Posts from Music

Feature Friday: Dedicate A Song

Yesterday I dedicated a song on Piki to my friend Whitney. He DM'd me and said "I haven't had that happen to me since the days of call-in radio shows".

Dedicating a song is my favorite feature on Piki. It is generous, fun, and viral.

I did it this morning with my daughter Jessica.

I picked a song

Dedicate to someone

 

And then at the bottom of the dialog box, I typed in her name

Dedicate 2

That's all there is to it. She gets notified and ideally comes back to Piki and listens and/or picks some more music for everyone else to hear.

Virality is critical to make a social app spread. But the viral features must also be fun and meaningful. Dedicating a song is both and that's why I do it so much.

By the way, Piki is now available on the web (and iOS). Android is coming soon.

Feature Friday: Pick A Song

Our portfolio company Turntable launched their second product yesterday, called Piki. I saw this comment about Piki in a blog post and posted it to my Tumblr:

If you imagine Twitter not for tweets but for songs, you'll arrive at something like Piki.

In Piki parlance, a tweet is a pick. You pick a song and post it to your feed.

Pick a song

Here is my piki feed.

I have been using Piki in private beta for several months and it's quite good. I am listening to Piki right now as I write this post.

Piki is publicly available for iOS and the web app remains in private beta for a few more weeks. Android is next.

And sadly, because the music industry makes it this way for developers who choose to work with them, it is only available in the US right now.

If you are in the US and have an iPhone, give picking a song a try. You can download Piki here.

A Roaming Network For Subscription Music Services

Back in the early days of the ATM machine, you could only transact on ATMs operated by your bank. If you were a Chase customer, you needed to find a Chase ATM to take cash out. That, of course, was a pain and the banks recognized it and formed roaming networks. The one I recall best was NYCE, which was formed by NatWest, Chase, Manny Hanny, Chemical, Barclays, Marine Midland, and Bank Of New York.

The same thing has happened with mobile wifi networks. If you are a T-Mobile Hotspot customer, you can often roam on a Boingo network or some other mobile wifi network.

Roaming is a great solution to the problem when multiple businesses offer a proprietary commodity service. The customer is forced to choose one provider but in effect the service is identical from vendor to vendor.

And that is the case in subscription music services. I have used Mog (now owned by Beats which is rebranding it as Daisy), Rhapsody, Spotify, and Rdio. They all offer essentially the same libraries. The listening experience is almost identical. They differentiate with slighly different user experiences. Some are more social. Some are faster. Some offer better curation. But in my opinion they are all proprietary commodity services and a roaming service that would allow a subscriber to Rdio to log into Spotify would be a good thing for a lot of reasons.

And the music industry really ought to want to see this happen because they are coming to realize that subscription music services can bring in significant revenues. This is an important future business model for them. But they should not make the mistake they made in the mp3 market where they essentially gave one company, Apple, the dominant position in the market. If the music industry came together, like the banks came together to create ATM roaming networks, to create a subscription music roaming network, they would create a dynamic where no one subscription music service could create the kind of network effects that would allow them to become the dominant subscription music service. And that is very much in the music industry's interest.

It is also in the consumer's interest. Just yesterday my friend Kirk found some new music because he follows me on Rdio. But I can't do the same thing with my friends who are on Spotify. Because all of these services are silos, by definition of their paid business model. If a roaming network existed, there would be more social music discovery, listening, and, I believe, uptake of the paid subscription model by consumers.

Of course, a roaming network could be started by an entrepreneur who thought this was a decent business to be in. It does not require a music industry consortium to come together to create this. But regardless of how it happens, I think it should happen. And I hope it does.

Turntable 2.0 and Passion Pit

The folks at Turntable aren't calling it 2.0, but it sure feels like a massive upgrade to me so that's what I call it when I talk about the new UI and big rooms concept that Turntable quietly launched yesterday without much fanfare.

Full disclosure, USV is an investor in Turntable and I am on the board.

Turntable.fm, for those that don't know, is a live social music experience. Anyone can start a room in the service and a room features up to five users who jump up on stage and take turns DJing, and then the rest of the folks in the room listen, rate the songs, and chat. It is the most social music experience I have ever experienced online. I spend most mornings between 5am and 7am eastern hanging out in Turntable. Like most social online services, I have friends there who I have never met in person. I get better music discovery at Turntable from people I have never met than I get from anywhere else.

It makes sense if you think about it. Folks who are so passionate about music that they get up on stage and DJ live in front of everyone else will also likely have spent countless hours finding music that nobody else knows about yet. That's how music has always worked and how it will always work.

Turntable's achilles heel has always been that the rooms didn't scale. In version 1.0, when a room got to 200 people, it closed up to new entrants. So if you showed up looking to get into your favorite room you could often be out of luck. That is not and never was a good user experience.

Worse is that when a musician, artist, or celebrity showed up in one of the rooms, only 200 of their fans could get in to hear what they were up to. So the whole viral nature of an artist with hundreds of thousands or even millions of fans tweeting out that they are in a room in Turntable was mostly wasted in version 1.0.

All of that has been fixed in Turntable 2.0. The rooms scale up as more users show up. The UI changes in real time. A room starts out feeling like a tiny club and could end up feeling like an arena concert. Here's an example of a "big room" in action:

Turnable big rooms

It's a real work of UI art and kudos go out to Billy and Byron for their work in building the new Turntable UI.

They've also made a bunch of smaller changes, cleaned some things up, moved some things around, speeded it up considerably, and made the service easier to join and get into quickly. I've been watching this new version emerge over the past few months and am so excited as a user to be able to experience it myself now.

If you want to see a big room in action, you can log into Turntable today at 3pm eastern to catch the electropop act Passion Pit playing some of their songs in Turntable. I expect that room will fill up nicely. I am going to try to get in and check it out myself in between running around SF between meetings. I hope to see you there.

Bluetooth Update

About a month ago I posted about Bluetooth vs Airplay and mentioned in the post that I had purchased a Logitech Bluetooth Wireless Speaker Adapter for my home music system. I thought I'd give everyone an update about how that worked out.

Bottom line. It's fucking fantastic. I can do in my home what I do in my car. I've got a half dozen music apps on my phone (soundcloud, turntable, exfm, rdio, youtube, etc) and when I'm in my car, I can play music from any of them via bluetooth to the car audio system. It's the way we roll in our car, and not just me, but everyone in the family.

Now we can do the same in our home. I think my phone has officially become my turntable. I love it.

Here's what it looks like. It's the size of a hockey puck:

Logitech adapter
Here's what the backside looks like:

Logitech adapter back
I got some super high end RCA cables and went right into the line-in port on one of my Sonos zones. Now we can play music from our phones everywhere and anywhere in our house. It's a game changer.

Here are the negatives. First, I could only make it pair with one device. So I paired it with my phone. But I'd also like to pair it with the Gotham Gal's phone, and my children's phones. And also the Nexus 7 that sits in the family room. Apparently it is possible to pair with multiple devices but I couldn't figure it out.

Also, bluetooth has limited range so the phone has to be in the same room as the Logitech Adapter to play music. When you have Sonos zones all around the house and are used to controlling it on your phone all over the house, that is limiting too.

But I'll take those limitations for what this thing gives me which is a seamless experience from home to car and back. It's $70, so not cheap. And I had to wait a few weeks because it was back ordered. But if you want to give it a try, here's the link to Amazon.  I hope you like it as much as I do.

Feature Friday: Concierge

Eighty percent of all music listening happens in lean back mode where someone or something plays the music for you. That's a fact. I am not sure where I saw it, but I believe it to be true based on my own music listening experience.

That's why I haven't found iTunes, Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, or any of the "on demand" experiences particularly inspiring. I've used all of them at one time or another and our family still logs a fair bit of time on Rdio and Rhapsody (which we've had for something like thirteen years now).

But there is something magical about logging into a music service and having music start playing that you love and you don't need to do anything to make it happen. It's also true that these lean back experiences are better for music discovery. That's the role that old fashioned radio has been playing in the music business for as long as I've been alive.

I have been using several rooms in Turntable (my favorite being Indie While You Work) for the past year for this purpose. And it has served it incredibly well.

But Turntable is not available on Sonos and the hack where I airplay into my Sonos from my laptop is just that, a hack that isnt' ideal. So I've been looking for a great lean back experience on the Sonos for a long time. And Pandora isn't that for me and has never been.

This spring I noticed that Songza was available on Sonos in the "Sonos Labs" area. We've had Songza on the Sonos in our homes for at least three months now and it has quickly become the most used music service on Sonos in our homes.

And the reason is a feature they call Concierge. Instead of asking you what artist you like as Pandora does, Songza notices what time of day it is and then asks you what you are doing. I am writing this post at 6:53am and Songza's Concierge looks like this on my Sonos (pardon the photography, I had a tough time with the glare off the screen of the iPad):

Songa 1

When I select "Working Out", I see this screen:

Songza 2

When I select "Eclectic Workout Mixes", I get this screen:

Songza 3

Then you select your playlist and the music starts playing.

All of these playlists have been constructed by real humans, so it's more like a real DJ on the radio playing music for you than an algorithm in the cloud somewhere. I prefer that as I mentioned in that link on Pandora.

I've turned all my kids onto Songza and they love it. And they've turned their friends onto it and their friends love it too. So I think Songza works for all ages and all types of music.

But don't listen to me. Give it a try. Songza is available on the web, on Android, on iOS, and on Sonos. It's awesome on Sonos so if you have one, I strongly encourage you to add Songza to it.

Bluetooth vs Airplay

I've written a fair bit about how we are using technologies like Bluetooth and Airplay in our homes and cars to connect our tablets and phones to our cars and home entertainment systems.

I've thought Airplay was the winning model because Apple is pushing it hard and integrating it into their product line across the board. Plus Airplay supports higher bandwidth applications like video and covers greater distances.

But an experience I had this week makes me take pause on that assumption. Our newest car has excellent bluetooth audio capabilities. Everyone's phones are paired to it and anytime anyone wants to take control of the car audio with their phone (iPhone or Android), they can play any audio app they want on their phone and the music plays in our car. This is true of most of the cars coming off the factory floors these days.

My son is particularly fond of taking control of the audio in the car and DJing. Yesterday he asked me why he couldn't do the same thing with our home entertainment system, which is built on Sonos. We have an airport express in the line-in on the Sonos and we can Airplay from iTunes. But that doesn't support Android phones and not all third party mobile apps support Airplay. Airplay is not ubiquitous in the way that Bluetooth is.

So I just bought this logitech bluetooth audio adapter and am going to swap out the airport express for this bluetooth adapter and see how my family reacts to that. I am betting that by replicating the experience they have in the car in our home, they will take control of our home music system with their phones in the same way they do in our car.

This shows the power of an open protocol like Bluetooth vs a proprietary protocol like Airplay. Airplay is a superior technology but it's lack of ubiquity may mean that it doesn't win the market in the end. We will see.

Nexus 7 Is A Great Remote

I have been working with a high end audio video installer for over a decade. They have helped me put entertainment systems into a few homes and offices over the years. They have taught me a lot and I have taught them some stuff too.

A few years ago, when iPad came out, they started pushing the idea that you could use a tablet to control your entertainment system instead of expensive and proprietary controllers. So we started using iPads and iPod Touches to control our audio and video in our home and office.

It works well and you don't have four remotes on every coffee and conference table. One tablet does the trick.

Recently, we did an overhaul of our beach house and it was time to get a couple controllers. I had just gotten my Nexus 7 and the idea that I was going to go out and purchase a couple $399 iPads bugged me. I asked them if I could use a Nexus 7 instead. We did some research and indeed all the apps we needed for our various equipment were on Android. So we went with the Nexus 7 instead.

Yesterday I saw one of the partners in the audio/video company and he had my Nexus 7 in his hand. I said, "how does it feel?" he replied "it's fantastic, the form factor is perfect". The iPad works as a controller but it is a bit bulky for that use case. And a phone is a bit small for many remotes. A 7" tablet can be held comfortably in one hand and the screen size is really perfect for remote applications.

I am not going to swap out all the iPads we have for Nexus 7s because the larger tablet works well enough, but for all future situations like this I am most certainly going with a 7" tablet. It's yet another example of where the 7" form factor is better than the large and small mobile form factors we've been dealing with for the past few years.

No Year End Music List This Year

Longtime readers will recall that in the early days of this blog, I would spend the last days of the year posting about music. I'd post a record every day for 10 to 14 days. These would be my top records of the year. Then a few years ago, I stopped doing that and went to a single post with my top ten records of the year (usually with a few extras thrown in for good measure). Here is last year's post for example.

This year, as hard as I tried, I could not get up for doing it. It's not that I am losing interest in music. Far from it. I am more into music right now than I have ever been.

As I've been pondering my complete lack of interest in a top ten records post over the past few weeks, I've come to the conclusion that it is the result of two factors. The first is that I don't listen to records much anymore. And the second is that I don't collect music anymore. I guess the two are related.

For me music has become real time, all the time. My current music experience is like a twitter feed. Music comes at me from everywhere on every device I own. I'm on turntable.fm at 5am hanging in the indie while you work room. I'm on soundcloud on my android at the gym at 7am. I'm listening to my girls' recent listens on rdio on sonos over breakfast at home. I'm on the ex.fm app on my android on the subway to work. I'm listening to fredwilson.fm on my computer at work. I'm watching my son's friends YouTube music videos on our kitchen iPad before dinner. I'm listening on the hype machine app on boxee on my family room TV after dinner. And it goes on like that all the day, until I get into bed and go to sleep.

Instead of getting obsessed about a record, I get obsessed about a song. I listen to it over and over. Then eventually I move on. But not before posting it to my tumblr and my music stream. fredwilson.fm is like my delcious feed for music, but you can listen to it. If you want to know what I was into in 2011, that's probably the best thing to do.

But if you don't have 21 hours (that's how long it will take to listen to the past twelve months of my music stream), then here are a few songs I'm obsessed with at the moment.

Some Thoughts On The Music Business

Over the past week, I've had several conversations with friends in various parts of the music business and there are a number of recurring themes that I thought I'd blog about. This post is about the recorded music part of the business, not publishing, not touring, not movie or video game soundtracks.

Physical distribution (ie buying CDs in stores) is still more than 50% of the recorded music business but it won't be long before digital revenues will eclipse physical. It might happen this year. Physical revenues won't decline on a straight line. They will collapse at some point as retailers start to take away shelf space. Within five years, physical distribution will likely be history.

Digital distribution is largely files (mp3 and aac) sold via iTunes and to a lesser extent Amazon and a few others. Digital also includes streaming license revenues, both compulsory license revenue from Internet Radio (Pandora, radio.com, etc) and licenses from on demand services like Rhapsody, rdio, Spotify, Napster, etc.

Digital revenue today breaks down as 95% files, 5% streaming. And within the 95% that is files, iTunes is 80% or more. But iTunes is not growing that much. It was flat last year and is growing only slightly this year. Amazon is still growing nicely but from a much smaller base. File based digital revenues are maturing and are not likely to make up the loss in revenue from physical distribution.

Streaming is growing very nicely and has the potential to develop into a large business but the companies that provide streaming services are struggling under the weight of the license fees.

The average iTunes customer purchases music that generates roughly $50 to $60/year to the record companies after Apple takes its cut. So the record companies want to get $50 to $60/year from the on demand services. The on demand services have not been able to make that model work for them yet as it requires a $100 to $120/year subscription to breakeven. And worse, the record companies are reluctant to support freemium models out of fear that they canibalize file based revenues.

I've long said that music listening is going to move into the cloud and that the dominant model will be streaming via free ad supported Internet Radio and paid subscription services. If that is to come to pass, the record companies will need to take some risks to grow this market. Converting user behavior takes time and requires free trials, subsidized offers, and a concerted marketing effort by the entire industry.

I'd advise the record companies to partner with the innovators in the digital music sector, something that they have largely been unwilling to do as long as physical distribution pays the bills. But the end is near for CDs and iTunes isn't going to replace physical at the rate it is growing. So it is high time to invest to build the streaming market. And for the record companies, that investment means subsidies and attractive license terms so that innovators can profitably build the services of the future. You have to invest in new businesses to grow them. That's what I do all day long. And I'd love to see the music industry do the same.