth. 

I use my phone a lot. I used to write down ideas for sketches and would inevitably forget what made them good. “When I win the lottery, I’m gonna teach a fish how to smoke.” That’s in one of my notes and I have no idea what it’s referring to. With a voice memo, I can capture the feel of the bit immediately. The recording can serve as a jumping off point for a fully written sketch, maybe a prompt for improv. I might re-record it using a better mic or, screw it, use it as is. I go with whatever is funniest or, sometimes, good enough. You can always justify it later with context. With enough music, restoration or SFX, the worst-quality audio sounds intentional. Plus, there’s no point in doing something “correctly” in podcasting. It’s like trying to make the perfect sandwich. Anyone who thinks there’s one way to podcast or do radio or utilize two slices of bread is a fraud or a solipsist.

Image Credits: Anna Rubanova

Speaking of podcast perfection, Left Handed Radio is my everything. It’s a portfolio, creative outlet, comedy scrapbook and excuse to play with my best friend and partner in all things, Adam Bozarth. We make sketches, stream-of-consciousness monologues, anything that strikes us as funny or interesting.

Over the last decade, we’ve accumulated a good deal of recording equipment. Nothing fancy: a couple of Zooms, two AudioTechnica 2020 USB mics, and a Rhode shotgun. Most of what we have was meant for DIY filmmaking. There was a post-YouTube short-form comedy boom about a decade ago. When all those branded content sites went down, we stopped messing with video and leaned harder into animation and podcasting. 

Image Credits: Anna Rubanova

Narrative audio is my passion. Podcasting is my job. Like I said, we don’t collect equipment but, as producers of up to 12 shows at a time, we needed to invest in plug-ins and software. The easiest DAW for dialogue has to be Audition. Logic is great for building out soundscapes and, obviously, music. We record remote calls to Audition and mark edit points like we would in a studio. (Thank you, Loopback!) Two years ago, I dropped a whopping $1,000 on restoration software. In the pandemic, that software has saved me hours of work. When everyone is recording from home, literally anything can go wrong.

Gone are the days when clipping and plosives were our biggest concern. One time, a podcaster (i.e. someone with their own podcast) called into a show I was producing from a rooftop party. By the time I finished restoring the recording, nobody could tell. (Thank you, RX-7; I wish I could afford RX-8.) Plug-ins aren’t just useful, they can be delightful. We have one that can make audio sound like it’s coming from a loudspeaker underneath a woolen blanket. Have I found a good use for it? No, not yet. But I can imagine the possibilities.

Turntable.fm competitor tt.fm launches beta app for iOS and Android

You’d be forgiven for being confused. I’ve been following this story and am currently writing it and I’m still fairly confused. But Turntable (or tt.fm), not to be confused with Turntable.fm (the name of both the original and recently re-released social music app) today just announced that it has launched iOS, Android and desktop versions of its own service.

By way of brief explanation, the original Turntable.fm shut down in 2013 to focus on a live music platform. It was a sad day for those of us who wasted countless workday hours on the site. But stuff happens. People change, companies pivot.

Of course, that nostalgia returned something fierce when we were all stuck inside for the past year, searching for a social connection. Those of us of a certain age who maybe haven’t gone all in on Twitch started pining for the site. So founder Billy Chasen planned a return. In its current beta iteration, it’s a bit of a time capsule, albeit with a few key changes like relying on YouTube streaming to circumvent some royalty issues. It works well. I’ve been using it. It’s fun. Oh, and the company just raised $7.5 million to bring it into the new decade.

Seemingly around the same time, an early Turntable.fm employee decided to launch another take on the service. Focused on mobile usage and opting for the crowdfunding route, TT.fm rode that wave of nostalgia to $500,000 in funding, announced back in March.

Today that service is launching in beta. It’s in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store as we speak. Or you can visit it in a browser. Like Turntable.fm, tt.fm (as we’re going to refer to it for simplicity’s sake) relies on third-party music services. At launch, music is pulled from a linked Spotify or Apple Music account, as well as Soundcloud. YouTube functionality is coming soon.

As you can see from the above shot, the offering is based on the same format as Turntable.fm, with similar but different graphics. DJs play songs on the stage and the audience bops their heads in approval if they like it. One of the ways the new offering is looking to distinguish itself is through hosted DJ sets from artists.

“Original Turntable fans are eager to get back on the dancefloor and have been asking for a product that serves their needs,” Perla said in a release, “including live DJ sets, social networking with music fans, music sharing and an online music community.”

As a fan of Turntable.fm, suddenly going from zero to two services feels like an embarrassment of riches. But the question remains whether it can move beyond a niche and really thrive in the crowded media environment of 2021. There’s probably room for one Turntable.fm.

But two? This already strange story is likely only getting stranger.

Twitch introduces Animated Emotes for their 10th anniversary

Twitch announced today that they will release major updates to their Emotes this month to celebrate their 10th anniversary. These new features will include Animated Emotes, Follower Emotes, and a Library for Emotes. 

Since the origin of the live streaming platform for gamers, Emotes – Twitch’s version of emojis – have been a key component of Twitch culture. They’re micro memes, and images like Kappa, TriHard, and PogChamp have come to carry meaning in the greater gaming world, even off the Twitch platform. 

“Emotes are a language that transcends countries,” said Ivan Santana, Senior Director of Community Product at Twitch. “Anywhere you are in the world, they mean the same thing for us.”

The Amazon-owned platform regularly adds new global Emotes, which can be used on any streamer’s channel. Individual creators can make custom Emotes for their own community, which paying subscribers can use across the platform. But the ability to add animated gifs as Emotes is something that the community has been asking for since Santana can remember. 

“I’ve been at Twitch for four years, and it’s something people have been asking for since before I joined,” Santana told TechCrunch. “It’s certainly been a very, very long time.” 

Streamers who lack animation skills need not worry. While the more tech-savvy among us can upload custom gifs, Twitch will provide six templates for streamers to choose from, which can animate their existing Emotes. These animations include Shake, Rave, Roll, Spin, Slide In, and Slide Out. Viewers who are sensitive to animations will be able to turn off the feature in their Chat Settings. 

Image Credits: Twitch

Twitch is also beta testing Follower Emotes, which will be available to select Partners and Affiliates. This feature creates a fun, free incentive for viewers to hit the follow button on a channel they might be checking out for the first time. When viewers follow a channel, they’ll be notified when the creator is streaming, which can lead to an eventual subscription. Twitch takes 50% of streamers’ subscription money, creating a valuable revenue stream for the company.

In Q1 of 2021, Twitch viewership hit an all-time high, growing 16.5% since the previous quarter. Twitch viewers watched 6.34 billion hours of content in Q1, making up 72.3% of the market share. That’s double the total hours watched on Twitch in Q1 of 2020. Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming earned 12.1% and 15.6% of viewership in the sector respectively. 

“For a long time, creators have been asking for better ways to attract and welcome new viewers into their channel,” said Santana. “The idea is generally to create a lot of excitement around that community, and more feelings ultimately of community.”

Creators with beta access will be able to upload up to five Emotes for their followers, but unlike Subscriber Emotes, followers won’t be able to use these across other channels. There’s no guarantee that Follower Emotes will be here to stay – Santana says it’s a feature Twitch is “experimenting” with – but if all goes well, the feature will roll out more widely later in the year.

Finally, the Library function will make it easier for creators to to swap Emotes in and out of subscription tiers without having to delete and reupload them each time. This builds upon an upgrade that launched in January, which centralized channel-specific icons into an Emotes tab on the Creator Dashboard. As usual, new Emotes have to be approved by Twitch before they’re put into use. The Library will roll out soon to all Partners and Affiliates, staggered over a few months to account for an expected increase in volume of new Emotes. 

“As Twitch has scaled, we now have millions of communities across many different cultures across the world,” Santana said. “We can hand over more of the controls of our Emote language to our community, and let them sort of evolve in a way that we never could imagine that ultimately serves them in their unique ways.”

Twitch teased that there’s more in the works to celebrate the platform’s 10th anniversary, including an official 10 Year celebration. 

Paramount+ will launch a $4.99 monthly ad-supported subscription

If you didn’t want to shell out $9.99 per month to watch the meme-worthy iCarly reboot, now you won’t have to. On Monday, Paramount+ will launch its ad-supported Essential Plan, priced at $4.99 per month.

This less-expensive plan will replace the CBS All Access plan, which included commercials, but also granted access to local CBS stations. If you’re currently subscribed to that $5.99 per month plan, you can keep it. But starting Monday, it won’t be around anymore for new subscribers. 

What makes the Essential Plan different from CBS All Access? Subscribers on the new tier will get access to Marquee Sports (including games in the NFL, UEFA Champions, and Europa Leagues), breaking news on CBSN, and all of Paramount’s on-demand shows and movies. This includes offerings from ViacomCBS-owned channels like BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, the Smithsonian Channel, and more. But, local live CBS station programming will no longer be included. So, if that’s a deal-breaker, you might want to subscribe to CBS All Access this weekend. 

The existing Premium Plan ($9.99 per month) removes commercials and adds support for 4K, HDR, and Dolby Vision. Like other streaming services, only Premium subscribers will have access to mobile downloads. 

Both plans include access to parental controls and up to six individual profiles. The service doesn’t have a watch list at this time. But that has become a baseline feature for being competitive in this space, so it’s not a matter of if, but when. 

For comparison, the basic Netflix plan costs $8.99 per month, but only lets you watch on one screen at a time. That makes it harder to share an account with family or friends. Their standard tier is $13.99, making it a bit pricier than Paramount+.

Earlier this week, HBO Max unveiled their own lower-cost, ad-supported subscription tier, priced at $9.99 per month. The WarnerMedia-Discovery merger could also have major implications for the popular streaming service, though how that shakes out in terms of content libraries, or even possibly a combined streaming app, remains to be seen. 

Ultimately, consumers will make their decisions about which services to pay for based on a variety of key factors including content, pricing, and user experience. On the content front, Paramount+ plans to announce a slate of big-name titles when the new plan goes live on Monday, in hopes of wooing new subscribers. But the low-cost plan may also appeal to those who don’t necessarily care about top movies – they just want an affordable add-on to their current streaming lineup that provides them with access to some of the programs Netflix lacks. 

Paramount+ owner ViacomCBS said it added 6 million global streaming subscribers across their Paramount+, Showtime OTT, and BET+ services in Q1, to end the quarter with 36 million global users. Most of those come from Paramount+.

HBO Max launches ad-supported subscription for $9.99 per month

“Game of Thrones” might be over, but HBO Max is still breaking new ground, and even breaking the internet – this past weekend, HBO Max blacked out right before the finale of “Mare of Easttown,” likely due to traffic. But if you haven’t hopped aboard the HBO Max train yet, it might be time to try it out. Today, the streaming platform premieres an ad-supported subscription at $9.99 per month. Its existing service – which features no ads – costs $14.99 per month. Subscribers can save 15% on their subscription, no matter which version they choose, if they pre-pay for an entire year. 

The advertisements aren’t the only drawback of the more affordable subscription option. The ad-supported tier offers a maximum quality of 1080p, which is still pretty good for most consumers, unless you’re watching “Friends: The Reunion” in your 4k home theater. But, lower-tier subscribers won’t be able to download content to view offline, nor will they have access to same-day film premieres of Warner Bros.’s newest theatrical releases. However, these films will become available to stream months after release. On the bright side, ads will not appear on original HBO programming.

With just four minutes of ad time per hour, the ad-supported tier “launches with a commitment” to maintaining the lowest volume of commercials among popular streaming services. HBO Max follows in the footsteps of Hulu, which also offers a discounted subscription with ads for $5.99 per month, as opposed to $11.99 per month. But on Hulu, a half-hour show can contain almost five minutes of unskippable ad time. Meanwhile, Netflix offers its most basic plan – which allows streaming on one screen at a time without HD – for $8.99 per month. Its standard plan is $13.99 a month. Now that HBO Max has a more competitively priced option, it might give these other platforms a run for their money. 

What kinds of ads can you expect to see on HBO Max? The company says that subscribers can expect “a greater personalization in the ads they see” over time, with “more innovation in formats to come.” This could resemble the ad experience on Hulu, which has experimented with viewer-friendly binge-watch ads.

As of April 2021, HBO Max and HBO reached a combined 44.2 million subscribers, and in Q1 of the year, added 2.7 million domestic subscribers. By comparison, Netflix reported an increase of 4 million subscribers in the same period, bringing them to about 207 million global subscribers. However, only 450,000 of those new subscribers come from the US and Canada.

On June 29, HBO Max will launch in 39 Latin American markets. Later in the year, the streaming service is expected to roll out in Europe. This will only further the platform’s rapid growth – in 2019, AT&T, which owns HBO Max, set the modest goal to attain 50 million subscribers by 2025. Now, HBO Max expects it will reach between 120 million and 150 million subscribers by the same date.

The ad-supported subscription option for HBO Max is available now.

Amazon is buying MGM Studios for $8.45B

The big media consolidation continues — day after rumors swirled around Amazon’s acquisition of MGM, the online massive retailer confirmed today that it will be acquiring the nearly 100-year-old studio for a cool $8.45 billion.

The deal is another big step toward bolster Amazon’s fight in the streaming wars, with some 4,000 films. The list includes the James Bond and Rocky series and classics ranging from Fargo to Robocop to Silence of the Lambs. Also included are more than 17,000 TV shows. Once the deal closes, the short term impact will be unfettered access for Amazon’s Prime Video platform, giving the service a leg up against rivals like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max.

As we’ve seen with the launch of studio streaming platforms like Disney+, the deal will also likely result in that content being pulled from competing services, once existing contracts end. “The real financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of IP in the deep catalog that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM’s talented team,” Amazon Studios/Prime Video SVP Mike Hopkins said in a release. “It’s very exciting and provides so many opportunities for high-quality storytelling.”

Amazon also says it will be making efforts to preserve older films. The press material includes all of the standard language you would expect about marrying the old with the new. Here’s MGM Board Chairman, Kevin Ulrich, “I am very proud that MGM’s Lion, which has long evoked the Golden Age of Hollywood, will continue its storied history, and the idea born from the creation of United Artists lives on in a way the founders originally intended, driven by the talent and their vision. The opportunity to align MGM’s storied history with Amazon is an inspiring combination.”

Amazon has, of course, already been making an aggressive push into original content through its own production studio and distribution. On the film side, it has produced notable titles like Manchester By the Sea, which nabbed a screenwriting Oscar and its list of shows includes Transparent. The company is also embarking on a massive (and massively expensive) series based on Lord of Rings.

While Amazon has thrived with massive coffers, MGM’s had a more difficult 21st century. In 2010, the studio filed for a prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy after switching hands several times. The studio was reorganized and its creditors took control.

As ever with these massive deals, the acquisition is pending all sorts of regulator scrutiny.

 

Call it a comeback: Turntable.fm raises $7.5M

Earlier this year, Turntable.fm’s founder Billy Chasen dusted off the old site and resurrected it for the pandemic age. I know I wasn’t the only one feeling a wistful pang of nostalgia for the service during the long, dull days of sheltering in place. And while March 2020 would have been the best time for a relaunch, March 2021 was pretty good, too.

Today Chasen announced that the service has received a nice little slice of VC backing to help the service (which has thus far been invite/password only) take the next step. Andreessen Horowitz led the $7.5 million round a decade after the site’s original launch. Funding had thus far been limited to fans through services like Patreon and Venmo. He notes that he will be turning off the service’s Patreon.

Chasen is staying mum as far as where the funding will go, stating, “And now with the new fundraising, we can continue to innovate and truly explore the cross section of social + music. I have a lot of ideas for the space and I’m excited to start building them.”

Though, a blog post does note that the company is hiring engineers and designers. Understandable, though as someone who’s been enjoying the site these last few months, I’m actually pretty surprised at how fresh the whole thing feels.

The team found a clever loophole around music rights in the form of YouTube videos, but perhaps a future version of the service will involve more direct music licensing or ties to popular apps like Spotify. A mobile app would be nice, if I’m just spitballing here.

Turntable.fm initially shut down back in 2013, stating at the time, “It was a tough decision to make because we love this community so much, but the cost of running a music service has been too expensive and we can’t outpace it with our efforts to monetize it and cut costs.” The service added that it was focusing on a live events platform instead.

Notably, Turntable.fm is not the only Turntable service looking to relaunch in 2021. There’s also Turntable.org (confusingly located at TT.fm), which is seeking fan funding, as well as looking toward a subscription fee. It announced that it had raised $500,000 in March and was aiming for an April launch for a mobile and desktop version. The site currently reads, “We’re building a new version just as much fun as the original.”

The two Turntables are not affiliated.

Spotify launches a virtual concert series with The Black Keys and more

The past year has been utterly devastating to the music industry generally, and live music in particular. Artists who make a living touring have been forced to find alternative ways to make ends meet, while those among us who once frequented live events have been looking for ways to plug the hole created by wide-scale shutdowns.

A number of music-related platforms have spent much of the pandemic looking to offer some semblance of the concert-going experience, ranging from live venues to services like Bandcamp. Today, Spotify is announcing the launch of a new feature designed to provide a live-show experience remotely. Venues in many areas are beginning to reopen, but even fans may be cautious to return to packed, indoor events.

The streaming service is announcing a series of shows starting with dates this month and next, including names like The Black Keys, Rag’n’Bone Man, Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff, Leon Bridges and girl in red. Spotify is billing them as “prerecorded livestreams” — a bit of an oxymoron, that. I recognize that livestream has become kind of a catchall, but it loses some meaning when the thing isn’t, you know, live.

Rather than streaming straight from a venue, the service is taking the somewhat novel approach of letting the artist choose the spot for the pre-recorded show. That means live-show venues in the case of The Black Keys and something more creative for Antonoff, who shot his segment on a bus traveling from Brooklyn to Springsteen’s old stomping ground, Asbury Park, New Jersey (greetings).

“We have always been a band that loves to play live in venues of all shapes and sizes,” The Black Keys said in a release tied to the news. “The past year has been tough for musicians and fans alike, so we wanted to find a way to share this live performance of songs from our new project, Delta Kream, from a place we love, the Blue Front Café, the oldest active juke joint in America. We’re excited to be a part of this new initiative with Spotify that will give fans a great way to connect with their favorite artists.”

The shows run 40-75 minutes and run $15 a pop. The price seems a bit high to stream a pre-recorded concert, but fans of the groups will likely appreciate what’s being billed as an “intimate” look at one of their favorite artists — though intimacy is, in part, limited as the company will be selling unlimited tickets to the events. The service isn’t revealing how large of a cut artists will get, simply telling TechCrunch, “All artists will receive a guaranteed fee for their participation in the livestream.”

Streaming the shows requires a Spotify account — either premium or free.

Fave, with $2.2 million seed, looks to connect creators with their fandoms

When Jacquelle Amankonah Horton left her role at Google after seven years, where she had been a product manager for Google Assistant and various YouTube products, she knew there was a white space in social. She built Fave to fill in that gap, and the company today announced the close of a $2.2 million seed round.

Female Founders Fund, HYBE, Sony Music, Warner Music, Concord Music, Quality Control, Right Hand Management, Techstars Music and Betaworks all participated in the round.

Fave is all about the relationship between fans and creators. As Horton describes it, creators and artists have a variety of ways they can reach out to their fans and share their lives, but for the super fans out there, there is no way to truly express their adoration beyond the flat experience of commenting on an Instagram post or liking a tweet.

Fave is broken down by fandoms (starting with Swifties/Taylor Swift), allowing allows fans to connect with one another, create content, and buy and sell fan-themed merchandise and artwork to one another. Fave’s go-to-market is focused on the fans themselves, though the hope is to also bring creators on to the platform, which ultimately gives them another revenue stream.

Creators and Fave alike can generate revenue through advertising or through a transaction fee on goods sold through the marketplace. Fave takes a 10 percent cut on all transactions, whether sold by the creator or a fan.

Alongside the announcement of the funding, Fave is also launching into public beta.

Horton explained to TechCrunch that one tactic for the company is to engage with the top influencers for each respective fandom. Across fan communities, there are people who are relatively well-known as the top fans, sharing content and often getting recognized by the creator.

Fave is onboarding these influencers early on in the creation of a fandom to attract the rest of the fans over to the platform. The startup is also looking to capitalize on some of the competitiveness involved in being a super fan, giving creators the ability to set up contests and let their fans compete. Users that do well are rewarded with points that can be spent in the marketplace.

Horton said that she grew up as a super fan herself and can relate to the users.

“I was the girl in her bedroom who knew every lyric of every song, how many freckles they have, and fell asleep to the movie every single night just to hear the sound of his voice,” said Horton. “But I wasn’t able to go sit front row at a concert or spend $70 on a sweatshirt so the artists got nothing from me despite my deep passion.”

The hope is to give fans a place where they can truly let their fan flag fly, while giving artists a way to connect directly with fans. Though the startup only has one fandom open right now, they’re actively listening to users on the platform to determine which fandoms to build out next.