Tag Archives for " streaming music "

Neil Young Gives In And Puts Music Back On Streaming Services

Neil YoungNeil Young pulled his music off of every streaming service in 2015 because of the poor sound quality in favor of his own Pono service, but in a reversal, now he’s back. Although last May his music was made available on Tidal, now it can be found on both Spotify and Apple Music.

Pono was Young’s idea for a high-resolution streaming service complete with it’s own player, but the timing, as well as expectations for demand, were off. By the time it launched, music lovers had abandoned music players like the iPod for streaming, so putting an expensive, oddly shaped device in the pants pocket was out of the question, regardless how it sounded.

While Neil Young has always used the argument that his fans wouldn’t stand for the lower quality sound and expected more from him, that doesn’t seem to be the case, and his entry back on the various streaming services is an admission to that premise.

This is another example of how fans care more about convenience than anything else. Although improvements in sound quality have frequently come with new delivery technologies that the music industry has adopted, that’s never been the reason why most people would buy or use the product, although for many it was a happy coincidence. It’s been improved ease of use that’s always won the day, and streaming has been the best example of that ever.

Although the sound quality isn’t up to par with vinyl and CDs, the fact that you can access literally millions of songs almost anywhere anytime is a far more attractive feature to most users. That said, the streaming quality is getting better, and high-quality tiers from both Deezer and Tidal are available for anyone who cares enough.

I predict that by the end of 2017, one or more of the mainstream streaming services will also make the move to high-resolution, which may put the quality issue to bed for good (unless you’re an audiophile, of course).

[Photo: Andy Roo]
October 24, 2016

11 Popular Artists Still Not Streaming

Bob Seger 2013Billboard recently posted a very interesting article about 11 artists, some major, that still can’t be be found on a streaming network. While you have to admire that they stand for their principles, it does seem to be a somewhat dated view, since streaming has not only become a major source of income for previous holdouts like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, but has also helped with their visibility and physical sales as well. Another major holdout in Garth Brooks just came in from the cold last week, with his exclusive deal with Amazon Music Unlimited.

So who are the holdouts? They may surprise you as they not all in the rock genre, who’s artists seem to make up the bulk of the pushback against streaming.

Aaliyah

Bikini Kill

De La Soul

Def Leopard

King Crimson

The KLF

Yoko Ono

Bob Seger

Suede

Tool

Thome York

Of course, if you want to find bootleg copies of any of these artists, they’re certainly there, as is the user generated uploads on YouTube (although some of the above do have official videos on that platform). It’s also interesting to note that, with the exception of York, all of these artists have seen their best days behind them. Almost all current artists have grown up in a streaming environment and have no connection to the physical music business of the past, so they don’t know what they’re missing nor do they care.

Still, if these holdouts expect the music industry to return to the way it was, they’re sadly mistaken. The business constantly evolves and moves forward, and these artists should too.

Amazon’s Actually Losing Money From It’s New Music Service

amazon-losing-moneyThe major record labels are adamant about keeping the price of a music streaming subscription at $9.99 per month, regardless of the platform, so it was a great surprise last week when Amazon announced that its new Amazon Music Unlimited service was priced at $7.99 per month for Amazon Prime members. It turns out that the labels haven’t softened their pricing stance at all, as Music Business Worldwide reported that Amazon will actually end up subsidizing the other 2 bucks when all is said and done.

It turns out that Amazon is expected to be paying out from between $5.50 to $6 each month to record labels and artists for each $7.99 Prime subscriber, and an additional $1.50 a month to publishers and songwriters. When you figure in administration, marketing, staff and infrastructure costs, that means that most if not all of that monthly fee has pretty much been eaten up.

So what’s the company’s end game?Amazon might be pulling an Apple here, losing money on software in order to sell more hardware and make a much higher profit. While Echo and Dot seem to be hits and are the leading products in this new category, there very well may be more hardware devices from the company on the way . Using music streaming as a loss-leader to make it’s hardware more attractive has been tried by many companies though, particularly in the mobile space, and only Apple has been wildly successful with the strategy.

The price subsidy could also be another way to increase Prime memberships. While Amazon doesn’t publish the actual number of subscriptions, insiders have reported it to be around 60 million, and when you consider that each one is paying $99 a year for the privilege, you can see why anything that might increase that number could be valuable. Still, it seems like a stretch to think that the average music user will say to himself, “I really want to subscribe to this music service because of this great price. Let me pay just $99 more so I can buy in.” [Read more on Forbes]

Don’t Be Fooled By Amazon Music Unlimited’s Price

amazon music unlimitedAmazon has finally launched it’s long awaited stand-alone streaming music service and it’s called Amazon Music Unlimited. On the surface it has a number of interesting features that differentiate it from the other major streaming services, but one has to wonder whether potential users will find them compelling enough to subscribe.

Perhaps the service’s biggest feature is price. If you’re already an Amazon Prime customer, Amazon Music Unlimited is available for just $7.99 per month or $79 per year, undercutting the norm of $9.99 per month charged by most other services. If you’re not a Prime customer however, you’ll still be charged the customary $9.99 per month.

If you happen to own an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot or Amazon Tap device, the price is even lower at $3.99 per month, but music playback only works on that device. If you want to receive the full Amazon Music service on your phone, for instance, you’ll still need to pony up for the full Unlimited tier at either $7.99 monthly if you’re a Prime member, or $9.99 if you’re not.

On the surface this seems pretty interesting in that a lower price for streaming is what major industry consultants have been advising for years. Even back at the peak of the CD boom, the average music buyer never purchased $120 worth of music per year, as is the case now with a $9.99 per month streaming plan. Though there’s been a decent amount of streaming penetration at that price point, it’s still only 10% or less in some territories, according to industry pundit Mark Mulligan. Potential subscribers that might not ever buy at $9.99 are more likely to change their minds if that monthly threshold was lower.

That’s why Amazon Music Unlimited’s $7.99 per month price point looks so inviting. It’s a step in bringing that monthly fee more in line with the expectations of the greatest number of users.

The problem is that this price is really a mirage.

You have to be an Amazon Prime member in order to have access to the $7.99 price, and this is after you’ve already payed $99 for your Amazon Prime subscription for the year. And, as a Prime member, you already have Amazon’s Prime Music service available to you for free, so why would you want to pay the extra 8 bucks a month for something that you’ve already paid for?

To be fair, Amazon Music Unlimited is different from Prime Music in a number of ways. There are a lot more songs available (Amazon will only say its in the “tens of millions” as compared to Prime Music’s two million), there are curated playlists, behind-the-scenes artist commentaries, and a new app. Is that worth the extra money per month? It will be interesting to see just how many of the estimated 60 million Prime members say, “Yes it is!” [Read more on Forbes]

Spotify’s Paid Over A Billion Dollars To Record Labels This Year

spotify royalty paymentsThe major record labels seem to have it out for Spotify, but the platform is contributing mightily to their bottom lines. It’s been reported that the company has already paid $1.2 billion dollars in royalties to the music industry this year, and over $5 billion lifetime. The platform is paying out around $133 million per month, and over $4.4 million a day, according to Music Business Worldwide.

Spotify recently announced that it now has 40 million paid subscribers, which goes a long way to contributing to that royalty payout. Apple Music, the next most popular streaming music platform, has less than half that at 16 million. The music industry currently favors Apple Music because it doesn’t offer a free ad-supported tier like Spotify. Allowing users to access music for free, even with ads and listening limitations has been ridiculed by artists, songwriters, publishers and labels, but many platforms, including Spotify, feel that it’s important to introduce users to the the value of streaming music first before asking them to pay. That said, many users are now hip to the the benefits of streaming music and that introduction may no longer be as necessary as it was previously.

Regardless, Spotify’s royalty payments are now a huge part of the revenue stream for most labels. Even though that amount still doesn’t make up for declining CD and download sales, the streaming user numbers are steadily rising, and many feel that it’s only a matter of time until streaming makes up the largest segment of recorded music industry income. Spotify might be leading the way, but until it eliminates its free tier (which has been rumored), the company will still receive the wrath of the industry. It won’t be alone, however, as other companies offering the same free tier will be lumped in the same boat, as the industry tries to move away from anything free.

YouTube Misses The Point With Its Lyor Cohen Hire

youtubeIf you want to start a music label executive ranting and raving, just mention YouTube. It’s currently public enemy #1 to the music industry thanks to its relative intransigence over royalty payouts that execs and artists alike feel are way too low. That’s a good reason why Youtube may think its brand new hire of music business insider Lyor Cohen as head of global music will help smooth over its difficulties with the labels, but that line of thinking will probably turn out to be somewhat misplaced when the dust settles.

Cohen comes from his own indie label, 300 Entertainment, after years as a senior exec at Universal Music subsidiary Def Jam, then Warner Music. At Warners, he helped oversee that company’s transition to digital distribution, being instrumental in signing licensing agreements with both Spotify and YouTube, so on the surface this looks like a great hire. Get an insider who knows everyone in the business and how the game is played, and YouTube’s trouble may be soon over, or so the thinking probably went.

The problem is that Cohen isn’t exactly a beloved figure in the industry, so he’ll not be welcomed with open arms to any negotiation, especially if he’s there to play hardball and keep the status quo regarding the royalty rate. Right now YouTube pays only 55% of ad revenue for monetized views, while other music distribution services are in the 70% range and even higher. That’s where the music industry wants to be, but YouTube doesn’t feel compelled in the least to acquiesce, and why should they? If a major label withholds a license, its songs will still find their way onto the platform thanks to the many fans uploading their own videos with the songs attached. YouTube is immune from any copyright infringement prosecution thanks to the Safe Harbor provision of the Digital Copyright Millennium Act.

While it’s possible to identify videos with unlicensed music via YouTube’s Content ID system, most labels feel that it doesn’t identify enough of them, leaving millions of possible monetizable videos views unreported. An improvement to the algorithm is something that the industry is also demanding.

Reportedly, all three major label’s license agreements with YouTube are now out of contract and updated versions of these agreements are currently on the table. Presumably, that’s what YouTube wants Lyor Cohen to handle, but unless he brings a substantial royalty increase with him, you can be sure that the company will continue to remain in the cross-hairs of the music industry, even with an insider at the helm.

[This article originally appeared on my Forbes blog]
September 26, 2016

Apple Music At 17 Million Subscribers After 70 Exclusives

apple music exclusivesRecord labels hate giving exclusives to streaming services, but they appear to be working when it comes to signing up new paid subscribers. During Apple’s latest product rollout, CEO Tim Cook mentioned that Apple Music was now at 17 million subscribers thanks to over 70 exclusives with artist like Taylor Swift, Frank Ocean and Drake. The service now appears to be growing at just under a million per month.

While exclusives are great for the streaming networks, the rest of the music industry isn’t so sure of the benefits. For one thing, there’s a belief that they cause confusion in the marketplace. What happens is that a listener can readily find the new release from a hit artist on one streaming site, but then gets frustrated when she can’t find it on another. Many consumers apparently don’t care or pay attention to the “exclusive” factor, it seems.

For an artist, exclusives are a mixed bag. They make get a modest cash advance for the privilege, but the big carrot is the promotion that goes along with it, especially with Apple Music. That means not only online hype but traditional promotion on billboards, print and television as well.

A big problem that’s only just raising its head is retaliation from other streaming services over an exclusive. Katy Perry is said to have been deleted from all Spotify playlists and refused promotion over her exclusive with Apple Music, which caused her latest single to fall completely off the radar.

As a result, major labels are said to be putting a hold on the practice of offering exclusives from now on, choosing to take their chances with traditional label promotion instead.

Exclusives may become a thing of the past, but for about a year, they were the hottest thing in music industry and streaming music.

Will The New Cheap Tier From Pandora And Amazon Be Worth It?

pandor more skipsEver since music streaming began in earnest, there’s been a mantra inside the music industry that’s gone something like this – “Until the paid subscription rate gets to $5 per month, streaming is never going to scale.” That’s only partially been true, as subscriber numbers have grown steadily at the now standard $10 per month, but not to the level that the industry wanted or expected. The question is, will they truly take off even when they reach the $5 cheap tier?

It looks like we might know soon enough as Pandora is reportedly about to launch a brand new service at that magic price, with Amazon to follow shortly thereafter.

But is what you get for that $5 going to be worth it?

According to reports, Pandora’s $5 tier is just another version of its other tiers, but with the ability to skip more songs and store several hours of playlists. And Amazon’s $5 tier will only apply to owners of its Echo smart speaker. That sort of limits the reach of these $5 tiers a bit, don’t you think?

While all streaming services are feeling the pressure to reduce prices, they’re bound by their agreements with the major record labels, which doesn’t provide a lot of wiggle room for lower prices. In fact, it’s rumored that Apple wanted to set the price of its Apple Music to $8 at launch but that idea was quickly laid to rest by the major label’s powers-that-be.

Pandora and Amazon dipping their toes in the $5 water could be a gateway to a new round of streaming discounts though. Whenever Spotify runs a sale (like the recent $3 for three months student special) its paid subscriber numbers rise pretty quickly, although it’s yet to be seen what the churn rate for those new subscribers is. That’s not enough evidence for the labels however, who still cling to the $10 per month price point as the floor that will never go lower. [Read more on Forbes…]

September 13, 2016

Engineer Tom Weir On Episode #126 Of My Inner Circle Podcast

tom-weirIf you ever wanted to hear a true Hollywood story, then you’ll love this week’s episode of my Inner Circle podcast. Engineer Tom Weir has had some studio experiences that you could only get if you grew up in Southern California, and you won’t believe how cool some of them have been.

Tom is also the owner of Studio City Sound, and we’ll discuss just how different having a Hollywood-area studio is compared to almost anywhere else in the world.

In the intro I’ll take a look at what people are really listening to when streaming (it’s not what you think), and talk about the famous console from Abbey Road Studio 1 being up for sale.

You can listen to it at bobbyoinnercircle.com, or via iTunesStitcher, Mixcloud or Google Play.

September 7, 2016

Which Music Streaming Services Will Survive 2016?

Music Streaming ServicesNote: Here’s a guest post from Caroline at Culture Coverage.

In a world of free music, not all streaming services are created equal.

Between premium subscriber systems and free platforms with limitless libraries, there are a lot of options that can cloud a music lover’s desktop and not provide any real advantages. For these five industry leaders, however, it can be a different story. To figure out the future of streaming, check out this list of what’s up and what’s worth a listen. 

Spotify

As the behemoth winner of the streaming music world, Spotify started out just like any other digital age streaming startup, but it’s as much about what critics would consider faults as it is about its apparent successes; the truth is, everything is working for it. The easy-to-use interface, the completely free use of its music catalogue and mobile listening features make it perfect for all ages. Customizable playlists, radio stations, and great social features that mean easy sharing—it’s easy to see why Spotify is top dog in a world of free music. From customized Discover Weekly playlists tailored to your likes and cool features like the one that matches your songs to your running pace, this service is one that only gets better.

Apple Music

While the streaming service isn’t free (and therefore a huge negative), Apple is the leader in everything else tech related, which gives the service strong staying power even if it’s had slow success since debuting in 2015. With only 15 million followers since it launched, Apple Music has been rumored to be acquiring Jay-Z’s TIDAL, which is predicted to be a smart business move. While it may have only 4.2 million subscribers, the clout TIDAL has with big musicians like Kanye West and Rihanna is suspected to boost the listener experience and advantages of subscribing to the Apple Music service.

YouTube

YouTube is the uncontested largest music streaming music service around with over a billion monthly visitors, and since it launched YouTube Red, it’s finally available without pesky ads. YouTube also leads in the music category by allowing users to search concert tapes, music videos, live recordings, and a plethora of uploaded work ranging from wedding videos to covers. While sifting through all the noise can be a drawback, the lyric video revolution and payout to artists means this globally unifying music source isn’t going anywhere soon. 

Pandora

With 80 million active users, Pandora gets away with having a limited number of skips for one reason: it’s the best way to discover new music. With personalized radio station features and the opportunity to use the app across multiple platforms, the music service has a great price, and it’s perfect for customized listening. While the geographical limitations on this one are a little archaic (though nothing a Virtual Private Network can’t fix), and it’s not your best option when you’re looking for a specific song, it’s free level is one that can’t be beat. The ever-updating and shifting song selection also make it a road tripper’s go-to. 

SoundCloud

A hotbed for indie artists, remixes, and the Next Big Thing, SoundCloud is still free, though this could change in the next year with its execs looking for a buyer. In the meantime, it offers something none of the other streaming services can. With raw mixes, unreleased EPs and fresh demos, this platform is where untested, undiscovered and underground artists flex their chops, which means it has serious staying power for listeners who want something outside of the commercialized music industry. Plus, there are options for sharing privately with friends or on social media; and with SoundCloud Go, you can listen anywhere.

From on-the-go to at-home listening, these five streaming services are providing the bulk of the industry’s listening platforms, and for 2016, they’re the masters of their trade. What’s next for the 2017 leaders? Only time—and the ear—will tell.


About Me: Caroline is a music junkie and streaming service lover, uploading any and all of the available service apps to her phone to continue her hunt for the next best one. Currently leaning toward the platforms that let her take the music with her, she’s open to being persuaded if you feel like leaving a comment and pointing her in the right direction. 

[Image courtesy of Nickolai Kashirin under CC BY 2.0]