The music industry is fantastic at hindsight. We’ve obsessed over the spread of online piracy, the death of the CD, then the impact of streams. But every measure of the business model is somehow framed around acquiring records. And it’s about passive consumption.
We have to remember, though, that passive consumption is itself really the outlier. Until the dawn of recording, music only existed when you played it. Our current copyright and licensing system was first structured around sheet music. And that world never went away. Precise recordings can give you the experience of listening, but no technology can give you the feeling of singing.
Wurrly is an app for recording covers of popular songs. It starts with a song store (and links to the originals on iTunes), but instead of tapping to download, you tap to sing. Choose a pre-made accompaniment (full band, piano, or guitar), set the key and tempo, and record. The cleverest part of the app is probably the interface for adding finishing touches: you get a simple fader for mixing and Instagram-style effects. (I’m sure we’ll keep hearing about an “Instagram for music” or “Instagram for sound” until someone really nails it.)
Of course, this is all paired with social sharing features and featured songs. I’m impressed, some of the recordings are pretty good – there are some talented singers, not just karaoke fare. I find the arrangements themselves to be a little dry; I think the app would benefit from original stems coming from the artists.
And yes, theoretically, this sort of thing could be a revenue stream – though again rates set for statutory licensing are key. A spokesperson for the developer tells CDM:
We have deals with all of the majors and we have blanket licenses on their content. As you know, songs these days can have multiple co-publishers, so we go directly to the stakeholders to get permission. We pay them royalties based on the seconds of usage in the app, quarterly. We also have encryption within the app so that users cannot manipulate it.
Think of this as the pop song / singer analog to Native Instruments’ Stems, and you begin to see where the landscape might shift.
It’s tough to tell what will be a hit and what won’t, in apps as in music itself. But looking beyond just acquiring music directly is wise. The beauty of the shift from devices like the iPod or Walkman to those like the iPhone or tablet is that it’s far easier to engage the user in a creative, active experience. And just as the phone made people feel better about taking more photos by making them look better, there’s no question that making people happy with the way they sound is a key motivation for encouraging musicianship.
Of course, in the past I made this prediction about music games, and that trend lost some steam. But I think we’re still in early days. Watch this space.
Call it a jam session that has completely fallen apart.
Having Web services go dark is certainly not news in this day and age. We’ve come to expect that Internet services won’t be there forever. (Google Reader, anyone?)
But if you pull apart some of the backstory behind the end of a service called “This Is My Jam,” you’ll come across an unnerving reality of the way music on the Web is evolving (or devolving).
This Is My Jam began life as a kind of hack – pick your one and only favorite song of the moment, then embed it as a streamable player. Now, to be honest, I was a little surprised the service lasted as long as it did. What’s happening now is, the site is turning into a read-only “time capsule.” Spotify integration will mean playlists of favorite songs will live on there, as well. It’s a shame, as I found the site a really lovely way of finding music that really mattered to people.
But the reasons it’s now untenable bear as much attention as the end of the site itself, because I’ve been noticing these trends, and they reach far beyond just one clever “favorite jam” site.
APIs are breaking or going away. Remember the hype around “remixing” the Web with open APIs? The reality is this: APIs are mostly dying, at least when it comes to music services. As the developers behind This Is My Jam put it, ominously, “The trend is accelerating with more breaking/shutting off each month, soon exceeding our capacity to fix it.”
The idea of opening up services to interoperability seems to just be going away. And it wasn’t all rosy while many of these APIs were still running, because of frequent changes and deprecations. I don’t necessarily believe this means that having open APIs is a bad idea so much as it illustrates that you need to create consistent, stable APIs for the concept to work. And now, services are running away from the idea of these kinds of sharing entirely.
Music is increasingly shut off from Web sharing. Embeddable players are often limited by licensing, and many services (hello, Apple Music) move the content into the apps. Now, this is important to music producers, who are likely to favor flexibility over, say, obscure licensing requirements that perhaps don’t make them any money anyway. And that leads to another problem:
Regional licensing is incompatible with the way people use the Web. The Web is everywhere. But antiquated licensing by country means that rules restrict your ability to put your music where you want.
The mobile Web is still the Web, but it requires a separate development effort. This is another problem: build something well for mobile, and it doesn’t work so well on desktop. Build it for the desktop browser, and it’s not going to feel native on mobile. We currently take this problem for granted in that we’re so used to it, but it’s hard not to hope for a future where this separation is mostly forgotten and tools blend seamlessly from one to the other.
Streaming deals are making things worse, not better. Is anyone else getting a sinking suspicion here? The push to streams is killing download sales, which were a semi-reliable source of revenue for a lot of producers. But the plans to monetize streams are so fragmented and incomplete that the net effect has largely been to restrict where and how music is played more than to increase revenue received by actual producers. I’m also not clear on how independent labels and artists can possibly get the same deal with, say, Apple, as majors, as negotiations swirl around exclusives and the like.
That’s my somewhat bleak case. If it were just this one app, that’d be one thing – but reading through the reasons they credit for the shutdown, too much is already too familiar.
And apart from This Is My Jam, I still have to think that independent producers and labels ultimately benefit from a more open Web. Embedding players means more data about would-be fans and listens, data that’s hugely valuable to musicians. It means the flexibility to easily get your music where you want it. And ultimately, it means easily facilitated sharing, which is vitally important in an age of abundant music from around the world.
I don’t mean to suggest that we should go back to the tools we had. But simply giving up the possibilities of sharing is a retreat, not an advancement. We ought to be able to do more with the Internet.
So, This Is My Jam, R.I.P.
But let’s hope the notion of sharing music through open interchange of data isn’t dead.
Since the spring, Native Instruments has been eager to talk about Stems every chance they got. And shops and some celebrity DJs have been quick to endorse the new initiative for releasing music in multi-track, DJ-friendly formats. But today, on the occasion of the official Stems launch, you can actually get your hands on Stems – literally.
That’s because as of today, you have both usable content and DJ tools to play with it. There’s a basic but significant catalog of Stems content available, and the Traktor 2.9 software necessary to play them in a DJ set is now ready to download. With that copy of Traktor, you can map Stems control to your favorite hardware, or use out-of-the-box support from NI’s own S8 and D2, complete with visualization on those units’ displays.
Saying Stems is a revolution or that it will fundamentally change DJ performance is I think a little exaggerated. The techniques for DJing don’t really change just because you’ve divided up mixes. But that shouldn’t turn you off from the real potential here.
Stems could the direction of the tide in some key areas. First, far too many recent releases (techno, I’m looking at you) have been reduced to making DJ “tools” – stripped-down tracks composed for mixing that are basically unlistenable on their own. Ironically, I think Stems could free up producers to make songs for listening and then let DJs work out how to break them apart into a mix. Second, Stems might finally make it easier to approach DJing from a digital perspective. The reality is, most digital DJ sets you here are fairly linear mixing affairs. And I think part of the reason DJs aren’t more adventurous is, while you have tools for looping and slicing and whatnot, you might not want to do that on an entire stereo master at the same time. If you could do it on a single part, though, everything gets a bit easier – and now you can do it on material from actual tracks, not just assembling boring piles of sample packs and generic loops.
Finally, Stems could help save the download business when it’s under fire, and make a little extra cash for producers who need it to support themselves.
Here’s what’s important to know:
The music is here. No chicken and egg problem: NI is announcing chickens and eggs aplenty. Beatport, Bleep, Juno, Traxsource, whatpeopleplay, and Wasabeat (a popular Japanese store) have all begun adding Stems content to their stores, NI reports.
I started by checking out Beatport (who weirdly call them “stempacks,” which sounds like something some mad scientist will use to clone dinosaurs). The music available looks frankly fantastic – certainly for techno fans. There’s a pretty strong and unsurprising Berlin angle – you’ll find the likes of Cosmin TRG and Benjamin Damage, great new music from Lando, stems for Paula Temple’s wonderfully-brutal “Colonized” (the last one dense as hell in the normal stereo form). Stewart Walker, whom we interviewed earlier this year and who I understand had a big hand in the development of Stems, is there. But overall, there’s already a pretty good selection across genres. Current price: US$3.49 – and it’s a safe bet that’ll be the new standard.
Bleep is promised, too, though they don’t yet have a dedicated page. (As a fan of Warp and whatnot, I’ll update you when it becomes available.)
Labels and artists have gotten most of the attention, but it’s also significant that distributors are signed up. Some of them provide additional infrastructure for mastering and promotion, too. Onboard: FUGA (NL), Label Worx (UK), Paradise and Finetunes (DE), Symphonic (USA), and Bonzai (BE).
Hands-on hardware support is here. It’s no accident that the deck layouts on NI’s new S8 and D2 have four big vertical faders and a color display. You can use that to see stacked waveforms of the four stems. Accordingly, NI has an artist video showing off the DJ techniques that affords with the lovely NGHT DRPS. Here’s that film, shot at Watergate (footsteps from NI’s Berlin HQ):
If you were thinking of buying new NI gear, now is probably a good time. Oh, right, NI probably hopes Stems will give you gear lust. But if you’ve been putting of purchases, the S8 and D2 – and the F1, which has the four fader configuration minus the display – are all on sale through the end of September. I expect these will be the lowest prices we see in 2015; after that we’re into the holiday season.
The creation tools are still missing. The promise Stem Creator Tool is still listed as “coming soon,” and I’ve been told it’s nearly done. That means for now, only select labels and artists can create content; the rest of us can’t get our hands on the tools. (My understanding is, those labels have access to a non-public tool.) CDM has asked to test this tool, and we’ll share as soon as NI lets us – Stems seem like an interesting way for producers to bring even their own content into Traktor (apart from Remix Decks).
Developer tools are coming.. NI promises complete specifications, plus sample code and documentation. Also, they’re promising a DSP library for mastering, which is an unexpected bonus from one of the planet’s most capable DSP developers. (You’ll see a link on the creator tool page.
It’s not really a new format. It’s just MP4. “Stems” might be best described as a standard practice for sharing multi-channel audio for DJing. But it isn’t a new format: all the metadata (ID3) and the multi-channel deliver mechanism (MP4) and encoding (AAC) existed already.
So, it’s more like: “hey, let’s all agree that we’re going to meet for after-work beers every Friday at 6pm, okay?” And it’s less like, “hey, I’ve invented something new and I’m calling it ‘beer.’” That’s a good thing, though, as it’s part of why Stems is so easy to adopt.
Is it open? Is it a standard? “Open” in this case means that the format is both freely-usable (no license fees, etc.), and also documented in such a way that anyone can build their own content and tools. As a standard, “de facto standard” would be most technically accurate, but MP4 does count as a standard, with governance to match.
Four is the magic number. Now, what is important about this is, Native Instruments has standardized on four stems – that’s four stereo tracks. What you choose – maybe bassline, lead, drums, high-hats, for instance – is up to you. But by making four the “standard,” you can count on consistent mappings in software and hardware for manipulating the music.
You still have a separate stereo mix. Stems are 4+1 – four stereo tracks representing each of the four parts, and one stereo mix. That means two things: one, you still get the mastered, stereo version of the track, independent from mixing the stems together yourself. And two, if you open the Stems file in a different player (like iTunes or a CDJ), you’ll here the music as intended; you just won’t hear those stems.
Lossless or more channels are theoretically possible, but this isn’t about that. Back to MP4 – that format is a container for audio, and it already supports lossless encodings like ALAC or FLAC. It also can accommodate more than four stems. So, since NI is quick to call their format “open,” there’s nothing stopping people from building on Stems to make a system for sharing high-quality sounds – for instance, as a way of sharing projects for remixes, where you might want the lossless version.
But here’s where Stems is really an “initiative” rather than a format. Everything NI is announcing today – Traktor support, hardware control, stores with music you can buy, adoption by artists and labels – is really about the DJ-centered 4-stem content. And that’s because distributing 8-channel lossless Stems, for instance, wouldn’t really be practical for DJs. And there’s a reason for that:
Stems are big – like, on your hard drive. Open your music folder. Look at the file sizes. Now multiple each of them by a factor of five. That’s roughly what you’re talking with Stems, because you need not just one stereo file, but five of them. If NI were to go to eight tracks, you could wind up with stems you can’t control on hardware. And if they were to use a more uncompromising high quality encoding or more files, your music library would balloon in size. What they’ve done is find a compromise that gives you stems that already have five times the flexibility of music as it’s now distributed, in a format that’s reasonably high quality but doesn’t require huge file sizes.
There’s now a centralized website. Go to stems-music.com for a hub on Stems use and creation, with a mailing list for signup. And yes, that is an NI site, as –
NI are mostly steering the discussion. Open, yes; collaborative, well, not really on the tools side – not yet. Stems are really a Native Instruments project, whether their name is explicitly on it or not. It’s their tech, it works with their tools, they’re doing most of the promotion, and they’re running the show – with a whole lot of backing from artists and labels. Rival DJ vendors like Serato have been understandably quiet so far, though I imagine they might ponder Stems support depending on how content fares on Beatport and whether this forces some demand from their users.
On the other hand, remember that MIDI was a de facto standard, too, the adoption of which was largely driven by Roland (even if Dave Smith and Sequential led its design).
Pioneer seems receptive. What could change this from being “that Traktor thing that’s supposed to make you buy an S8?” Well, Pioneer support, for one. I spoke to NI CEO Daniel Haver at a public panel at the conference Tech Open Air. Daniel had just returned from Japan, and he said Pioneer was interested and supportive of the format. Remember that while Pioneer and Native Instruments are competitors, they’re somewhat friendly ones. NI’s gear is often plugged into mixers made by Pioneer, Traktor supports the CDJ as an external controller, and the two have contributed together to grow the overall DJ market. I don’t expect it to happen quickly, but if Pioneer did support Stems on hardware down the road, it’d be a huge deal.
Stems could save the download business – if you’re willing to pay more. Let’s not mince words: the music downloading business seems set to implode. When even Apple, the one company that had supported “owning” rather than “renting” music is pushing dirt-cheap streaming, when even the leading DJ store Beatport has its own streaming service, you know that’s trouble. And then you have Algoriddim’s djay app happy to let you DJ from your Spotify account, without downloading tracks.
Stems could be an escape route. They cost more, which promises more revenue for stores, labels, and artists – little wonder those folks are all so quick to sign on. And they provide content that a stream doesn’t, so there’s added reason to buy a download.
Of course, what’s yet to be seen is how many people will want Stems in the first place. NI is quick to point out that turning an EQ knob is a pretty crude way of remixing content, but DJs have been happily doing that for years. And I suspect that a lot of the would-be market for Stems are people who want to mash-up vocals from famous tracks. Whether that’s a good idea or not, that content isn’t there yet.
Stay tuned. Okay, that was … long. Fortunately, you’ll soon be able to read long-winded CDM articles in “Stems” format, where you can pick just the bit you want and remix it with content from some message forum somewhere.
Up next: hands-on impressions of Stems with the D2/S8 hardware, as that design clearly had this format in mind. See you.
Yamaha’s Reface synth line are out now, with full details. You can dig through the site rather than have to do it here – but let’s look at what you might find surprising.
It has Web MIDI, not just MIDI. Yamaha promises the line will connect to Google Chrome via Web MIDI. Now, theoretically, that’s possible in the latest Chrome builds with any MIDI keyboard, not just the Yamaha. But it suggests that Yamaha are atypically embracing bleeding edge tech (previously seen only at hackdays and such) and making it a standard feature. And there’s more: “Soundmondo is a free sound sharing community that lets you discover, create and share reface Voices and Set Lists using Google Chrome any place, any time you’re online.” Okay, then.
Those mini keys don’t have a mini action. This is the best news. Yamaha says the action comes from their Motif XF flagship – and those feel great. So this may be the first mini keys that don’t make you say, at best, “meh,” and at worst, “$#(&*$.”
Each keyboard supports multiple sound models on the engine. 4-operator FM on the DX + 12 algorithms – limited to that (no 6-voice FM, sorry), but you get continuously variable feedback on every operator. The YC has five organ models – “American tonewheel,” British, Italian, and Japanese “transistor organs,” and the Yamaha YC-45D. The CS, which initially didn’t interest me so much, has selectable waves: Multi-saw, Pulse, Oscillator Sync, ring mod, and FM. And the CP (sorry for the acronym) covers everything a gigging keyboardist could want apart from the organs: Rhodes mk I, Rhodes Mk II, Whirly, Clav, CP80 electric gran=d (of course), and even a toy piano. (The tine pianos aren’t called by those names of course, but… well, you do the math.)
You get up to 128-note polyphony. Thank you, digital technology. That’s on the YC; there’s less on the other models.
They fit in a tote bag. Just watch this excellent artist video with Ingrid Michaelson. (I think it’s fine, anyway. YouTube viewers are voting it down, because YouTube commenters are mean. I’d like to put a tote bag over their head so I can’t hear them.)
They run on batteries, too. Six AA’s, so… uh, you probably want to buy rechargeable alkalines, as on the KORG volca series. Fortunately, USB power works, too. But it is great to be wireless.
You can route your iPad through them – and they’ve got speakers. There’s a minijack (3.5 mm) input. Plug in an iPad, an iPhone, or anything else, and the sound passes through the speakers and audio jacks. When it comes time to gig, though, the Reface series still have full-sized dual 1/4″ (unbalanced) mono jacks.
They list for US$799. That’s probably about twice what you expected. Two ways to read this: one, fluctuating currencies these days almost demand a higher list. But two, it could be good news: you’re finally getting a mobile product that’s premium. Who says small has to mean worse? Also – US$499 street we’re hearing, so this isn’t astronomical for a full-featured keyboard. It’s just that lately a lot of products have cut corners to hit a lower price point.
The packaging is really pretty. This may seem like a small thing. But this is some of the slickest packaging I’ve seen in our business – and that actually means something. It means Yamaha is breaking some old habits and behaving like a company that makes things that people buy, rather than a musical instruments company repeating what it has always done.
Unsurprising: it’s a relief when the industry stops listening to the same old customers again and again and again. I have no idea what’s going on in this video. But I do know what’s going on in this comment: “Give me five octaves or more of a full sized keyboard, 256 patch memories or more, and a FULL control panel, and you have my money. Polypressure keybeds while you’re at it.”
Um – no. You’ve had your turn. Also: what?! In fact, you can get effectively unlimited patch memories online – and 32 onboard, which ought to cover most gigs. Polypressure keybeds, well, buy a ROLI.
I stand by my prediction. These things are going to get a lot of hate online — and a lot of love in stores, including from people who don’t read any of our dull specialist websites, like this one. Though… please, read CDM. I’ll go skateboarding with you. And that’ll provide some comic relief.
Look, they’ve finally given us Web URLs that make sense, even.
I’m going to keep this article atypically short (as I finish up some other writing).
Is it just me, or is everyone’s studio turning into the above? I know I’m not the first to say this.
Side note: why has someone not exactly replicated the above on hardware? (Next Ableton / Native Instruments / Novation hackathon, kids, seriously – get on it. I promise you’ll be more famous on CDM than John Travolta. Is. On CDM.)
Feel free to link to this post every time this happens for the rest of 2015. And take a shot. (Of vegetable juice or something; I really don’t want to kill you when the next NAMM rolls around this week.)
As the transformation of music heats up, the discussions are heating up, too.
Case in point: yesterday’s report on Eternify certainly earned some angry responses.
I was of the opinion that Eternify was a decent gimmick – a way of showing just how small fees from streamed music are. Imagine if the music you bought only got a fraction of a cent to the artist each time you played it. I don’t think there’s practically an album in my collection I’ve listened to enough times that streaming fees would add up to purchase fees.
Now, does that mean that Spotify or Apple Music are the end of music? Not necessarily. It’s clear that the industry built around record labels hasn’t always served artists well. (Cough. Understatement.) Streaming services offer more questions. What sort of access will artists have to getting their music on these services directly – even bypassing a label? What sort of control will they have once it’s there? How can they help people find their music, and what sort of data about listeners can they collect?
In other words, we’re entering a more multi-dimensional industry. Instead of focusing on the actual purchase price of a recording, or even a per-play license fee in the conventional collections model, the game now is really about what the total value of a service is to artists.
Remember that I noted that not only was the lion’s share of streaming revenue going to labels, but it seemed those same labels were blowing most of that income on marketing. It’s not just a question of how much revenue music earns. It’s a question of how much you have to pay to get that revenue in the first place – expenses versus income being business 101.
But to anyone who said that Eternify was cheating – you’re absolutely right. (I thought it was sort of obvious that you couldn’t effectively use this to make cash, but maybe not.) I was politely informed my multiple sources that at best, it wouldn’t earn anyone any money, and at worst, it could get music or users banned. And sure enough, it was promptly shut down.
That brings us back to what Spotify actually can do.
One of the weirder applications showed up in my inbox today. Get ready for CDM – Create Dating Music.
Happn, a Paris startup that lets you anonymously message random people you see on the street (not at all creepy), now lets you send music to those people.
Now, this may or may not be the future of dating.
But if you’ve been following the lead-up to the roll-out of Apple Music, seeing this might lead you to some other questions.
First, regarding Apple music specifically:
1. Will Apple Music integrate with other apps? Apple Music lacks an API. And that means, at least from the developer / music hacker perspective, it’s a heck of a lot less interesting than other apps. Sure, Happn’s application might be a bit silly, but this is the beauty of developing stuff: you can try silly ideas, crazy ideas, and eventually might stumble on a great idea. It doesn’t necessarily lock out Apple Music integration with other apps, though – maybe Apple will allow the use of Android intents or iOS’ Share function.
2. Are people overestimating Apple’s ability to unseat Spotify? Spotify has already become synonymous with streaming music. And that means people have assembled friends, playlists, collections, and listening habits – none of which can be transferred to Apple Music. I think Apple’s effort here, and the Beats acquisition, are partly admissions that even one of the world’s biggest companies can face real competition on the level Internet playing field.
And streaming more generally…
3. Could new applications mean people listen to more music? Streaming fees are paltry, it’s true. But even if Eternify’s application was dumb and eventually shut down, it does illustrate another point. In the post-album world, you might have the same music in more places. It might be in games, it might be in dating apps. It might be that you go to a cafe and finally get to determine which music you hear, jukebox style. Generate more apps, and capture more data about what’s played, and collection fees could become more relevant to independent artists.
4. Could revenue come from places other than playback fees and purchase price? Here’s where things get really interesting – slash – mysterious. Having grown up, most of us, in the age of vinyl records and tapes and CDs, we tend to think of the musical album as the product – the thing you buy. But if music becomes a service, that may not be the case at all. As many have predicted, this might lead people to purchase of other stuff, from swag to concerts. Even that, though, takes a traditional view. Someone may find a different direction entirely, once the music itself is flowing wherever you want. (Remember that ring tones were briefly big business, so you never know what business models people may make work.)
5. How can listeners feel they’re connecting most directly with artists? I think this is the biggest question of all. Apple paid a lot of attention to this in their Apple Music announcement, but much of that had to do with artists giving away still more stuff for free. From Kickstarter to Bandcamp to Etsy to Vimeo purchases to boutique synths, the Internet has again and again demonstrated that people are often more willing to invest money in something they love if they feel that money goes directly to the person who made what they’re buying.
Well, in the meantime, I’m going to keep using Bandcamp, iTunes purchases, Beatport, and direct stores to buy downloads.
What initially seemed to be a conversation about streaming revenues for artists more or less this week became a conversation … about Taylor Swift.
But it’s the debate behind Apple Music that is somewhat puzzling. Taylor Swift wasn’t the only one focusing concerns on Apple Music’s quarterly free trial. Labels were fixated on the same worry.
The reason this is odd is that it ignores the fact that even when users pay for a subscription, rates are woefully inadequate. Music Business Worldwide reported a study from France that confirms what many had suspected. Majors get a whole lot of the cash from a subscription fee. Most of the money stays in the hands of the labels; artists see as little as 11% of that ten dollar monthly fee. (The one bright spot: they’ll get a bit more if they’re registered as the writer, too – separate fee.) These numbers seem to be typical not only of France and something like Spotify, but other countries and Apple Music, too. (One difference: Europe takes an astonishing bite in the form of tax, which is a bit frustrating in a business that already has razor-thin revenue.)
The most telling stat to me is the one that was least reported from that study. Net income is an stunningly low 5% for the labels. The MBW article is suspicious of that figure, but I could believe it isn’t far off the mark. Essentially, marketing costs are such that labels are very nearly paying to have their music played. And that seems feasible given that a lot of people play music after searching for it – without the marketing budget, that music might not get played at all.
So kudos this round not to Taylor Swift, but to Ohm & Sport, who this week built a tool called Eternify. The Web app finds 30 seconds of your favorite artist and plays it over and over again – running up play counts and revenues. Leave Eternify running, and you can at least get beer money. But the app – whose 30-second loops prove oddly hypnotic if you actually leave your speaker on – just shows the absurdity of the streaming business model.
Eternify figures revenues of half a cent per play. Spotify has estimated fees as high as $0.08, but you still get the idea. And even if Apple Music sets a higher rate, you can do the math. Streaming earns a fraction of what downloads did.
Early analysis says Apple’s payments to indies are an even worse deal. A paltry $0.002 per stream make the whole thing virtually worthless. Europe takes tax out of that, too. And for an insight in why the free trial was so controversial, estimates pegged the per-stream fee there at as little as $0.00047.
This should lead to some other questions, like:
1. If streaming is earning next to nothing, why not simply have your music streaming for free, where you can more easily promote it?
2. If you’re not getting paid by streams, isn’t it more valuable to have a lot of data about listeners? Everything from planning tours to releases can benefit from that information. Will Apple provide that to artists?
3. Why can’t Apple make it easier for apps like Bandcamp to let you purchase your music? Surely this would do more to benefit independent artists than any of the lip service paid the topic in the Apple Music launch.
4. If most of the overhead in digital music is marketing, what can be done to make discovery and sharing easier and lavish marketing budgets less necessary? And, presuming artists made sure they got a share of the expanded proceeds, wouldn’t that do more for expanding revenue than worrying about a free trial?
5. Will Apple, given their control of the store, also encourage people to buy downloads of what they’re streaming?
We’re lucky DJs currently prefer downloads, and we’re lucky for the vinyl resurgence. But this still places recording artists in enormous trouble. Maybe streaming is an inevitable progression; maybe there’s no way to coax bigger subscription rates from listeners. But that means at the very least artists will need to look for other revenue sources to make recording music worthwhile.
Try Eternify for yourself. I earned about 15 cents for myself in the time it took me to write this. http://eternify.it/
And for a very different take on digital downloads, don’t miss The Verge covering Vimeo. Sure, this is video and not music, but some of the implications are clear.
It seems Apple Music isn’t just about consumption. Not surprisingly, Apple’s own GarageBand/Logic family appear to figure into the company’s plans. Accordingly, GarageBand will get an update on June 30, the same day Apple Music (and Apple Music Connect) are scheduled for launch.
And for anyone who says the company is “abandoning” pros, here’s the less evidence that – at least from Apple’s perspective – the company sees the production and Mac markets as integral to their global consumer domination.
First, we now have a pretty clear image of where Camel Audio and its Alchemy synth have wound up. As expected, it’s resurfacing as an Apple instrument. Apple themselves have revealed that on the refreshed GarageBand page. Updates there are minor, but there’s a clear view of the UI from Alchemy, reimagined as Apple’s Smart Controls layout. Apple Insider breaks that news (oddly beating us in the music tech realm).
Apple isn’t shy about the markets they’re going after, with several mentions of “EDM‑ and Hip Hop‑inspired synth sounds.” Yep, that’ll be the two fast-growing (especially American) markets. (“Hey, I hear you kids love your E.D.M. and The Hip Hops, so here you go! Do you want a nice cold lemonade?”) It’s yet another tragic example of Cupertino failing to heed CDM’s long-standing advice that I.D.M. will be the next big thing – did you catch that Aphex Twin? Or Richard Devine’s Instagram following? But I digress.
If this instrument is in GarageBand, it’s a safe bet it’ll show up in Logic, too, presumably with more controls. And an iOS app could be possible, too, especially as Camel had one under development. While Emagic, and by extension Apple, once reportedly boasted the largest stable of music developers anywhere, my guess is it was easier with Apple’s cash supplies to simply buy the talent and product they needed wholesale, augmenting the team already working on the apps.
So, where does this fit into Connect? Well, it at least shows where Apple’s priorities lie. Apple went out of its way to show artists in its WWDC presentation on Apple Music, though. And in contrast to Tidal’s presentation (Daft Punk is starting a revolution in music so Daft Punk gets paid), they also made the image of those artists the bedroom producer. In fact, they showed bedroom producers and not labels. That message ought to be clear.
That’s in keeping with Apple past strategy. When the company was pushing podcasts, they made GarageBand the app anyone could use to contribute content. So now, GarageBand could be the creation tool to populate music on Connect. Export to Connect, for Apple Music songs or exclusives for your social network — maybe both? Seems a no-brainer, actually. For now, the GarageBand page shows only SoundCloud export, but, sorry SoundCloud, Apple may be coming for you.
Now, this would normally be where I’d possibly pull back and issue some dire warnings about lock-in or walled gardens or the Apple ecosystem. But frankly, Apple may need to be this aggressive to make any in-roads at all. Like it or not, “EDM” right now often means tools like Ableton Live, and “Hip-Hop” things like Native Instruments Maschine. Apple will need a diverse variety of artists using a variety of tools, as it always had. And I don’t expect Apple Music will overtake Facebook, Instagram, SoundCloud, Spotify, YouTube, and all the rest of the places artists need to share content.
No, I think it’ll take everything Apple’s got to attract artists alongside these other tools, to make a play for the growing population of people making music worldwide. And so these moves make sense.
But I think it’s important to note just how deeply in the DNA of the modern Apple is this notion that the company wants to be involved in how you make and listen to music. We’ve seen occasional, fleeting glimpses of efforts to do that from the likes of Sony and Microsoft, but Apple is the company that consistently pulls it off. You don’t have to love that – indeed, it might well be worth criticizing. But you do have to consider it as a major element of the music technology landscape today.
Okay, so you’re not Trent Reznor or Drake, but you do make music. Will you be able to get your music on Apple’s streaming service? And what about these artist pages for connecting with fans?
Answer: yes to both, if you like.
Apple today gave a lot of lip service to independent producers and “bedroom” music makers – even going as far as showing the latter in their video. (He had a vintage M-Audio Trigger Finger Pro and a new IK Multimedia iRig Pads, no less.)
There are two aspects to this. One is getting your music on their streaming service (if you actually want that). The other is “claiming” an artist page.
“From the Artist” – yet another social channel to update.
On the surface, the “Apple Music Connect” artist pages are basically what you have right now with Facebook, or Tumblr, or, you know, The Internet: “Share your thoughts and ideas, post demos, remixes, lyrics—really, anything you can imagine—and connect with fans all around the world.” The difference with those services is, you’re evidently making that appear in the Apple Music app, rather than on a Webpage. That’s shades of Apple’s failed Ping service – only now with genuine mobile app integration and what promises to be slicker functionality.
Getting into Apple Music
You can only use Apple Music Connect if you’re on Apple Music. Now, as it happens, it seems if you were ever on iTunes, that’ll happen automatically – I found an artist profile for a lapsed TuneCore subscription.
If not, you can use one of Apple’s approved aggregators, listed via iTunes Connect. That includes providers like The Orchard, CDBaby, finetunes, Believe Digital, and Space Shower. These providers vary by region, but provide extra features like pre-orders, ringtones, translation services, mastered for iTunes, and those music videos.
Right now, there’s a claim form for getting your own profile. You fill out whether you’re a representative of an artist or the artist yourself (including options for saying you’re solo or a band member). Then, you list artist management and label contacts, though it seems if you lack these, you’d fill in your own contact info. (You aren’t allowed to leave those forms blank.)
I tried filling this out myself, as a solo artist and as a member of NERKKIRN on the label Snork Enterprises, so we’ll see how both the self-released and label options go. (I’ll let you know.) Multiple members of a band can all post under their own name.
Then … you wait. There’s a management interface in iTunes Connect that’s similar to what developers see for apps.
Once approved, you can add your own media content, including up to 8-minute videos and 90-minute audio (like podcasts), plus photos. There are two interesting twists. One, you can do this in-app (cool). Two, you can repost Apple Music content, though that’s only available to people who bought a subscription.
What’s missing appears to be any sort of Web interface, which I think is a huge omission – and part of what killed Ping. Everything shows up in the app in a section called “From the Artist.” Also oddly, you can’t post media in Apple Music Connect and have it show up in the iTunes Store. So, if you post a music video for your new LP, it’ll be missing from the store, and will only show up in the Apple Music section. We’ll see how that works, though I’m concerned it may further discourage buying music, and it seems not to be the “integrated ecosystem” Apple described.
Interaction is also an unknown. For instance: “To see your posts in the Connect feed, or to love or comment on your posts, those fans must be following you.”
It does seem it’ll be interesting to play with. I’ll report back. But I expect the big questions from artists will be how they can manage what happens on their page, and whether suddenly iTunes is streaming for free what they had previously sold. Apple has some pretty serious competition in the form of Facebook and the lot. Artists lost interest in Ping simply because it meant an extra investment of time. Apple Music Connect will face that, too – and possibly also the ire of artists who are afraid that streaming will cost them revenue.
On the other hand, if users like this feature, it could take off quickly. I’d bet on success or failure in that narrow window after launch.
It’s not just deja vu. You’ve seen this stuff before. The basic ingredients of Apple Music are all repackaged, refined, or integrated from existing ideas.
It’s Beats Music meets BBC Radio 1 meets Apple Ping, in an iOS and Android app.
What you haven’t seen is all of those ingredients in one place, working together. And that’s not a trivial matter – it might change nothing, but it could change everything.
So, one by one, here what’s feeling like a trip down memory lane:
1. Streaming – Beats Music is back as Apple Music’s core streaming service. That includes Beats’ clever recommendation tools (like its pretty genre select), though seemingly cross-bred with the recommendation engine in iTunes.
2 Radio – BBC Radio 1 gets cloned, sort of as Radio 1 disk jockey Zane Lowe takes on Beats One, a Beats-organized, Apple-branded, 24/7 international radio station. Oddly, Apple claims this is the first such station – isn’t any Internet radio station “global”?
3. A social network – Apple Ping is back from the dead as Connect. (Zach Holman on Twitter was obviously thinking what I was thinking.)
But before you scoff, Ping is looking ahead of its time – launched in 2010, killed in 2012, it was too early to really take advantage of mobile apps. Here, instead of integrating with desktop iTunes (dumb), Apple integrates with mobile apps on iOS and Android (ah hah). There was lip service paid to “bedroom producers” early in the WWDC segment, so I’m guessing we’ll all get access to it. If that’s the case, here are two safe bets: 1. you’ll probably play with it, and 2. it probably won’t reduce any of the work you’re doing managing social media on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, VK, Pinterest, and who knows what else. Maybe you’ll find some free time to actually make music beyond “sharing with your fans”; let’s see. On the other hand, while I’m complaining, I’m not complaining: this stuff can wind up being really powerful, and for that reason, I have to admit I do hope Connect is a success.
4. Music videos. Yes, Tidal was making a deal of this. And there’s the elephant in the room – YouTube (to say nothing of everywhere else artists can share videos). But now it’s on Apple’s platform, too. Curiously, note that “ad-free” is a pitch. So there’s actually an incentive to put videos on YouTube (where you can add ads, and you have a huge audience), and not on Apple Music (where you don’t).
All in favor.
Convincing stuff in this presentation: putting things under one app, and putting Apple’s logo on it, is huge. So you’ve seen each of these ingredients before, but Apple has a point when they say they’ve got one ecosystem. They’re on iOS, Mac, and now apparently Android, too. That gives them a huge chunk of the mobile market. (Yet to be seen: will Apple make mediocre Android apps the way that they made a mediocre iTunes for Windows.)
I don’t think that integration is to be underestimated. A lot of us do rely heavily on iTunes; a lot of artists do see a lot of revenue from iTunes. So this could be a good deal.
Now the reasons to be critical or skeptical – and there are plenty.
From a user side, the problem is that while this offers everything you’ve already got and want in an integrated interface, you’ve already got all of it. You can stream music, not only on Spotify but other services (legal and illegal). If you’re the sort of person who likes radio, you can listen to radio – including BBC Radio 1. You can find videos on YouTube, and artists sharing on Facebook. Sure, Apple can say this stuff is “fragmented,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean people will drop all of those things just because a single app might or might not replace it.
From the artist side, there’s very little explanation of why you shouldn’t hate this. Trent Reznor and Drake seem to think it’s a good idea, but apart from that, we have only questions. What’s the artist split on streaming? How can Apple give streaming to 6 users instead of 1 and still make enough revenue? Given that artists are already complaining they don’t make enough money from streaming, why should this be different? What sort of access will artists have to Connect? Will they be able to see any data on who’s listening to their music, or interacting with any of the social feeds? Why wouldn’t Apple Music streaming simply destroy sales of downloads?
Here’s one intriguing matter. Apple did talk about indie artists – and payouts to indie artists. Is it possible they thought the way this editorial did, and calculated more fairly for individuals? We’ll find out.
Grab the popcorn.
There may be answers to these questions, but not yet. And sure, the service has been out for only a few minutes, except we’ve been asking these questions about similar tools from a variety of vendors for years.
And so that’s really the only question we need to ask. Why will this time be different than the last – with any of this?
I’ll say this: I at least think it’s an interesting question.