Streaming music is coming to DJ software, but one step at a time

Streaming is coming to DJing. Last week saw new announcements from Tidal, SoundCloud, Serato, and several other software makers. But progress is uneven – expect these features at first to be primarily about discovery, not what you do at a gig.

The news this week:

SoundCloud announced coming support in Traktor, Serato, Virtual DJ, Mixvibes, and more:
Just announced: Soon you can access SoundCloud’s catalog of music directly through your DJ software [SoundCloud blog]

Serato announced support for SoundCloud Go+ and TIDAL premium and HiFi subscriptions in forthcoming DJ Lite and DJ Pro releases. They didn’t post even a news item, beyond sending a press release, but TIDAL added this minisite:

http://tidal.com/serato

The markets

First, before talking about the technology and the deals here, we need to first talk about what “DJ” means. Across that spectrum, we can talk about three really different poles, as far as use cases:

Wedding DJs (read: people taking requests). This is the big one. You can tell, because when streaming site Pulselocker shut down, there were screams from people who were playing wedding gigs and suddenly lost access to their music. This isn’t just about a technological shift, either. As American music markets have fragmented and mainstream pop music has lost its hegemony – and as DJing and music consumption have become more global – the amount of music people might request has grown, too.

Whatever you think of wedding DJs, you can imagine weddings as a place where global cultural and technological changes are radical and inseparable. And that’s good, because I don’t know about you, but if I have to hear “At Last” one more time, I may try to drown myself in a punch bowl.

If you have to take requests, access to all music becomes a need, not a luxury.

DJs playing hits. There’s also a club DJ crowd looking for big hits, too, which tends to overlap in some ways with the wedding DJs – they’re going for popularity over digging deep in a particular genre. That means that certain big hits that a particular streaming site has (cough, Tidal) become relevant to both these groups. (I was recently schooled on the importance

Underground DJs. More at the CDM end of the pond, you’ve got DJs who are trying to discover new music. Tidal might not be so relevant here, but SoundCloud sure is.

If you routinely tab back and forth between SoundCloud and your DJ app, integrating the two might have appeal – even for underground digital diggers.

The question of what DJs in each of these groups would want to do with streaming also varies. There’s discovery – some people are looking to play tracks on their digital DJ decks without first downloading, or for integration of streaming sites. There’s playing in actual gigs, with a live Internet connection. Then there’s playing gigs where you don’t have an Internet connection – more often the norm – where you might want tracks from a streaming collection to be synced or cached to storage.

How the DJ streaming landscape just shifted

Amsterdam Dance Event last week tends to center on the business of electronic dance music, so it was a stage for some of the players to crow about new achievements – even making some of those announcements before the solution is fully available.

In particular, DJ software maker Serato and streaming site SoundCloud were vocal about their coming solutions.

Some takeaways:

These solutions are online only. Let’s start with the big disclaimer. Downloads are here to stay for now, because these services work only when online, and standalone decks are left out.

Streaming tracks are fully integrated – I’ve confirmed that at least with Serato, who say when you’re connected, the tracks cache and perform just like locally stored tracks. But that’s when you have an Internet connection.

Pulselocker, the service specifically focused around this idea, had offered the ability to store tracks locally. None of these integrations offers offline access, at least initially. I’ve been told by Serato that if you lose an Internet connection mid-track, you can at least continue playing that track; you just lose access to other streaming content.

Wedding DJs or some clubs where you can rely on an Internet connection I expect will take advantage of streaming functionality right away, for DJs who take requests. For DJs who prepare music in advance, though, it’s probably a deal killer.

(Pulselocker was acquired by Beatport earlier this year, a sign that the big players were making their moves.)

Once upon a time, there was Pulselocker. But the service was acquired by Beatport, and nothing yet offers offline functionality as it did. (Blame licensing?)

SoundCloud and Serato are looking to get ahead of the curve – while we wait on Beatport and Pioneer. SoundCloud is partnering with all the major software vendors. (Only Algoriddim, whose djay product line for desktop and mobile is already integrated with Spotify, was missing.)

And Serato are leading the way with Tidal and SoundCloud integration, replacing their existing Pulselocker functionality.

Timeframe for both: “coming months.”

There’s reason to pre-announce something here, though, which is to try to steal some thunder from some market leaders. Beatport and Pioneer are of course dominant players here. We know both are readying solutions – Beatport making use of that aforementioned Pulselocker acquisition, presumably. We just don’t know when those solutions will become available; Pioneer CDJ hardware in particular is likely fairly far into the future.

Just don’t underestimate the Serato/Tidal combo, or even Serato/SoundCloud. Those are big partnerships for the US market and genres like hip hop, both of which are big and growing.

DJ compatibility is a way to sell you subscriptions. Yes, artists and labels get paid, but there’s another factor here – DJing is becoming so widespread that it’s a way to upsell music subscriptions. DJing really is music consumption now.

Use Traktor, Serato, Virtual DJ, Mixvibes, and others? SoundCloud hopes you’ll buy a top-tier SoundCloud Go+ subscription.

Using Serato, and want to play some top hits in high quality? Tidal can offer Premium (AAC) or HiFi (including lossless FLAC and ALAC streaming) tiers.

In case you doubt that, both services will work with full integration using just a 30-day trial.

SoundCloud still lags in quality. Just as on the site, SoundCloud for now is limited to 128kbps at launch, as reported by DJ Tech Tools.

Yes, streaming DJs could represent a new revenue source. This is one potential bright spot here on the creator side. Assuming you can reach DJs who might not have purchased downloads on Bandcamp, Beatport, and the like, the streaming sites will divvy up those subscription fees and calculate revenue sharing for track plays by DJs.

What does all this mean?

It’s easy to assume this is all meaningless. Serious DJs playing big club and festival gigs – or even underground DJs playing with dodgy Internet connections and meticulously organized USB thumb drives of USB – you’re obviously not going anywhere near this when you play.

And those DJs taking requests at weddings and playing the latest dancefloor megahits, well, that’s relevant to you only if you’re producing those kinds of hits.

But there remains some potential here, even with these launch offerings, whenever they do materialize.

For all but the most specific boutique labels and artists, I think most music creators are trying to maximize exposure and squeeze revenue wherever they can. A whole lot of those labels do put up their music through distribution, meaning you can download directly on Bandcamp, for instance, but you can also stream catalogs on Spotify and iTunes. (Anyone who’s doing digital distribution has likely seen long lists of weird streaming and download sites you’ve never even heard of, but where your music gets dumped and … eventually ripped and put up on pirate music sites, too.)

If this gets more people on premium subscriptions, there’s hope. It’s better than people listening to your music on YouTube while you get paid next to nothing.

The real question here is how streaming integration looks. If discovering new music is really what this is about – at least until fast Internet becomes more ubiquitous – then the integrations need to actually make it easy to find music. That shouldn’t just be about some automated recommendation algorithm; it will require a whole new approach to DJ software and music tools. Or at the very least, these tools should make you want to sit at your DJ rig with some friends, punch up some new artist names and find tracks. They should be as appealing as going to a record store, thumbing through records, and putting them on turntables – in a virtual sense, anyway.

And what about ownership? I think it’s important for DJs to be able to differentiate between always-on access to all music everywhere, and their own music collection, even if the collection itself is virtual.

Why not put SoundCloud streaming in your DJ app, but offer one-click buying to add downloads?

Or why not use the cloud as a way to sync music you’ve already bought, rather than make it exclusively an overwhelming supply of music you don’t want, which you lose when you lose Internet access?

At the very least, labels who are already squeezed as it is are unlikely to savor the thought of losing download revenue in exchange for hard-to-track, hard-to-predict subscriptions. $10 a month or so seems utterly unsustainable. A lot of labels already barely break even when they pay for even basic PR and mastering services. Imagine the nightmare of having to invest more just to be found on streaming services, while earning less as flat fee subscriptions are divvied up.

There’s an idea here, but it’s far from being ready. For now, it seems like the best strategy is to keep your catalogs up to date across services, keep building close relationships with fans, and … wait and see. In a few months we should see more of what these offerings look like in practice, and it seems likely, too, we’ll know more about where Pioneer, Beatport, and others plan to go next, too.

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Streaming music is coming to DJ software, but one step at a time

Streaming is coming to DJing. Last week saw new announcements from Tidal, SoundCloud, Serato, and several other software makers. But progress is uneven – expect these features at first to be primarily about discovery, not what you do at a gig.

The news this week:

SoundCloud announced coming support in Traktor, Serato, Virtual DJ, Mixvibes, and more:
Just announced: Soon you can access SoundCloud’s catalog of music directly through your DJ software [SoundCloud blog]

Serato announced support for SoundCloud Go+ and TIDAL premium and HiFi subscriptions in forthcoming DJ Lite and DJ Pro releases. They didn’t post even a news item, beyond sending a press release, but TIDAL added this minisite:

http://tidal.com/serato

The markets

First, before talking about the technology and the deals here, we need to first talk about what “DJ” means. Across that spectrum, we can talk about three really different poles, as far as use cases:

Wedding DJs (read: people taking requests). This is the big one. You can tell, because when streaming site Pulselocker shut down, there were screams from people who were playing wedding gigs and suddenly lost access to their music. This isn’t just about a technological shift, either. As American music markets have fragmented and mainstream pop music has lost its hegemony – and as DJing and music consumption have become more global – the amount of music people might request has grown, too.

Whatever you think of wedding DJs, you can imagine weddings as a place where global cultural and technological changes are radical and inseparable. And that’s good, because I don’t know about you, but if I have to hear “At Last” one more time, I may try to drown myself in a punch bowl.

If you have to take requests, access to all music becomes a need, not a luxury.

DJs playing hits. There’s also a club DJ crowd looking for big hits, too, which tends to overlap in some ways with the wedding DJs – they’re going for popularity over digging deep in a particular genre. That means that certain big hits that a particular streaming site has (cough, Tidal) become relevant to both these groups. (I was recently schooled on the importance

Underground DJs. More at the CDM end of the pond, you’ve got DJs who are trying to discover new music. Tidal might not be so relevant here, but SoundCloud sure is.

If you routinely tab back and forth between SoundCloud and your DJ app, integrating the two might have appeal – even for underground digital diggers.

The question of what DJs in each of these groups would want to do with streaming also varies. There’s discovery – some people are looking to play tracks on their digital DJ decks without first downloading, or for integration of streaming sites. There’s playing in actual gigs, with a live Internet connection. Then there’s playing gigs where you don’t have an Internet connection – more often the norm – where you might want tracks from a streaming collection to be synced or cached to storage.

How the DJ streaming landscape just shifted

Amsterdam Dance Event last week tends to center on the business of electronic dance music, so it was a stage for some of the players to crow about new achievements – even making some of those announcements before the solution is fully available.

In particular, DJ software maker Serato and streaming site SoundCloud were vocal about their coming solutions.

Some takeaways:

These solutions are online only. Let’s start with the big disclaimer. Downloads are here to stay for now, because these services work only when online, and standalone decks are left out.

Streaming tracks are fully integrated – I’ve confirmed that at least with Serato, who say when you’re connected, the tracks cache and perform just like locally stored tracks. But that’s when you have an Internet connection.

Pulselocker, the service specifically focused around this idea, had offered the ability to store tracks locally. None of these integrations offers offline access, at least initially. I’ve been told by Serato that if you lose an Internet connection mid-track, you can at least continue playing that track; you just lose access to other streaming content.

Wedding DJs or some clubs where you can rely on an Internet connection I expect will take advantage of streaming functionality right away, for DJs who take requests. For DJs who prepare music in advance, though, it’s probably a deal killer.

(Pulselocker was acquired by Beatport earlier this year, a sign that the big players were making their moves.)

Once upon a time, there was Pulselocker. But the service was acquired by Beatport, and nothing yet offers offline functionality as it did. (Blame licensing?)

SoundCloud and Serato are looking to get ahead of the curve – while we wait on Beatport and Pioneer. SoundCloud is partnering with all the major software vendors. (Only Algoriddim, whose djay product line for desktop and mobile is already integrated with Spotify, was missing.)

And Serato are leading the way with Tidal and SoundCloud integration, replacing their existing Pulselocker functionality.

Timeframe for both: “coming months.”

There’s reason to pre-announce something here, though, which is to try to steal some thunder from some market leaders. Beatport and Pioneer are of course dominant players here. We know both are readying solutions – Beatport making use of that aforementioned Pulselocker acquisition, presumably. We just don’t know when those solutions will become available; Pioneer CDJ hardware in particular is likely fairly far into the future.

Just don’t underestimate the Serato/Tidal combo, or even Serato/SoundCloud. Those are big partnerships for the US market and genres like hip hop, both of which are big and growing.

DJ compatibility is a way to sell you subscriptions. Yes, artists and labels get paid, but there’s another factor here – DJing is becoming so widespread that it’s a way to upsell music subscriptions. DJing really is music consumption now.

Use Traktor, Serato, Virtual DJ, Mixvibes, and others? SoundCloud hopes you’ll buy a top-tier SoundCloud Go+ subscription.

Using Serato, and want to play some top hits in high quality? Tidal can offer Premium (AAC) or HiFi (including lossless FLAC and ALAC streaming) tiers.

In case you doubt that, both services will work with full integration using just a 30-day trial.

SoundCloud still lags in quality. Just as on the site, SoundCloud for now is limited to 128kbps at launch, as reported by DJ Tech Tools.

Yes, streaming DJs could represent a new revenue source. This is one potential bright spot here on the creator side. Assuming you can reach DJs who might not have purchased downloads on Bandcamp, Beatport, and the like, the streaming sites will divvy up those subscription fees and calculate revenue sharing for track plays by DJs.

What does all this mean?

It’s easy to assume this is all meaningless. Serious DJs playing big club and festival gigs – or even underground DJs playing with dodgy Internet connections and meticulously organized USB thumb drives of USB – you’re obviously not going anywhere near this when you play.

And those DJs taking requests at weddings and playing the latest dancefloor megahits, well, that’s relevant to you only if you’re producing those kinds of hits.

But there remains some potential here, even with these launch offerings, whenever they do materialize.

For all but the most specific boutique labels and artists, I think most music creators are trying to maximize exposure and squeeze revenue wherever they can. A whole lot of those labels do put up their music through distribution, meaning you can download directly on Bandcamp, for instance, but you can also stream catalogs on Spotify and iTunes. (Anyone who’s doing digital distribution has likely seen long lists of weird streaming and download sites you’ve never even heard of, but where your music gets dumped and … eventually ripped and put up on pirate music sites, too.)

If this gets more people on premium subscriptions, there’s hope. It’s better than people listening to your music on YouTube while you get paid next to nothing.

The real question here is how streaming integration looks. If discovering new music is really what this is about – at least until fast Internet becomes more ubiquitous – then the integrations need to actually make it easy to find music. That shouldn’t just be about some automated recommendation algorithm; it will require a whole new approach to DJ software and music tools. Or at the very least, these tools should make you want to sit at your DJ rig with some friends, punch up some new artist names and find tracks. They should be as appealing as going to a record store, thumbing through records, and putting them on turntables – in a virtual sense, anyway.

And what about ownership? I think it’s important for DJs to be able to differentiate between always-on access to all music everywhere, and their own music collection, even if the collection itself is virtual.

Why not put SoundCloud streaming in your DJ app, but offer one-click buying to add downloads?

Or why not use the cloud as a way to sync music you’ve already bought, rather than make it exclusively an overwhelming supply of music you don’t want, which you lose when you lose Internet access?

At the very least, labels who are already squeezed as it is are unlikely to savor the thought of losing download revenue in exchange for hard-to-track, hard-to-predict subscriptions. $10 a month or so seems utterly unsustainable. A lot of labels already barely break even when they pay for even basic PR and mastering services. Imagine the nightmare of having to invest more just to be found on streaming services, while earning less as flat fee subscriptions are divvied up.

There’s an idea here, but it’s far from being ready. For now, it seems like the best strategy is to keep your catalogs up to date across services, keep building close relationships with fans, and … wait and see. In a few months we should see more of what these offerings look like in practice, and it seems likely, too, we’ll know more about where Pioneer, Beatport, and others plan to go next, too.

The post Streaming music is coming to DJ software, but one step at a time appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Upload music directly to Spotify: streaming giant goes in new direction

Spotify has begun opening uploading not just to labels and distributors, but individual artists. And the implications of that could be massive, if the service is expanded – or if rivals follow suit.

On reflection, it’s surprising this didn’t happen sooner.

Among major streaming players, currently only SoundCloud lets individual artists upload music directly. Everyone else requires intermediaries, whether that’s labels or distributors. The absurdity of this system is that services like TuneCore have profited off streaming growth. In theory, that might have meant that music selections were more “curated” and less junk showed up online. In reality, though, massive amounts of music get dumped on all the streaming services, funneling money from artists and labels into the coffers of third-party services. That arrangement surely makes no sense for the likes of Spotify, Apple, Google, and others as they look to maximize revenue.

Music Business Worldwide reports that Spotify is starting to change that now:
Spotify opens the floodgates: artists can now upload tracks direct to the streaming platform for FREE

See also TechCrunch:

Spotify will now let indie artists upload their own music

What we know so far…

You’ll upload via a new Web-based upload tool. Check the tool and FAQ.

It’s invite-only for now. A “small group of artists” has access for testing and feedback, Spotify says.

It won’t cost anything, and access to releases will be streamlined. No fees, the full commission – the deal is better financially. And you’ll be able to edit releases and delete music, which can be a draconian process now through distributors.

Regions are a big question. The tax section currently refers to the W9 – a tax form in use in the USA. So clearly the initial test is US-only; we’ll see what the plans are for other regions.

You have to look into the future before this really starts to matter, because it is so limited. But it could be a sign of things to come. And bottom line, Spotify can give you a better experience of what your music will be like on Spotify than anyone else can:

You’ll be able to deliver music straight to Spotify and plan for the perfect release day. You’ll see a preview of exactly how things will appear to listeners before you hit submit. And even after your music goes live, you’ll be in full control of your metadata with simple and quick edits.

Just like releasing through any other partner, you’ll get paid when fans stream your music on Spotify. Your recording royalties will hit your bank account automatically each month, and you’ll see a clear report of how much your streams are earning right next to the other insights you already get from Spotify for Artists. Uploading is free to all artists, and Spotify doesn’t charge you any fees or commissions no matter how frequently you release music.

Now in Beta: Upload your music in Spotify for Artists [Spotify Artist Blog]

The question really is how far they’ll expand, and how quickly. If they use all of Spotify for Artists, as their blog news item would seem to imply, then some 200,000 or so verified artist accounts will get the feature. (I’m one of those accounts.) 200,000 artists with direct access to Spotify could change the game for everyone.

The potential losers here are clear. First, there are the distributors. So-called “digital distribution” at this point really amounts to nothing of the sort. While these third parties will get your music out to countless streaming services, for most artists and labels, only the big ones like iTunes and Spotify count to most of their customers. At the entry level, these services often carry hefty ongoing subscription fees while providing little service other than submitting your music. More personalized distributors, meanwhile, often require locking in multi-year contracts. (I, uh, speak from experience on both those counts. It’s awful.)

Even the word “distributor” barely makes sense in the current digital context. Unlike a big stack of vinyl, nothing is actually really getting distributed. More complete management and monetization platforms actually do make sense – plus tools to deal with the morass of social media. Paying a toll to a complicated website to upload music for you? That defies reason.

The second potential loser that comes to mind is obviously SoundCloud. Once beloved by independent producers and labels, that service hasn’t delivered much on its promise of new features for its creators. (Most recently, they unveiled a weekly playlist that seems cloned from Spotify’s feature.) And SoundCloud’s ongoing popularity with users was dependent of having music that couldn’t be found elsewhere. If artists can upload directly to Spotify, well … uh, game over, SoundCloud. (Yeah, you still might want to upload embeddable players and previews but other services could do that better.)

Just keep in mind: Spotify for Artists was 200,000 users at the beginning of summer. At least as of 2014, SoundCloud was creating 10 million creators. So it’s not so much SoundCloud losing as it is another sign that SoundCloud won’t really take on Spotify – just as Spotify (even with this functionality) really doesn’t even attempt to take on SoundCloud. They’re different animals, and it’s frustrating that SoundCloud hasn’t done more to focus on that difference.

But all this still remains to be seen in action – it’s just a beta.

Just remember how this played out the first time. Spotify reached a critical mass of streaming, and Apple followed. If Spotify really are doing uploads, it’d make sense for Apple to do the same. After all, Apple makes the hardware (MacBook Pro, iPad) and software (GarageBand, Logic Pro X) a lot of musicians are using. And they tempted to capitalize on their strong relationships with artists once, with the poorly designed Connect features (touted by Trent Reznor, no less). They just lag Spotify in this area – with the beta Apple Music for Artists and Apple Music Toolbox.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t write off labels or genre-specific stores just yet. If you’re making music in a genre for a more specific audience, dumping your music on Spotify where it’s lost in the long tail is probably exactly what you don’t want to do. Streaming money from the big consumer services just isn’t reaching lesser known artists the way it is the majors and big acts. So I suspect that perversely, the upload feature could lead to an even closer relationship between, say, electronic label producers and labels and services tailored to their needs, like Beatport. (We’re waiting on Beatport’s own subscription offerings soon.)

But does this make sense? It sure does for the streaming service. Giving the actual content makers the tools to upload and control tags and other data should actually reduce labor costs for streaming services, entice more of the people making music, and build catalogs.

And what about you as a music maker? Uh, well… strap in, and we find out.

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Avid announces Connect 2019 conference, early registration launched

Avid Connect 2019In collaboration with the Avid Customer Association, Avid has unveiled the highly anticipated theme and program preview for Connect 2019, the powerful annual gathering of media and entertainment technology users and influencers. Guided by the mission for “Creating the Future”, Connect 2019 (April 6-7, 2019 at Aria Las Vegas, immediately preceding the NAB Show) will […]

Hal Leonard and Avid enter into five-year multi-million dollar agreement to distribute pro audio & video products

Hal Leonard AvidAvid and Hal Leonard have entered into a new five-year agreement that extends the reach of Avid’s market-leading creative tools with artists, creative professionals, aspiring pros and educational institutions through Hal Leonard’s large network of resellers around the globe. This long-term agreement, signed in July, is among Avid’s largest distribution deals to date and represents […]

The Music Business Advice Book by Bobby Owsinski now available

Bobby Owinski The Music Business Advice BookBOMG Publishing has announced the release of The Music Business Advice Book: 150 Immediately Useful Tips From The Pros by top-selling music industry author and blogger Bobby Owsinski. The Music Business Advice Book is a compilation of 150 helpful quotes from 130 top music pros from various segments of the music industry. These experts previously […]

Apple killing app affiliates is about more than just the affiliate program

Apple is terminating its affiliate program for iOS and Mac apps, effective October 1. That move is seeing a backlash from developers – and could discourage press outlets from covering apps.

Full disclosure: CDM added affiliate links for apps in our Apps section, which is helmed by Ashley Elsdon. In fact, this is at the moment how CDM supports Ashley’s contributions to CDM; we simply migrated his affiliate program from his former site Palm Sounds to CDM, and had planned to further develop this in the future.

But it’s not just media who are concerned about the change. I’ve heard from several developers who have emphasized that the move will cost them, too. Those developers often include affiliate links on their own sites, thus taking a portion of Apple’s own royalties. The logic is simple: if you go get an app through the developer’s site itself, it’s really their site, not the Apple App Store, that is helping you find that app. By eliminating the affiliate program, the argument goes, Apple is essentially claiming marketing services as part of their 30% royalty share without doing anything.

Some examples from public comments on Twitter:

(Intermorphic is the ground-breaking developer of interactive music tools that has worked with the likes of Brian Eno; David Lublin is a Mac developer and founder of Vidvox, creators of VDMX.)

This saga began effectively in 2017; Apple pledged to drop the commission rate from 7% to 2.5%, then, following a backlash, limited that change to In-App Purchases only.

The announcement from Apple is itself revealing:

With the launch of the new App Store on both iOS and macOS and their increased methods of app discovery, we will be removing apps from the affiliate program. … All other content types (music, movies, books, and TV) remain in the affiliate program.

[emphasis mine]

Forget 7% or 2.5% or 0%. The real story here is not just about affiliates, but about Apple’s intended avenue of discovery. That is, they want you to discover, learn about, and consume apps entirely on their platform. They’ve made moves to hire their own editorial staff. Effectively, they’re keeping resources inside Apple.

And that itself should be chilling. The Internet has transformed quickly in the face of dominance of a handful of corporations. And those corporations are all tightening their grip. In the phone market, two companies – Apple and Google – have an effective duopoly. In search, one company – Google. (One exception is the search recommendations provided by … Apple.) Online advertising is dominated by Google. Retail is dominated by Amazon. Social media is effectively now just Facebook (via Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp).

Long-time independent Apple publisher TidBITS has some tough words on the situation, from industry veteran Adam Engst. And you should listen to him, as Adam is very much in that “last man standing” category as we’ve watched independent technology media collapse.

Apple’s Termination of App Store Affiliate Payments Is Unnecessary, Mean-Spirited, and Harmful

I was going to say, it isn’t necessarily Apple’s obligation to keep us alive except … well, it absolutely is. Independent media contributed to the growth of Apple’s platforms, and now with iPhone device sales flattening, the massively wealthy corporation may actually be making a strategic error even as far as its own self interest.

But that aside, I think Adam says something here that’s bigger than app affiliate revenue or even Apple, rather reflecting on the state of the Internet:

Any media-savvy organization, whether it’s a multinational corporation or full-fledged government, can increasingly control public perception not just by manipulating social media but also by bringing content creation and dissemination in-house. It’s all about control in a media world that no longer has gatekeepers. Apple pulled out of Macworld Expo years ago because it could just as easily hold its own product release events, and now we’re seeing Apple do the same to industry publications by competing with them via App Store editorial.

And that’s really the issue. Whether Apple’s affiliate program makes sense either for Apple or for publishers, the message killing the program spells it out: Apple wants to be the editorial. And the companies I’ve mentioned (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) in various ways want to be the Internet. Those of us not working for those companies are free to criticize. And we may have to face the reality that this changes the practicality of our businesses. That may or may not be an existential crisis, but it isn’t something to ignore and wish away.

Developers will have to consider this in their business plans, particularly as Apple charges them for advertising on top of the share of revenue they take as a royalty. (This is one reason, among others, pro audio developers have almost universally rejected the desktop App Store.)

And publishers face a choice about whether we can compete with Apple, or whether we should exit the business entirely.

That said, even if this sounds bleak for us on the independent side, consider: Apple can only be Apple. They can only be in the business of selling their devices and apps. But we can easily switch business in a way that ceases to contribute to their business. In the long run, that may be more Apple’s problem than our own.

I hope that Apple will still reconsider the decision in the face of feedback from developers and press. I certainly don’t consider this to be typical of the treatment of media relations, who in my experience do still value the media (ahem) as part of their job role. And whatever Apple decides, my personal bias remains: businesses work better together than they do apart.

Addendum: the competition

I realize I focused entirely in this story on Apple, which isn’t entirely fair.

It’s worth noting that Google has not ever had an affiliate program.

Who does? Microsoft does, with a 7% commission rate. That is available with generous rewards for apps, in-app purchases, and – crucially, given that they’re much bigger ticket items – Microsoft hardware.

Using the Microsoft Affiliate Program to earn additional 7% on Windows Store sales [2016 Microsoft developer post, but still relevant and a good overview of how this works]

Now, does that make the Microsoft platform better for the user or developer? That’s arguable, clearly. But what I think it may demonstrate is a difference in philosophy and strategic positioning. Google, for all their claims of “openness,” are first and foremost an advertising – and by extension, content – platform. Microsoft built value around an ecosystem and interoperability of businesses inside that ecosystem. What’s interesting about the Apple affiliate decision is, since there wasn’t any particular urgency to making the change, it suggests Apple is shifting their strategy to take more control over content around their platform and not just what gets delivered through the store.

When the affiliate decision is long since forgotten, that strategic shift may prove to have been meaningful.

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Eurorack’s prices are dropping, as Herr Schneider laments

With the proliferation of modules, the phrase “Eurorack bubble” has been floating around for a while. But now it appears to be translating into falling prices.

The basic problem is this: more demand means more interest, which translates into more manufacturers, and more production. So far, so good. Then, more distributors pick up the goods – not just boutique operators like Schneider, but also bigger chains.

Where’s the problem? With too many modules out there in the marketplace, and more big retailers, it’s easier for the big retailers to start to squeeze manufacturers on price. Plus, the more modules out in the world, the greater the supply of used modules.

Andreas Schneider has chosen to weigh in on the issue personally. You can read his statement in German:

Jetzt auch XAOC bei Thomann ..

And in an English translation (with more commentary by Schneiderladen in English):

HerrSchneiders statement on current developments in the Eurorack market [stromkult]

There’s actually a lot there – though the banner revelation is seeing the cost of new modules suddenly plummet by 30%:

You asked for it: Due to the increased demand for Eurorack modules in Europe, even the large retailers for musical instruments are now filling the last corners of their warehouses and buying complete production runs from manufacturers and everything else they can get. Some manufacturers might be happy about this, but the flooding of the market already leads to a significant drop in prices here and there, some modules are already available with a 30% discount on the original calculated price and yet were still quite hot the other day!

As SchneidersLaden we have decided to go along with this development and of course offer corresponding products for the same price to our customers, although most of them have already bought them when the goods were still fresh and crisp! We’re almost a little sorry about that, but hopefully the hits are already produced and the music career is up and running? Nevertheless, sorry – but the decision for this way lies with the manufacturer and was not our recommendation!

By the way… we don’t advertise with moneyback-warranty… we’ve always practiced it. But please: get advice first, then buy – like in the good old days. Because it’s better to talk to your specialist retailer – we know what we are selling. And by the way: We do free shipping throughout Europe and there are Thursdays on that we are in the shop until nine o’clock in the evening …and real CHAOS serves creativity.

That had to be said – end of commercial break.

Okay, so some different messages. To manufacturers, with whom Schneider seems to place a lot of the blame, the message is to avoid glutting the market by selling so many units that then they lose their price margin. (That seems good advice.) There’s also a “dance with the one that brung you” attitude here, but that’s probably fair, as well.

To buyers, work with specialists, and please research what you buy so you don’t shoulder retailers and manufacturers with lots of returns. That seems good advice, too.

(Hope I’ve paraphrased that fairly.)

It does seem there’s a looming problem beyond just what’s here, though. For the community to continue to expand, it will have to find more new markets. It does seem some saturation point is inevitable, and that could mean a shakeout of some manufacturers – though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The used market should also be a worry, though on the other hand, some people do always seem to buy new.

I’d echo what the two posts here say, which is the synth maker world will likely be healthy if manufacturers and consumers do some research and support one another.

Before anyone predicts the sky is falling, I’ve had a number of conversations with modular makers. Those with some experience seem to be doing just fine, even if some have expressed concern about the larger market and smaller and newer makers. That is, those with some marketing experience and unique products still see growth – but that growth may not translate to greener manufacturers who are trying to cram into what is becoming a crowded field.

Other thoughts? Let us know.

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Moog urges US citizens to take action to stop Trump import tax

As steep tariffs on electronics loom at the end of next week, Moog are warning that US synth makers could lose their jobs.

The US Trade Representative and the Trump Administration are proposing a steep 25% additional tariff increase on electronic components from China (among other goods), as covered here on CDM last week:

Trump’s tariffs could be costly for made-in-the-USA music gear

Now, those tariffs are expected to take effect on Friday, July 6.

Moog has gone as far as to implore their own customers to take action, in an email sent a week in advance of the rules change. That’s as far as I know reasonably unprecedented. Whatever the politics in Asheville, North Carolina, many US music customers are Trump voters.

But in this case, Moog’s business – and the American manufacturing they’ve consistently made a selling point – are threatened. The mailing, which includes a heart-wrenching photo of Moog employees in North Carolina, reads:

A U.S. tariff (import tax) on Chinese circuit boards and associated components is expected to take effect on July 6, 2018.

These tariffs will immediately and drastically increase the cost of building our instruments, and have the very real potential of forcing us to lay off workers and could (in a worst case scenario) require us to move some, if not all, of our manufacturing overseas.

In the article, they break down why this is such a big deal for Moog – and illustrate how the Trump trade policy could devastate American manufacturing and the US economy.

“Made in the USA” depends on Chinese parts. Roughly half of Moog’s circuit boards and related components come from China. Those parts are the fuel that allow them to support good manufacturing jobs in the USA, for assembly, testing, and shipping.

They pay more for US parts – and those will get more expensive, too. Electronics sourced inside the USA are already more expensive – priced up to 30% higher than other components. But because these parts also source Chinese components, those prices could go higher still.

People are going to lose jobs. Because these changes have an immediate impact, costs go up immediately. That will likely mean layoffs, soon, say Moog in the mailing. In the long run, it could mean having to move manufacturing out of the USA.

Moog have offered CDM to provide additional comment, so I hope to follow up this story.

In case you aren’t depressed enough, I think the mailing covers only a part of the problem. The immediate impact will be driving up the costs of US synth manufacturers. But stiff import tariffs could cause immediate and widespread job loss across a number of sectors. Motorcycle maker Harley Davison announced plans to move some manufacturing abroad – and saw stiff market losses as it came under direct fire by the President. General Motors warned the move could shrink the company, cut US operations, and kill jobs.

US job losses and a weakened economy would hit the biggest market for music electronics and musical instruments, meaning a second blow would be delivered to our whole industry.

And there’s more: Harley Davison’s move came after retaliatory tariffs imposed by the European Union, not the USA. This is what a global trade war looks like. If the EU expands those tariffs, then a manufacturer like Moog or MakeNoise or Eventide assembly products in the USA could face 50% taxes imposed on customers when its goods reach Europe.

But don’t get depressed – do something, if you’re a US citizen. Moog suggests writing Representatives and Senators. They’ve added contacts for North Carolina, but this is relevant of course to people living across the USA.

The Moog mailing is the best place to start if you live in North Carolina – and it has some talking points if you want something to look at when writing or calling your officials elsewhere:

25% Tariff On Chinese Goods Threatens Our Jobs

For everyone else – including Americans living abroad, like myself – you can find White House, Senate, and House contacts easily from the official US government website:

https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

Don’t know who your Represntative is? See here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

And find your Senators by choosing your state from the dropdown upper left here: https://www.senate.gov/senators/index.htm

The US Trade Representative is an office of the President, so I’d suggest also contacting the White House, even if this Administration is unlikely to change its policy.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/get-involved/

For the rest of the world outside the USA, uh, yeah, I have no idea what to tell you. But certainly, I think it would be optimistic to assume this will only impact US manufacturers; the ripples are likely to be felt throughout electronic music tools as through other industries. We’ll keep you posted as this develops.

And to all you folks at Moog – thanks for speaking out. And I hope we can help you keep your jobs.

https://www.moogmusic.com

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ROLI funded by Sony, Onkyo; is it time for the Walkman of music making?

ROLI, makers of the Seaboard and Blocks, keep adding to their funding. But new investments by Sony and Onkyo say a lot about betting on a future of music that’s centered on creation, not just consumption.

We entered this century with people thinking mostly about music as a more or less passive thing. But as a business, consumption is just not as bright as it once was. There’s no new recording format – so, sorry Men in Black, no more jokes about buying The White Album again. The iPod eventually was absorbed into commodity smartphones, and high-end smartphone sales are themselves flattening out, as users hold on to their existing phones. (That shift seems even to be reaching Apple.) Spotify and Apple Music and their ilk haven’t delivered big profits, either, obviously. And in sectors like electronic dance music, we’ve watched the vision of brand synergy and an EDM empire at SFX Entertainment meet the reality of flat festival sales. What cured things at Beatport, meanwhile, in the wake of SFX mismanagement? Refocusing on serious DJs and the core business.

What does seem to be a vast horizon, then, is actually making music. You know – the thing the whole world’s population was already doing before the music industry convinced them to listen to round discs of other people doing it for them, or tune in electromagnetic frequencies that could be translated to other people playing.

All this makes the ongoing investment in ROLI really interesting.

The London-based manufacturer of alternative instruments and mobile music making gadgets is now up past US$50 million in investment. That includes a $27m Series B in 2016, and investments from venture capital but also Universal Music Group.

ROLI’s lineup of products has grown from more expensive flagship controller instruments to a modular line of mobile products that matches with software and services.

There are no public numbers shared for Onkyo or Sony, but it’s really the fact of those makers entering the fray that matters. They’re both Japanese giants known for their role in consumer products for listening to music. Onkyo today remains a major audio brand; they’re also the owner of the home entertainment side of Pioneer. (The bits of Pioneer catering to DJs and car owners lie elsewhere, but the home entertainment brand is still significant.) The Onkyo investment has also recently closed, says ROLI.

And then there’s the Sony Innovation Fund (SIF). Focused on the northern world – USA, EU, Israel, and Japan – Sony’s fund was created in 2016 to invest on companies from seed to middle stage development. That ranges everything from biometrics to VR to drones, so it’s not just about music and media by any means.

In addition to funding, SIF says they work with the companies they fund on strategy, that they build relationships with Sony and its partners, and therefore grant access to some of Sony’s global reach and expertise. There are parallels here to the investment we saw recently in Berlin’s Native Instruments. Sony is betting on music creation and could help connect ROLI to a global consumer market. German EMH Partners who funded NI are betting on music creation and could help connect to a global market for services. Get it? (They have to deliver on that promise, of course.)

We’re also getting into bigger financial figures than music creation investment has seen before; NI got a whopping 50 million Euros, in an industry where we still think it’s pretty cool to go to check out something one person has literally made in their bedroom that you solder together and bolt into a rack with a screwdriver.

Okay, so that’s money and strategy – but what’s the actual business here?

Well, ROLI do have a compelling software/hardware play. The Blocks line give users of computers and mobile devices a convenient, expressive, wireless interface to music creation. There’s software to match – ROLI make a mobile app, a desktop synth, and perhaps most significantly the JUCE framework on which a lot of modern music making software is built. ROLI are also pushing ideas like the Songmaker Kit, hoping musicians will take their line of wireless controllers on the go.

The Blocks line – like the Songmaker Kit here – encourages musicians to take their music creation on the go.

But lots of makers have interesting music products. If we’re really imagining a wider population of music consumers buying this gear, it’s going to require both inventing clever new things, and then moving those things through the channel into musicians’ hands. Your smartphone manufacturer or consumer headphones do that already, but musical instruments move through much more antiquated, fragmented retail outlets. (Uh… that’s a fancy way of saying the unfriendly guys hanging in the corner of your local music store picking at a guitar may not necessarily be able to sell new users on the instrument of the future.)

ROLI already made a bold move into getting in front of new customers with a massive Apple Store retail partnership, followed by other channels (including consumer-oriented stores and shops like Guitar Center). Now it’s a question of whether they can keep moving.

ROLI released some statements to CDM on the idea of the investment, and confirm that global sales reach is a big part of the story. “We’re now selling our hardware and software in over 30 countries,” says founder and CEO Roland Lamb. Now they want to go further, he says. “We want to reach a whole world of music makers and provide them the tools they need to be creative, and we’re getting much closer through our investments​ from SIF, [Chief Creative Officer] Pharrell [Williams], and Onkyo,” he says.

And Lamb compares his products to the iconic Sony Walkman:

I’ve always admired Sony. A Sony Walkman was one of the first music products I ever owned. I took it on my first trip to Japan as a teenager. It was a magical way to bring my musical world with me everywhere that I went. What ROLI is doing with BLOCKS is very similar to what Sony did with the Walkman, but in our case we’ve made a music creation device that you can take with you anywhere. It’s pioneering a new, liberating way of making music, just like Sony pioneered the modern revolution of music listening which hundreds of millions of people benefit from today.

Yes there’s money, but as I described the SIF operation, there’s additional support, Lamb says:

They really engage with startups. They provide an entrée to the Sony world and its networks and expertise. We hope to collaborate with Sony as much as possible in ways that build unique value for our customers. Without going into the details of the deal, this is certainly a significant investment and relationship for us.

But maybe most interesting, the funds themselves may support new products. While I admire the Blocks, and the Seaboard interface is certainly innovative, I think it’s still important to note that these are just controllers. The Walkman was a standalone product; Blocks is useless without a laptop or smartphone or tablet. And that’s assuming you believe this is really the shape of what music making will look like, amidst a lot of competing ideas and untapped possibility.

“We’re developing new music-making tools across hardware and software,” says Lamb. He says the funding will accelerate development and “positions us to continue focusing on innovative research and development as we scale.”

In other words, this gives them room to focus on inventing new stuff even as they try to get their products to a broader audience.

Also interesting: you might doubt the Songmaker Kit, at 600 bucks, would sell well versus just buying one or two of the individual modules to save money. But you’d be wrong. ROLI tells CDM it’s the best-selling product they make.

The Songwriter’s Kit has become ROLI’s best-selling product, the company says.

So there’s a certain business genius to dividing products into modules, then selling the consumers those modules as … a predefined set. Wait, maybe I shouldn’t tell you that, but should find some really complicated name for it, and then sell my services as a highly-paid consultant. (I dub it the “Modular Acquisition Product Consumer Chain.” Call me.)

But whether you personally like the ROLI line or not, consider this: ROLI are both proving the power of the future of electronic musical instruments on a larger scale, and creating a platform for the rest of the electronic music ecosystem in the process. Blocks can easily be a gateway into other mobile apps, desktop software, and other hardware. ROLI also show that some ideas that would have seem like crazy, far-fetched one-off inventions just recently can appeal to everyday consumers if they’re given adequate market support and channel distribution. People seem to like crazy and futuristic things. (Heck, it may be that average consumers like those things more than some of the more conservative folks you’ll see trolling forums and adding wooden endcaps to their synths.)

And investors are taking notice. There are some real, big bets emerging that say the future of music creation will be bright. For those trained on the recent Silicon Valley model, where some venture capital looks for quick, easy returns or fast exits, it’s also safe to say that some of this may be looking further into the future, not just into what’s selling this month.

But if you believe that creation is the essence of music making, if you think everyone should have access to self expression through music, and you see creation as the future, I think there’s real reason to be encouraged by investment in ROLI.

What we’ll need to watch, meanwhile, is whether larger funds and expertise at ROLI and Native Instruments translate into products and services that work for musicians. That’ll take time. But, hey, I was trained as a musicologist, which deals with this on a timeframe of centuries. I’ll wait. Back to making music to fill the time.

Previously:

Native Instruments got a huge chunk of investment to grow

And in other news:

Roli brings classic Indian instruments to their Noise app through a joint project with A. R. Rahman

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